Archive for the ‘cardio’ Category

Many people at the beginning of this year made the quest to find better health, lose weight, or possibly gain more energy. But, are they doing the right thing to attain this? I was at the gym the other night gazing among the attendees. This year and like every other year at this time, the gym is slam packed with people running, jumping, working as hard as they possibly can to reach their goals.  I applaud them for their valiant and courageous efforts.  Honestly, these hardworking individuals are going about it the wrong way.  Chronic cardio or better yet, exercsing at higher intensities for an extended amount of time is not the route you take for optimal health and continued weight loss.  You are setting yourself up for failure, stagnant weight loss, and multiple trips to the doctor with common colds and joint injuries.  Here’s why:

Humans, like all mammals, evolved with two primary energy systems that powered the skeletal muscles of our hunter-gatherer ancestors 40,000 years ago and that is what keeps us all well-powered the same way today. 

The first energy system relied heavily on the slow burning of fats, keeping us fueled while we were at rest or sleeping, yet also allowing for continuous or intermittent low levels of aerobic activity (think of our ancestors walking through the woods for hours on end looking for vegetation in the form of berries, roots, insects and the occasional small animal).  It makes sense. Fats are very efficient fuels that are stored easily in the fat cells and burn easily and cleanly when lots of oxygen is present (as when we are breathing normally). Even if there’s no food in the immediate area, a well-trained fat-burning hunter-gatherer could continue walking and foraging for days without compromising his or her health or efficiency.

The second major energy system we developed through evolution was an ATP-fueled system that allowed for intense loads of work to be done in very brief bursts (think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors sprinting to the safety of a tree to avoid being eaten by a a sabertooth cat).  ATP is always sitting right there within the muscle cells, available in a split second, and it is the highest octane fuel we have.  In fact, it’s ATP and adrenaline that allows the father of a young boy to pick up an extremely heavy object  preventing his son from being smashed to death.  Unfortunately, the muscles can only store about 20 seconds worth of this valuable fuel to complete life-or-death tasks. If our ancestors survived that quick sprint to safety away from the cat, their ATP reserves were filled again within minutes using the other energy systems.

Bottom line: Fats and ATP were the two primary energy sources for locomotion: we either moved slowly and steadily or “fight or flight” fast, and we became stronger and healthier the more we used only those energy systems.

So, what do we get from this?  We did not evolve to rely heavily on a carbodydrate-fueled energy system, and yet, carbohydrate metabolism seems to rule our lives today.  I here all the time how doctors are telling people to go on these low-fat diets.  Yes, carbohydrate (in the form of glucose) can play a major role in the production of energy in skeletal muscle, but it turns out that the heart and skeletal muscle prefer fatty acids (fat) as fuel over glucose.  We are in a carbohydrate driven world.  Take a look at the majority of all food product commercials.  I’m not telling you to go out and eat a bunch of fat.  I’ll talk about balanced eating at a later date.


Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t regularly ramp their heart rates up for over an hour a day like so many of us do now. Even when the concept of organized hunting came along, it would appear that our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied more on superior tracking ability (using our brains) and walking (using our superior fat-burning systems), rather than on actually “chasing down” their prey.  How often would our ancestors been eaten running through the woods with all the lions, tigers, and bears? Very.  In fact, wasting valuable energy reserves (and increasing carbohydrate [glucose] metabolism by a factor of ten) by running hard for long periods of time was so counterproductive it would have likely led to the demise of mankind.   Not only would they have lost tons of energy and been exhausted in the hunt,  they would have become the prey themselves.

Well, we know that this current popular high intensity aerobic pursuit is a dead-end. It requires huge amounts carbohydrate (sugar) to sustain, it promotes hyperinsulinemia (overproduction of insulin), increases oxidative damage (the production of free radicals) by a factor of 10 or 20 times normal, and generates high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in many people, leaving them susceptible to infection, injury, loss of bone density and depletion of lean muscle tissue – while encouraging their bodies to deposit fat.  Higher cortisol levels, more stress, save the organs and store the fat.  Then, more carbohydrates needed for energy.  Workout harder, eat more.  It shouldn’t be that difficult.  What, then, is the answer?

Knowing what we know about our hunter-gatherer ancestors and our energy systems, we would ideally setup an aerobics plan that would have us walking or hiking several hours a day to maximize our true fat-burning systems and then doing intermittent “life or death” sprints every few days to generate those growth spurts that create stronger, leaner muscle.  Increase your daily NEAT.  Anything that burns calories that is not structured exercise, eating, or sleeping.  Take the stairs, stand while talking on the phone, horseplay with your children, etc.  Strength train 2-3 times a week to maintain your muscle mass.  Whatever you do, don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time and don’t do it everyday.  This is not the way.  If you’re goal is a marathon, then you have to do what you have to do.  If optimal health, weight loss, and reduced sickness is on your list, be active, don’t over exercsie, eat clean, and sleep well!


Pedometers are the best kept secret to making exercising easier, improving your health and having fun in the process. Walking is one of the simplest, most cost-effective, and enjoyable forms of activity. Clipping on a pedometer helps to take out all of the guess work and lets you see your accomplishments before your eyes. How long will it be before you begin to see results? The answer: almost immediately! You will first notice a difference in your energy followed by improvements in your fitness level, performance, fat loss and muscular endurance.

A pedometer gives you specific feedback on your progress and inspires you to go a little longer or make better time in the same distance. Glancing down at your pedometer is assurance that you are doing your body a world of good. When clipped onto your belt, the pedometer (which is smaller than a pager) can be just the inspiration you need to get you moving from sedentary to fabulously fit. Put it on when you get out of bed in the morning to see how many steps you take all day. Gradually build your way up to a goal of 10,000 steps a day which is predicted to be the amount necessary for heart health. Do periodic step checks throughout the day to make sure you are achieving your goal. This way you will not be left with a majority of the steps to do at night. You can set goals to increase your steps by 5 percent increments every day until you reach 10,000. Don’t worry if it takes you a month or a year or more.

Start slowly and incorporate some of the following tips for using a pedometer to build up to 10,000 steps a day:

Any time you are waiting, get moving. For example, take a walk while waiting to pick the kids up from practice, waiting for your car to be serviced at the carwash or waiting for a plane.

Make it a family affair. Share quality time taking an evening walk rather than sitting at the table eating seconds or lying on the couch. Push the baby in a stroller or walk alongside the kids on their bikes.

Keep a journal. Note your total miles each day. Record how you felt after exercising as well as your goals for the next day. Some sophisticated pedometers can download all of your data.

Have rewards ready. For example, when you reach 5,000 steps, buy a new Dvd on your Ipod to listen to while you walk. When you reach 7,500 steps, treat yourself to a massage.

Park your car at the end of the lot or in the next lot over when going shopping or to dinner.

Take the scenic route by foot to your office or when traveling about during the work day.

Use the stairs instead of the elevator.

On long drives, stop every hour and walk around for 15 minutes.

Meet friends for a walk rather than lunch.

Make walking fun by dancing to your favorite music.

Use the push mower instead of the riding mower.

Join a walking club.

Sign up for a race and walk it with a friend.

There are enjoyable places to walk everywhere you look including golf courses, parks, rail trails, city streets, beaches, college campuses and so on. All you need to get started are some supportive sneakers, loose fitting clothing, a bottle of water and your pedometer. Although a little pricey, the Gruve by MuveInc is a great pedometer. Your purchase comes with the device, downloadable software for caloric tracking, biometric information, and goal setting targets. There are other ones out there as well that are more reasonably priced. But, The Gruve holds you accountable because you have to plug the device in daily to log. Here’s the link

From time to time, you have to step it up a notch.  Here’s a little Tabata protocol: 20 seconds all out effort, 10 seconds recovery and complete 8 cycles.  You can do a Tabata with any exercise movement from push ups to squats to bicep curls.  We used 4 different compound movements in this sequence.  I applaud Stacy for allowing me to shoot her in this video.  She previously finished an intense 45 minute workout prior to recording.  This is not intended for the de-conditioned!

Any takers?