Is the type and amount of exercise important in mediating your response to stress?
This is one controversial subject matter.
So often you’ll hear of Jack or Jill hitting the gym after a terrible day at work, an argument or whatever, and their intention is to ‘smash it out’ a gut wrenching session. We have gyms that now specialise in high intensity systems and that’s all they do. If you join that gym you can guarantee that every session will be a ‘smash it out’ session.
High intensity exercise has its place. When in a competition, when you’re being paid to do it, to save a family members life or when a pack of wild dogs are chasing you down.
The idea that high intensity training is what athletes do, so it’s what we all should do is a fallacy. First off, athletes spend an extraordinarily low amount of their overall training time on high intensity training and when they do, it’s part of a programmed period of training building up to competition. Secondly, athletes are not everyone. They are usually the special specimens that have great genes and further, understand the risks they take with their training and how it may impact their bodies.
The point I’m getting to here is this. Stress is like a fire. The more you pile onto it the more fierce it becomes. High intensity exercise, let’s say anything you rate as 8 out of 10 effort, is putting stress on the body. That stitch in your side when running, that burn in the muscles when you keep pushing out the reps and that headache after the training session; that is just more physiological stress being piled on top of other stress.
I am not saying my clients or I never work on movements and just sit around taking it easy – we follow designed programs using moderate intensities, efforts and durations. The results always speak for themselves.
As a guide, if you can practice your training (whatever it is) while breathing only in and out of the nose, you are in the good zone. If your focus is the movement and performing it good, better and ‘betterer’ with nasal breathing – you are doing the best you can.
Pain and discomfort, throwing up after exercise and sore muscles the day or days after is not an indicator of progress… believe it or not!
Working overly hard is hardly working compared to working strategically hard… and that’s what I’m about to get into here.
My last blog post discussed High Intensity Interval Training and it’s many demons for both trainees and even the gyms who don’t overly sell this over-marketed form of exercise.
Today I’m introducing to you the findings of some exciting research that demonstrates receptively how a simpler form of training hard (yes, I’m saying you can still work hard) elicits better and safer results.
This updated method of performing high intensity training for strength and power comes from the latest evidence based practice (and much research) from StrongFirsts Pavel Tsatsouline and plenty of credit goes too to Dr Craig Marker who shares his research with the wider StrongFirst community of instructors.
So boys and girls, let me introduce you to Anti-glycolytic training (AGT)
First off, let’s check off a few truisms.
Some exercisers like to feel pain when exercising hard.
Most exercisers don’t like pain the day after training.
Working hard feels great to some people in the gym.
Most people are exercising in part to burn fat / lean out.
Most exercisers just follow the herd.
Most gyms and trainers do not care about health first (just count all the gym chains that focus and market HIT!)
80%+ of training benefits are gained through accumulation of and adapting to moderate volume and intensity throughout the year.
For a day or two after an HIIT session, quality of life is compromised and gym time is cut or affected (stiffness, pain, low motivation).
HIIT does have its place – in a peaking phase of training once or twice a year for a few weeks only.
Mmmmm, #10 – Training hard but NOT to the ‘burn’ can help promote more favourable circumstances to oxidise fat over glycogen (blood sugars) as the main fuel during exercise.
Listing 10 is a total accident there in case you’re thinking I worked hard to come up with 10 key facts.
By definition, anti-glycolytic training refers to not using the glycolytic energy system during high effort training.
Digging a wee bit into exercise science for you, here’s the normal sequence of fuel sources the body uses once high effort exercise commences and continues.
Instant Energy: ATP/CP
Stored in our muscles and liver, adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate is a powerful, clean fuel that gives us the quick bursts of energy we need for a quick dash up the stairs, vigorously scrubbing the bath or a quick sprint. A set of 5-7 swings or a heavy press fits in this energy category.
Downside – it drains out very quickly requiring us to rest to replenish the ATP or, to start utilising the next energy source.
Fuel Booster Energy: Glycolysis
Glycolysis is a slightly less powerful source of fuel than ATP/CP itself but it will last up to 2 minutes further but, it’s a dirty fuel. The metabolic waste bi-product of using this fuel source is probably something you’ve experienced in the past in the lovely sensation of burning pain in your side. This is the feeling of a build up of hydrogen ions that the body is desperately trying to buffer out of the body – it’s removal as a waste product takes priority over any further energetic efforts. So, you’ve got to rest up to let the body do what it does – repair itself!
These highly acidic waste products cause a few issues that in the long term, we want to limit and prevent.
Issues of concern include:
Inhibits the creation of more ATP.
Causes damage to cells.
Extends the recovery times between training sessions.
‘Muscling’ through further repeated efforts carries increased risk of muscle strain, poor form and breathing patterns will take a hit – doesn’t sound too healthy actually!
For efforts to continue longer than two or three minutes, we cannot depend on the ATP/CP system or glycolysis and must instead rely on the use of oxygen. This incredibly efficient energy system utilises the oxidation of fat to produce energy the ins and outs of which go far beyond the scope of this post. This is where you get your energy for basic functions, long walks, jogs, bike rides and in the sporting realms, ultra marathons and such.
No supplements are needed to optimise this fuel source, just a lowering of the average overall intensity and breathing in lovely oxygen.
For the most part, we want to spend time using the latter and avoiding the nasty bi-product producing glycolytic system whilst still training to get stronger.
“How’s that gona work”? You ask.
Knowing that the ATP/CP system lasts 10 – 15 seconds or so and that we want to prevent going into the glycolytic system of producing energy we now have a window in which to work. Work in this case means hard work, explosive and pushing the comfort zone to the upper limits.
Yeah, this sounds like any other HIIT session doesn’t it.
So let’s define HIIT in its standard form.
HIIT = maximum effort intensity for a predetermined time followed by minimum time to recover and repeat.
Tabatta for example is 7 – 8 rounds of 20 seconds max effort and 10 seconds recovery. It was designed to be carried out on an indoor cycle and not the terrible forms you can see being performed in some gyms and programs.
While not all intervals are in the form of the now famous Tabatta, they all follow the same principle of max effort, short rest, repeat and pass out on the floor. Yay – way to go.
What is observed in E.V.E.R.Y workout is that form and technique and power output diminishes per round. The final set does resemble the first set in the slightest.
Is this good training practice?
Will this really develop good movement practice?
Will this create a good stimulus for strength and power improvements?
This has been observed for quite some time but was accepted in the name of forcing the body to accept the new level of pain and perhaps an increase in V02 max. To be honest, while conducting such training on an ergometer, running, rowing and such, there is only so much scope for a degradation in form compared with the likes of kettlebell swings, snatches, barbell moves and other loaded tools.
So, getting back to AGT, the findings in the labs have been quite the game changer and not what you’d expect.
What has been seen is that by stretching out the recovery time between high efforts of 10 -15 seconds, the body started to adapt to demands for ATP/CP through the oxidative system.
Essentially, if you stop asking the body for fuel sourced by the glycolytic system it is more than happy not to go there. Why would it – it’s damaging. Not what the body does best.
We know that strength is a skill and we talk of practicing the skill of strength to, well, get stronger. It works, it makes sense. It therefore goes without saying that being able to repeat those high effort bouts is a sane approach to high effort training.
It is now about High Intensity ‘Repeat’ Training.
Kind of ironic how the label given to High Intensity Repeat Training has the acronym of HIRT! You’ll possibly never feel the kind of pains and hurt from this method compared to HIIT.
Having these numbers gives us a massive boost in programming some high effort training to keep everyone happy, to increase our fat adaption during exercise and avoiding burnout, injury and all those aches and pains for the days following the training session.
How the Program looks
Amazingly simple looking, the program goes like this:
10 seconds flat out with powerful, crisp and strong form
50 to 90 seconds rest
Repeat for up to 10 rounds.
The rest period will depend on the individuals recovery rate.
An easy method we use is the talk test. Once the exerciser can speak a sentence without gulping for air, they are ready to go.
With time and as the session seems to feel easier, and more manageable, the 10 seconds of high effort can be stretched to 12, 15 seconds.
For simplicity in the gym, we’ve found that 10 secs ON and 50 secs OFF works just fine.
The movements that the exerciser can carry out well and safely at high efforts are the obvious choice.
Medicine Ball Slam
Sprinting on the spot!
Clean and Push Press
This list is no particular order but I do prefer the kettlebell swing as a stronger swing equates to a stronger clean, press, squat potentially and a bigger deadlift as well as all-round feel good factors. Who wouldn’t mind swinging the heaviest kettlebell they can get their hands on.
Actually, on that note, when we last ran this program last year, one lady started swinging the 12kg and finished 8 weeks later swinging the 32kg! A gent also started on the 20kg and finished on the 48kg!
Impressive you’ll agree.
So that is the first component of this next program.
There are many quotes we bounce around the interwebs these days but today I’m quoting Benjamin Franklin when he wrote in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
A commonly used quote that denotes life has two certainties but yet, many, many variables. Let’s call these variables ‘choices’ just for today in this short piece.
We all have choices to make in our lives and especially true of our health and fitness choices but it does seem like most exercisers are simply following the herd without really looking at what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Just because something feels good, that doesn’t make it good for you!
I was going to write up this blog post but instead decided to talk to you instead. If you can’t watch all 10 minutes, that’s okay but I get into discussing HIIT (high intensity interval training) and how it’s showing NOT to be the best, most sustainable choice of exercise to benefit our lives.
You could just leave it there. You’ve read that I’m about to discredit HIIT as a training method and that simpler, less painful training works better! To find out the details, how about just watching the video?
Next time I’ll chat about the alternative to HIIT training that’s both healthier long term and actually provides better results – go figure!
In part 1 last week [LINK] I talked about how research is finding the commonly used HIIT model of training is resulting in more negative results on our health. Burn out, injuries, overtraining and poor adherence make it unsustainable.
I introduced a new approach labelled High Intensity Repeat Training.
Let’s jump into Part 2.
Here’s a little fitness map I’ve made that illustrates all the ‘stuff’ we should include regularly.
The main categories include:
There is no one item more important than the other, although I am starting to believe that sleep quality and health overrides everything else.
Of this list, the vast bulk of training is the foundation, the aerobic, easy to moderate stuff. Walking, gentle cycling, housework and gardening. The aerobic cardiovascular development is based on having individuals work within their aerobic threshold as apposed to bouncing off their anaerobic zone during HIIT. Aerobic threshold is defined as the intensity just before the beginning of the accumulation of hydrogen in the body, at an intensity whereour body can handle the stress put upon it and use oxygen to create more energy and clear away bi-products of the effort.
Can you recall working out so hard you got a ‘stitch’ pain in your side? That’s the build up hydrogen ions from such high effort that the body can’t clear it quick enough. It’s not sustainable.
An ideal aerobic zone is described by Dr Maffetone as 180 – your age. This is otherwise known as the maximum aerobic function heart rate (MAF HR).
Note: You can go to Maffetone’s website for a more detailed way to determine your MAF HR based on your age, health, and activity level.
Now, let’s get to weekly ideals
Health experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily or 3 ½ accumulation per week. This is where you should spend the bulk of your exercise effort. This daily 30 minutes can be seen repeated by health bodies around the world. It’s not the maximum, it’s optimal.
Strength is an important function of being an able bodied human, autonomous throughout life to undertake physical tasks and challenges. Who wants to live frail and weak?
When we strength train, our bodies recover and adapt (keeping a long story short) but recover too long and we regress. We failed to adapt. With recovery rates and regressions in mind, an average adult should aim to strength train twice to three times over a week. Think Monday and Thursday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. And yes, you can strength train and perform aerobic activities in one day. You’ll not day. You might get a little tired, but your body will thrive with recovery.
Mobility is the fountain of youth in terms of maintaining healthy movement (yup, even including healthy bowel movements too). We sit, we lie down and we naturally stiffen up a little. To stay on top of mobility, daily practice is prescribed by the worlds leading experts in movement skills. This might mean just 5 to 10 minutes daily of practicing some mobility moves or appropriate stretches.
Sleep. Despite the claims of some people, a body does need 7 to 8 hours sleep at night to promote hormone function for recovery, rejuvenation, organ and muscle recovery and function and brain health.
Nutrition is made out to be confusing. At its simplest, we as humans need daily protein, vegetables, natural sources of carbohydrate, natural fats and water. The exact amounts I’ll not get into here. Where it gets confusing is when people try to fast track their goals, seek out miracle drinks, potions or start to follow extreme guidelines including the removal of complete food groups. If we follow a mostly balanced diet of mostly the ‘stuff’ I mentioned above, most of the time; we’ll be okay.
HIIT. Ah finally. How much is needed if any? Some might not like the following guideline so if I hurt your feelings, suck it up, embrace a fresh outlook and try it to see what happens.
If, and only if, you are able to:
accumulate 3 ½ hours of aerobic activity in the MAF HR (180-age)
sleep every day for 7 to 8 hours
eat a mostly balanced diet
strength train twice a week
practice daily mobility / flexibility …
… then and only then can your body be subjected to the stresses of HIIT training that should take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes.
And here’s a serving suggestions for just that.
Option 1: 30 secs of high effort followed by 30 secs rest x 5
Option 2: 10 secs of high effort followed by 50 secs rest x 10
Option 3: 20 secs of high effort followed by 40 secs of rest x 5-10
You’ll notice option 2 has plenty of rest. This protocol is the hidden gem (well, not any more as i’ve just shared it… oops)
Performing at high effort, your goal is to sustain high quality efforts. Answer me this. If you are performing a high effort followed by short rest, how well will you perform the following high efforts? Will there be a drop in forms, in effort? Is that the goal? Is the goal to repeat high effort or just to repeat feeling terrible?
High Intensity REPEAT Training
Now it’s going to get juicy as I take you into the new world of HIRT.
The best athletes do not do HIIT as you see in gyms and bootcamps. Yes, they do perform high effort training, but if you observe their recovery, it is programmed to allow the athlete to perform repetitively, with the goal of finding the sweetest spot of high performance. Injury rate is reduced too with the sustainable high efforts paired with generous rests.
This is nothing new and was in fact around in the 90s but fell out of vogue due to the perceived sexiness of crushing oneself in front of others for the glory, pride and overcoming feeling terrible.
Look, I’ve been on both sides of this paradigm. The first time I certified with StrongFirst (RKC) I was killing myself with kettlebell swings in the older HIIT style. Yes I did get fitter but also tweaked muscles frequently. As I prepare once again for recertification I’ll be following the HIRT style of training that in fact clients followed last January (2018). It was common to see ladies improve their swing from 12 to 20kg to 24 to 32kg in just an 8 week program.
This too was following just 10 minutes a week.
As a guideline, what we followed was this:
7 swings with a heavy weight followed by at least 50 secs recovery.
Pulse levels would increase to approx. 180 – age by the end of each swing set.
Recovery was based on allowing the pulse to return to 180 – age – 20
As pulse failed to hit 180 – age, if it wasn’t due to fatigue, the weight was increased.
You could try this with any exercise you are competent in. You must not fear the weight or the tool. Just commit, rest, repeat for 5 to 10 minutes and leave it for another 5 to 7 days.
I don’t know truely know when and where the idea started that we must suffer to develop healthy fitness. Science tells us it’s not a valid method to improve healthy fitness. The media sensationalise high effort and reward.
I personally embrace new findings and new or improved ways to optimise my fitness and strength performance and I’ll gladly say goodbye to crushing myself and risking injury if I really don’t need to.
Studies show hard training sessions quickly improve athletic performance, but if they come with an injury rate of 50 percent would you still do them?
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT for short) has been a mainstay of training programs and systems for only a short period of time. 30 years might sound like a long time, but in an industry, it’s just a snapshot of time.
Studies time and time again show that HIIT protocols do indeed improve athletic performance. HIIT can be described as performing short 10-30 seconds high efforts followed by a short recovery (10-60 seconds) before repeating for up to 8 to 10 total efforts. The high effort would be in the range of 90% of your VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum effort you can sustain before going red line and you stop using oxygen to create fuel. You instead go into a zone of using other short lived fuels like creatine and lactate.
However, what most studies do not report is that the period we can sustain such training sessions is short, like 4 to 6 weeks. Continue to flog yourself much further and injury rates escalate as do over training risks.
For athletes following a professionally designed program, a period of time would include HIIT training but only during a peaking phase of 4 to 6 weeks of a training program leading up to competition. They do not follow HIIT all year round.
As Doctor Phil Maffetone wrote: “Anaerobic function creates higher levels of physical and biochemical stress, decreases immune function and muscle repair, increases inflammation, increases the risk of muscle injury and impairs fat-burning. These conditions are also associated with poor (or a lack of) recovery, and are common components of and contributors to the overtraining syndrome.”
So why does the fitness industry keep banging away at the idea that you gotta keep banging away at yourself??
Because HIIT is sexy?
Because high effort is equated to suffering and deserved favourable outcomes??
Because our parents and grandparents suffered to provide for us???
Who knows where the western notion of high effort, suffered and reward stems from, but it is very much a western attraction to fitness. Yes, other cultures follow rights of passage, coming of age rituals, but it’s not an every-day thing!
As I continue, I want to throw out these reality checks for you to ponder:
Every day exercise is a driver to good, better and optimal health.
Athletic Sport performance is NOT about health. It’s about doing everything that must be done to out perform the competition.
When I raced my bike in the 90s, I didn’t race and nor did my colleagues or competition race to improve our health. We trained to race, to do better than every else. The same can be said for most other sports too.
High intensity interval training used too much is not about health, it’s about taking physical performance to its highest potential, regardless of impact on health.
Here’s a glimpse of a couple of studies:
The British Journal of Sports Medicine published the results of a short-term training program, designed by health professionals to reduce running injuries that still resulted in a 30 percent injury rate (Taunton et al., 2013).
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning published a study that showed the popular and notoriously high-intensity sport of CrossFit has an estimated injury rate of 73.5 percent with 7 percent of these injuries requiring surgery (Hak et al., 2013).
One thing researchers may agree on is that they don’t really know what particular exercise effort is best for a given athlete. While the concept of individuality is an accepted approach to programming, it’s not used to a valuable capacity. The media will continue to present snippets of research, telling us the new solution is here, and people will jump on board the coolaid train, only to risk increased injury and ill health.
Where does higher effort fit into the fitness equation?
Next week I’ll share how a week should look, driven by non-agenda health leaders, recovery and regression from effort rates.
Until then, what do you think? Do you look first at when you’ll do your HIIT or is it something you’ll add once all other areas have been covered?