[0:00] Introduction/ nuts.com
[1:11] Casper Mattress
[5:49] Black Hole Training
[11:30] Pareto Principle
[27:15] What is Preload?
[41:00] CrossFit Training
[1:07:49] End of Podcast
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And now, without further ado, onto today’s podcast, oh yeah, one last thing before we jump in, I’m off hiking in the hills of Kauai, Kauai? Kauai? How do you pronounce that place in Hawaii? And I don’t have the ability to be able to record a formal Q and A with my sidekick, Rachel. So, I have entrusted Rachel completely to choose an incredibly popular past audio episode that you may or may not have heard. We will see and you’re about to hear it now. Enjoy, and we’ll be back next week.
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Ben: Welcome to chapter three of Beyond Training. You’ll find all the resources for this chapter over at beyondtrainingbook.com/chapterthree. That’s beyondtrainingbook.com/chapterthree. We’re gonna start with the black hole. There’s a big big problem in endurance sports. It’s a hole, a black hole. And a black hole goes something like this, – the runner who rolls out of bed, three to five days a week to run 45 to 60 minutes at the same speed every time. The triathlete who hops in the pool at lunch time and swims 30 minutes steady every time. The cyclist who goes out every weekend and rides at a steady cadence and speed for the same two hours every time. Same speed, same RPM, same intensity, day after day, month after month, year after year. Perhaps, it’s the thumb sucking solidarity we find and knowing exactly what our bodies are gonna feel like during every training session. Perhaps, it’s the fear of going too slow or too hard and somehow messing up our training or our bodies.
Or perhaps, it’s simply not knowing what to do and simply figuring something is better than nothing. Or perhaps, we’re just lazy. That’s right. Disguised behind all our spandex, fancy bikes, speedos, expensive shoes and complicated training gadgets, we could just be lazy. After all, compared to doing 30 minutes of hard focus runner in a roll, it’s easier to simply head out the door and slug through our mind, I mean two hour death march compared to doing structured series of swim drills. It’s easier to just hop on the water and turn our brain off and stare at the black line for a while. Rather than doing a series of intense interval based hill climbs, it’s easier to simply point the bike in one direction, hunch over the handle bars and spin the pedals that wherever feels like a halfway decent phase. Yes, I said it. We hard charging type-A, obsessive compulsive exercisers could just be lazy.
And regardless of whether it’s sticking too close to the tried and true, fear or failure or injury, lack of training knowledge or pure laziness, endurance athlete, some athletes in general simply accumulate the majority of training time in at one single speed. But not too hard, not too easy, slightly near threshold training zone that makes you feel like you’re working kinda hard but not too hard, and perhaps just hard enough to get you a little bit fit. I call it Black Hole Training.
This training flaw is even demonstrated in studies, for example, despite what a coaches training plans may dictate, runners tend to run too hard on easy days and too easy on hard days. Suddenly, training sessions that are supposed to be long and slow become fast and short. Workouts that are supposed to have variations of phase instead get performed at one single speed. As a result, most training sessions end up being performed at the identical intensity workout after workout. I mean, athletes once embracing it the same speed season after season. You may also be familiar with this type of training as junk miles or single speed or no man’s land training. And in the previous chapter, I alluded to it as perhaps just too much time spent in heart rate zone three. Just hard enough to deplete energy levels and damage muscles but not quite hard enough to illicit any significant training response.
In a bicycling magazine article back in the 90s, cycling journalist and Coach Fred Mathani, describes it this way. No man’s laying workouts provide a chemisthetic sense of working hard but exposed the rider to too much stress per unit gain. Instead, most based training should be guilt producingly easy, and the top end high intensity training should be very mentally hard, not sort of hard. Simply stressing the same energy system over and over again not only results in a single speed endurance athlete who can’t go fast enough when it matters and never goes slow enough for recovery, but may also result in more rapid onset of over used injury from repeated stress on the same joints.
For example, research shows that 10 to 15% of the population is predisposed to something called femoroacetabular impingement which can lead to labral hip tears and hip arthritis when a coupled with sport like say, triathlon which includes a high amount of hip jarring, flexion during running and cycling. Based on this, who do you think is going to have the higher risk of hip replacement? The triathlete who does every training session at the same speed, of on the same course using the same joints and energy systems time after time or the triathlete who mixes things up with some cruel runnings, and track works, and hill works, some lateral movement, some cross training, and some recovery workouts. Well, stressing the same energy repeatedly also results in very high amounts of negative energy balance especially when the majority of the training is done at or near what’s called threshold which you’re about to find out is not the case with most pro-athletes but is the case of many recreational exercisers.
Studies have shown that this negative energy balance or negative calorie balance results in hormonal disruptions like testosterone deficiency and low drive in males. Estrogen deficiency and low bone density in females. Wildly out of balance secretion of appetite disrupting hormones and a host of other endocrine and chronic disease related to health issues. I’ll put a link to some of these research in the reference webpage for this chapter. This is yet another reason that junk files just not worth it. But wait, what about the stories of canyon marathoners and elite endurance athletes going out and completing long slow training sessions with hour after hour at a single speed? Isn’t that black hole training? Isn’t that no man’s land style junk miles performed at a single speed? If so, it certainly seems to be working for those folks, right? Well the fact is, that type of training you might be thinking of is actually not Black Hole Training. It’s something completely different. You are about to learn what that is, why it’s much different than black hole training and why it’s one of the two best ways to build endurance.
Let’s start with something called the Pareto Principle. When you look at the training protocols of most elite endurance athlete who typically train with 10 to 12 workouts and 15 to 30 hours each week, a distinct pattern emerges specifically those elite endurance athletes spend about 80% of their training time below and about 20% of their training time above their lactate threshold which I refer to as zone four in the previous chapter. Well this 80/20 pattern is so prevalent, there’s even a special name that has emerged in exercise science to describe it. It’s called polarized training.
When you look at endurance athletes from world champion rowers, professional marathoners, elite cyclist and high level triathletes, nearly all the top athletes competing in these sports are engaged in this kind of polarized training in which they perform a large amount of time and relatively easy aerobic intensities and occasionally throwing extremely hard bursts of high intensity. And, these athletes are spending very, very little time in this black hole region, that zone where you’re training above and easy aerobic phase, but below any phase that becomes extremely uncomfortable. Well, you may already be familiar with this 80/20 concept as the relatively famous Pareto Principle which states that for many events approximately 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes.
For example, one study quantified the training intensity distribution of professional swimmers over an entire season and found these athletes swim about 77% of the swimming. That’s close to 80% over the entire season at a purely aerobic intensity. Another study investigate marathoners and found that during the 12 weeks leading up the Olympic marathon trials, these athletes ran 78% of their training at below marathon speed. Only 4% at the raise speed and 18% above threshold. And what about those canyon marathoners I alluded to earlier? Another study found that elite male and female canyon runners train with about 85% of their weekly training volume completely in an aerobic zone below threshold. The evidence goes on and on. For example, another study looked at a group of sub-elite distance runners who randomly assigned to one of two training groups. Group one performed about 81% of their training in an easy aerobic zone one, 12% of their training in a moderate zone two, and 8% of their training in a zone three.
Now, don’t get confused here. They are simply using three zones to quantify training intensity rather than the five zones I used in a previous chapter. So again, 81% of their training aerobically, 12% of their training in a moderate zone which would be called that black hole area, and 8% of their training in high intensity. In contrast, group two perform more threshold training with 67% easy, 25% moderate, and only 8% high intensity. In other words, group two performed twice as much of their training at or near their threshold.
Interestingly, the authors reported that the athletes were not even able to exercise any more than about 8% of their time in a high intensity zone as it was simply too hard. That should give you a good idea of how hard high intensity interval training is really supposed to be. The total training volume was identical between the two groups. But, guess what? After five months of this protocol, the running performance of group one was significantly higher despite the fact that they had spent a great deal of time exercising at a much lower intensity than group two. But that was an isolated study. In more research, a group of rowers were split into two different training groups. One group was a low intensity group that perform nearly all their training below 75% V02 max which is relatively low intensity.
Meanwhile, the other group called the mixed intensity group performed 70% of their training at those same low intensities, but the other 30% of their training in a much higher intensity above lactate threshold. These two groups also perform nearly identical volumes of training, and despite a significantly higher amount of training at a high intensity above threshold, the mixed intensity group didn’t performed any better than the predominantly low intensity group. Sure, after 12 weeks of this protocol, both groups had improved performance at higher maximum oxygen consumption. But even though they spend a significantly higher amount of time at that black hole training zone, that mixed group didn’t have a significantly greater gain in performance. Well, that’s a big bummer for the mixed intensity group.
So the takeaway message so far is this, across a wide range of sports, studies have shown that the best endurance athletes are actually performing about 80% of their training volume in a low intensity and about 20% of their training at a high intensity. And those high intensity efforts are indeed very, very high with relatively little time spent in no man’s land, black hole style training zones, where most recreational athletes train. These athletes are getting enough low intensity training to build big aerobic engines and get lots of repetitions to engrain correct movement patterns for improving their movement efficiency and economy. While also exposed themselves to just enough hard stress for significant cardiovascular and muscular adaptation.
So why, if lots of low intensity training is good wouldn’t more be better. In other words, instead of 80/20 why not 90/10, 95/5 or even a 100/0 when it comes to training intensity percentage distribution. Well, it turns out that multiple studies especially in elite athletes have investigated what happens when mild doses of high intensity interval training or added to an already primarily aerobic training protocol. And the results are always favorable and not surprisingly always close to no more than about the 20% mark with a high intensity dosing. Someone named Steven Siler sums this all up quite nicely in a paper that appears in the International Journal of Sport’s Physiology and Performance. And here’s a quote from that journal “Numerous descriptive studies of the training characteristics of nationally or internationally competitive endurance athletes training tenth to thirteenth times per week, seems to converge on a typical intensity distribution of which about 80% of the training sessions are performed at low intensity with about 20% dominated by periods of high intensity work, such as interval training at approximately 90% VO2 max”.
Endurance athletes appear to self-organize towards a high volume training approach with careful application of high intensity training incorporated throughout the training cycle. Training intensification studies performed on already well-trained athletes do not provide any convincing evidence that a greater emphasize on high intensity interval training in this highly trained athlete population gives long term performance gains. The predominate of low intensity, long duration training in combination with fewer highly intensive bouts maybe complimentary in terms of optimizing adaptive signaling and technical mastery at acceptable level of stress. So despite the fact that it feels very rewarding to roll up your sleeves and held at the door to hammer at or near your threshold or in that black hole zone for a morning or lunch time run, but right at the steady race phase intensity for a few hours on a weekend or some lap after lap in the pool at one single medium intensity, it’s simply the wrong way to train.
Now there is what’s called the regression problem. In all fairness, it’s pre-darned difficult to go easy when you’re supposed to go easy and go really truly hard, when you’re supposed to go hard. For example, the study I referenced earlier tried to replicate the polarized training of successful elite endurance athletes with the programmed designed to run more threshold training. But this time they tried that same protocol on a recreational runners rather than elite runners. Now, the intended intensity distribution for the two training groups was supposed to be 77% low intensity, 3% moderate intensity in 20% high intensity, and that was supposed to be compared to another group that did 46%, 35% and 19% in contrast. Now, interestingly that second percentage recommendation was based on the American College on Sports Medicine recommended training intensity distribution. But heart rate monitoring during the study revealed that the actual intensity distribution achieved by the recreational runners was 65%, 21% and 14% and the 31%, 56%, and 13% intensity were what was experienced in the threshold training group.
Now I know that’s a lot of numbers but let me put it this way, when we compare the intended intensity in the actual achieved intensity distribution in this study, what it high light is that when left to choosing our own training intensities, we tend to regress toward black holes style training even if we’re instructed to do otherwise. Now, hard exercise of any sort creates free radicals that causes some damage called oxidation to your muscle cells and organs, and as your body repairs this damage, you experience biochemical adaptations that make you more resistant to future oxidative damage from high volume or high intensity training.
And then as you train more your body simply increases its production of natural anti-oxidants to control a free radical you’re producing. Now, based on this enhanced repairing mechanism in surge in natural anti-oxidant that occurs and response to tough workouts, it would seem to make sense that doing long session of black hole style training may actually result in making you fitter and faster. Right? However, although consistent oxidative stress is a critical component of getting fit, you must allow for recovery period during which the body can bounce back adequately and the keys is to train in a manner that provide enough physical stimulus for you to get more fit without causing over training or excessive oxidative stress. Rather than exposing the body to the same amount of stress and intensity day-in and day-out. You’ll allow for enhanced free-radical fighting capacity by engaging in some very hard days and some very easy days. My friend Armi Legge sums this up quite nicely in his article at [0:21:58] ______ which I link to in the web page for this chapter, and I know this article is called “The Truth About Extreme Exercise, Oxidative Stress, and Your Health”. He put it this way, “most evidence in the case if you train in the progressive intelligent manner with adequate recovery between workouts and you can build up to extremely high training loads, you can still be protected against the potentially dangerous levels of oxidative stress”.
So, the key there is what Armi mentioned about adequate recovery between workouts and there’s a big difference between low intensity spread throughout the day or spread throughout the week, small amounts of high intensity and very adequate recovery periods compared to simply going out every single day in training at the same phase at the same intensity. Well, that should about wrap it up, right? I mean after all it turns out that this seems to work quite well to use this whole Maffetone style method of finding your easy aerobics fat burning training zone and then spending a great majority of time training in that zone with brief sports of high intensity. I guess Mark Allen was on this something after all when he won those six Hawaii Ironman World Championship Triathlon titles using this strategy. And it would seem that we now know the ultimate way to build endurance. End of story. Hold your horses, I don’t know the last time you picked at the training log of an elite endurance athlete such as a marathon or Ironman triathlete, but you’ve already heard that they trained 10 – 15 times per week. That’s not hours per week, that’s times per week, and most Ironman triathletes for example are summing 20 to 30 thousand yards plus per week. That’s about 68 hours.
They’re also cycling a 150 to 250 miles a week. That’s another eight to ten hours. They’re running 25 to 40 miles a week. That’s another four to six hours. Not to mention the additional hours spent core training, weight training, recovery training and of course the additional hours spent preparing and eating thousands of calories necessary to fuel these monster amounts of training volume. And don’t think this type of volume is isolated to those crazy Ironman triathletes.
Competitive marathoners, elite cyclists, top level swimmers and all other professional endurance athletes in particular literally devote their life to training. And my question for you is this, do you have 25 to 40 hours per week to train? And do you have the self-control necessary to hold back the range and ensure that 80% of this training is in a very easy aerobic intensity zone? If so, then proceed with polarized training but proceed with the knowledge that the majority of current training methods for endurance events like an Ironman or marathon are derived from the training schedules, calendars, and lifestyles of professional endurance athlete who compete this sport for a living and have 25 to 40 hours to train in a given week. And that means that if you have a busy life, a steady income, social obligations, kids, a night life or other hobbies, this style of polarized training may require you to potentially neglect your friends, career, family and life.
And for me personally, this all relates to the lense that you see the world through. Who cares if the training protocol works and it’s bad for you or takes time away from your career, friends, and family? Unless you are a professional athlete and this sport is how you’re making money, getting your paycheck, feeding your family, then your precious time may possibly be better spent elsewhere. But that’s your personal call. Some recreational athletes do indeed have high disposal incomes, careers are on close control, or the time to devote to 80% low intensity, 20% high intensity polarized training which works when you have many, many hours per week to train. Or perhaps, you’re just the kind of person who thrives on being by yourself in spending long amounts of time training. If so, polarized training is indeed one of the best ways to build endurance as fast as possible without destroying your body. But as I alluded to in the title, in the opening to this chapter, there is one other training method to build endurance properly and you’re about to discover what that other training method is.
Before we jump in to that next training method, remember all the resources for this chapter will be at beyondtrainingbook.com/chapterthree.
Welcome to chapter 3 part 2 of Beyond Training. Now, before we delve into how to build endurance without putting in dozens of hour of training each week, it’s going to be important for you to understand how your body actually builds endurance, and what the primary determinants of cardiovascular and endurance performance actually are. Your cardiovascular performance is based on three primary variables. your heart rate or how many times your heart beats per minute, your stroke volume or the amount of blood pump per heartbeat, and your heart contractility where the force forcefulness of each actual contraction of your heart muscle.
As each of these variables increase, the amount of blood flow and oxygen supply to your exercising muscles also increases. So, at first glance it would seem that the heart is the primary thing you need to worry about when it comes to athletic training. And aerobic training has certainly been proven as one of the best ways to improve all of the variables that I just describe – heart rate, stroke volume and heart contractility. But, there are important determinants of sport success that go above and beyond simply your heart. For example, when your muscles contract they propel the flow of blood travelling through your veins and back to the heart which increases the amount of blood filling your heart. This is called a preload. This preload actually enhances the heart stroke volume during exercise making adequate contraction and strength of your skeletal muscle, a major determinant of your endurance performance.
So at first glance, it would seem that the heart is the primary thing you need to worry about when it comes to endurance training. And aerobic training has indeed been proven as one of the best ways to improve the variables that I just described. But, there are important determinants of endurance success that go above and beyond simply your heart. For example, when your muscles contract, they propel the flow of blood travelling through your veins and back to the heart which increases the amount of blood filling your heart, and this is called the preload. This preload actually enhances the heart stroke volume during exercise making adequate contraction and strength of your skeletal muscle, a major determinant of endurance performance. And that’s not all, tiny power houses in your cells called mitochondria, use oxygen to manufacture high levels of ATP energy via the breakdown of carbohydrates or fat. So, if you increase your mitochondrial density, more energy becomes available to your working muscles which allows you to produce higher amounts of force for longer periods of time.
In addition, your actual V02 max or the maximum amount of oxygen you can deliver to you muscles in a given amount time is the result of two variables. Number one, how much blood your heart can send to your muscles which is a combination of a heart rate, stroke volume, and heart contractility that you already learned about. And number two, how much of the oxygen sent to your muscles is actually extracted from your blood and used by the muscles before the blood heads back to your heart. Now that second variable I had described depends on oxygen delivery to active muscle fibers and this is influenced by everything from blood flow distribution, to capillary density, to arterial oxygen content, to local enzyme adaptations, to the number and density of the mitochondria.
So the important question is this, if you want to optimize your heart capacity, while at the same time increasing the number and density of your mitochondria, raising your V02 max and strengthening your skeletal muscles for higher force production and better venus return to you heart, is there anything comparable to you or superior to you long slow aerobic training? Well the answer is unequivocal yes. And this is where H.I.I.T. enters the picture. H.I.I.T. is the acronym for high intensity interval training. Don’t shutter too hard, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ll explain in just a bit what H.I.I.T. involves and how you can intelligently implement H.I.I.T. in your training without hurting yourself. But first, I want to talk to you about the proven power of how H.I.I.T. can influence the components of the endurance success that I already described. So let’s start with your mitochondria.
For years exercise scientist have been convinced that the only way to increase mitochondrial density is with aerobic endurance training. But recent studies have proven otherwise. Not only is it increase in the size and the number of the mitochondrial approve an adaptation to H.I.I.T., but the mitochondrial benefit of H.I.I.T. goes way above and beyond just the size and the number. For example, all your mitochondria contain enzymes like citrate synthase, and malate dehydrogenase, and succinate dehydrogenase, and these oxygenated enzymes lead to improve metabolic function of your skeletal muscle particularly by causing more effective fat and carbohydrate breakdown for fuel, and also by accelerating energy formation from ATP. So more of these enzymes made you have a higher capacity for going longer and harder. And it turns out that in initial study of the effective H.I.I.T. training on oxygenated enzymes demonstrated massive increases in skeletal muscle enzymes and people engage in seven weeks of intense cycling sprints.
In this case, four to ten, 30-second maximum cycling sprints followed by four minute recoveries on three days per week. Now what about H.I.I.T. versus aerobic cardio? Well another six weeks study compared the increase in enzyme that resulted from either four to six, 30-second maximum effort cycling sprint with four to five minute recovery bouts, three days per week, that’s a classic H.I.I.T. training protocol, or 40 to 60 minutes of steady cycling. That’s 65% intensity, five days per week. The levels of enzymes in the mitochondria among subjects that performed the H.I.I.T. program were significantly higher, even though these folks are training at just a fraction of the volume of the aerobic group. So, how could this favorable adaptation happen with such short exercise periods? Well, it turns out that the increase mitochondria density in oxidative enzyme activity from H.I.I.T. is caused by a completely different message signaling pathway than traditional endurance training.
In this alternative pathway in master switches activated that promotes favorable endurance adaptation. This master switches known as PGC 1-alpha which stands for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-G coactivator 1-alpha, but you don’t have to know all of that unless you really want a way to impress your friends. PGC 1-alpha causes that favorable increase in mitochondrial density and enzyme activity but it could be activated by two completely different pathways. One pathway called calmodulin kinase pathway, or one pathway called an adenosine monophosphate kinase pathway. One is called the CAMK pathway, and the second one is called the AMPK pathway.
Well, continuous endurance training seems to activate the master PGC 1-alpha switch via the former pathway, the CAMK pathway. Well, intense interval training activates it via latter pathway, the AMPK pathway. Conveniently, this increase in enzymes can actually change your metabolism causing you to shift in the higher fat oxidation during exercise. This may seem a bit ironic since high intensity interval training actually burns a higher percentage of carbohydrate as a fuel, while you’re doing the actual intervals. The multiple studies have proven that after just a few weeks of H.I.I.T., your fat burning becomes significantly higher and your carbohydrate burning becomes significantly lower. So, with H.I.I.T. training you become a metabolically efficient fat burning machine in far less time than it takes to accomplish this same effect through long aerobic sessions, but these benefits go above and beyond what you burn during your actual workout session.
For example, many endurance athletes are interested in weight lost. Although we affectionately called it improving your power to weight ratio rather than burning some fat off of our ass. The good news for those of us who wants this improved power to weight ratio is that in addition to shifting your body into higher fat oxidation during exercise, H.I.I.T. also increases your post exercise oxygen consumption. That means after hard interval-based workout, your oxygen consumption and thus the total amount of calories you burn after the actual workout remains elevated as your working muscle cells restore physiological and metabolic factors in your cells to their pre-exercise levels. On a review articles studies that have been done on H.I.I.T., it was found significantly higher EPOC or exposed exercise energy consumption exercises with H.I.I.T. training compared to continuous aerobic training which translates to the higher and lower calorie burning long after workout is over and month after month this calorie burns significantly adds up.
Now let’s see what H.I.I.T. can do with your V02 max which is your body’s upper limit for consuming, distributing, and using oxygen for energy production. In one study, four repetitions of four minute runs at 90-95% of heart rate max followed by three minutes of recovery, performed three days per week, for eight weeks resulted in 10% greater improvements in stroke volume compared to long slow distance training three days per week for eight weeks. Remember that stroke volume is one of the key components of your body’s ability to deliver maximum oxygen to working muscles. Another study showed that high intensity intervals performed at 90-95% of V02 max increase left ventricle heart mass by 12% and cardiac contractility by 13%, and these are two other significant determinants of cardiovascular capacity in oxygen delivery during exercise.
Another study measure the increase in V02 max among subjects who performed eight weeks of either H.I.I.T. or continues aerobics. And as you probably expect by now, the increase in V02 max was significantly higher in H.I.I.T. program. Fifteen percent actually compared to 9% in the aerobic endurance group. Since increase in cardiovascular function in V02 max are two major ways to help patients with cardiovascular disease even cardiac rehab facilities are catching on the idea of H.I.I.T. training. And we’re beginning to include this style of training for heart disease patients even though traditional low intensity aerobic exercise can definitely improve heart disease risk factors, the same improvements from interval training happen in a short of time with fewer sessions.
Now how about your muscle, well as you learned earlier when your muscles contract they propel blood back to your heart which increases the amount of blood filling your heart and the heart subsequent stroke volume. Within just one to two days of H.I.I.T., tiny blood vessels changes begin to take place in your skeletal muscle that improve the flow of oxygen in and out of the muscles, and a better match in terms of oxygen delivery to oxygen utilization. These adaptations are accompanied by increase in the strength of the muscle which allows for even more forceful pumping potential. In addition to improving the force in the contractility of skeletal muscle fiber, H.I.I.T. also significantly lowers insulin resistance and results in a number of skeletal muscle adaptations that cause enhanced muscular fat oxidation and improved glucose tolerance. Yet another method by which H.I.I.T. can turn you into a fat burning machine. These are skeletal muscle benefits of H.I.I.T. which I have personally discovered that go above and beyond what you may find in research studies.
For example, when I’ve exposed my body to pain cave style workout sessions like hard cycling intervals, I’m not able to dig mentally deeper but also less likely to experience protective muscle spasm and cramps. We’ll it have make sense since Tim Noakes among other exercise scientist and physiologist have suggested that much of the cramping that athletes experience during a race or an event may in fact be due to the fact that people are calling upon their bodies to do something during a race that their body simply haven’t been exposed to during training. For example, if your quadriceps muscles are rarely been exposed to say 350 watts of power on a bike and you call on them to produce that amount of power when you attempt to pass someone or surge during a race. They may simply respond by rebelling and going into a protective spasm. And as your quads curl up into it, thumb-sucking fetal position, you can throw back all the salt capsules you want but it’s not gonna help if it has nothing to do with your hydration status and everything to do with how you actually trained.
So, it would seem that H.I.I.T. is the ultimate solution for people who have limited time to train and can’t engage in the hours necessary for the polarized training approach that I talked about in part 1 of this chapter. But, are there problems with H.I.I.T.? Well, you bet. First, there’s benefits which you derived from long endurance training that you just can’t touch with H.I.I.T. For example, researchers at University of Western Ontario had 20 volunteers performed 6 weeks of training, 3 times a week. One group ran steadily at an easy, aerobic intensity of 65% starting with 30-minute runs and building up to 60-minute runs, while the other group did 30-second sprints with 4-minute recoveries starting with 4 sprints and working up to 6. As expected from what we already know about H.I.I.T. the sprint group increased their parameters of endurance performance as much or more than the easy aerobic group. Both groups increased their VO2max for 12%, both groups increased their 2k run time by around 5%, and both groups lost fat although the H.I.I.T. group did lose twice as much fat. But when researchers measured maximum cardio output, which is the measurement of the largest amount of blood your heart can pump in any given amount of time, the aerobic group actually increased theirs by almost 10% while the sprint H.I.I.T. group didn’t experience any increase in maximum cardiac output.
So, what this study tells you? Is that to get the most bang for your buck from your endurance training? You not only wanna maximize how much blood that your muscles can utilize with H.I.I.T. training but you also wanna maximize how much blood your heart can send to your muscles with aerobic training. And so, you have to include some semblance of long steady workouts in your training program. Just less that most people do. In other words, H.I.I.T. works more effectively on your peripheral muscle fitness, while endurance training works more effectively on your cardiovascular fitness.
So, now that you know the benefits of H.I.I.T. and when you need to do it, let’s jump into something called CrossFit because the H.I.I.T approaches overdone by many people, and these training enthusiasts get exposed to the same kind of evidence you’ve just heard about but they take things to kind of unhealthy level. Well, I’ll be one of the first to endorse H.I.I.T. as an ideal, time effective way to build a big endurance engine. There’s a definite limit to how much of this type of training you can do before it begins to cripple you. Beating up your joints with excessive high impact and loading, deep leaning the hormones as you sprint from a lion every day and leaving you mentally afraid from having to repeatedly dip into the training pain cave.
In the same way that black hole training can leave you exhausted, skinny fat or overtrained, too much time spent top-end training can have a similar effect when it comes to H.I.I.T. More is definitely not better. We can use CrossFit for an example of this. You know, CrossFit is an extreme exercise program designed to improve core strength and functional fitness through the use of strategies like Olympic weightlifting, kettlebells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, and wide variety of body weight moves and calisthenics. So a typical workout might include running, rowing, rope climbs, jumping on to an off of boxes, flipping big tires, carrying heavy operational gear, or bouncing medicine balls against the floor or wall. Now, typically these workouts are done in a group setting with an instructor, and a great deal of emphasis is place on beating those around you, out- performing your peers and pushing yourself to failure.
So examples of daily CrossFit workouts include routines like 3 rounds for a time of running 800 meters with 45 pound dumbbell, 15-foot rope climb, 3 ascends, 135 pounds of the thruster exercise for 12 reps, or complete as many rounds as possible of 10 pull-ups, 75 pound dumbbell deadlifts for 5 reps and 135 pound over-head push press for 8 reps. Or do 5 rounds for time of 135 pound of deadlifts, for 9 reps a 135 pounds of the power snatch for 6 reps, and a 135 pounds of over-head squat for 3 reps.
Now, CrossFit endurance is a hybrid method of CrossFit training designed specifically for endurance athletes, and according to the CrossFit endurance website, they have triathletes worked up to weekly schedule that includes 4 days of CrossFit training, 3 strength training days, and 2 days each of sports specific training for swimming, biking and running. Now, as you can see in a link that I’ll have over at the reference website for this chapter at beyondtrainingbook.com, the workout of the day in a CrossFit endurance program is pretty much very similar to regular CrossFit workout but with extra swimming, cycling, and running thrown in. Now don’t get me wrong.
CrossFit can definitely get you fit and has indeed been proven to increase your VO2max. As a matter of fact, a very recent study found that 10 weeks of CrossFit-based high intensity power training significantly increase VO2max and body composition granted a whopping 16% of the total recruited subjects that had to dropped out sighting overused or injury, and there are many immerging reports of increased rates of muscular skeletal injury and metabolic derangement from these type of programs. Now, I’ve personally done many CrossFit workouts and I have my own personally suspicions about why this injury and overtraining potential might be the case with CrossFit or any program that throws too much high intensity interval training into the mix especially when combined with hard weight training.
First, Olympic weightlifting and many of the other moves performed in a workout like CrossFit require a lot of attention to proper technique and should ideally be performed with a low number of repetitions, good form and not necessarily in the presence of the complete physical exhaustion that distracts you from good form. This is simply not the case in many triathletes or endurance athletes who are combining say high repetition snatches or heavy cleaning jerks with sprinting tire flips and rowing especially for individuals who are new to a program like this or simply jumping in and replicating or attempting to beat what their peers are doing during the workout.
Next, having a set number of reps that you must complete 4 times like as many rounds of rowing, push press and pull ups as you can do in 20 minutes. Forces may type A athletes to push himself harder than they might normally go without necessarily listening to the body’s natural warning signs to slow down or stop, and this can often result in forcing the body through a particular range of motion even if the supporting musculature for that range of motion is fatigue. And when you’re subjecting your joints to the strange of hammering in and out of an exhausted fully performed overhead press or a swing, ballistic pull-up, it should come as no surprise when the shoulder begin to grind and hurt during say, a swim workout the next day.
Next, the majority of H.I.I.T.’s study show that H.I.I.T. tends to be efficacious without high injury dropout rates when H.I.I.T. is used infrequently with small and potent doses spread sparingly throughout the week in contrast to the frequent often daily CrossFit exposure to intense intervals combined with heavy weight training. For example, when I was at the 2010 USA Triathlon Art and Science of Triathlon Coaching Symposium, a H.I.I.T. researcher named Steven McGregor introduced the H.I.I.T. training routine that’s been shown in research to lead to incredibly significant increases in power output, peak power, and VO2max. It goes like this: you start with four 30-second maximum sprints with 2-4 minutes of rest after each sprint, and you do that just 3 times a week. And then you gradually decrease your rest periods until you’re resting just 2 and a half minutes maximum after each 30-second sprint. Now you do this for 7 weeks for total of 6.5 to 15 minutes of actual H.I.I.T. per week. That’s not much but despite this minimalist high quality approach, many people who are implementing H.I.I.T. into their training routines including crossfitters, are easily doing twice the volume I just described. Not just a week but a single day.
Finally, getting your time in the gym should be primarily be spent getting strong and developing clean and functional movement patterns that enhance balance, symmetry, and stability not necessarily building your muscular and cardiovascular endurance or trying to compete for time, or points, or simultaneously pushing through soreness and fatigue. This is a concept that I write about extensively in my book, Weight Training for Triathlon: The Ultimate Guidebook. In that book I mentioned that high amounts of metabolic conditioning that you may experience while swimming, bicycling, or running can become very easy to pile even more excessive metabolic stress on when more of these same type of conditioning is experienced in a gym setting.
So instead the way I like to think about is this, use the gym for strength, and work on endurance elsewhere. So ultimately, here’s the problem with CrossFit, if the highly aenorobic and power/strength demanding CrossFit workouts are performed in a typical carbohydrate depleted state by a triathlete or endurance athlete who is engaged in heavy amounts of aerobic training simultaneous to CrossFit involvement, the result is poor form and increase risk of injury during the actual CrossFit routine combine with sacrificed biomechanics and hormonal imbalances from CrossFit induced soreness and fatigue during any subsequent aerobic, swim, bike, or run sessions.
In other words, aerobic athletes and triathletes can’t have their CrossFit cake and eat it too, and I guarantee that if you’re doing a proper CrossFit program, and combining it with a proper triathlon and endurance training program, there’s absolutely no chance that you’re giving your testosterone/cortisol ratio or inflammatory response to exercise an adequate time to recover which results in lowering your immune system, excessive loading of soft tissue and joints, and increased risk of overtraining syndrome. And perhaps it’s just a consequence of the type of self-quantified crossfitters who are going out of their way to test their blood markers, but as a wellness practitioner for Wellness FX, I see the biomarker values of many, many crossfitters each week and they tend to be some of the most hormonally depleted and beat up folks for whom I consult, and if you don’t want this type of hormonal mellow to result in adrenal fatigue, then my first piece of advice is to back off something like CrossFit and add in more recovery sessions. Easy swims, yogas, sleep, rest, and maybe even a little extra calorie intake. So, can you do a program like CrossFit right and avoid adrenal fatigue? Well, absolutely.
There’s fantastic CrossFit coaches who design workouts and training routines with specific strategies to allow for proper rest and recovery, and good attention to form without pressure on participants to completely bury themselves on 5, 6, or 7 days of the week as some kind of a badge of honor. And there’s actual attention paid to elements like tissue, mobility, technical proficiency, proper progression of workouts, and proper movement patterns. A really good book if you wanna do CrossFit the right way in this manner is written by Brian McKenzie, and it’s called “Power Speed Endurance”. But, in many cases CrossFit can serve as a perfect example of how H.I.I.T. training can be overdone if you’re not careful.
So now that you know that if you have lots of time in your hand, you can build endurance effectively by performing 80% of your training in a very easy aerobic zone and 20% of your training in a very hard inaerobic zone. That’s called if you recall polarized training And the biggest mistakes most people make with this approach is not doing the easy 80% easy enough and not doing the hard 20% hard enough. So how can you do polarized training the right way? Well, I’m not great at Math so let’s use a simple weekly training volume number to work with. Let’s say, 20 hours. Begin by allocating 80% of those 20 hours which is 16 hours to easy aerobic training. If you wanna know how to find out what your aerobic heart rate zone is then go back to chapter 1 or use the 180 minus age formula which goes like this: subtract your age from 180, modify this number by selecting from one of the following categories that best matches your fitness or health profile. If you have or recovering from a major illness or on a regular medication, subtract 10 beats from that 180 minus age. If you’re injured, you’ve regress in training your competitions, you get more that 2 colds or bouts of flu per year, you have allergies or asthma, or you’ve been inconsistent or just getting back into training, subtract 5 from that number. If you’ve been training consistently for up to 2 years about any of these problems, just keep that number 180 minus age.
Now, if you’ve been training for more than 2 years without any of the problems listed above, any made progress in competitions without injury, you can add 5, so you can take 180 minus age and add 5. So, once you’ve figured out what that heart rate is, 80% of your training or about 16 hours per week would be performed in that zone long, easy aerobic With another 4 hours per week being allocated to H.I.I.T. So for example, if you’re a triathlete, 4 hours of H.I.I.T. allows you enough time to perform one or two intense interval training sessions each week for the swim, the bike, and the run. This might be two 30 minutes swim workouts with a short 25-200 meter repeats, 1.5 to 2 hour bike workout with 8-10 short, steep, hard hill climbs and a full recovery after each climb, and one track interval-based running workout with 1 hill-based running workout.
If you simply can’t perform your H.I.I.T sessions above your lactic acid threshold then you’re probably doing your aerobic sessions too hard. Now, this is all painting with a fairly broad brush. There’s actually an entire branch of exercise training and science devoted to the concept of periodization which dictates splitting your buildup to an event or race into periods of the year that have a specific training focus. In a traditional periodization model based on polarized training, you may end up training closer to say, 90% aerobic, 10% H.I.I.T. during the off season and have 70% aerobic, 30% H.I.I.T. as you say buildup to a race. Or from an even longer term periodization perspective, an athlete on a 4-year Olympics development plan may be skewed towards a higher percentage of aerobic training early in the process and as the years progress towards the Olympics, gradually increase more and more race or competition intensity pace intervals. But, this book is about how the average everyday athlete can train while tackling the delicate balance between health and performance, and part of that is keeping things relatively simple.
And so, if you were to simply step and graph your approximate training percentage for the entire year, just make sure it comes close to that 80-20 approach. Now, if this whole polarized training things sounds like a lot of potentially exhausting times spent exercising, you’re right. Definitely is. So how on earth do professional endurance athletes pull off this type approach for as many as 25-35 hours a week without being completely crushed by stress. Mark Sisson gives an excellent perspective on this conundrum in his book, “The Primal Connection” in which he describes how a major factor play in the success of the pro-endurance athlete is the absence of significant work, stress, deadlines, office obligations, et cetera, in the life of someone who’s able to develop most of their time to training.
Here’s what Mark puts in a section of his book in which he describes his experience coaching a team of world-right professional triathletes comparing their lives to the amateur triathlete. The typical amateur triathlete was a type A, overachiever with a demanding career and a busy family life. Fitting in the records of workout was a constant juggling act between work and family obligations. The word squeeze was used repeatedly to describe scheduling efforts starting with the morning alarm and an abrupt commencement of the day’s first workout. Pacing seems to be an obsession not just for tracking workout speed but minding the clock at all times in order to remain on time for every item on the packed daily agenda.
The popular quick lunch time, swim workout for more of the peripherals than lap times. Rushing out of the office at presto change-o in the locker room, a one minute post-workout shower and then bursting back into the office an hour later with water beads still dripping from the hair unto the collar. In contrast, professional athletes whose job was simply race fast, lived lives centered around their workouts with minimal interference from real life distractions or social obligations while the pros conducted their workouts aggressively, the pace of their lives was leisurely. Lunch time swim, sure! But instead of toweling off, jerking the tie back into place and rushing it to the parking lot, the post-swimming routine, the pros consisted of lingering in the poolside spa for early as long as the workout shooting the breeze, stretching tight muscles, and generally decompressing from the intense effort in the water, eventually the pack moved from the spa and to an easy lunch with more shooting of the breeze. Eventually they remade their bikes for a couple more hours of pedaling and took an afternoon nap followed by a late day run call it by stretching or icing session followed by quiet evening of television, reading, or lingering over a huge meal. As I spent more time in the world, I learn that the competitive advantage enjoyed by these professionals were beyond their impressive workouts. Embracing a life both with purpose and at a more leisurely paced produces extraordinary results.
So, in a nutshell stress, stress no matter where there’s from exercise or from lifestyle, the more stress you’re placing on yourself from your lifestyle, the less stress you’ll be able to place in yourself from exercise. And what if you don’t have time to do polarized training? You don’t wanna waste your time with junk miles but also want to damage your body with excessive H.I.I.T. What I’m about to explain to you is exactly how I personally train for endurance and it’s very similar to the method that I used with most of my clients and athletes. I call the Ancestral Athlete Approach. And here’s why – if you take a glance at our modern sedentary life to styles combined with our post-industrial diets, we’ve pushed ourselves far above and beyond what our bodies conditioned to expect.
Use your imagination for a moment to picture the typical post-industrial day of sitting in an office surrounded by electromagnetic frequencies, deadline, stress and fake food. Now, contrast this death by sitting day with the more natural life our ancestors lived which involved relatively high amounts of low intensity physical activity like hunting, gathering, farming, or gardening, and these low intensity but hardly sedentary days were combined with sudden burst of high energy like when it became necessary to run from a lion, move a heavy rock or log, or engaged in a hand to hand combat. Now, it’s very rare to spend several hours a week simply training mindlessly at a threshold pace. That would just be a great way to deplete energy stores and beat up the body with no practical benefits.
So, think about it this way; until the recent industrial era life was a constant physical challenge. We didn’t have refrigerators, preservatives, microwaves, fast food, or pizza delivery to help us put dinner on the table rather than getting to the grocery store with a credit card, we’d wander on the planes with a weapon or go out to gather grasses, grains, fruits and vegetables, and we expend the extra energy properly preparing these natural foods, and while there were certainly drawbacks to this seemingly crude or uncomfortable mode of existence, the benefits for physical fitness and endurance building were potent, and ancestral approach to training is based around the theory that we’re naturally designed to performed very high amounts of low level physical activity combined with an occasional very high intensity burst. When it comes to this delicate trade-off between health and performance, this allows for building endurance without inflecting significant physical and metabolic damage. Living and training in this ancestral manner means respecting our ancestors and thinking critically about how the environmental and training stresses we placed in our bodies affect our health in a positive or negative way.
You may wanna check out ancestryfoundation.org or go over to bengreenfieldfitness.com and listen to my interview with Art Devany. If you wanna learn more about how the ancestral concept applies not only to training but also life in general. Of course, I’m all about the in the trenches application of these philosophies. After all you can dream about hunter gathers all day long but it doesn’t help if you’re still headed out the door every day at lunch to pound the pavement for an hour.
So let’s see what the ancestral athlete approach would look like using an Ironman Triathlon training routine as an example. Now, a sample week of training should be based around one mid to long aerobic session per week for swimming, one for cycling, and one for running. Now this session is actually devoted to a high amount of time spent in your aerobic zone 2 with a few focused zone 3 raced paced intervals. For Ironman, this would mean for example, you might have a 2-3 hour focused interval training session on the bike, a 60-90 minute high quality run, and a 45-60 minutes swim that incorporates longer 400-1000 meter intervals. And that’s it. Those are only 3 “long sessions” per week.
Now here’s the important key to the ancestral athlete approach, The remainder of your aerobic training should be accomplished by just staying active throughout the day. Now you learned about many biohacks later on this book like treadmill workstations, cold thermogenesis, electrostimulations, suspension trainers, et cetera that you like to implement this concept more easily into your everyday life. But examples include standing and walking as much as possible. I stand 6-8 hours per day while working after connect phone calls and consults while walking and even recording this entire audiobook while standing and shuffling around a bit. Never sitting for longer than an hour at a time without standing and doing 50 to a hundred jumping jacks or 5-doorway pull ups or 20 push-ups or squat or some other callisthenic movement. Spending as much time as possible outdoors in the fresh air, sunshine, experiencing both hot and cold temperature fluctuations and avoiding carrying your phone, electronics, and other electrical devices. Lifting something heavy every day. I usually flip the tires a few times or load up a barbell in the garage. Commuting whenever possible whether on a mountain bike or by foot or even by learning new modes of movement like parkour, movnow, or fitness exploring. Beginning every day with cold showers to spark the metabolism followed by deep nasal breathing and stretching. Learning how to breathe, standing, and moving properly so that your aerobic metabolism stays elevated throughout the day.
Now, once you program your long aerobic sessions that one swim, that one bike, and that one run on the days that create the least lifestyle stress for you, but it’s typically the weekend for the average everyday athlete. And the light physical activity I just kept on describing is naturally worked into your life, you then just inject brief bouts of high quality intense workouts and structured weight training sessions throughout the week. But you only do them if you’re completely rested and ready to do them with perfect form. So using these concepts in Ironman triathlon training may might look like Monday; 30 minutes of easy bicycling skills and drills, 20 minutes of easy swim drills. Tuesday; 20 minutes of heavy barbell lifts with 30 minutes of running via an interval based H.I.I.T. workout. Wednesday; 30 minutes of cycling via an interval based H.I.I.T. workout and 30 minutes of H.I.I.T. based swimming. Thursday; 20 minutes of heavy barbell lifts with 30 minutes of easy run drills. Friday; 60 minutes of injury prevention and core training yoga or an easy swim. Saturday; the long bike ride with 2.5 hours of 20 minutes on, 5 minutes off cycling intervals at a race pace along with a 3 by 1,000 meters swim at race pace. And then Sunday; the long run with 60-90 minutes of 9 minutes on, 3 minutes off running intervals at race pace.
Now, it’ important to understand that this train less approach I just described will only work if your body is prime for optimal health which you’re also gonna learn exactly how to accomplish in future chapters. You should also understand that what I just described to you involves 8-10 hours per week of training vs. the typical 20-30 hours per week that a lot of Ironman triathletes use. And although that brief description of an ancestral athlete training week seem like it merely starches the surface, don’t worry, in later chapters of this book I’ll be teaching you every biohack, healthy living component, recovery protocol, nutrition blueprint, and strategy you need to ensure you’re able to proceed in training and beyond training with zero gas work.
Now, I want to include a special note at the end of this chapter. One concern repeatedly expressed to me by older athletes is the fear of tearing a muscle, getting a sprain or strain, or developing a stress fracture from the high intensities experienced during a H.I.I.T. training session. It’s true that it can certainly get more difficult to jump, sprint, and run, and move just as powerfully as you may have been able to in your younger years. And there’s a few reasons why. Number one, your metabolism decreases with age by about 10% from your 30s to your 60s and the further 10% from your 60s onward. That means you gained fat more easily. Your maximum oxygen consumption decreases by significantly each decade from 25-65 years of age, and then decelerate even more quickly which means intense cardiovascular efforts get very difficult. Next, you get less responsive to energy stimulating hormones called catecholamines like epinephrine. Now as a result your maximum heart rate decreases which can decrease the intensity of heart efforts.
Next, the total amount of blood your heart pumps per beat and the ability of your muscles to extract oxygen from that blood decreased which can affect your cardiovascular capacity. Your muscle strength peaks when you’re at 25 years old plateaus through 35 or 40 years old and then begins to decline quickly with 25% loss of peak strength by the time you’re 65. This is due to a loss and the number of muscle fibers. Your tendon, ligament, and joint elasticity decreases crosslink with just form between soft tissue fibers in these areas. This causes a loss of 2-4 inches of lower back and hip flexibility. Your bone density decreases as the calcium content of your bones gets lower and then matrix inside the bone begins to deteriorate which can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis or fractures especially in women. But don’t get depressed and let this information convince you that you shouldn’t go near heavy weights or track instead the H.I.I.T. approach for an aging athlete can have a dramatic anti-aging effect on many of the variables that I just listed.
For example, hard running intervals that involve heavy breathing and burning muscles can help to boost the slowing metabolism, slow the rate of VO2max decline, improve venus return back to the heart and put your body to a greater flexibility, enhancing mobility compared to a slow jog. When performed in moderation, the impact from hard running also has a potent bone building effect. For both bone density and staving off the loss of muscle that occurs with aging, loading of the bones and joints along with long vertical axis is very effective and can be achieved with a strength exercises that I’ll discuss later in this book like squats, overhead presses, chest presses, and lunges. These same exercises can build new neurons and challenge your body and mind move through movements that can be more complex than just riding a bike.
A study done at University of Tras-os-Montes explains that a high speed power-based weight training program in older individuals can increase functional capacity of the upper and lower body extremity muscles much more efficiently compared to a program that only includes slow and controlled weight training. And both high intensity intervals and weight training cause a catecholamine in hormonal response that keeps your maximum heart rate elevated and maintains your body in a relatively anabolic state compared to peer low intensity cardio. In other words, by exposing your body to the hormone rush mental stimulation and thrill of lifting heavy stuff or sprinting, you actually stay young or in the words of 83-year old Ironman and world record holder Lew Hollander, “go anaerobic everyday”.
Well, there’s a lot of chapter resources, helpful websites, scientific references, and surprise bonuses for this chapter including training plans. So if you wanna get those now, go over to beyondtrainigbook.com/chapter3. That’s beyondtrainingbook.com/chapter3 and grab those resources today. Enjoy!
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Ben is off-the-grid hiking and exploring the island of Kauai in Hawaii (click here to stay tuned to Instagram to see some very entertaining photos of his adventures). So today, we bring you a special audio episode: the full chapter 3 of Ben’s New York Times best-selling book “Beyond Training”.
In this chapter, you’re going to discover that there is definitely more than one way to build endurance, and whether you’re a Crossfitter, obstacle course racer, marathoner, triathlete, cyclist, swimmer or anyone else who simply wants to build stamina, grit, and endurance, and this audio is going to show you the very best way to do just that.
If you like this chapter, then please know that Beyond Training is available as an audiobook, Kindle, and physical book here, and also available in audio .mp3 form to anyone who is a Premium member of Ben Greenfield Fitness show. The book was just updated last month with over 6 new months of Ben’s research and edits.
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