Yep, I'm that guy who maximizes my time spent sitting in traffic by training my lungs with a resisted breath trainer while performing hand sets on a grip strengthening device and listening to audiobooks on an .mp3 player.
I also walk on a treadmill while doing phone consults, stand on a balance-building mat while doing podcasts, sport a weighted vest while doing yard chores, and wear ice-packed vests and special cold thermogenesis clothing to burn fat while working on my books.
So why go through all that “trouble” rather than simply taking the traditional route of hopping on an exercise bike or hoisting a barbell?
In the article “Does Biohacking Your Body Really Work”, I tackle this often uncomfortable and awkward topic of why you may want to consider maximizing your exercise time by occasionally forsaking your usual gym workout and bypassing your standard fitness routines to delve instead into the world of techniques such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, electrostimulation, cold thermogenesis, whole body vibration and more. In that article, I discuss how one of the more appealing aspects of this type of fitness “biohacking” is the ability to get maximum effects with a minimal effective dose of effort, or to achieve more than one fitness result at the same time with as much efficiency as possible.
There are actually five workouts that fall into this exercise biohacking category – worouts that I regularly perform as a part of my fitness routine. Each combines three different elements of training that synergistically work together to provide you with enhanced exercise productivity and as much bang for the buck as possible in the minimum amount of time.
Let's jump in, shall we? Prepare for strange looks from your family, neighbors and fellow gym-goers…
Biohacked Workout #1: Cold Water Swimming + Hypoxia + Weights
Pro surfer and fitness icon Laird Hamilton first popularized the concept of carrying rocks, kettlebells and dumbbells underwater (here’s a video example), and author Neil Strauss (the same guy who taught me about these crazy little miracle berries) introduced me to these type of water workouts several months ago during a longevity conference in Los Angeles.
The basic workout consists of holding your breath underwater in a pool, river or lake, and treading water, running, walking, doing explosive squats and sprints or simply swimming underwater with a weight held to your chest, your side or between your legs.
Even in the absence of long breath-holds or cold water, these type of workouts build strength, stress-resilience, mental focus and lung capacity all at the same time. But when combined with the calorie-burning and positive cardiovascular effects of cold water exposure, and the growth hormone and enhanced oxygen utilization benefits of breath-holding, these underwater workouts become all the more potent.
Here’s a sample routine:
-Get in a body of water, preferably a cold, outdoor pool, lake or river with a 10 pound dumbbell.
-Hold the dumbbell to your chest and attempt to swim underwater about 25 meters, or to the other end of the pool.
-Come back to where you started, but this time on your back in a seated position with your feet above the surface of the water, treading water with your hands, holding your head above water, and clutching the dumbbell between your thighs.
-Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
What to expect: better breath-holding capacity, increased fat burning due to cold temperatures, improved tolerance to lactic acid/lactic acid buffering capacity and muscular training with low joint impact.
Biohacked Workout #2: Sauna + Resisted Breath Training + Yoga or Body Weight Exercises
I’ve lately been using a hot, insulated, infrared sauna for heat acclimation training and detox, an N=1 experiment you can read about in more detail here. But rather than simply sitting cross-legged in the sauna and staring at the wall, I’ve instead been working on my mobility, isometric strength and inspiratory and expiratory muscle capacity by also including yoga and resisted breathing during my 30 minutes forays into one very sweaty “pain cave”.
First, I pre-heat the sauna while I warm up my body with a 20-30 minute run, bike ride, or weight training routine. As I outline in the sauna article referenced above, I also use high dose niacin to enhance fat cell lipolysis during the subsequent sauna routine. Then I go into the sauna, put on a resisted breath training mask (like an Elevation Training Mask) and perform a routine similar to this:
-5 repetitions of yoga “chatarunga” motion
-1 round of yoga sun salutations
-Repeat chatarunga to sun salutations three times
-10 body weight squats
-1 repetition of chatarunga
-60 second isometric lunge hold on right leg
-1 repetition of chatarunga
-60 second isometric lunge hold on left leg
-Repeat squats, chatarunga, and lunge holds three times
-Finish with 5 minutes of box breathing while still wearing mask
What to expect: increased inspiratory, expiratory and diaphragmatic muscular endurance, increased production of heat shock proteins, cooling capabilities and stress tolerance, detoxification, increased production of nitric oxide and improved mobility.
Biohacked Workout #3: Foam Rolling + Resisted Breath Training + Calisthenics
As I’ve written about many times before, I’m a big, big fan of frequent use of a foam roller to keep injuries at bay and to keep the body mobile. Problem is, the 20-45 minutes it takes to perform a full body foam rolling routine are 20-45 minutes that I'm not able to spend “getting fit”. So when I do my foam rolling routine, (which I perform two times per week), I put on a podcast or an audiobook, wear a resisted breath training mask and inject calisthenic exercises into my rolling so that I am able to achieve injury prevention, breath training, and cardiovascular exercise all at once. Here’s how I do it:
Perform 20-30 “passes” with the foam roller on each muscle group outlined below. One “pass” means would mean rolling up the muscle group and back down the muscle group one time. Complete each station below once, progressing from one station to the next with minimal rest.
Station 1: 10 burpees. Foam roll achilles and calf R side.
Station 2: 10 burpees. Foam roll achilles and calf L side.
Station 3: Foam roll hamstring R side. 20 high leg swings R leg forward to backwards.
Station 4: Foam roll hamstring L side. 20 high leg swings L leg forward to backwards.
Station 5: 10 burpees. Foam roll R outside of hip.
Station 6: 10 burpees. Foam roll L outside of hip.
Station 7: Foam roll IT band R side. 20 side-to-side leg swings R leg.
Station 8: Foam roll IT band L side. 20 side-to-side leg swings L leg.
Station 9: 10 burpees. Foam roll R adductors/inside of thighs.
Station 10: 10 burpees. Foam roll L adductors/inside of thighs.
Station 11: 50 jumping jacks. Foam roll back bottom-to-top.
Station 12: 50 jumping jacks. Foam roll entire R shoulder complex.
Station 13: 50 jumping jacks. Foam roll entire L shoulder complex.
Station 14: 10 burpees. Foam roll neck (back, L side, R side)
Station 15: 10 burpees. Foam roll entire front of quads.
Because I've worked all the knots and fascial adhesions of of my tissues with this routine, I usually do 5 minutes of inversion table as a finisher. And yes, I get very funny looks when the UPS driver rolls up to the house and I'm there hanging in my underwear, dripping with sweat, and wearing a breath training mask. But he'll survive.
In the meantime, if you need videos or demonstrations of any of the foam roller exercises above, then you can click here for a series of videos from yours truly. By the way, you get extra fitness bonus points if you do this routine in a dry or infrared sauna.
What to expect: improved cardiovascular fitness, fewer injuries, more mobility, increased inspiratory, expiratory and diaphragmatic muscular endurance, and a big dump of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin from all the fascial work on the foam roller.
Biohacked Workout #4: Hiking + Weighted Vest + Resisted Breath Training
I love to get out in nature and hike, especially with my kids, but frankly, for anyone who's gotten into pretty good shape, hiking is not an extremely strenuous activity. However, once you add extra weight in the form of a weighted vest or weighted backpack and add resisted breath training with a mask, hiking becomes a much more challenging cardiovascular and strength building routine.
I’m certainly not saying that every hike you do needs to be a masochistic sufferfest, but if you’re pressed for time, it can be convenient to have the option to turn a family foray into the park into a more challenging workout for you.
The concept is pretty simple: put on weight (usually about 1/3 to 1/4 of your body weight is a good amount of weight to achieve a significant training effect), put on a mask (optional, but certainly good for introducing even more difficulty), and then start hiking. If the going gets so steep that you find you need extra air, you can always remove the mask, then put it back on for the downhills. The extra weight? Well, you're stuck with it. Enjoy.
What to expect: a big strength-building challenge for your glutes and hamstrings, cardiovascular training effects, increased inspiratory, expiratory and diaphragmatic muscular endurance, time spent in nature, and the thrill of knowing that at any moment you may get tackled by a park ranger who thinks you are a terrorist.
Biohacked Workout #5: Walking + Electrostimulation + Sprinting
In my home office, I have a manual treadmill in front of my standing desk. Although I typically use the treadmill for easy walking during phone calls or consults, I also have an upper body strength training and lower body aerobic routine that I occasionally perform on the same treadmill. For this workout, you’ll need an electrostimulation (EMS) device, which you can learn more about here. You can also play around with variations on this workout, such as using a stationary bicycle instead of a treadmill, or using the EMS on your lower body instead of your upper body and doing the workout on rowing machine.
Prepare for a lung-busting, muscle-burning experience. Here’s how this routine works.
-Attach electrodes to your biceps and triceps, to your chest and shoulders, to your abs, or to any upper body muscle series that you want to target. Your choice.
-Set the EMS device in strength training mode or power training mode so that it’s “grabbing” as many muscle fibers as possibly, which it will typically do for 10-30 seconds before giving you about 10-30 seconds of recovery, which most programs can be set to do for anywhere from 20-30 repetitions.
-While the EMS device is doing the stimulation of your upper body, walk on the treadmill.
-While the EMS device is giving you your recovery periods, run or sprint on the treadmill.
-Repeat for the entire EMS session, which will typically last 20-30 minutes.
Warning: for this routine, you’ll probably need to reinforce the electrodes with ace bandages or some other kind of wrap to ensure they don’t fall off while you run. If you think like me, you've probably already realized you could put on an elevation training mask for this routine if you want an even bigger challenge.
What to expect: upper body muscular strength and power building, often accompanied by some soreness afterwards if you're not accustomed to EMS, an increase in cardiovascular and running performance, and a big increase in pain tolerance. You'll see what I mean.
I’ve certainly heard the argument that by using these and many other biohacking tricks that you may somehow “miss the journey” of getting fit, whether you’re trying to lose 20 pounds or train for an Ironman triathlon.
Depending on your perspective, this could be true. For example, if I decide to visit my Grandma in Florida, I could hop in the car and take a roadtrip across the country, taking in the sights and scenery of the USA, rather than forking over my hard earned cash for an afternoon airplane flight.
I could also set aside time in my weekly schedule to go navigate the grocery store aisle or the farmer's market and then spend plenty of time in the kitchen cooking my own food, rather than, say, shopping for groceries online, having an assistant pick up food for me, or outsourcing my food preparation to a meal delivery service.
Ultimately, this all depends on which parts of the journey you personally enjoy. As far as the cross country road trip vs. the direct flight to Grandma's house is concerned, I’d probably “biohack” my travel experience, skip the “journey” and instead choose the option that allows me spend more time with Grandma.
When it comes to shopping for groceries and cooking, I'd rather spend a little time each week visiting at a farmer's market or preparing a tasty meal in the kitchen, but if my schedule is jam-packed, I may indeed “biohack” my meal and have my wife pick up some sushi or Thai food, or opt for a blender and a protein smoothie instead.
And when it comes to exercise, I do indeed enjoy riding my bicycle, but if I can skip a long 5 hour weekend ride and instead be competitive in, say, an Ironman triathlon, by riding my bicycle inside a sauna for two hours while wearing an elevation training mask, I’ll likely choose the latter, since it would leave me three extra hours to hang out with my kids or to get some work done and pay the bills.
When it comes to this stuff, I don't follow any hard and fast rules. Sometimes I completely unplug, strap on some running shoes, and hit the trail. And sometimes I've got just 20 minutes to do an extremely high quality workout, so I instead get on a treadmill with an electrostimulation unit and a resistance training mask. It all depends on what the moment requires. Would the former be easier and less logistically challenging? Sure. But sometimes you get results that correspond to the effort you put in, and in this example, my results will be far superior with the latter, even if it seems inconvenient or it hurts a little bit.
Either way, I can definitely guarantee that by including the five workouts described above as staples sprinkled through my monthly training routine, I'm able to kill many birds with one stone, and have much more time left over for other activities, even though I'll be the first to admit that it can sometimes be a bit of a pain in the neck to do a yoga session inside an infrared sauna while wearing a mask, rather than doing my sun salutations in the backyard garden.
But that's just me.
How about you? What do you think? Do you plan on trying any of these workouts? If you have more questions or comments about these five biohacked workouts, then leave your thoughts and join the conversation below.