Do you dread
going to the gym for what feels like hours at a stretch? Or do you
avoid working out altogether because you just don't have the time?
Then what I'm about to tell you should be music to your ears: sometimes
when it comes to exercise, less is more.
increasingly clear that too much exercise, particularly
long bouts of cardio, can cause more harm than good.
And while most
Americans would be well served to exercise more, there's probably
no need to work out for more than 45 minutes or so at a time, as
long as you exercise correctly and efficiently. In fact,
one of the most effective exercises I know of takes just 20 minutes
for the whole workout (I'll explain more below)...
Exercise Goes Bad...
heart pumping with regular cardio exercise is important. As your
heart rate rises, the amount of oxygen in your blood improves, and
endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, increase.
aerobic exercise activates your immune system, helps your heart
pump blood more efficiently, and increases your stamina over time.
But there is a cut off point to these benefits, and if you push
your cardio session too long it can actually harm your body, leading
state, in which your tissues break down
(stress hormone) release, which not only contributes to catabolism
but also chronic disease
tears in muscle fibers (which will have trouble healing if you
continue over-exercising) and increased risk of injuries
especially if your workout is in the afternoon or evening
over the past several years has now given us a whole new understanding
of what your body requires in terms of exercise, and many of our
past notions have been turned upside-down. It's now clear that exercising
too much can be a serious blow to your health.
Too Much Cardio
Can Even Damage Your Heart
One of the
best examples of the risks of over-exercising can be gleaned from
marathon runners. Running a marathon is often seen as the epitome
of fitness and the ultimate show of endurance. But it puts an extraordinary
stress on your heart.
a study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010 in
Montreal, regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk by a factor
of two or three. But the extended vigorous exercise performed during
a marathon raises cardiac risk by seven-fold! Long-distance running
also leads to high levels of inflammation that may trigger cardiac
and damage your heart long after the marathon is over.
In a study
published in the Journal of Applied Physiology,ii
researchers recruited a group of extremely fit older men. All of
them were members of the 100 Marathon club, meaning athletes who
had completed a minimum of 100 marathons. If running marathons provided
cardiovascular benefit this would certainly be the group you would
want to seriously examine. So what did they find?
Half of the
older lifelong athletes showed some heart muscle scarring as a result,
and they were specifically the men who had trained the longest and
also revealed heart scarring after elite cardio training. Published
in the journal Circulation,iii
an animal study was designed to mimic the strenuous daily exercise
load of serious marathoners over the course of 10 years. All the
rats had normal, healthy hearts at the outset of the study, but
by the end most of them had developed "diffuse scarring and some
structural changes, similar to the changes seen in the human endurance
study showed that long-term endurance athletes suffer from diminished
function of the right ventricle of the heart after endurance racing.iv
They also had increased blood levels of cardiac enzymes, which are
markers for heart injury, and 12 percent of the athletes had detectable
scar tissue on their heart muscle one week post-race. So it is more
than likely that if you over-exercise you will do your body great
get the most benefits you need to push your body hard enough for
a challenge while allowing adequate time for recovery and repair
to take place. It turns out that one of the best ways to do this
is to follow a fitness regimen that mimics
the movements of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which included
short bursts of high-intensity activities but not long-distance
running such as is required to complete a marathon or even an hour
on the treadmill.
of High-Intensity Exercise Gives You More Benefits in Less Time
Earlier I mentioned
an incredibly efficient workout that you can complete in just 20
minutes. I was referring to Peak
Fitness. After a three-minute warm up, you raise your heart
rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds (this can
be done by sprinting, using an elliptical machine, recumbent bike,
etc.), followed by a 90-second recovery period. Then repeat that
cycle for a total of eight repetitions, as shown below.
fitness expert Phil Campbell, author of "Ready Set Go,"
getting cardiovascular benefits requires working all your muscle
fibers (you have three different types) and their associated energy
systems. Curiously enough, this cannot be achieved with traditional
cardio... Your heart has two different metabolic processes:
which require oxygen for fuel
which do not require any oxygen
strength training and cardio exercises work primarily the aerobic
process. High-intensity interval training, such as Peak Fitness,
on the other hand, work your aerobic AND your anaerobic processes,
which is what you need for optimal cardiovascular benefit. As an
added boon, when you perform Peak Fitness exercises properly, you
will also increase your human growth hormone (HGH), which increases
your muscle growth and effectively burns excessive fat. Naturally
enhanced HGH release also plays an important part in promoting your
overall health and longevity.
When you work
out, it is wise to push as hard as you possibly can a few times
a week, but you need to wisely gauge your body's tolerance to this
stress, and give your body time to recuperate. In fact, you should
not do Peak Fitness more than three times a week. If you do, you
may actually do more harm than good similar to running marathons.
I personally do them about once a week if I am doing strength training
as this give me enough time to recover.
You Can Also
do High-Intensity Super-Slow Weight Training
Dr. Doug McGuff,
M.D., an emergency room physician, is a proponent of high-intensity
interval training using weights, which is purposed to achieve many
of the same results as Peak Fitness using cardio equipment. If you
watch the interview you will see he advocates even LESS exercise
and recommends only using a very intense program once every 7 to
10 days. I am not convinced that this is ideal but it may be, so
I still do three workouts a week, two strength training and one
In the interview
above, he discusses both high-intensity anaerobic-type training,
and high-intensity super-slow weight training. He believes you only
need 12 minutes of Super Slow type strength training once a week
to achieve the same growth hormone production as you would with
Peak Fitness! Intensity is key, and, according to Dr. McGuff, when
the intensity is really high, the frequency may need to be reduced
in order for it to be really productive.
can be done using either free weights or machines. The benefit of
using a quality machine is that it will allow you to focus your
mind on the effort, as opposed on the movement.
recommends the following five movements:
(or alternatively chin-up)
row (A pulling motion in the horizontal plane)
Here's a summary
of how to perform each exercise:
lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. The first
inch should take about two seconds. Since you're depriving yourself
of all the momentum of snatching the weight upward, it will be
very difficult to complete the full movement in less than 7-10
seconds. (When pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your
limb is fully straightened; smoothly reverse direction)
the weight back down
exhaustion. (Once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or
jerk the weight to get one last repetition in. Instead, just keep
trying to produce the movement, even if it's not 'going' anywhere,
for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate
amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform four
to eight repetitions)
switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle group,
and repeat the first three steps. When done in this fashion, your
workout will take no more than 12 or 15 minutes.
because it makes you feel better, and for most, it helps keep your
weight at an optimal level. It's also one of the best treatments
for insomnia and reducing insulin resistance, as well as being a
wonderful aid in the treatment of depression. So the reasons to
exercise are many. If you start slow, and most importantly, listen
to your body, you shouldn't run into the problem of exerting yourself
If you're a
serious athlete, however, you may want to reconsider how you train.
From my perspective you can train for two goals, either to maximize
athletic competitiveness, or train for longevity and increased fertility
(especially for women). In my view, it is not possible to do both
as they have conflicting workout patterns.
As I've discussed
before, research has shown that replacing those long cardio sessions
with shorter, high-intensity burst-type exercises, such as Peak
Fitness, actually produces GREATER results in far less time! But
recovery is crucial...
not only resting your body in between workouts but also giving it
the proper nutrients it needs in the recovery phase, as your
post-workout meal can support or inhibit the health benefits
of exercise. For instance, fast-assimilating protein such as high-quality
whey protein, eaten within 30 minutes of your workout, will essentially
"rescue" your muscle tissue out of the catabolic state and supply
it with the proper nutrients to stimulate repair and rejuvenation.