Welcome to Part 2 of Chapter 3 in Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance Health & Life.
In the last section, you learned about a variety of little-known, “underground” tactics you can implement to enhance your training effectiveness and efficiency – including overspeed, underspeed, EMS, cold thermogenesis and heat. In this section we're going to continue with even more underground training tactics for enhancing your endurance.
As usual, leave your questions, comments, edits and feedback below the article.
By the way, if you didn't grab your “Become Superhuman” digital guide yet, I'm actually now including as part of your digital order the full 213 page manual along with 14 CD's in hard copy format mailed straight to your doorstep. Best of both worlds. All you pay is shipping and handling, and the guide complements quite nicely the information you're about to learn. Enjoy!
-Isometrics & Superslow Training
Check out the video below.
The voice narrating the video is Jay Schroeder, who is explaining how to perform an “isoextreme” lunge. I first discovered Jay in the winter of 2013, when I attended a biohacking conference in which he demonstrated the use of isometric exercise and superslow sets. He uses these techniques with many of the professional athletes he trains, often in combination with electrostimulation.
An isometric exercise, which combines the Greek words “isos” (“equal” or “same”) and “metron” (“distance” or “measure”), involves a muscle contraction without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. This is in contrast to traditional moving “isotonic” contractions, in which your muscle length and joint angle change throughout the exercise.
If you've ever performed a wall squat, in which you similar sit in an imaginary chair with your back against the wall for as long as you possibly can, then you're familiar with teeth-grittingly high levels of lactic acid and muscle burn that isometric training can produce. Alternatively, you could simply try this the next time you're at the gym: lift your normal weight, but take 10 seconds to lift and 10 seconds to lower.
If you really want to take isometrics to the next level, you can use a technique Jay refers to as extreme isometrics, in which you move, but you move very, very slowly. We’re talking 5-10 minutes per repetition. This takes intense focus. Go ahead and just try and do a 10 minute push-up and see what happens to your entire body.
As I mentioned earlier, Jay’s clients also combine heavy weight training or isometric body weight exercises combined with electrostimulation (discussed in Part 1 of this chapter), and if you happen to own an electrostimulation device, you can recruit even more muscles and enhance the results of your isometric or super slow training.
So how on earth could this type of static or extremely slow movement produce a cardiovascular training response?
The answer is a bit multi-faceted, but comes down to four primary reasons:
Resistance=Endurance Reason #1: Increased Cardiac Output.
The cardiovascular response to resistance training an idea I first encountered when I interviewed the author of the book “Body By Science”, a physician named Doug McGuff, in my podcast episode “Does Weight Training Count As Cardio?”.
As you've already learned in this book, your cardiovascular system pumps oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the tissues of your body. The “cardio” part of the word cardiovascular refers to your heart, which is responsible for pumping the blood, and the “vascular” part of the word cardiovascular refers to your blood vessels, which are comprised of an arterial system which transports blood from your heart to your tissues and a venous system which carries blood back from those tissues to your heart. The resistance that your heart has to pump against and amount of blood your heart can pump out (your cardiac output) is directly influenced by the size of those blood vessels (20).
To increase your cardiac output, you can
-increase your heart rate.
-increase your stroke volume (by having more blood, like a doped up Tour de France cyclist, or by filling the heart with more blood before each beat).
-dilate your arteries, which decreases the resistance your heart pumps against (called peripheral vascular resistance).
-increase the venous return of blood back to your heart.
As you learned in Chapter 2 of this book, venous return of blood back to your heart is partially dependent on muscle contractions. In other words, forceful muscle contractions enhance cardiac return.
In addition, a release of chemicals called “catecholamines” occurs as a result of resistance exercise, and these catecholamines stimulate vasodilation in the vessels, which further decreases peripheral resistance and also increases blood flow back to your heart. This decreased peripheral resistance combined with enhanced venous return fills your heart up with more blood and enhances your cardiac output.
An article in the June 1999 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology (9) actually observed this very phenomenon. In the research, a catheter was used to measure pressure changes during a high weight leg press exercise in patients with stable congestive heart failure. The participants experienced significantly increased heart rate and arterial blood pressure, but significantly decreased peripheral vascular resistance and increased cardiac output (that's just one of many studies that Doug McGuff references in an excellent article he's written on cardiovascular adaptations to resistance training).
But an increase in cardiac output is just one way that the intense resistance encountered during isometric or superslow training can can assist with endurance, because next you get the benefit of the burn itself…
Resistance=Endurance Reason #3: Lactic Acid Clearance
Lactic acid gets a bad rap, but the acidosis or “burn” associated with muscle fatigue has very little to do with the formation of lactic acid (20).
The development of acidosis during intense exercise has traditionally been explained by the increased production of lactic acid – which causes the release of a hydrogen ion and the formation of an acidic salt called “sodium lactate”. On the basis of this seemingly logical explanation, if the rate of lactate production is high enough, then your body simply can't buffer those hydrogen ions fast enough, and this results in a decrease in cellular pH and that dreaded burn.
Exercise scientists call this effect “lactic acidosis”, and it has been a classic explanation of the biochemistry of muscle burn for more than 80 years.
But in fact, there is zero biochemical evidence that increased lactate production causes acidosis and muscle burn or muscle fatigue. As a matter of fact, as you'll learn in a second, lactate production can actually decrease acidosis.
So why do muscles burn when you exercise? A more likely mechanism for the drop in pH or increase in acidity during exercise is the breakdown of ATP energy.
It goes like this: water (H2O) is used to break down or “hydrolyze” ATP to make energy, and this results in one acidic H+ ion (from the water) + ADP + P (phosphate) + energy for whatever you need energy for (go back to Energy Systems 101 part of Chapter 1 for a review of this).
As you can see, every time ATP is broken down to ADP and P, an H+ ion (a proton) is released. When the energy and ATP demand of contracting muscles is met by mitochondrial respiration, there is no proton accumulation in the cell. How can this be? Because those same hydrogen ions are used by your mitochondria to recombine ADP and P to regenerate ATP and to maintain the what is called the “proton gradient” in the intermembranous space of your muscle cells. You can see this in the diagram below.
So as long as your mitochondria are efficient at doing this (and that efficiency increases the fitter you get) the longer it takes for that build-up of hydrogen ions to become a burn issue. As soon as your mitochondria fail to supply ATP at the appropriate rate, due to an outmatched number of the necessary transports and enzymes, you get that muscle burn and eventual muscle fatigue.
It is only when the exercise intensity increases beyond steady state exercise that there is a need for greater reliance on ATP regeneration from rapid breakdown of blood, liver and muscle sugar and the creatine phosphate system, which is why high intensity exercise can result in a better ability to generate ATP compared to easy aerobic exercise.
So why is lactic acid associated with muscle burn? Because as you break down sugars more and more at higher intensities, you need more of a molecule called “NAD”, which can actually be supplied by increased lactate production. Thus increased lactate production coincides with acidosis and is a good marker for cell conditions that induce metabolic acidosis. But if your muscles did use sugars and phosphate to generate extra ATP, and did not produce lactate as a byproduct of this use, then acidosis and muscle fatigue would occur more quickly because your mitochondria would get outmatched more quickly, and exercise performance would be severely impaired in the absence of lactic acid production.
While that may be enough to convince you that lactic acid is not the bad guy, just keep reading.
Ultimately, if you train your body at high intensities, you can become very efficient at shuttling lactic acid back up to the liver and converting it into glucose, after which the lactic acid can be “recycled” and used as a concentrated energy source by your muscle (Nelson). This is called the Cori cycle.
So lactic acid can be actually be used as a significant fuel source! As you can probably guess, when you include activities that produce high amounts of lactic acid, such as HIIT or with high amounts of resistance or with isometric holds, you can teach your body how to more efficiently do that (13).
By the way, if you're using isometrics and experiencing the massive lactic acid build-up that occurs in the local muscle tissue during a set, then you should know about something called “oxaloacetate”.
Most chemical reactions in your body take place in a series of several steps. In chemistry, the rate (or velocity) of a reaction with several steps is often determined by the slowest step, which is known as rate-limiting step.
A significant rate limiting step of converting lactic acid into glucose is the conversion of the molecule Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) into Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Hydrogenase (NADH). So what does this have to do with oxaloacetate? In studies, acute oxaloacetate exposure enhances resistance to fatigue by increasing NAD to NADH conversion and allowing lactic acid to get recycled and converted to glucose at a much higher rate (16).
As a matter of fact, along with calorie restriction (which isn’t much fun, really), enhancing your Cori cycle efficiency is also one of the ways that you can significantly increase the enzyme AMPK, which you learned earlier in this book can upregulate mitochondrial biogenesis and improve both carbohydrate and fuel utilization.
Basically, this means that you can become a complete lactic acid metabolizing endurance beast if you take about 100-200mg of oxaloacetate in supplement form 15-30 minutes prior to a workout that includes either high intensity intervals, super slow training, or isometrics.
That's just a glimpse into the type of information we'll cover in the nutrition and supplementation chapter, but I couldn't mention isometrics and lactic acid without telling you about that potent one-two combo.
Resistance=Endurance Reason #3: Better Muscle Utilization.
Whether you're running a marathon, shoveling snow or lifting a piece of furniture, if the wrong muscles are turning on for any given movement, then you have poor technique, you increase your risk of injury, and you produce less-than-ideal force.
But your body can learn how to utilize the correct muscles, and just like any movement, it's easier to learn how to use the right muscles when you train slow or you hold a position, with an emphasis on maximally activating specific muscle groups (8). So when you use something like isometrics or super slow training, you simply have less distraction and more time under tension for any particular position you're trying to learn or perfect, so you're able to sense the proper muscles that you need to activate and better understand how to get there.
Take, for example, the lunge I linked to in the video above. It roughly simulates the single leg “landing” phase of a run. When you're able to use a super-slow or isometric lunge to mentally focus on the recruiting the correct musculature for that landing phase, you develop better body awareness (also known as “kinesthesia”) and learn how to properly activate your hamstring during that specific phase of running. In particular, you are learning how to actively pull yourself down instead of simply giving in to gravity and collapsing when your foot strikes the ground.
An added benefit to this improvement in muscle activation is that in addition to learning how to utilize the proper muscles for any given movement, you are also training your joints to move through the full range of motion for that movement. As you move slowly through or deeper into a joint angle, there is a significant amount of stretch placed on the fascia, which is the layer of fibrous connective tissue that surrounds your muscles. As this occurs, you can gain dynamic range-of-motion and flexibility that far exceeds what you might experience from a static stretching protocol such as yoga. For example, by performing 5 minute long deep isometric doorway pushups such as the exercise demonstrated in this video, I've found that my shoulder range-of-motion while swimming has significantly improved.
So how can you utilize isometric or super slow protocols in your endurance training?
1) Include a weekly resistance training session in which you incorporate at least one move or a series of moves performed very slowly. One short but highly effective strength+cardio session that I give many of my athletes once per week can easily be performed using weight machines, body weight, free weights, or a suspension trainer. Simply perform one set of each of the following.
-Upper body pushing exercise, 5-10 repetitions of 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down (i.e. push-up, machine chest press, etc.)
-Upper body pulling exercise, 5-10 repetitions of 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down (i.e. pull-up, seated row, etc.)
-Lower body pushing exercise, 5-10 repetitions of 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down (i.e. leg press, squat, etc.)
-Lower body pulling exercise, 5-10 repetitions of 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down (i.e. deadlift, leg curl, etc.)
The routine above is similar to what you'll find in Doug Mcuff's book and is adapted from the 12 minute routine in Doug McGuff's book “Body By Science“.
2) Include an isometrics routine one to four times a month. Simply hold any or all of the following positions for 2-7 minutes, depending on your level of fitness:
3) Include isometric holds as part of your daily habits. For example, twice a week after I finish playing tennis, I slip into the sauna and do a 4 minute lunge hold for each leg, followed by a 4 minute wall squat. And twice a week on the doorway in my office, I do a 5 minute doorway push-up. Later in this chapter, you'll learn how this fits into the concept of “greasing the groove”
Or you can do isometrics as a part of your current weight training routine. For example, prior to doing a set of barbell squats, you can perform a 2-5 minute isometric wall squat hold. This can actually have what is called a “potentiating effect”. The exercise scientist Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky has stated that this potentiation effect can cause an isometric exercise such as a squat hold to increase the force of a similar exercise you do after the hold (such as a barbell or dumbbell squat) by up to twenty percent!
But wait, Ben – muscle is bulky, isn't it?
You need to understand that there's a big difference between muscle mass and muscle recruitment. Muscle mass is not necessarily synonymous with strength and power. For example, top Tour de France cyclists appear to have toothpicks for legs compared to powerlifters and bodybuilders, yet they are capable of producing nearly superhuman wattage on a bicycle. Champion swimmer Michael Phelps is one of the most powerful athletes in the sport of swimming, but does not appear to have significant amounts of muscle mass compared to other top male athletes in the sport.
So how is it that a muscle can stay at a manageable, carry-able size for endurance sports, and yet still be capable of producing strength and power?
The answer lies in the relationship between the nerves, the muscle and something called the motor unit. A motor unit is defined as a nerve and all the muscle fibers stimulated by that nerve. Muscle fibers are grouped together as motor units. If the signal from a nerve is too weak to stimulate the motor unit, then none of the muscle fibers in that motor unit will contract. But if signal is strong enough, then all of the muscle fibers in the motor unit will contract.
This is called the “all-or-none” principle.
It doesn’t take much of a signal to recruit slow-twitch, or endurance muscle fibers in a motor unit. It takes a stronger signal to recruit fast-twitch, or explosive muscle fibers. However, the goal of weight training is not to increase the signal to the fibers, but rather to train the body to be able to recruit multiple motor units, whether those motor units are comprised of slow-twitch or fast-twitch muscle fibers (2). Better athletes have the capability to recruit multiple motor units, which means more fibers are firing, which increases force production.
So, you can have a relatively small number of motor units, but with proper training, can gain the ability to recruit a significant number of those motor units simultaneously. If this is the case, you don’t need much muscle, but just the ability to be able to wholly recruit the muscles that you do have – and heavy resistance training or force production using techniques such as isometrics and super slow sets is how this is achieved.
The four reasons I've listed above are not the only benefits of weight training for endurance athletes. Over 20 years of research have successfully demonstrated lower injury rates for the shoulders, knees, hamstrings, low back and ankles in athletes including swimmers, cyclists and runners when weight training was used to strength the soft tissue surrounding and supporting the joints (21). In some cases, injury prevention is due to correction of a muscular imbalance through the use of targeted weight training, and in other cases, injury prevention is due to the increased ability of a joint to absorb impact.
Need even more proof that you can become a better endurance athlete by using resistance training?
Here you go: I've saved the “big guns” for last.
Check out the paper “Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations.“. Here is the abstract with my emphasis in bold (full text freely available by clicking on the title):
Steele J, Fisher J, McGuff D, Bruce-Low S, Smith D. Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations. JEPonline 2012;15(3):53-80.
Research demonstrates resistance training produces significant improvement in cardiovascular fitness (VO2 max, economy of movement). To date no review article has considered the underlying physiological mechanisms that might support such improvements. This article is a comprehensive, systematic narrative review of the literature surrounding the area of resistance training, cardiovascular fitness and the acute responses and chronic adaptations it produces. The primary concern with existing research is the lack of clarity and inappropriate quantification of resistance training intensity. Thus, an important consideration of this review is the effect of intensity. The acute metabolic and molecular responses to resistance training to momentary muscular failure do not differ from that of traditional endurance training. Myocardial function appears to be maintained, perhaps enhanced, in acute response to high intensity resistance training, and contraction intensity appears to mediate the acute vascular response to resistance training. The results of chronic physiological adaptations demonstrate that resistance training to momentary muscular failure produces a number of physiological adaptations, which may facilitate the observed improvements in cardiovascular fitness. The adaptations may include an increase in mitochondrial enzymes, mitochondrial proliferation, phenotypic conversion from type IIx towards type IIa muscle fibers, and vascular remodeling (including capillarization). Resistance training to momentary muscular failure causes sufficient acute stimuli to produce chronic physiological adaptations that enhance cardiovascular fitness. This review appears to be the first to present this conclusion and, therefore, it may help stimulate a changing paradigm addressing the misnomer of ‘cardiovascular’ exercise as being determined by modality.
In addition, I outline all the strength training for endurance research up to 2011, and also include many more exercises that are specifically designed for injury prevention, motor unit recruitment, and endurance athlete benefits in my book “Ultimate Weight Training Guide For Triathletes”, which you can grab on Amazon by clicking here.
Finally, I'll be delving into more specific strength training recommendations in the next chapter, which will show you how to train the most neglected areas of endurance training, including strength, power, speed, balance and range-of-motion.
I can't remember the last time I went to a triathlon or marathon and didn't see brightly colored compression socks nearly everywhere. And as you'll learn in the recovery section of this book, compression gear can enhance circulation and help to speed muscle recovery post-exercise.
But despite extremely widespread use of compression gear by endurance athletes, studies supporting its performance enhancing abilities are sparse and relatively inconclusive. Some research indicates that wearing compression tights while performing impact-based exercise such as running may help to decrease muscle vibrations (which could potentially cause muscle fatigue). Whether that results in improved performance remains to be proven.
Most compression gear companies, however, don't dwell on the anti-vibratory effect of compression gear as much as the improvement in blood flow. But this improvement in blood flow doesn't seem to significantly improve running endurance (6), and the one small study that found compression gear to improve circulation and running economy had a sample size of just six runners, with the actual results being self-reported by the subjects themselves (4). Unfortunately, self-reported studies present a significantly high likelihood of a placebo effect.
Ultimately, 37 different compression gear studies have found that compression gear doesn't have a significant effect on exercise performance. (22).
So why in the heck am I including compression gear as an underground training tactic?
One big part of finding the balance between health and performance is treating your daily routine as an opportunity for physical activity , in the hunter-gatherer way that I described in Chapter 3. Remember that the entire reason behind this is to build endurance while you're working, rather than sitting all day and then destroying your body with a monster exercise session.
And if you're following this recommendation, you're going to be standing. A lot.
For example, you might:
-Work at a standing desk.
-Work at a treadmill desk.
-Walk or bike to work.
-Take frequent standing or walking breaks.
-Stand up and do 50-100 jumping jacks for at least every hour that you sit.
-Stand up at meetings.
-Stand while waiting in line at the doctor's office, DMV or airport.
In following my own advice, I find myself standing for nearly 8 hours of every day. And since I tend to do my workouts in the afternoon or early evening, my legs can feel extremely heavy and sluggish without the use of compression gear to assist with venous blood flow as I spend all that time in the standing position. Just try it sometime and you'll see what I mean.
So the compression gear that I personally wear (and demonstrate in the video at Does Compression Gear Really Help Recovery & Performance, Or Is It All Just A Silly Ploy To Get Us To Dress Up In Stretchy Pants?) is not something I wear because I believe it directly helps me during the workout, but rather something I wear so that by the time I get to my actual workout I'm able to push harder and feel better because my legs are less sluggish and less swollen with blood (as a result of me being on my feet all day).
And that's why I consider regularly sporting compression gear to be a training tactic to enhance endurance. With the recovery implications you're going to learn about later in this book, you should add this to your protocol. I personally use a brand called “110% Play Harder” because it allows me to insert ice sleeves into the compression gear and thus combine two of my underground training tactics: compression and ice (Use code "BGREEN2018" for 10% off at 110playharder.com).
-Music, Sound & Frequencies
In 2010, British researchers had 12 men ride a bike while listening to music. During each 25 minute bicycling session, the researchers adjusted the tempo of the music to go 10% faster or 10% slower (26). They found that speeding up the music program increased how far the participants rode and how hard and how fast they pedaled, and slowing down the music had just the opposite effect.
Interestingly, the study participants actually reported liking the music more when it was played at a faster tempo. A 2008 study that was also performed on cyclists found that it was far easier for the cyclists to pedal when they were following the tempo, or beat, of the music.
Furthermore, another 2009 study found that basketball players could shoot better free throws when they listened to catchy, upbeat music. Researchers have suggested that the same positive distraction that helped those basketball players shoot better can also distract us from fatigue or pain experienced during exercise (10).
Finally, in 2003, researchers observed that people who listened to music during exercise actually improved their mood, the speed of their decision-making processes, and even their verbal fluency. That means you’ll not only be able to exercise harder when you listen to music, but you may actually get smarter too, or perhaps have better focus.
So how does music motivate you to exercise?
The mechanisms of how music motivates you to exercise harder are actually not entirely clear. However, it is known that there are two elements at play:
-the ability of music to distract your attention on pain and fatigue, which could be described as the “psychological effect”;(11)
-the ability of music to increase heart rate and breathing, which could be called the “physiological effect”.
Together, the psychological and physiological effect of music makes you exercise harder and hurt less (23).
So how can you take advantage of the power of music to enhance your endurance training?
1) Do music intervals. Since I'm a techno-geek, I'll often load free Tiesto podcast or Planet Perfect podcast onto my .mp3 player. These are hour long tracks with about 4-7 minutes per track. I'll then perform intervals that simply alternate hard-easy from one song to the next, or even play a song during my hard interval, then switch to a podcast or silence during my recovery. I'm not a fan of carrying much electromagnetic pollution (which you'll learn about later in this book) while I'm exercising, so I simply use the very small iPod shuffle, and occasionally use a Swimp3 player for pool interval sets.
2) Use music sparingly. The tricky thing about music is that just like caffeine, you can become desensitized to it if you use it too much to get motivated. For this reason, I don't recommend you train with music all the time. For example, you can grab a podcast and listen to it for most of your workout and then, when the going gets tough or during those last few minutes of the workout, play your music and finish up with a hard effort.
3) Use music for the warm-up. Imagine you’re driving home from work and you know you’re supposed to hit the gym or hop on the bike. But sitting down on the couch with a glass of wine seems so much more appealing. Try this: turn on your favorite motivational workout music. and then pump up the volume. This can cause just enough psychological and physiological effect to make you veer off-course and head for the gym!
You may have noticed that I also mentioned sounds and frequencies in the titel to this section. Although I'll also address these concepts in the sections of the book devoted to mental performance and sleep, they should also be included in any discussion of performance.
In my podcast episode “How You Can Use Sound And Music To Change Your Brain Waves With Laser Accuracy And Achieve Huge Focus And Performance Gains“, I interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Thompson from Neuroacoustics.com.
During the interview, Dr. Thompson explained how our brain is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons, and how your neurons (just like the rest of your body) use electricity to communicate with each other. As you can probably imagine, these millions of neurons sending signals all at once produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in your brain, and this can actually be detected using medical equipment like an electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electricity levels over areas of your scalp (24).
When you graph the electrical activity of your brain using EEG, you generate what is called a brainwave pattern, which is called a “wave” pattern because of its cyclic, wave-like nature.
The brainwave patterns are generally categorized like this:
Most of us live the majority of our lives in a state of primarily beta brain waves – aroused, alert, concentrated, but also somewhat stressed. This is not a brain wave state you want to be exercising or racing in. It is too high a state of stress to allow for optimum focus.
When you lower the brain wave frequency to an alpha state, you can put yourself in an ideal condition to focus better, learn new information, perform more elaborate tasks, learn languages, analyze complex situations and even be in what sports psychologists call “The Zone”, which is a state of improved focus and performance in athletic competitions or exercise. Part of this is because being the slightly decreased electrical activity in the brain can lead to significant increases in feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins, noroepinephrine and dopamine (7).
So, for example, when you meditate, you are focusing on something, whether it’s a candle flame or your breath going in or out, or a mantra or a prayer. When you focus like that, the electrical patterns in your brain slow down and relax, and the amplitude of your brain-waves generally stabilizes in the alpha wave range.
But it turns out that you don’t need to be a trained monk or meditate for weeks on end to be able to achieve this state of alpha brain wave relaxation.
Instead, you can use a concept called “brainwave entrainment” to get the same effect.
Brainwave entrainment is considered to be any method that causes your brainwave frequencies to fall into step with a specific frequency. It’s based on the concept that the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant EEG frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus (such as music, or sound, or frequencies) (18).
The type of sound frequencies that are typically used in brainwave entrainment are called “binaural” beats. The way that these work is that two tones close in frequency generate a beat frequency at the difference of the frequencies.
I know this sounds complicated, but it’s pretty simple to understand when you think about it. For example, a 495 Hz audio tone and 505 Hz audio tone (whether overlaid in music or in a sound frequency) will produce a 10 Hz beat, roughly in the middle of the alpha brain wave range, like this:
Finally a 2010 study showed when it comes to enhancing electroencephalographic activity in the brain, 3hz is the “money zone”:
“Results of this study give reason to speculate that a strong relationship exists between intrinsic and extrinsic oscillation patterns during exercise. A frequency of approximately 3 Hz seems to be dominant in different physiological systems and seems to be rated as pleasurable when choosing the appropriate music for exercising. This is in line with previous research showing that an adequate choice of music duringexercise enhances performance output and mood.”
3hz = 3 beats per second, and this translates to 180 beats per minute – so if you really want to choose the right track for something like a run or bike ride, head over to iTunes and find one of those 180bpm soundtracks. If you'd like to dig into the details of the effect of sound and frequency a bit more, I'd recommend you read the articles “Methods for Stimulation of Brainwave Function Using Sound” and “Binaural Auditory Beats Affect Vigilance Performance and Mood“.
OK, so now we get to the cool, practical applications of using sound and music to enhance your brain and change your brain wave frequencies for enhancing endurance.
1) Click here to check out Dr. Thompson’s CD’s, which include tracks that train you for deep sleep, enhanced mental focus, or better athletic performance. You can play these prior to a workout, or to enhance sleep or recovery.
2) Check out the Entrainer Acoustics which are downloadable .mp3 audio tracks I personally helped design to accompany a wristband that emits specific frequencies that amplify alpha brain wave production.
3) If you're a true sound and frequency geek, you can consider utilizing audio–visual entrainment, which takes the concept of sound one step further, combines it with visual stimulation, and uses flashes of lights and pulses of tones to guide the brain into various states of brainwave activity. There’s an interesting device called the MindAlive Light Therapy Device that does this.
There are certainly other ways that sound can affect the human body, such as by amplifying the frequency of your heart’s electrical signals, but we’ll save that discussion the recovery section of this book.
Yes, that's right: a mouthpiece.
I”ll admit that I've caught some flack for mentioning strange devices like this before, but I wouldn't bring up the mouthpiece if it wasn't included among the gear that I've found to be helpful for endurance training, especially if you're utilizing the HIIT and gritting your teeth or clenching your jaw during workouts (and if you're going hard enough, you probably are).
I first introduced the concept of using a fitness mouthpiece in the a podcast episode about how a mouthpiece could help you exercise better, based on some interesting research in the Journal of the American Dental Association. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first about putting something in your mouth that you clamp down on it when you’re exercising to somehow make a workout easier.
But a study conducted by Dr. Dena Garner, Head of the Department of Heath, Exercise and Sports Science at The Citadel, (who I interview in the podcast episode “Can You Get A Better Workout By Chomping Down On A Leather Strap Like An Ancient Viking Warrior?“) showed that participants wearing a mouthpiece during exercise experienced improvements in their ability to breathe – specifically taking in 29% more oxygen, while expelling 21% more carbon dioxide than the subjects not wearing the mouthpiece. It also appeared that the mouthpiece could help to lower cortisol levels.
So what exactly does a fitness mouthpiece look like?
Check out this video from another mouthpiece company called “TrainWicked”:
It works like this: whenever you train or compete, your natural reaction is to clench your jaw, which is part of the fight or flight hard-wiring in your brain. By shoving a mouthpiece (or a leather strap) into your mouth, you maintain spacing between your teeth and counteract the negative effects of clenching.
CAT scans have displayed a dramatic increase in the airway opening with the use of a mouthpiece, which results in improved respiration. In addition, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (October 2011), a mouthpiece can significantly lower your cortisol levels after one hour of intense exercise.
When I first discovered the concept of using a mouthpiece, I had to go through the long process of visiting a dentist, getting painstakingly long and chemical-filled mold of my mouth and then waiting several weeks for my custom-fitted mouthpiece to arrive.
Since that time, things have gotten quite a bit easier, and you can now simply grab a training mouthpiece off of a site like Amazon.
I do not recommend wearing the mouthpiece while swimming, or even during any race for which eating and drinking quickly is paramount. But it can really come in handy during high-intensity interval training or resistance training.
During a conference I attended a few years ago, I hopped on a “Bulletproof Vibe” vibration platform (pictured right).
Within a few minutes, another conference attendee walked up and got me to go into a single leg standing yoga balance pose while on the vibration.
This massively worked my nervous system within just a couple minutes and I felt like my brain had an intense buzz after focusing, posing and vibrating at the same time.
Later that year, while exercising at a gym that had a vibration platform, I attempted several 30-60 second isometric squats on the vibration platform, followed by 2-3 minute cycling intervals on a nearby stationary bike. And the next week, I repeated the same protocol, but with treadmill running instead.
After both sessions, I not only experienced the same “brain buzz”, but was able to push myself much harder during the actual cycling and running intervals.
So how does this vibration thing work?
Whole Body Vibration (WBV) therapy (basically, standing or moving on a vibration platform) is used in universities, professional sports teams, and medical facilities around the United States. WBV was invented by Russian cosmonauts in 1960s and can:
-Detoxify and strengthen the immune system (pumps the lymph system thoroughly)(25)
-Help regain muscle strength and bone density (1)
-Reduce recovery time (27)
-Stimulate healthier brain function (12)
WBV therapy can stimulate your hormonal, cardiovascular, lymphatic, and nervous systems simultaneously. You can use it to get the lymphatic and circulatory benefits of hours of walking, or you can perform exercise on it, or use it prior to more complex weight training exercises or intervals.
A vibration platform's benefits include decreased time to fatigue, increased strength compared to resistance training alone, higher hormonal response to exercise, and much more. Of course, beyond just standing on a vibration platform, which quickly becomes easy (and frankly, boring), you can do squats, pushups and of course, any number of balance poses and yoga moves.
But can vibration training affect endurance performance?
There are a number of studies that have used vibration therapy for improving anaerobic performance, longevity, recovery and injury resistance in endurance athletes, including:
- A 2012 study investigated the effects of whole body vibration training on aerobic and anaerobic cycling performance in 9 road cyclists over a 10-week intervention period. The researchers tested lean body mass, cycling aerobic peak power, 4mM lactate concentration (OBLA), VO2-max and Wingate anaerobic peak and mean power output (17). The researchers divided the subjects into two groups, one that added in vibration training and one that continued as before. The researchers had difficulty with the study participants as the vibration-training group reduced their cycling training volume independently of the study design, which led to reductions in VO2-max and other variables. However, the vibration-training group maintained cycling aerobic peak power and increased Wingate peak power by 6% and Wingate mean power increased by 2% without increasing lean body mass.
- Another 2012 study investigated the effects of 8 weeks of whole-body vibration training on running economy and power performance in 24 male collegiate athletes (5). The researchers divided the subjects into two groups, one of which performed vibration training in a half-squat position while the others performed only the half-squat position without the vibrations. The researchers tested isometric maximal isometric force and rate of force development (RFD) before and after the intervention as well as running economy at different velocities. They reported that maximal isometric plantar flexion force, maximal isometric dorsiflexion force, RFD of 0-200 milliseconds during plantar flexion and running economy were significantly increased in the vibration-training group after training.
- Yet another recent study investigated the effects of 10 weeks of whole body vibration training on the bone density of 15 well-trained road cyclists (19). The cyclists were divided into two groups, one that performed vibration training in addition to their normal cycling training and a control group that continued with their normal cycling training. After the 10 weeks, the vibration-training group displayed a significantly greater increase in hip bone mineral density while the control group displayed no change.
And a search of PubMed for whole body vibration will yield dozens more studies on effects of vibration on hormones, strength and power.
Vibration platforms such as the Bulletproof Vibe are designed to transfer vibration energy you, and not to the floor – and although a unit like this doesn’t quite give the enormous amplitude and frequency I’ve experienced on the big commercial units in biomechanical labs and some fancy gyms, it is comparatively more quiet, it stays in place without moving around the room, and at $1495 it won’t set you back $6000 to $8000 compared to a big commercial vibration platform unit.
Here are some practical ways you can use a vibration platform if you get one:
-Do a partial or full body weight on the platform for 10 repeats of 30-60 seconds immediately prior to a run or bike ride.
-Do a 30 second to 2 minute isometric squat on the platform in between 2-10 minute intervals on an indoor bike trainer or treadmill.
-Do an entire yoga routine or a series of single leg balance moves while standing on the vibration platform.
-Put your hands on the vibration platform while doing push-ups, push-up variations or mountain climbers.
-Simply stand on the platform for 5-10 minutes each morning as you practice deep breathing, focus and meditation.
So if you’ve got some cash to burn and want to get the lymph and blood flowing every morning, or pre-prime your nervous system prior to cycling or running intervals, add a vibration platform into the mix.
The man responsible for coining the phrase “Grease The Groove” is Pavel Tsatsouline, one of the world’s top strength and conditioning coaches and former trainer of the Russian special forces. I first encountered his unconventional training methods in the book “The Naked Warrior“, which I read when I decided I was “through” with bodybuilding and wanted to find a more natural, holistic approach to keeping my body strong.
What is “Greasing the Groove?”
It's all based around a simple equation designed by Pavel:
Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success
When I was a bodybuilder, the prevailing belief was that strength was derived by simply getting bigger muscles. As you've already learned in this chapter, that's not the case. A big part of strength (and power) is your ability to maximally recruit the muscle fibers you already have. So Pavel's Grease The Groove philosophy is that strength is not just size, but strength is also skill.
Just like any other skill, the skill of strength can be practiced.
For example, take the pull-up – a fantastic movement for improving posture in cyclists and runners and shoulder alignment in swimmers. I can personally do 25 perfect body weight pull-ups without an incredible amount of effort. But I rarely, if ever, actually do pull-ups when I'm at the gym or during a workout.
Instead, I simply have a pull-up bar installed in the door of my office, and every time I walk under that bar, I do three to five pull-ups. With perfect form. I'm not training to failure, and I'm not beating up my shoulders with excessive repetitions done all at once. I'm simply doing an extremely submaximal number of pull-ups (and yes, I started with just one pull-up).
So I “Grease The Groove” daily with pull-ups, and by the end of the day, I'll usually have perform 30-50 pull-ups.
This concept works because by performing a movement frequently, your neuromuscular system becomes more proficient at allowing your body, your nerves and your muscles to work in sync to perform that movement more efficiently, and over time the movement becomes more natural and more economical for your body to perform. When that happens, you're able to maintain better form and do more repetitions (3).
I use a similar strategy throughout the day with:
-short sprints to the mailbox, chasing my kids on their bicycles, or running into the store from the parking lot…
-lunging hip flexor stretches
-lifting a heavy weight in the garage just a few times…
-flipping a tire in a field near my house…
-doing short, intense commutes on my mountain bike to the grocery store, gym, bank, etc.…
-standing as much as possible (which you already learned about)…
-occasionally balancing on curbs, fences, on one foot while I'm preparing meals, brushing my teeth, etc.
Hopefully, you're now understanding why I included the Greasing The Groove concept as an endurance training strategy. It's not because having the capability to perform 25 consecutive pull-ups is going to somehow make you ride a bicycle faster (although it may keep your shoulders from getting injured after long periods of time in an aero position). It's not as though sprinkling push-ups or squats throughout the day is going to make you a faster runner per se.
But when you incorporate these concepts, and you arrive at the end of the day, you'll discover that you've actually been engaged in low-level, endurance-building physical activity the entire day, without actually stepping foot into a gym or performing a structured workout.
By Greasing The Groove in this way, you are indeed replicating the “Ancestral Athlete” approach of moving constantly throughout the entire day – with brief spurts of intense physical activity. And when you combine this approach with high intensity interval training workouts and small doses of longer aerobic efforts, along with the underground training tactics you've learned, you'll find that you build both endurance and speed at a rapid pace.
And you stay healthy too.
I'll admit that was a lot of information to digest. From overspeed, underspeed, EMS, cold thermogenesis and heat to isometrics, superslow training, mouthpieces, compression gear, music, sounds, frequencies and greasing the groove, you now have many valuable tools in your endurance training toolbox.
And remember: all of this information is focused on enhancing your time and efficiency. For example, you can do the superslow training routine I described and get the cardiovascular training effects of a 1 hour run within just 12 minutes of weight training. But it's obviously not going to make you a more skilled runner. In other words, you still do need to swim, bike, run and train for whatever other skill you're training in, and then use these tactics I've described to enhance your results. You simply can't neglect sport-specificity, and I in no way condone ignoring training for your sport because you're convinced all you need to do is isometrics while wearing a mouthpiece.
But remember: the title of this book is “Beyond Training…”.
So after just one more chapter devoted to training methods, we're going to being to delving into recovery, lifestyle, food, supplementation, detoxification, digestion and much, much more.
Do you have questions, edits, comments or feedback? Leave them below, and don't forget to check out the new “Become Superhuman” guide.
Links To Previous Chapters of “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life”
Part 1 – Introduction
-Part 1 – Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?
-Part 1 – Chapter 2: A Tale Of Two Triathletes – Can Endurance Exercise Make You Age Faster?
Part 2 – Training
-Part 2 – Chapter 1: Everything You Need To Know About How Heart Rate Zones Work
-Part 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Best Ways To Build Endurance As Fast As Possible (Without Destroying Your Body) – Part 1
-Part 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Best Ways To Build Endurance As Fast As Possible (Without Destroying Your Body) – Part 2
-Part 2 – Chapter 3: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1
-Part 2 – Chapter 3: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2
Also…for those of you who like to look ahead, the rest of Part 2 is going to include:
-Addressing The Notoriously Neglected Endurance Training Skills: Strength, Speed, Power, Balance and Range-of-Motion
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