The fitness world is booming these days. You can see it in the popularity of CrossFit boxes, obstacle course and endurance events, and record-breaking gym construction. It’s encouraging. Inspiring even. But there’s also a downside to the rising gym memberships and event registrations. There are still too many people dealing with recurring patterns of breakdown, burnout, illness and injury. More people are trying to do the right thing, but the flawed approaches they often gravitate to end up derailing them.
Nonetheless, there are changes afoot. It’s an evolution of thinking that’s slowly spreading its way through fitness circles. More forward-thinking coaches, trainers, and researchers are helping right the wrongs of the fitness boom with a general rejection of the “more is better” approach for one that respects the importance of balancing stress and rest, one that moves toward an intuitive approach to workout planning.
More people are implementing strategies to maximize workout return on investment and minimize the risk of injury and burnout that too often result from an indiscriminate approach. The endurance world, for example, is finally rejecting the narrowly focused, overly stressful chronic cardio approach of old in favor of emphasizing aerobic development at lower heart rates, avoiding chronic patterns, and becoming fat adapted instead of sugar addicted. Endurance athletes are embracing the importance of strength training and explosive sprinting just as strength/power athletes are doing more aerobic conditioning. The CrossFit movement itself is an ode to the health and longevity benefits and increased enjoyment that comes from achieving broader fitness competency.
What’s Wrong With HIIT?
I’ve talked recently about microworkouts and recovery-based workouts. Today, I want to delve in further and share a radical transformation in the way high intensity workouts are conducted that will generate fitness breakthroughs while simultaneously minimizing the risk of exhaustion. Specifically, I’m taking aim at the extremely popular workout pattern known as HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training. Sprinting is a part of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid, but I’ve been wary of the details around traditional HIIT practices because these workouts are quite often too stressful and exhausting to deliver the intended fitness boost they promise.
Yes, you have to challenge your body regularly with hard efforts to build fitness, but most of us do it the wrong way. When you complete a killer HIIT session at morning boot camp or spin class, at home on your Peloton bike, or with the Tuesday night track group, you get a tremendous sense of accomplishment and a flood of feel-good endorphin chemicals into your bloodstream. Unfortunately, the typical HIIT workout can also be depleting, exhausting, and stimulate an assortment of unnecessary cellular damage and inflammation.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Be redesigning your high intensity workouts, you can get leaner and fitter with higher quality, more explosive, less physically stressful workouts that are easier to recover from and thus can be performed more frequently. In short, a better approach involves transitioning from HIIT to HIRT, High Intensity Repeat Training. HIRT is an acronym coined by Dr. Craig Marker, psychologist, certified strength and conditioning coach, and CrossFit instructor from Florida.
Here’s a compare and contrast that can revolutionize your approach to intense workouts….
Comparing HIIT and HIRT
The problem with a typical HIIT workout is that it’s too strenuous—too many repetitions of hard effort that (each) last too long, and with insufficient rest between hard efforts. This results in cumulative fatigue during the workout, a diminishing quality of performance over the course of the workout, increased cellular damage due to this cumulative fatigue, and extended recovery time afterward. These kinds of sufferfests are a great source of satisfaction and personal growth when you high five your fellow bootcamp classmates after an hour of power, or cross the finish line of a big event in which you’ve trained for months to prepare. But including them as a major and recurring element of your training program is a really bad idea. Unfortunately, the sufferfest mindset is incredibly common these days, perhaps suggesting that the ego has more influence that strategic planning or intuitive decision making.
A HIRT workout stops short of the exhaustive nature of HIIT. The essence of HIRT is to conduct maximum efforts, typically of shorter duration, with much longer recovery, and fewer total efforts than a HIIT session. The word “Repeat” in the acronym suggests that you maintain a consistent quality of effort on every repetition of hard work. This means not only the same performance standard, but also the same level of perceived exertion.
For example, say your workout entails running 100-meter sprints across a football field, and you hit 18 seconds for your first sprint. This is a nice controlled, explosive effort with excellent technique, and you assign a perceived exertion level of around 90 out of 100. Hence, you’ll want to do successive sprints in 18-19 seconds each, preserving explosiveness and excellent technique—delivering what you still discern to be 90 out of 100 on the effort scale. If you have to “dig deep” (the implicit objective, and badge of honor, with a HIIT session) just to arrive at 19 seconds on your fourth effort, that’s it, you’re done. If you notice a slight attrition in explosiveness or breaking form during the effort, you’re done. Typically, this might be a little twinge in the hamstrings or lower back, a tensing of the face or chest, or any other indicator that you have played your best cards of the day.
In Dr. Marker’s landmark article titled “HIIT versus HIRT” at www.BreakingMuscle.com, he explains that after HIIT sessions we bask in self-satisfaction of a job well-done, but disregard the health-destructive consequences of these sufferfests: “[Y]our subjective feeling of the effectiveness of a workout is not as important as what science tells us is important to building an impressive base of endurance and changing your body composition.” (That sound you hear is a slap to the face of highly motivated, goal oriented, Type-A fitness enthusiasts across the land. Don’t worry, I’ve been there, too….)
This admonition applies to everyone from elites to novices. Elite athletes are notorious for constantly pushing the envelope and frequently succumbing to injuries or periods of declining performances. Novices generally don’t concern themselves with training strategies, often leaving their fates in the hands of the bootcamp instructor. Without sufficient experience or reference points, they exercise themselves into exhaustion, believing that pain and suffering are part and parcel of the fitness experience.
The (too often) result? Ambitious, well-meaning enthusiasts burn themselves out and then are down for the count. The most dedicated keep going to their detriment, all the while accumulating fatigue, injuries and even pounds. Others simply stay away from the gym by invisible magnetic force. Alas, the subconscious is very good at avoiding sources of pain and suffering. Can we dump this suffering-and-attrition dynamic already?
Side note for those who love to read about sports: For inspiration, check out this article about the greatest marathon runner in the history of the planet, the amazing Kenyan Eulid Kipchoge. The article describes his training regimen as extremely devoted and incredibly impressive, yet he maintains a relaxed mindset, remains in control of his energy output, and never extends beyond his limits into exhaustion. Even the march to the unthinkable two-hour marathon (Kipchoge’s current world record stands at a mind-bending 2:01.39) comes from a sensible approach instead of an extreme one.
Marker explains that there’s an optimal duration for sprinting where you can obtain maximum benefits with minimal cellular destruction, and this is typically around 15-20 seconds. Try to maintain maximum effort for any longer than that and you’re not really sprinting anymore anyway, since it’s impossible to maintain maximum energy output.
Here’s why this works:
Look at what’s happening physiologically over the duration of a near-maximum intensity sprint of any kind (running, cycling, rowing, or kettlebell swings). During the first five seconds of your sprint, lactate starts to accumulate in the bloodstream. Lactate levels double between five to ten seconds, then double again from 10 seconds to 20 seconds—up to what Marker calls the highest acceptable level. As you increasingly feel the burn, lactate doubles again from 20 seconds to 30 seconds. It doubles again from 30 seconds to 60 seconds, causing cellular destruction, ammonia toxicity, and extended recovery time.
As Marker explains, “The amount of lactic acid produced up to 20 seconds [of sprinting] is still manageable, but the next doubling is over the top. Even a single 30-second sprint spikes ammonia levels almost five times! Why trash the body for no good reason? Rebuilding broken down cells is a costly and time-consuming process. And while it’s taking place, you feel tired and run down, with your ATP short of a full stack.”
You may be familiar with the Tabata concept of interval training, which entails a repeating pattern of work efforts lasting twice as long as rest intervals until you complete a Tabata set of a certain total duration. The original Tabata protocol, developed by Japanese physician and researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata and colleagues at the Japanese Institute of Fitness and Sport in Tokyo, calls for four minutes of a 20-second sprint, 10-second rest, 20-second sprint, 10-second rest pattern. In the original studies, Japanese Olympic speed skaters achieved massive boosts in VO2 Max in a short time with Tabata training. Unfortunately, the original Tabata concept has been widely misappropriated into workouts that honor the 2:1 work-to-rest ratio, but carry on for too long and generate cellular damage and exhaustion: multiple sets of kettlebell swings, pushups, box jumps, running sprints, cycling sprints, and so forth. Bottom line with sprint workouts: a little goes a long way, and too much can really mess you up.
How To Transition From HIIT To HIRT
To transition into a more effective, less stressful high intensity workout pattern, pick the sweet spot of 10-20 seconds for your explosive efforts. Take what Marker calls “luxurious” rest intervals to ensure that your cells have a chance to partially or fully regenerate ATP (takes around three minutes) and minimize the disassembling and deamination that occur when you ask your body to perform again and again with rapidly depleting cellular energy.
Finally, conduct between 4 and 10 sprints. You should be able to manage four shorts sprints even if you’re a novice. If you claim you can complete more than 10 and feel great, you’re better off going faster and doing fewer more explosively.
Keep in mind that a properly conducted HIRT workout is going to feel different than a HIIT sufferfest. It may require an adjustment in your mindset to feel confident and satisfied that you’re training with maximum efficiency and minimal suffering like a “real athlete.” If you’re a focused, driven, goal-oriented type, be vigilant about resisting the addictive allure of the endorphin rush that happens after a sufferfest. Remember, the blissful feeling of powerful pain-killing chemicals flooding your bloodstream is a fight or flight reaction to the extreme stress of the workout. Realize that the genetic purpose of the endorphin response is to help you continue to run for your life instead of lay down in exhaustion! If you abuse this delicate mechanism with a chronic pattern of extreme workouts, you’re going to pay a heavy price. Dr. Tommy Wood calls this overactivation of the fight or flight response, “liquidating your assets,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Several friends who have recently updated their approach to a HIRT protocol report feeling much better in the days following their most challenging sessions—more energy, less soreness and stiffness. That’s how it should be.
Combine the HIRT strategy with recovery-based workouts and walking. See how it goes for you, and let me know. Thanks for stopping in. Share your questions and thoughts below, too.
The post HIIT vs. HIRT: Reducing Workout Stress To Increase Fitness appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering questions about vitamin K2 and microworkouts. The last two posts on both topics garnered a number of good questions. What’s the best dose of vitamin K2? Should statin users taking vitamin K2, since statins inhibit vitamin K2 activity and production? Can vitamin K2 prevent or reverse arterial calcification? Is butter an adequate source of vitamin K2? What about vitamin D—does it synergize with vitamin K2? Regarding microworkouts, what if you can only do a couple pull-ups at once? Should you alternate muscle groups when doing microworkouts? Can microworkouts work with normal gym workouts? How does one do microworkouts in an office?
Let’s find out:
What’s the recommended dose of vitamin K2?
There’s no official RDA for vitamin K2. For vitamin K in general, it’s 0.09 mg. As some of the commenters have alluded, very few medical professionals have vitamin K2 on their radar. I wonder if the RDA is sufficient.
Up to 45 mg per day of MK4 has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated in women, though I don’t think that much is necessary. Some use close to that much when dealing with osteoporosis, arterial calcification, or dental issues, although the reports are all anecdotal.
Many take 1 mg of vitamin K2 as “maintenance.” I’d be comfortable taking that (and sometimes do).
I put 0.08 mg of K2 (MK7) in my Master Formula supplement. Women who are pregnant and those who take anticoagulant medications should talk to their doctor before taking more than the RDA.
So, would taking K2 make statins safer? Do you think you could take enough K2 to prevent clogged arteries or reverse clogged arteries?
As for clogged arteries, it can definitely reduce the risk of arterial calcification (by putting calcium where it belongs and not where it doesn’t). Reversal? There aren’t any studies in humans, but vitamin K2 MK4 has been shown to reverse clogged arteries in rats.
Do you have a source on muscle meat (of any type) having Vitamin K?
From this study.
I had read of recommendations of cod liver oil along w K2 which was obtained with grass fed butter. Would grass fed butter be a good source in your opinion
It’s possible, but the sources I’ve read show that majority of butter is very low in vitamin K2. Still, Weston Price swore by concentrated butter oil from grass-fed cows as a source of vitamin K2. You can still buy butter oil if you want to go that route (though you won’t get any solid data on vitamin K2 content).
I wouldn’t rely on straight butter for your vitamin K2.
Isn’t it important to take K2 when supplementing with oral D3? I’ve been seeing liquid D3 preparations with K2/MK7 added.
Yes. Vitamin D3 helps us absorb dietary calcium, and vitamin K2 helps us utilize the calcium in the right way.
What if you can only do 2-3 pull-ups to begin with? ?
That’s the perfect place to start.
Do a single pullup every time you pass the pullup bar (or branch, ledge, gym rings, etc). That’s it. One clean pullup. Don’t struggle. Don’t strain. It should feel easy. Do that single pullup every time you pass the bar. Then, when you feel ready, try doing two each time. And then three.
Suddenly, your max pullups will have doubled.
Should you alternate microworkouts by muscle group each day as with traditional strength training or can you do microworkouts covering all muscle groups each day?
You could, but I find that microworkouts give enough rest that you can work the same muscle on consecutive days. It really depends on the intensity though. If your idea of a microworkout is a 20 rep set of breathing squats with your own bodyweight on the bar, and you do that a few times a day, I would not advise doing it every day.
I don’t claim that microworkouts in this manner will optimize your muscle hypertrophy. I do claim that they’ll keep your days active, keep you healthy, keep you mobile, and get you strong.
I love the idea that any exercise is better than none at all. But I wonder if this style of workout would interfere with recovery from other more regular/scheduled workouts (weightlifting, etc…)?
On the contrary, I find that microworkouts prepare me for the more concerted, formal efforts in the gym.
My buddy Angelo Delacruz is an example of a guy who’s “always on” because he’s always doing little movements throughout the day: dancing to the music playing at the gym, busting out a quick little stretch routine, doing some clapping pushups, breakdancing. He’ll just launch into a set of heavy snatches or clean and jerks without warming up because his joints are all lubed up from the frequent microworkouts.
Well I stand at my computer most of the day 6a-2p with several sets of stairs during that time–I duck into an empty meeting room to run off 15-20 pushups a few times a day, and at lunch a few days a week ( i usually IF til 3-4p ) I do some heavy weights at the local gym for about 20 minutes or so–then comes the yard work on occasion and would you count shopping with the wife at a Big Box store as a micro workout? So How an I doing? I know Mark, Just keep moving!
You’re doing great. I see nothing to add.
As for shopping, sure, why not? Shopping can work.
I’ve been known to curl the groceries as I walk out to the car. Overhead press the cases of mineral water. Plant my feet and do cable crosses with a heavy shopping cart. Sure used to embarrass my kids.
It gets more difficult when on-site for a client. Most offices here aren’t air conditioned, so when it’s warm you’re really going to sweat which makes you less presentable. I try to make it up by picking a hotel in walking distance (~45-60min ish). If there isn’t a private space to knock out a couple of body weight exercises there isn’t a lot you can do without becoming the resident office weirdo. Maybe someone has an idea?
I wrote a post years ago about training in the office without becoming the resident weirdo. See if any of these suggestions work for you. Things are probably different when you’re in someone else’s office.
Walking meetings come to mind. Stair stuff—sprints, jumps, or simply just walking all the flights in one fell swoop. Doing as many squats as possible in the elevator before someone else enters and looks at you funny. Pushups in the bathroom stall.
Okay, maybe not that last one.
The AC thing would make it difficult, though. I can see that.
This is it for today, folks. Take care, be well, and ask any other questions you have down below!
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As Primal enthusiasts know, sprinting is an essential element to leading an optimally fit life. After all, it’s one of the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws, and perhaps the quintessential anti-aging activity. Brief, explosive all-out sprints are the single best activity to promote rapid reduction of excess body fat, achieve fitness breakthroughs, flood the bloodstream with anti-aging hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, and boost neuron function in the brain. Even a very brief sprint session has a profound effect on your metabolic and hormonal function for hours and days afterward, sending what Paleo movement pioneer Dr. Art DeVany calls a “renewal signal” to your genes.
Part 1 of this two-part Definitive Guide details how and why sprinting is so beneficial to your general health, fat loss and fitness performance at all lower intensities. Part 2 details the step-by-step process to conduct an effective sprint workout.
Too many well intentioned fitness enthusiasts conduct sprint workouts in a flawed manner, and suffer from breakdown and burnout accordingly. Many more fitness enthusiasts are intimidated by sprinting, thinking it carries a high injury risk and pain and suffering factor. Sprinting is an essential fitness objective for everyone, but you must learn how to do it correctly to enjoy the benefits and prevent the pitfalls.
Sprinting: The Ultimate Primal Workout
Sprinting is a powerful hormetic stressor—a brief, natural fight or flight stimulation triggering that renewal signal that makes you more resilient not just for your next sprint workout, but for all other forms of life stress. After all, humans evolved amidst the occasional brief, life or death threats calling for superhuman physical efforts—to kill or be killed. When we hone our fight or flight attributes once in a while as our genes expect us to, we stay youthful, powerful, vibrant, and self-confident. Conversely, when we indulge in endless comforts and conveniences, and avoid hormetic stressors like sprinting, strength training, exposure to cold or heat, and so forth, we atrophy across the board and become less resilient to all forms of life stress.
Upping your sprint game can help you make an assortment of breakthroughs, from fat loss to fitness peak performance in a variety of activities (yes, including endurance and ultra-endurance events), and generally making you a more confident, energetic person.
Sprinting rocks, but unfortunately most people never take full advantage of it. Others incorporate sprinting but apply it incorrectly to their fitness routine (more on that below). The most obvious error is that people simply avoid sprinting. They think it’s only for competitive athletes, that they aren’t fit enough to try. Or they avoid sprinting because they tell themselves they dislike intense effort of any kind.
While running sprints definitely requires high fitness competency due to the impact trauma and explosiveness, sprints can also be performed in no- or low-impact activities such as stationary bike, rowing machine, or swimming. Running sprints delivers maximum results for bone density, joint and connective tissue strength, and fat reduction, but you can benefit tremendously from all forms of sprinting, and perhaps work your way up to eventually performing weight-bearing sprints.
Why Sprinting Helps Fat Loss and Endurance Performance
It might be hard to imagine how only a couple minutes of all-out effort once a week can make a huge impact on your fat reduction goals. And it might be hard to imagine how someone training for a 26.2-mile marathon or all-day triathlon event can benefit tremendously from running back and forth on a football field several times once a week. The secret is accelerated level of genetic signaling, hormone optimization, and central nervous system programming that happens when you sprint.
When you conduct an all-out sprint, you’re asking your body to perform at a level of metabolic function some 30 times greater than your resting output. This is a concept known as Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET). By comparison, a brisk walk, casual bike ride, or easy swim is 6-10 MET, while running at a steady “tempo” pace is around 13.5 MET. A 30 MET experience sends a powerful adaptive signal to your genes to shed body fat, turbocharge fat burning, and boost hormone levels for an anti-aging effect. While the hormone spikes are brief in duration, the genetic signaling effects of a sprint workout last for hours and days afterward.
Numerous studies have shown that sprinting skyrockets growth hormone levels quickly and reliably and boosts protein synthesis (muscle building or toning) by 230 percent. The late Canadian strength and conditioning expert Charles Poliquin communicated the idea that sprinting gives the best ROI beautifully. Dig this quote from the article, “8 Reasons Everyone Should Do Sprints” at PoliquinGroup.com: “A 2010 study found that just six sprint sessions of 6 x 30-second all-out cycle sprints with four minutes rest over 2 weeks led to a leaner waist by 3 centimeters, and much greater use of fat for fuel.”
If you are stuck in the flawed and dated calories in-calories out fitness mindset, it might be hard to imagine how a brief workout that you only conduct a few times per month can have a measurable impact on your fat loss and fitness progress, but this is how genetic signaling works. Throw some 30 MET fuel into your fat burning machine, and it kicks into high gear for up to 72 hours after the workout. The science strongly supports my quip that nothing cuts you up like sprinting.
In concert with the physiological benefits, sprinting delivers huge psychological benefits by reducing your perceived exertion at all lesser intensity levels. When you train your heart, lungs, brain neurons and muscles to perform at maximum capacity, your cellular energy production becomes more efficient and makes jogging or tempo running seem easier. This reduced perceived exertion is literally true, because your brain is the ultimate limiter of performance, not the fatiguing peripheral muscles. This Central Governor Theory concept is advanced by Dr. Timothy Noakes, the great South African exercise physiologist and promoter of low-carb and keto eating. Noakes explains that our typical symptoms of fatigue like burning muscles and heaving lungs are “illusory” and that these physical sensations of discomfort are just the brain processing feedback from the body and generating symptoms of fatigue to protect you from potential injury.
You can best grasp this central governor concept when you’re at the gym and doing reps of bench press or pull-ups to failure. Indeed, that 12th rep seems like all you got, but if someone came over and put a gun to your head and barked, “two more!,” your brain would direct your screaming muscles to perform two more for sure! Ditto for anyone who has finished a marathon—the last six miles are no fun no matter how fit you are. If there were no finish line awaiting with family and friends, warm blankets and fresh food, your body might very well cramp up and stop working at mile 21.5, or 23.4, or 25.1. The central governor is going to get you to the finish line no matter what, and then give your body permission to collapse into the arms of the race medics!
Getting Started As A Sprinter
The first step toward becoming a sprinter is to adopt an empowering new mindset that you are capable of sprinting, and that it’s an extremely important element of your fitness program.
Next, establish a movement and exercise routine that will prepare your body sufficiently for the rigors of sprinting. If you are already putting in devoted miles on the road or the treadmill, getting to Pilates or yoga regularly, and otherwise keeping active and fit, you can easily and quickly integrate some top-end efforts into your workout routine.
If your fitness regimen is currently lacking, it’s best to focus on increasing all forms of general everyday movement before pursuing ambitious fitness goals like sprinting. From there, you can establish a respectable aerobic conditioning base with comfortably paced cardio sessions at a heart rate of “180 minus age” in beats per minute, and also integrate some regular strength training efforts to get your muscles, joints, and connective tissue resilient for all manner of daily activity with minimal injury risk. Strength training can be anything that puts a resistance load on your muscles, including the Primal Essential Movements (pushups, pull-ups, squats, and planks), resistance bands or cords, home gym equipment, a machine circuit at the gym, or free weights.
After a few months of moving frequently, conducting comfortable aerobic workouts, and lifting heavy things, it’s time to integrate some brief, all-out efforts, and enjoy rapid fitness breakthroughs. However, with the increased benefits comes increased risk. Sprinting is a high-stress endeavor that should be done infrequently, with an extremely careful and deliberate protocol every time, and with extended recovery time afterward. It seems the concept of sprinting has been misappropriated by coaches, trainers and devoted exercisers such that attempts are made to push the body to maximum output at most every workout.
Remember, the Primal Blueprint Law is titled, “Sprint Once In A While” because this aligns with our ancestral experience and our genetic expectations for health. If you attempt to sprint too frequently, your sprints become mediocre by default, because of excess output with insufficient recovery. Sprint workouts should be a special occasion where you feel 100 percent rested and energized to deliver a peak performance effort. Furthermore, you should only sprint for short duration, complete minimal reps, and take extensive rest periods between your sprint efforts—details follow. This ensures you enjoy maximum hormonal and fitness benefits with minimal cellular breakdown and risk of exhaustion.
This is all part of the empowering new mindset: Treat your body with care and respect and set aside the common but flawed notions about “no pain, no gain”—and that consistency is the imperative to fitness. Your body will break down with a consistent application of stress with insufficient rest. So, while you can strive to implement consistent patterns of healthy, active living, eating, and sleeping, you have to think like an elite athlete and take what your body gives you each day and nothing more. If you have a sprint workout planned for Tuesday and come up with stiff muscles or a scratchy throat, you must junk your best laid plans until you feel fantastically energized and excited at rest.
Sprints: Determining Optimal Reps, Duration, and Recovery
A revolutionary article by Dr. Craig Marker at BreakingMuscle.com titled, HIIT versus HIRT, delivers a compelling argument with extensive scientific support to do what I’ve been saying for a long time: Keep your sprints short in duration, explosive in nature, not too many, and not too often. Craig’s article details why the ideal duration for your sprints is between 10 and 20 seconds. The scientific truth is no one can sprint for longer than around 30 seconds without slowing down, and the cellular destruction required to sustain maximum effort beyond 10 seconds increases exponentially. From zero to 10 seconds, your rocket engine does just fine blasting off the line and accelerating furiously to maximum speed. Internally, your cells are burning their stored supply of pure ATP for energy.
After 10 seconds of maximum effort, you can’t produce sufficient ATP to keep going full speed. Say hello to the familiar burn of acid accumulation in the muscles. When you keep pushing beyond 10 seconds, your body commences the cellular processes of disassembling and deamination in order to supply more ATP for maximum energy output. Dr. Marker describes this disassembling and deamination process as, “breaking down the A-frames of your cells.” The vaunted benefit of mitochondrial biogenesis that you get from sprinting gets put on hold, ammonia builds up to toxic levels, and you essentially fry your cells to get to the distant finish line. While you feel the immediate burn during the effort, you also experience fatigue, immune disturbances, brain fog (ammonia is particularly destructive to brain neurons) and muscle weakness in the hours and days after the workout. Bottom line: It’s simply not worth it to try and sprint for longer than 10-20 seconds.
Let’s get more specific inside the sweet spot of 10-20 seconds. Stay on the low end (10 seconds) if you’re a novice sprinter, if you’re training for explosive sports or have high percentage fast-twitch muscle fibers, or if you are doing high-impact running sprints. You can extend to the high end (20 seconds) if you’re doing no- or low-impact sprints or preparing for endurance events. But even for endurance freaks, 20 seconds is it.
There’s simply no reason to ever sprint longer than 20 seconds unless you’re trying to break South African Wayde Van Niekerk’s world record for 400 meters. Hint: you won’t, because this is one of the most exceptional athletic performances in the history of humanity. Watch the video and you’ll see Wayde actually did “sprint” for 43.03 seconds to win the gold from the outside lane at the Rio Olympics. Alas, as you can discern by Van Niekerk’s energetic state at the finish line, elite athletes are much less affected by cellular breakdown than recreational fitness enthusiasts.
The other thing you want to guard against is cumulative fatigue during a sprint workout, because this will prompt cellular destruction and extended recovery time. Unfortunately, cumulative fatigue is pretty much the essence of a HIIT workout. You repeat a work effort that’s a little too long, too many times, with not enough rest between efforts. The workout becomes a suffer fest and ammonia bath instead of a proper, highly explosive sprint workout. Even the respected science behind the popular Tabata training protocol has been widely bastardized into workouts that are too long and depleting to deliver the substantial VO2 max increases that Dr. Tabata achieved with elite speed skaters in Japan. Realize that the original Tabata protocol was to conduct the familiar 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for a total of only four minutes! Today, gyms across the world offer “Tabata classes” that can last for up to an hour—slinging kettlebells, doing burpees, or pedaling bicycles at the 2:1 work-to-rest ratio.
The revolutionary concept that I want you to embrace here is that you must deliver a consistent quality of effort for the duration of your sprint workout. This means both the measured performance and the perceived exertion are similar. If your first sprint of 50 yards across half a football field takes 10 seconds and feels like an 85 on a 1-100 effort scale, you want your final sprint to be of similar time and similar effort. (Okay, a tiny bit of attrition is acceptable, say 11 seconds at 90 effort level on your final sprint. But what you don’t want is to struggle and strain on your final efforts to stay around 11 seconds, nor start coming through in 12 seconds at that 85 effort level.)
Once performance declines or more effort is required to sustained performance, your sprint workout is over. Go hard and go home! I contend, along with Dr. Marker and many other experts, that 4-10 sprints are all you ever need to perform. If “more is better” thinking starts to creep in as you get fitter, you must strive to improve performance rather than add reps or increase duration.
Ready to get started? In “The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 2” (check it out HERE), I provide a step-by-step protocol to conduct an effective sprint workout, honoring all of the philosophical guidelines detailed in this article.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Let me know your questions and thoughts on the board below.
The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 1: Benefits of Sprinting appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Now that you’ve absorbed the rationale and benefits to add sprinting to your fitness program with Part One of the Definitive Guide To Sprinting, let’s get into the details of how to conduct a great workout. The following five guidelines are presented in logical succession, so you can refer to them frequently and ensure a safe, effective sprint workout. I’ll also share a few sprint workouts you can do anytime, including my own sprint workout routine. Remember, it’s all about going big…and then going home to get on with an awesome life.
Let’s get started….
First Things First
First, get your movement and fitness objectives in a good groove before you contemplate adding sprinting to your program. When you’re ready to sprint, make sure you pick the right day. It’s essential that you feel 100 percent rested and energized—chomping at the bit—every time you conduct a sprint workout. If you have even the slightest sensation of subpar immune function or muscle stiffness or soreness, postpone your workout until you feel great. (This is the better day to do low-level cardio activities instead.) If you conduct a sprint workout in a fatigued state, bad stuff happens. First, you increase your risk of injury and extend recovery time by pushing a tired body to hard work.
When you insist upon training in a fatigued state, it doesn’t make you tougher, but rather slower. When you conduct an all-out sprint, you are asking billions of neurons in your central nervous system to process messages and motor responses with great speed and accuracy. If you’re off your A-game and attempt a sprint session, you’ll actually fire neurons and muscles more slowly and inaccurately. You’re literally training your body how to go more slowly when you start out feeling like crap and carry on in the name of “consistency,” or the demands of the ego.
Swimmers know that when your stroke becomes short and choppy due to fatigue at the end of a workout or a tough set, you’re ingraining these flawed motor patterns into your central database. Consequently, you become more likely to make technique errors all the time, even when you’re fresh. This is just like an undisciplined day in the office, when you perform sloppy work that also takes longer than usual, and become accustomed to working in what author, speaker, and performance scientist James Hewitt calls the “cognitive middle gear.”
It’s interesting to note the frequency at which the world’s elite sprinters will pull out of a race at the last minute. Even with the pressure and expectation of a stadium full of fans, the athlete will report a twinge in the hamstring during warm-ups and withdraw from meet. Implement the same strict standards for your own workouts. Even if you’re a novice, you can tell after a couple wind sprints (details shortly) if you are not feeling as snappy and explosive as usual. On those occasions, wait patiently and try again on a better day.
It’s important to warm-up carefully before any workout, but even more so for sprinting due to the increased demand placed on muscles, joints, and connective tissue. A warm-up consists of 5-10 minutes of very comfortably paced cardiovascular exercise—something registering a 1 or 2 on a 1-10 scale. For all but the fittest folks, this is simply a brisk walk, perhaps an easy jog. The goal is to break a light sweat and elevate heart rate and respiration rate so you’re prepared for the next phase of the workout. A gentle warm-up allows blood concentrated in the organs to flow smoothly out to the extremities. This minimizes the fight or flight impact of transitioning from a sedentary state to an active state.
Granted, your body is capable of springing into action anytime via fight or flight mechanisms, but this increases the stress impact of the workout as you can imagine. Even if you’re just going for a moderately paced jog, you’ll start burning glucose immediately instead of fat because you’re prompting a six-fold increase in your metabolic output from a resting state too quickly. Once you stimulate glucose burning processes, it’s difficult to transition over to the desired fat burning-dominant jogging session. In contrast, if you leave the house, walk for a minute or two, move to a brisk walk for a minute or two, then start the intended aerobic jogging pace of your workout, you’re more likely to burn fat for the duration of the session. This is true for any exercise, so spin the pedals, paddle the board, or row the oars very slowly for several minutes at every workout.
Dynamic Stretches and Preparatory Drills
While an easy cardio warm-up is sufficient for most workouts, the high-intensity nature of sprinting requires more extensive preparations before you launch into the main work efforts. You’ve probably heard about the drawbacks and dangers associated with static stretching, whereby muscles are temporarily weakened after being stretched. Dynamic stretches are different—you’re moving muscles through an exaggerated range of motion, but not applying extra force beyond what’s required to go through the range of motion. I provide photos and detailed descriptions of a great set of dynamic stretches for running sprints in The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation and 21-Day Primal Reset video course.
Here’s a quick rundown of a great dynamic stretching sequence. (Stay tuned for a complete post on this important subject soon.)
- Knee-to-Chest: Start out gently pulling knees up to chest and releasing as you walk forward
- Pull Quads: Grab your foot from behind, pull gently up to butt, and release.
- Open Hips: Facing forward, rotate your knee up and along bodyline, then place directly in front of you. This is especially important to improve hip flexor mobility that is compromised by sitting in a chair all day.
- Mini-Lunge: Take exaggerated-length steps, getting your front thigh nearly parallel to the ground. Don’t overdo this one, it’s just warm-up!
I also recommend completing some preparatory drills that are actually quite difficult on their own but help refine excellent technique, and also build flexibility and mobility for sprinting. I’ll detail these drills in a future article about dynamic stretching. Generally, the drills help you refine good technique and avail full range of motion before you explode off the line at your first sprint. Following are a couple great drills to conduct before sprinting:
- Hopping Drill: Launch off one leg, driving knee high into chest, then land on the same leg. After a short hop forward, launch off opposite leg, driving knee high. Balance your launch effort between height and distance. Pump arms vigorously during each sequence.
- High Knees: This one will get your heart rate up, and help you focus on achieving correct form during sprints. Run forward with exaggerated knee lift, striving to slap palms. During actual sprinting, focus on preserving a tall, straight body, driving knees high, and maintaining a balanced center of gravity through fast, efficient leg turnover.
You should be feeling loose, fluid and explosive after the dynamic stretches—ready for some wind sprints! This is a term describing brief accelerations up to nearly full speed, then a quick easing off the gas pedal back to easy effort. Wind sprints are important to get the final kinks out, get the brain and body focused on proper technique, and hone your focus for the main set of sprints just ahead. Wind sprints can be done with bicycling, swimming, rowing or other type of sprint session. You just initiate a few powerful pedal strokes or rows to get up to speed, then quickly back off before feeling slightest bit of strain.
Wind sprints are the time for an honest evaluation of how you’re feeling and whether to proceed to the main set of sprints. Tudor Bompa, Ph.D., author of Periodization Training for Sports, describes the ready state as: optimally excited and uninhibited. You are about to fire fast twitch muscle fibers to their full potential, so you might want to emulate the Olympians and do some miniature explosive jumps and hops before you launch into your first sprint. If you feel particularly sluggish when you accelerate during the wind sprints, you may want to pull the plug on the workout.
Granted, sometimes it takes a while for the engine to get warmed up and the brain to get enthused about maximum explosive efforts, but after the warm-up, dynamic stretches, preparatory drills, and wind sprints, the goal is to feel nothing short of fantastic. Believe me, I have made the mistake many times of thinking I could man up and get through a sprint workout. Guess what? I can every time, but these are the sessions where I tweak or pull something, and/or experience much more muscle soreness and fatigue in the ensuing days.
Feeling optimally excited and uninhibited before the first sprint is critical, and it’s also important to preserve the sensation throughout the workout. What I often notice during sprint sessions is feeling great, great, great, and then noticing a bit more fatigue and sluggishness during the recovery period. I might drag my feet a bit during slow jogging, or my mind will wander from intense focus on the session to something relating to the business matters of the day. Pay attention to these little things throughout the session. If you’re endurance athlete, this requires a fundamental change in mindset from “endure” to “explode.” It’s a cool feeling to conduct yourself like a real athlete instead of just a plodder once in a while, so go for it!
(Optional) Intensive Sprint Preparation: Cold Immersion
Speaking of optimally excited and uninhibited, my writing sidekick Brad Kearns has been doing some interesting research and field testing with the practice of cold exposure, followed by a rewarming jog, followed by all-out sprints. Brad calls this operation the Unfrozen Caveman Runner (those in the older age groups will recognize the Saturday Night Life reference to one of Phil Hartman’s classic characters). The essence of the protocol is this: We know from research detailed in The Definitive Guide to Cold Therapy article that even a brief cold exposure of 20 seconds in 40ºF (4.4ºC) water triggers a 200-300% spike in norepinephrine lasting for an hour afterward. This is a legit hack to access the desired “optimally excited and uninhibited” state!
We also know that performing intense exercise on cold muscles and joints is completely stupid. Instead, you take the necessary time to rewarm after a cold immersion and before a sprint session. In Brad’s protocol, this entails a 30-minute jog at aerobic heart rates—extremely slow and gentle at first, and gradually warming into a typical training pace. Once warmed, you arrive at the track and ride the norepinephrine high for a breakthrough sprint session, as seen on Brad’s YouTube video.
The benefits of cold exposure to athletic performance and recovery have been validated in a laboratory setting by the inventors of the RTX cooling glove at Stanford University. In short, they invented a contraption you stick your hand into which quickly lowers your core body temperature. A very fit researcher named Vin Cao established a baseline fitness standard when he did 180 pull-ups in a single workout—performed in sets of 50 with three-minute breaks between sets. Not bad, for a Stanford researcher! After training with the glove for six weeks, and cooling his body temperature after every set of pull-ups, Cao was able to perform a mind-blowing 620 pull-ups in a single workout!
Your wind sprints are done? Now onto the main event.
Choose a duration between 10 and 20 seconds, and target your reps between 4 and 10. (If you’re new to sprinting, stick to no more than 4-5 reps.)
We haven’t talked about rest intervals yet, and Dr. Craig Marker and other experts urge you to take “luxurious” rest intervals during your sprint workouts. I must admit that this insight was a revelation to me.
I came to sprinting from an endurance background, where I spent decades suffering with the best of them. Wanna do a couple more reps? Sure—and forget the rest interval, let’s go right now! For years, I performed brief explosive sprints as directed, then after a brief jog would launch right into another one, and another. Why be luxurious when you can be tough? Well, it turns out that replenishing ATP and creatine phosphate (fuel used during explosive efforts of less than 30 seconds) requires around three minutes of rest before performing another maximum effort. Olympic sprinters will routinely rest for several minutes between efforts—not because they absolutely need to, but because this maximizes their ability to generate explosive force repeatedly, and minimizes cellular damage caused by the workout. Science geeks note: this is an oversimplified description of energy contribution during intense exercise. This article about the energy systems involved during intense exercise will give you a fabulous overview of everything you need to know to run a 43-flat 400-meter like Wayde Van Niekerk.
Dr. Craig Marker’s HIIT vs. HIRT article recommends a sensible work-to-rest pattern in a kettlebell workout of 10 seconds of explosive effort, repeated on the minute, for a maximum of 10 minutes. I find 50 seconds of rest is plenty for a sprint of short duration. Alas, we want luxurious as the top goal here, so feel free to extend your recovery time on the last few sprints to make sure you feel optimally excited and uninhibited every time.
Let’s put it all together with some sample sprint workouts. I’ll begin with my own running routine.
My Sprint Routine
Warm-up: 10 minutes of brisk walking/slow jogging. Maintain a heart rate well below aerobic maximum per Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula: “180 minus age” in beats per minute.
Dynamic Stretching and Preparatory Drills: Complete as directed, probably lasting 7-10 minutes.
Wind Sprints: Do 3-5 wind sprints where you move for perhaps 10 seconds, but only two seconds are at speed.
Sprint!: Pick a fixed distance such as half of a football field or running track straightaway, knowing that it will take around 10 seconds to complete. Conduct between 4 and 10 sprints, taking at least 50 seconds between sprints. Quit as soon as you notice any muscle tightness, breakdown in form, a slower than typical time for the same distance, or an increase in effort needed to achieve the same time.
Cool Down: Commence a gradual cooldown consisting of 7-10 minutes of light jogging or brisk walking, maintaining a heart rate below “180 minus age.” At the end, you should stop sweating, have a normal respiration rate and a heart rate near normal. If you have trouble spots, injury concerns or a rehab protocol (make sure to get your doctor’s and physical therapist’s okay before incorporating a sprint routine!), conduct your static stretches and/or foam rolling after your cooldown.
Active Recovery: In the ensuing 24-48 hours after your sprint workout, make a devoted effort to be more active than usual with increased walking (especially frequent work breaks), dynamic stretching, foam rolling and flexibility/mobility drills. It’s now clear that the most powerful recovery tool is simply movement.
Stationary Cycling Sprints
Warm-up: 10 minutes of easy pedaling. Maintain a heart rate well below aerobic maximum per Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula: “180 minus age” in beats per minute.
Dynamic Stretching and Preparatory Drills: You can still do these on a bike or rowing machine by exaggerating your range of motion. On the bike, I will try to hyperflex my ankles during pedal revolution, alternatively trying to touch the ground with pointed toes and dorsiflexing the ankle so the heel always rides high. I also will pause for a moment and lean forward onto my hamstring for a couple seconds, then resume pedaling. Find similar moves with rowing, swimming, or other that extend range of motion.
Wind Sprints: Do five quick accelerations up to sprinting speed, where you move for perhaps 10 seconds, but only two seconds are at speed.
Sprint!: Pick a fixed time duration of 20 seconds. Conduct between 4 and 10 sprints, taking at least 50 seconds between sprints. For example, you can set your watch to beep every 1 minute, 10 seconds, knowing it’s time to initiate another 20-second sprint at every beep.
Cool Down: Commence a gradual cooldown consisting of 5-10 minutes of easy pedaling, maintaining a heart rate below “180 minus age.” If you have trouble spots, injury concerns or a rehab protocol (make sure to get your doctor’s and physical therapist’s okay before incorporating a sprint routine!), conduct your static stretches and/or foam rolling after cooldown.
Active Recovery: In the ensuing 24 hours after your sprint workout, make a devoted effort to be more active than usual with increased walking (especially frequent work breaks), an easy aerobic pedaling session, dynamic stretching, foam rolling and flexibility/mobility drills. It’s now clear that the most powerful recovery tool is simply movement.
Finally, let’s wrap it up with some easy take-home points that review everything it takes for a powerful sprint workout routine.
- Choose the appropriate activity, either low or high impact
- Always be ready, feeling 100 percent rested and energized for a special workout
- Warm up with aerobic exercise at 180 minus age heart rate
- Complete dynamic stretches and preparatory drills
- Complete wind sprints
- Conduct main set with appropriate work efforts (10-20 seconds), luxurious rest intervals, and for 4-10 reps
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy cardio
- Keep active over ensuing days
- Recover completely before the next sprint workout
- Have fun getting off the TV treadmill and feeling like a real athlete!
Thanks for reading, everyone. Get out there, go hard, go home and report back about your experience. I look forward to hearing from you!
The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 2: Creating a Sprinting Workout (+Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First up, what can a person do to help their gut recover its barrier function after too many antibiotics? Are there any foods, supplements, or dietary strategies? Second, what can explain rapid fatigue during sprint sessions on a keto diet? Is this simply part of the deal, or are there modifications you can make? And finally, what do I do when I know I’m going to get a bad night’s sleep?
Mark – any idea how to cure leaky gut caused by overuse of antibiotics. Tried raw dairy for a month to no avail.
First of all, check out my post on leaky gut. Read through it and follow my suggestions for preventing and treating intestinal permeability. It’s a great place to start.
Then, let’s look at some other interventions that have been shown to improve recovery from antibiotic therapy. While most of the studies referenced don’t explicitly describe antibiotic-induced leaky gut, anything that improves gut function and restores healthy gut bacteria will also normalize leaky gut—since it’s the eradication of native gut bacteria that causes antibiotic-induced leaky gut.
Fermented dairy. You tried raw dairy. What about fermented dairy? While raw dairy has its merits, it’s fermented dairy that just works for recovery from antibiotics. Yogurt is a good option to try, although the evidence is a bit inconsistent. Kefir is probably better; it’s been shown to improve patients’ tolerance to triple antibiotic therapy during treatment for H. pylori infection. This is even worth consuming during antibiotic therapy, as many of the probiotic bacteria found in fermented dairy show resistance to common antibiotics.
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are also must-eats. The fermented cabbage contains ample amounts of L. plantarum, a bacteria strain that’s been shown to prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea in piglets (another omnivorous mammal). Good options exist in stores (check the refrigerated section; shelf-stable pickles and kraut aren’t lactofermented), and even more are available in farmer’s markets, but the best way to get the most bacteria-rich vegetable ferments is to make your own.
Supplemental probiotics are fantastic here, too: large doses of the desired microorganisms delivered directly to your gut. Some of the strains used in Primal Probiotics, like B. clausii and S. boulardii, have been shown to be effective against antibiotic-related diarrhea, so that could be a good choice.
Don’t forget the food for your gut bugs: prebiotics. You need to eat fermentable fibers and other prebiotics like resistant starch to support the growth and maintenance of the helpful bacteria that improve gut barrier function. Consider eating cooked and cooled potatoes, unheated potato starch, leeks, garlic, onions, green bananas, apples, pears, berries, and pretty much any fruit or vegetable you can get your hands on. Plenty of them are low-carb enough to work on a keto diet, if that’s your desire. Oh, and dark chocolate is a great source of fiber and polyphenols, which have prebiotic effects in the gut.
Incorporate intermittent fasting. Going without food for a spell gives your gut a break and induces autophagy, which can help with tissue healing.
Get dirty, too, to introduce potentially helpful bacteria. Go out and garden. Go barefoot at the park (do your due/doo diligence, of course) and practice tumbling, or roughhouse with your kids (or friends). Don’t immediately rush to wash your hands all the time (unless you’ve been handling raw meat and/or dog poop).
Whatever you do, don’t stress too much about the antibiotics you had to take. Stress is awful for gut health and you’ve already taken the antibiotics—which were probably necessary—so that ship has sailed.
If probiotics with prebiotics aren’t helping (or making things worse), you might want to try going the opposite direction—removing all plant foods and doing a carnivore diet for a few weeks. While I have doubts about the long term viability and safety of eschewing all plant foods, enough people have written to me about their great experiences resolving gut issues with a bout of carnivory that it’s worth trying.
When on a strict keto plan, why do I become so quickly fatigued while attempting a HIT sprint workout?
The first five seconds of a sprint are primarily powered by phosphocreatine (or creatine phosphate), a “quick burst” energy source that burns hot but disappears quickly. This is the stuff used to perform max effort Olympic lifts, short sprints, and other rapid expressions of maximum power. It doesn’t last very long and takes a couple minutes to replenish itself. A keto diet doesn’t affect our creatine phosphate levels. If anything, it should improve them if we’re eating meat.
After five seconds, anaerobic metabolism of muscle glycogen provides the lion’s share of your energy needs. The longer your sprint, the more glycogen you’ll burn. The less glycogen you carry in your muscles, the shorter your sprint. Because once you run out of creatine phosphate and glycogen, you’re left with aerobic metabolism—great for longer distances, not so great for max effort sprints.
Keto dieters tend to walk around with less glycogen in their muscles. If that’s the case, longer sprints will be harder.
If you want to keep sprinting:
Do shorter sprints. Try a 10-second hill sprint rather than a 20-second one. Really go hard. Heck, you can even do 5-second sprints and derive major benefits; just do more of them and make sure to recover in between. There’s no rule saying you have to sprint for 20-30 seconds.
Take longer rest periods. Give your muscles a chance to replenish more creatine phosphate (and take creatine or eat red meat and fish, which are the best sources of dietary creatine).
Eat 20-30 grams of carbs 30 minutes before a sprint session. See if it helps. Alternatively, you can eat the 20-30 grams of carbs after the sprint session to replenish lost glycogen stores (without really impacting your ketone adaptation, by the way).
Most people figure out their sprinting sweet spot while doing keto. They may have to play around with the dosages, durations, and rest periods, but you can usually make it work. Be open to trying new permutations.
If you knew you were going to have a poor nights sleep, what measures would you take to reduce some of the damage?
I would exercise hard that night. Normally, a bad night’s sleep tanks your insulin sensitivity the next day, giving you the insulin resistance and glucose tolerance of a diabetic. A good hard interval session the night before a bad night’s sleep, however, counters the next-day insulin resistance.
I would make the most of it. Don’t dawdle. Don’t beat yourself up because of the impending sleep deprivation. It’s going to happen. You have to accept it, not let it destroy you.
Enjoy it. A little-known acute treatment for depression is sleep deprivation. That’s right: a single night of sleep deprivation has been shown to ameliorate depression in patients with clinical depression. Sometimes the effect lasts up to several weeks. It’s not a long term or sustainable fix for clinical depression, obviously, and you can’t do it every single night—chronic sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for developing depression—but it can improve your mood if you give in to it.
I would set out a jar of cassia cinnamon. I always add cassia cinnamon to my coffee in the morning after bad sleep; cassia cinnamon the day after a bad night’s sleep attenuates the loss of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for writing in and reading! If you have any input on today’s round of questions, let me know down below.
De vrese M, Kristen H, Rautenberg P, Laue C, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in a fermented milk product with added fruit preparation reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea and Helicobacter pylori activity. J Dairy Res. 2011;78(4):396-403.
Bekar O, Yilmaz Y, Gulten M. Kefir improves the efficacy and tolerability of triple therapy in eradicating Helicobacter pylori. J Med Food. 2011;14(4):344-7.
Erginkaya Z, Turhan EU, Tatl? D. Determination of antibiotic resistance of lactic acid bacteria isolated from traditional Turkish fermented dairy products. Iran J Vet Res. 2018;19(1):53-56.
Yang KM, Jiang ZY, Zheng CT, Wang L, Yang XF. Effect of Lactobacillus plantarum on diarrhea and intestinal barrier function of young piglets challenged with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli K88. J Anim Sci. 2014;92(4):1496-503.
Jitomir J, Willoughby DS. Cassia cinnamon for the attenuation of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss. J Med Food. 2009;12(3):467-72.
The post Dear Mark: Antibiotic Recovery, Sprinting on Keto, Preparing for Bad Sleep appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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I’m a believer in working hard AND playing hard. When we get stuck in patterns of overwork and overstress, we lose the important connection with our creative, intuitive, playful selves. Our work suffers and so does our happiness (which means everything else, like our relationships, will, too). Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading experts on play, calls play a “profound biologic process.” What we all know (or used to know until modern living helped us forget) is that play is an essential component of our physical development and general well-being. From a personal standpoint, the older I get the more I recognize play as the linchpin for my own sense of vitality. As a result, I prioritize play—even above exercise. Fortunately, however, I’ve grown into a new relationship with fitness as a result of play. I gave up the slog of grueling training regimens decades ago now, but to this day I’m still living more deeply into a play-based fitness vision. Let me show you a bit of what that looks like for me….
You all have heard me talk about Ultimate—probably as long as Mark’s Daily Apple has been around. The fact is, it’s as thrilling for me today as it was twelve years ago. Nothing else quite combines the diversity of essential movement and the heart of play like Ultimate does. In a single hour, I’m getting regular sprinting, lateral movement, agility training, recovery phases, and mind-body coordination to skillfully throw, catch and move on the field. I love the intense challenge and fast pace of the game.
Ultimate plays very similarly to rugby or football. The field has two end zones, and a team scores by catching a pass in the defensive team’s end zone. The defending team performs a “pull” (think “kickoff” in football) to start the match (and after every subsequent point scored). The offense moves the disc by passing to teammates in any direction. Once a player catches the disc, he must come to a stop as quickly as possible. From this position, he can only move his non-pivot foot. A player has ten seconds to throw the disc after catching it.
The disc changes hands either by turnover or after a score. A turnover occurs when a pass is not completed, intercepted, dropped, blocked, held for longer than the allotted ten seconds, or thrown out of bounds. The defending team assumes control of the disc immediately following a turnover, from wherever the disc lands on the field. There is no stoppage of play (unless a foul, injury or bad weather occurs).
From a physical standpoint, you’re out there running, leaping, twisting, grabbing, throwing, and bumping into other players. You use practically every muscle in the body (if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong) and, rather than long protracted runs, you engage in short bursts of speed and activity punctuated by walking and brief jogging (almost like you’re on the hunt). Not only does it take keen, quick thinking, remarkable agility and throwing accuracy, and raw athleticism, but it also promotes good teamwork and sportsmanship. In fact, Ultimate has an official “Spirit of the Game” (SOTG), a sort of mission statement that stresses sportsmanship and honor. Highly competitive play is condoned, but not at the cost of general camaraderie. Everyone is out there to have a good time and get some great exercise.
Check it out.
Want more ideas for active play? Here you go.
- 15 Concrete Ways To Play
- Crawling, Balancing, Rolling: The Importance of Practicing Natural Movements
- 10 Ideas To Make Workouts More Fun
- The 10 Rules of Successful Exercise
- Workout Suggestion: Planned Spontaneity
And for more on the importance of play for a Primal Blueprint lifestyle, check out these resources.
- The Definitive Guide To Play
- The Lost Art of Play: Reclaiming a Primal Tradition
- The Importance of Play, Long Walks and Outdoor Workouts—Or Why the Optional Stuff Isn’t Actually Optional
Now you tell me: what’s your favorite way to play? How do you merge the Primal goals of mobility and fitness with everyday enjoyment? Thanks for stopping in today.
The post My Favorite Way To Play: Ultimate Frisbee Workout (with Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering six questions from readers. First, is funding from a biased source sufficient to negate a study’s results? Second, what are some good high intensity interval training workouts that people might not have considered? Third, what can someone recovering from an ACL tear do for HIIT without triggering knee pain flareups? Fourth, how do I like to eat spinach? And finally, how and when do I like to take collagen?
On the nuts vs. carbs study, I want to say ‘follow the money’ since it was funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation. Then again, it was also funded by the Peanut Institute, so I don’t know what to think…
“Following the money” isn’t enough to come to any conclusions about the worth of a study. We can’t declare a study tainted based on bias alone, especially because we can’t avoid bias. Every person reading studies and deciding which one to write about is biased. Every organization meting out funding has biases. Every entity in the known universe has an agenda. It’s not “bad” (or good). It simply is.
If the cow consortium funds the “red meat is actually good for you” study, red meat is still good for you. The bias doesn’t negate the facts. Big Soy funds the “don’t worry about the quarter cup of soybean oil in your restaurant food” study, but it’s only a mark against the paper if the science was shoddy and the conflict of interest exerted influence (which it probably was and did).
But I totally understand where you’re coming from. There’s an entrenched bias against most of the health advice we support. The powers that be have spent decades telling us to avoid the sun, restrict meat (especially red meat), go vegetarian, eat low-fat, get “more complex carbohydrates,” use seed oils, do cardio over weights, eat less salt, and blindly drink more water. They’re not just going to go away—and they aren’t.
So whenever I see a study’s been funded by an obviously biased source, I can’t help but wonder and look more deeply at the paper with a skeptical eye. It sounds like you do the same. That’s great. It’s the kind of healthy skepticism we should all have and employ in our search for good information.
We just can’t stop there.
If the results of a study are unfavorable to the funders, it’s a strong indication that the funding didn’t interfere with the science.
If the results are favorable to the funders, our hackles rise. We examine the study methods, design, and results to see if bias affected the results. Many times it doesn’t. Sometimes it does.
Can you point us in the direction of a good HIIT workout and what it should look like?
Here are a couple ideas:
Hill sprints. Find a hill and run up, then walk down. Walking down serves as active recovery. Steeper hills, shorter sprints with more rest. Hills with a gradual incline, longer sprints. All permutations work. Though extremely difficult, hill sprints are good options for many people with lower body injuries that flare up on flat ground sprints; running up a hill is gentler on your joints.
Barbell complexes. Pick 3-4 barbell movements. Clean and press for 5 reps. Romanian deadlift for 5 reps. Clean to shoulders, then front squat for 5 reps. Finish with 5 bent over rows. Do that without stopping or dropping the weight. That’s a complex. Drop the bar and rest a minute or two, then do another complex. Repeat. This works with any barbell movement, and you can even do kettlebell or bodyweight complexes. Adjust weight and reps accordingly. These complexes should be hard (but over quickly).
I tore my ACL 6 months ago. Although I am walking 5-7 miles a day and doing heavy lifting for my upper body. I am only able to do ball squats carefully at this point. Any HIIT ideas for me at this point? The bike causes pain on the front of my knee still.
Check with your doctor, but deadlifts are probably safe during knee rehab. Do them right and there’s very little knee flexion (it sounds like flexion hurts the knee); it’s all hip extension.
Deadlifts can become “cardio” if you drop the weight and increase the reps. Just maintain impeccable form. Don’t sacrifice technique (and back health) for a couple extra reps.
If you can deadlift safely for high reps without pain, the next thing to try is the kettlebell swing. Swinging a kettlebell is very similar to deadlifting a barbell—it’s all hip extension—and lends itself well to high-rep, HIIT-style workouts.
I’m one of few people I know who enjoys eating basically any type of offal (no problems with raw), but can’t handle spinach by itself. Any advice? Also, ever tried meditatin’?
And here’s where I’ll get thrown out of my own movement because of one of the ingredients.
Sauté spinach (frozen or fresh) in butter for a minute, add a handful of corn kernels (fresh or frozen, but organic or at least non-GMO), add salt, pepper, and dried chipotle pepper powder (as much as you can tolerate), cover, and turn heat to low. After about ten minutes, it’s ready. Finish with grated sharp cheddar or pecorino romano.
I don’t eat this often (never while keto), and it’s certainly not the only way I enjoy spinach. A good raw spinach salad is fantastic, as is basic sautéd spinach without the corn. But I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like the spinach-corn-chipotle recipe, even avowed spinach haters like yourself.
I’m curious about when Mark was supplementing heavily with collagen. Did he do that at breakfast as his only food, lunch in lieu of some other protein, a shake between lunch and dinner? What have other folks done?
I’m wary of too much protein in one sitting.
I would have 2-3 tablespoons of collagen with a little vitamin C half an hour before a workout. That’s been shown to increase collagen synthesis, a necessary step for healing tendons and other tissues.
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and take care!
Be sure to add your own comments, questions, and input down below.
The post Dear Mark: Following the Money, HIIT Workouts, HIIT and ACL Recovery, Spinach, Collagen Timing appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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People go keto for many different reasons. Some want to get better at burning fat so they have a clean, reliable source of steady energy at all times. Some people are treating a neurodegenerative disease, or trying to prevent one from occurring in the first place. Others just want to lose body fat, take advantage of the cognitive effects of ketosis, or stop seizures. Those are all common reasons to go keto. Another reason people go keto is for the benefits to physical performance.
Keto increases energy efficiency. You can do more in the aerobic (fat-burning) zone than a sugar-burner.
Keto spares glycogen. The more fat you’re able to utilize, the more glycogen you preserve for truly intense efforts.
Keto builds new mitochondria. Mitochondria are the power plants of our cells. More mitochondria means a larger engine.
That said, the performance benefits take a few weeks to manifest. During this time, a common side effect of the keto transition is reduced performance in the gym. People report feeling sluggish, slow, weak, and flabby in the days and weeks leading up to their adaptation. It’s understandable (and somewhat expected) why this can happen:
Fat provides tons of energy at a slow rate—but you’re not great at accessing it yet.
Glucose is more scarce but provides energy rapidly—and you just took it out of your diet.
Is there anything you can do to improve your performance in the gym during the transition?
Preserving Performance During the Keto Transition
Increase Fat Content
This goes without saying. Of course you’ll be eating more fat on a ketogenic diet. Right? What I mean is you should increase fat even more than you think for the first week. This has the effect of increasing AMPK activity, which hastens the creation of fat-burning mitochondria, upregulates fat metabolism, and speeds up your ability to utilize ketone bodies.
Increase Intake of Specific Fats
Certain fatty acids seem to increase AMPK more than others. The most potent ones I’ve found are:
- Long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), and shellfish.
- Extra virgin olive oil rich in polyphenols. The more peppery the oil, the more polyphenols.
- Palmitoleic acid, an omega-7 monounsaturated fat. The best source is mac nuts, unless you’re the type to eat whale blubber.
Include some mac nuts, EVOO, and wild fatty fish (or quality fish oil) on a regular basis.
Take Your Electrolytes
Electrolytes are already essential when transitioning toward a ketogenic diet. Since they regulate muscle contractions, heart function, intracellular fluid balance, and nerve impulses, they’re even more important when you’re exercising, Try 4.5 grams sodium (about 2 teaspoons of fine salt or a little under 3 teaspoons of kosher salt), 300-400 mg magnesium, and 1-2 grams of potassium each day on top of your normal food. Going keto really flushes out water weight, and tons of electrolytes leave with it.
Stick To Weights and Walking
The big problem with physical performance during the keto transition is that you’re not great at burning fat, you’re still reliant on glucose to fuel your training, and you don’t have much glucose coming in. For the transition window, this makes high intensity, high volume training a bad idea.
Running a race-pace 10k is going to be hard. Participating in the CrossFit Games is a bad idea. You haven’t yet built the machinery necessary to make those work, nor do you have the glucose necessary to tide you over. You know what will work? Weights and walking.
Walking is totally aerobic, using almost no glycogen of note. Weight training can be glycogen-dependent, but doesn’t have to be if you keep weights high and volume low. Think low (2-6 reps) volume weight training. Whatever you do, the key is to make sure your training is low-stress.
Stick to weights and walking and you’ll hasten keto-adaptation, not harm it. Then you can resume some of your normal activities.
Creatine boosts muscle content of phosphocreatine, which we can use to generate large amounts of ATP in a short period of time for quick bursts of speed or strength. This doesn’t dip into glycogen or fat. It’s ATP-PC, or ATP-phosphocreatine. If you’re going to sprint or lift heavy stuff, you’ll definitely want extra creatine in your muscles.
No need to “pre-load” creatine. Just take 5 grams a day and be sure to drink plenty of water and get plenty of electrolytes (which you’ll already be doing on keto).
If you’re going to sprint on keto, keep a few tips in mind.
Short sprints—3-5 seconds.
Plenty of rest—as much as you need to go as hard and fast as the last one. This gives you the chance to replenish some of your phosphocreatine.
This won’t fully replenish your ATP-PC stores. You won’t be able to go as hard, or do as many reps as you’d like in subsequent sprints. But if you absolutely must sprint, this the way to do it without relying on glucose. Look for the sensation of diminished power. That’s when you’re hitting the PC wall and will start dipping into glucose. Avoid that sensation. Stop short of it.
Don’t freak out if you “dip into glucose,” though. Yeah, dipping into glucose constantly will inhibit keto-adaptation in the early stages, but once or twice won’t make a big difference. Just don’t make glucose-intensive work a habit.
Get Primal Endurance
Brad Kearns and I wrote Primal Endurance because endurance athletes needed a better, safer, healthier way to do the thing they love-hated. I know, because that was us. We both got out of serious endurance athletics because it was harming more than helping us. But that doesn’t mean we stopped missing it. Once an endurance athlete, always an endurance athlete. You can’t shake the bug.
Primal Endurance shows you how to build a powerful, long-lasting aerobic base using primarily stored body fat. It’s the perfect complement to a keto lifestyle, especially if you want to optimize your athletic performance and make your physical activity support rather than inhibit keto-adaptation.
Understand the Purpose of Training
Lifting in the gym isn’t a competition. You’re not being paid. The whole point of lifting weights, running sprints, and doing low level aerobic activity is to get better at doing those things. It’s not about “winning” every workout. That’s what training is—accepting paltry results with the assurance that you’re getting better. Think about it.
When you add 50 pounds to the bar, it’s harder. The bar moves more slowly. You can’t do as many reps. From your brain’s perspective, you’re suddenly “weaker.” Yet, it’s the best way to get stronger in the long run.
When you try a new sport or physical activity, you’re no good. You’re a beginner. People you’re sure you could trounce in your preferred activities are destroying you. This doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you have to get better. And if you stick with it, you will get better.
When you train on your newly keto diet, think of it like you’re increasing weight, upping the intensity, or learning a new sport. You’re not weaker. You’re not getting worse. The training is getting harder. The pain is increasing. And, although it might not feel like it right now, you’re going to be better off in the long run.
Once you’re fully fat-adapted and able to utilize fats, ketones, and glycogen, you’re going to be an unstoppable force.
Okay, that’s short term. What about long term?
How To Enhance Performance Long-Term With Keto
Carb Cycle When Necessary
Once you’ve been keto for at least a month, don’t be afraid to cycle in carbs to support your intense training. If you’ve depleted muscle glycogen with an intense training session, you’ve created a glycogen debt and any carbs you eat in the hours following that workout will go to repleting that glycogen. Best of all, intense training upregulates insulin-independent glycogen uptake immediately post-workout. That means if you do it right, you don’t even need to increase insulin to shove those glucose molecules into your muscles.
Carb Cycle the Right Way
Many people do carb cycling on keto completely wrong. They spend two days binging on bear claws and gummy bears then wonder why they’ve gained weight and lost progress. A few tips:
You probably need fewer carbs than you think. A little snack of 20-40 grams of carbs right after a really intense workout can make all the difference in the world without knocking you out of ketosis, provided you’ve accumulated enough of a glycogen debt.
Choose the right carbs. A sweet potato the night before to top off glycogen stores, a cooked-and-cooled white potato (diced and quickly seared until crispy in a pan is my favorite way to eat these), or UCAN Superstarch (whose slow absorption has minimal impact on insulin and thus ketones) are all good choices.
Do it for the right reasons. Don’t carb cycle because you miss French fries. Carb cycle because you’ve depleted glycogen.
And hell, briefly exiting ketosis isn’t the end of the world. Most people doing keto aren’t doing it as a life or death intervention. They just want to look, feel, and perform better. Don’t let keto become an ideology. It is a tool for your pleasure.
Chase Results, Not Ketones
In my experience, the people who focus on results rather than ketone readings do best.
Heck, if you spend half your time stressing about your ketone levels, the resultant cortisol will probably trigger gluconeogenesis and inhibit keto-adaptation by introducing a flood of new glucose into your body.
Are you leaning out? Thinking more clearly? Skipping the afternoon nap and breakroom donuts without even thinking about it? Lifting more? Running easier? Lab tests improving?
Then you’re good. That’s what matters.
Besides, the point of keto-adaptation is fat-adaptation—the ability of your muscles to utilize free fatty acids. That’s the real power of going keto, because once the fat-burning machinery is established and your muscles can use fats directly, you have more leeway to eat protein and cycle carbs.
Those are the tips I’ve found to be most useful for people acclimating to exercise on a keto diet. What’s worked for you?
The post Exercising While Keto: 11 Tips for the Transition (and Long-Term) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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HIIT (high-intensity interval training) was recently ranked the number one fitness trend in the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2018 worldwide survey. Little surprise to any of us who have been here a while.
People love high-intensity interval training because it’s a quick, efficient way to reap the same (or even greater) fitness benefits as a long, traditional cardio session—with generally less wear and tear, less physical stress, and (much) less time investment. It’s a core part of the Primal Blueprint approach to fitness and a consistent part of my own routine.
But I find it still intimidates beginners…particularly older men and women, those who have been inactive for years and those who are overweight.
Just a little refresher on the comparative benefits. The often quoted landmark 1996 study comparing the effects of HIIT and moderate-intensity cardio found that performing HIIT five days per week was more effective for improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness than performing traditional cardio five days per week. The HIIT workout from this study was eventually dubbed the Tabata protocol and consisted of alternating seven to eight 20-second sprints with 10 seconds of rest.
Since then, we know interval training is effective in less frequent schedules. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity reveals three weekly HIIT sessions helped female participants lose as much as 7.3 pounds after 15 weeks. Meanwhile, moderate-intensity cardio led women to gain nearly three pounds over the same time period.
As for fitness gains, in one study, two weeks of sprint interval training, for a total of six sessions, were enough to increase muscle oxidative potential (resting muscle glycogen content) and aerobic endurance capacity in trainees. In a 2007 study, researchers discovered that the metabolic adaptations produced by low-volume sprint training are remarkably similar to those produced by traditional endurance training. Although long distance Chronic Cardio has always been touted as the best way to improve heart health, another HIIT study showed that sprint interval training is just as effective at improving arterial stiffness and flow-mediated dilation, two markers of endothelial function and helpful ways to predict heart health. And how about actual performance outcomes? Another study found that low volume sprint interval training conferred rapid adaptations in skeletal muscle and exercise capacity – similar to those obtained via high volume endurance training.
If this is you, it might surprise you to know that HIIT is way more doable than you think it is. Doable doesn’t mean easy (interval training inherently needs to feel hard), but it does mean entirely attainable. Virtually anyone can make it work with appropriate transitioning.
Yes, those with heart conditions may be concerned that intense exercise will trigger a heart attack. Indeed, if you have a history of heart disease, heart attack or stroke, you’ll want consult with your primary care provider before starting HIIT or any exercise program. (You’ll also want to check with your doc if you have an underlying health issue such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension or osteoporosis.) However, it’s worth noting that HIIT is considered a viable alternative to moderate-intensity cardio in cardiac rehabilitation programs.
Perhaps you’re worried you simply won’t enjoy the intensity of HIIT? Consider this: When researchers from the University of British Columbia tested the overall enjoyment level of moderate-intensity cardio, HIIT and sprint interval training (SIT) with 30 inactive adults, they found that the men and women ranked HIIT and moderate-intensity cardio as equally enjoyable. What’s more, 79 percent of the men and women went on to do HIIT on their own once the study was over.
The options for HIIT are practically endless. In fact, you can do an effective HIIT workout with low-impact activities. Remember, it’s the intensity of your efforts that separates your inclined walk or bodyweight exercises from a traditional workout. With HIIT, you’re working anywhere between 85 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate, alternating short bursts of activity with brief recovery periods.
Ready to give HIIT a try? Assuming your doc gave you the go-ahead, here are a few ways to ease into HIIT.
Start With Equipment (If It Makes You Feel More Comfortable)
I’m not talking box jumps here. I mean the basic machines a lot of people identify with regular gym workouts. (While I think most are unnecessary in the long-term, they have a role to play for many folks.) Most HIIT studies use stationary bikes—for good reason. They’re a bit safer for the average person who’s working on mobility as well as fitness capacity to start out on a bike or elliptical or inclined treadmill or rowing machine than to suddenly max out on running. Look at the many alternative options. Purists don’t get extra points here.
Go For Multi-Joint Exercises/Activities
Moves that recruit a lot of different muscle groups will distribute the work more evenly across multiple joints than isolation exercises like biceps curls. Great options include squats, walking or jogging at an incline, push-ups (elevate your hands as needed), elliptical sprints, swimming, crawling, jumping jacks and walking lunges. Begin by using your bodyweight only and add light resistance when you’re ready.
Scale Back (and Up) When Needed
Burpees may be great for people who are already working from good form and solid fitness, but for others they can be a poor choice and ruin the whole endeavor just as these folks are getting out of the gate. Don’t be afraid to modify exercises as needed. If a workout calls for burpees, try omitting the push-up and the jump at the top. If you find jumping exercises (ex. squat jumps, jumping lunges, jumping jacks) hard on your joints, shorten the jump height so end up doing little hops instead. If you have a hard time lowering into a full bodyweight squat, only go as low as you can. As you gain strength and fitness, scale up the exercises.
Take things slow and easy—especially in the beginning. Start with one HIIT workout per week and build up to no more than two or three. It may take you a few workouts to get the hang of things, so don’t be afraid to slow your tempo and experiment with different exercises to find the most appropriate ones for your fitness level. How quickly you progress will depend on your current fitness level, the time you have available to train, and whether you have any underlying health issues. And remember, what works for someone else may not work for you. Listen to your body and progress according to your own timeline.
Thanks for stopping by, everybody. Who’s been putting off including an interval component in their workouts? I’d love to hear more about your concerns. And those who were hesitant but took on the challenge, how did you manage the transition? Have a great week.
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Generally speaking, the basic Primal Blueprint for fitness and physical activity applies equally to men and women of all ages. Lifting heavy things works in everyone. Sprinting is a fantastic way—for anyone who’s able—to compress workouts and improve training efficiency. Improving one’s aerobic capacity through easy cardio doesn’t discriminate between the sexes. And everyone should walk, hike, garden, and perform as much low level physical activity as possible. These basic foundations—the 30,000 foot view of fitness—don’t really change across age or sex.
But the details do, especially for women.
You see, women are in a unique position. As men age, the hormonal environment degenerates. They still make the same basic hormones in the same proportions, only the absolute numbers decline. As women age, the hormonal environment shifts dramatically. The menopausal ovaries no longer produce enough follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to regulate estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, causing the latter hormones to fluctuate in novel ways.
What kind of hormonal changes and physiological developments occur in the aging woman that might affect how best to train?
- Atrophied muscle and reduced strength. As estrogen drops, so does muscle function.
- More of a “male” body fat distribution. Postmenopausal women tend to gain more belly fat.
- Reduced bone mass. The menopausal hormonal environment leads to a reduction in vitamin D synthesis and absorption, lower calcium levels, and reduced bone mass.
- Vascular changes. After menopause, arteries become stiffer. Hypertension becomes more likely.
- Exercise intolerance. This one’s a real bummer. You know you need to exercise more than ever to stave off some of the side effects of aging, but your aging hormonal environment is making exercise harder to tolerate.
What takeaways are there? How can you counter or mitigate some of these effects?
Exercise Can Improve Body Comp
Exercise becomes more effective at improving body composition after menopause than before. This may be a “benefit” of the more male body fat distribution patterns. After all, men’s body comp tends to respond more quickly to training than women’s.
Get Started Right Away
If you don’t have much experience with exercise, do it immediately. Don’t wait for the negative effects to accrue. Even if you’ve lived a charmed life where not exercising didn’t really impact your ability to function, that could very well change. The earlier into menopause you start training, the better. The negative changes to exercise tolerance, bone density, and muscle function take awhile to develop, and during the early post-menopause period, your ability to train and reap the benefits of that training is pretty similar to your pre-menopause ability.
Just Do Something
The perimenopausal and early menopausal years can be rough going for many women. You just feel off. You’re not sleeping well. Things are, well, different, and you don’t necessarily have a lot of support to make sense of it or adjust to it. Even though research shows that a minimal amount of exercise can have a big effect on weight gain and disease risk after menopause, sleeplessness or fatigue might be telling you not to do it. Well, that’s not going to cut it. Overcome that. There’s no easy way to say this. No tricks. Just make the decision to exercise, do so regularly for at least a couple weeks, and your exercise tolerance will go up, physical activity will be intrinsically rewarding, and everything will start to improve.
Make Sure You Eat Enough Meat, Dairy, and Other Animal Foods
Protein utilization efficiency drops the older you get, so the older you are the more protein you need to get the job done. Even studies that purport to show negative effects from meat consumption find that older adults benefit from increasing meat. Total protein and dairy protein intake also predict muscle mass and bone mass in postmenopausal women. And meat isn’t just about the protein. It’s also about the micronutrients, like iron, copper (found in organ meats), zinc (high in red meat), carnitine (high in red meat), and phosphatidylserine (high in egg yolks, present in Primal Calm)—all of which have been found to improve women’s physical performance when packaged in a convenient supplement.
Go Into Middle Age As Fit As Possible
Good fitness—aerobic capacity, muscle mass, physical strength, mobility—is a reserve against aging-related degeneration. The fitter you are when menopause hits, the more manageable the transition and the slower that degeneration will be over the subsequent decades.
Intensity Is Important
If anything, it’s more critical for the older woman to push the intensity than anyone else. She often has the most to lose in muscle mass and bone strength. Again and again, across study after study in menopausal women, “low-intensity” doesn’t work as well as higher-intensity training. It still works, mind you. But the greater intensity stuff gives extra benefits.
For instance, in a study comparing a low-intensity aerobic/resistance program to a higher-intensity aerobic/resistance program, both improved muscle strength and walking ability, but only the higher-intensity program improved dynamic balance—a major risk factor for falls.
Intensity Is Relative
By “high-intensity,” I’m not suggesting that a 62 year-old woman do high-rep bodyweight front squats or try to do a double bodyweight deadlift (unless she knows what she’s doing), just that she push the envelope ever so slightly. If your inclination is to do rows with 20 pound dumbbells, consider 25 pounders. If air squats are easy, try them with a weight vest. Sprinting doesn’t have to take place on a track; it can happen in a pool, on a tough hike, or on the bike. Things should be tough but doable.
Volume Should Be Moderate
Exercise has a way of brute forcing glucose tolerance by increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake by muscles, so you’ll be better off than the women who don’t exercise at all, but there’s still a limit because menopause tends to inhibit carbohydrate metabolism and glucose tolerance. High volumes of training, especially if you’re heeding the previous advice to increase the intensity, demand a level of carbohydrate intake that your body probably isn’t prepared to handle.
Lift Heavy Things Twice a Week
You could do more, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Lifting (relatively) heavy weights provides the necessary stimulus to maintain bone density and muscle strength. Movements that engage the whole body, like deadlifts and farmer carries, will be most effective and efficient. These exercises replicate real world movements, like picking up grandkids or carrying grocery bags, that you need to perform. If you’re uncomfortable with these movements, find a good trainer.
Walk a Ton
Walking is magic for everyone, but especially post-menopausal women, for whom a three-day-a-week walking habit improves resistance to heart failure. Join a walking group. Better yet, start one in your circle of friends. Be the example, the leader. No one else will. And set a brisk pace when you do walk. The brisker, the better.
Always Choose the Stairs
Stair climbing itself is a great form of exercise for post-menopausal women, improving leg strength and endothelial function. As a mindset, “taking the stairs” is even more valuable. It’s doing the hard thing. It’s parking in the far lot and walking a quarter mile. It’s carrying your own bags. It’s a mindset to embody: “I’m strong enough, capable enough, and tough enough to take the stairs while people half my age use the elevator to go one floor.”
Compare Yourself To Who You Were Two Weeks Ago, Not the 20-Year-Olds At the Gym
The trend is everything. If you’re getting better, that’s what matters. You are not other people. We all have different situations, capacities, genetic histories, and hormonal profiles. Focus on beating your former self, even if only by a couple pounds lifted or seconds shaved from a sprint time—and nothing else.
Look Into Hormone Replacement Therapy
Since estrogen plays such a key role in women’s physiological function, many studies find exercise to be more beneficial in postmenopausal women who take HRT than in postmenopausal women who do not. It’s a highly personal choice, but I’ll have more on this topic in the future.
Aging women aren’t a different species. Menopause doesn’t really change how you should train in a fundamental way. There aren’t any magical menopause-specific exercises. It just makes certain types of training—and exercise in general—that much more important for health and overall function. You could “get away” with not training much before (not really, but you can fool yourself). Now you can’t. Now you have to exercise and move on a regular basis if you want to maintain functional capacity, take care of yourself, and stick around to enjoy your loved ones.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care, and I’d love to hear from any people out there with direct or indirect experience with menopause. How did your training change? How did you change?
As always, direct any questions down below.
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