I’m a huge fan of fasted training. It feels right, it feels “Primal.” And it jibes with my sense of how life was back in the hunting and gathering days: if you wanted to eat, you had to go hunt, and you had to hunt on an empty stomach (because you didn’t have much food laying around, let alone a refrigerator full of it). This is the natural state of animal life in the wild—get hungry, perform physical tasks to obtain food, eat—and it always made intuitive sense that following that pattern when working out as a modern human would confer special benefits. Our big disconnect nowadays is that food is separate from physical labor. You no longer earn your meal on a visceral, physical level. There are social benefits to this new setup, but there are also metabolic, health, and fitness consequences.
Fasted training could be a way to correct that disconnect and restore the ancient relationship between food and movement. It’s plausible. But what does the research say?
I’ll admit, the first time I heard about blood flow restriction (BFR) training, it sounded like a hack to me. BFR training promises that you can do relatively easy workouts and get the same results as if you crushed a hard workout at the gym. Too good to be true, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about less is more: Spend 30 minutes in the gym instead of an hour and a half. Go for a long walk instead of a long, grueling run in the black hole. Simplify your diet. However, I’ve seen fitness trends come and go, so I’m inherently skeptical until I see the evidence for myself.
Once I started to dig into the research, though, it became clear that BFR isn’t just a “get swole quick” gimmick. It’s a well-researched, validated training method used by physical therapists, rehabilitation specialists, and personal trainers to help patients and clients gain strength with minimal musculoskeletal stress. In some situations, it might be the best—or only—option to help someone maintain or gain muscle safely.
BFR was formalized as a training method in the 1970s and 80s by scientist Yoshiaki Sato, who called his technique KAATSU (“ka”=additional, “atsu”=pressure). Research interest has really picked up in the past decade, with a significant spike in the number of publications in the past three years.
I’m pretty sold on the potential benefits, but since you are restricting blood flow, you obviously want to be smart about trying it for yourself.
When they ask me about gear for training in the cold, I’m inclined to tell people to just get after it in whatever they have lying around. I was never one for crazy amounts of intricate training gear, cold weather or otherwise. I just don’t find them all that necessary. However, to be fair, I’m not training in extreme cold like some people. While I grew up in a fishing village in Maine, most of my adult life has taken place in warm or mild climates where it never gets colder than freezing and the gear doesn’t really matter.
But for people who do endure extreme cold (and “extreme cold” is relative) and know they still have an obligation to get outside and train, I’ve put together a list of recommendations.
Dr. DeVany’s title quote has haunted me for years; I typically ponder the significance of this deadpan assertion during my morning jog. “Come on, this can’t be dangerous, can it?” I assert that my morning jog helps me enjoy nature, clear my mind for the impending busy day in front of a screen or microphone, and seemingly contributes to both my fitness base and my health. But only if I go slow! That is the revelation I have come to appreciate over decades of devoted endurance training. Walking is perhaps most health and longevity promoting activity of them all, the ultimate human experience of life and planet that our genes require daily for healthy functioning. This is especially true as you age. A UCLA study of the elderly revealed that walking more than 4,000 steps a day makes for a thicker hippocampus, faster information processing, and improved executive function. Sedentary folks were found to have thinner brains, lower overall cognitive function and increased disease risk. From a base of frequent daily walking (and other forms of low level movement like yoga), if you are fit enough to jog at a heart rate below “180 minus age” in beats per minute, there is pretty strong evidence that you are boosting health. If your “jogging” routinely drifts above that important MAF cutoff (surely the context for DeVany’s warning), you are likely actualizing the quote and endangering your health. This article details how I destroyed my health during a six-month binge of high volume aerobic exercise (playing Speedgolf, where you run around five miles while playing 18 holes as fast as possible) after a long layoff from real training. I overestimated my aerobic maximum heart rate by 12 beats (and exceeded that beeper limit on the golf course frequently as well!) and experienced that familiar steady spiral into declining energy and burnout. First, I delivered a free testosterone reading that was clinically low—as in, a candidate for hormone replacement. Next, on the heels of a two strenuous workouts in 100-degree temperatures over four days, I found myself in the hospital with extreme dehydration, a ruptured appendix and emergency surgery. Months of complications and follow up surgeries ensued. Doctors might assert that an appendix will blow out randomly, but I’m certain that my problems were driven by the six-month chronic cardio binge. In Case You Missed It: Don’t Jog, It’s Too Dangerous (Part 1) With five months of enforced rest and trading my slightly too difficult cardio for easy jogging and walking (after surgeries), I doubled my testosterone levels—going from clinically low to exceeding the 95th percentile for my age. In the aftermath of the ordeal, which coincided with me hitting the big Hawaii 5-0, I turned my attention to fitness goals better suited for longevity: building power, speed, explosiveness, flexibility, balance, and mobility. I increased my devotion to sprinting and strength training, and integrated the wonderful drills and skills highlighted in the basic running drills and advanced running drills videos and morning … Continue reading “Don’t Jog, It’s Too Dangerous: Part 2”
Before the complex tools, before the projectile weapons and the wheels and the civilization, hominids stood upright and walked—and it made all the difference. Bipedalism freed up their hands to carry objects and manipulate the world around them and see for miles and miles across the horizon. They did all this atop bare feet that closely resembled our own; millions-year old hominid footprints from East Africa look almost identical to ones you’d see today at the beach. Not much has changed down there.
That’s the entire basis for the barefoot running movement. We were born barefoot, we spent the vast majority of our prehistory barefoot and history wearing the scantest of minimalist footwear. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that we began entombing our feet in restrictive leather and rubber carapaces that deform our foot structure and alter our gait and tissue loading. Running in bare feet or in shoes that mimic the barefoot experience can help us move and land the way nature intended, thereby increasing running efficiency and reducing injury risk. The science is sound.
There’s no question that the full squat exercise is an essential, Primal movement, and yet many folks in modern, industrialized society are unable to properly perform one. Kids have good squat form (just watch them at play), but their parents are stiff at the hips with rounded backs and tight knee joints. Many more have been taught – by health experts and personal trainers – that the full squat is dangerous, that it will destroy your knees with wear and tear and render you incapable of normal activity. They say a half-squat is perfectly adequate, or, better yet, get rid of the squat altogether and use the leg extension machine! (Actually, don’t.) Disregard these “experts.” Squatting is a natural movement that humans are built to do. You don’t need to use a ton of weight (or any!), but you do need to be mobile and flexible enough to reach a full squat below parallel. What Do Squats Do? Squats serve a variety of practical purposes: they can help you arrive into a resting position, they’re a proper starting form for lifting, and they work the muscles of the lower body. A proper squat engages and works a host of muscles, like quadriceps, abdominals, glutes, calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors. When done correctly, squatting can build bone density, a key element in aging well. How to Do a Squat Stand with a comfortable stance. Most will prefer their feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with toes turned out at a slight angle. Lower yourself by reaching back with your butt while maintaining a strong lower back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and your toes on the ground. Chest up, upper back tight, eyes looking forward and slightly down, head in a neutral position. Maintain a nice cohesive line along your spine. Go just below parallel, so that your butt drops below your knees.Come back up by pushing through the heel. Proper Air Squat Form Air squats, also known as body weight squats, can take pressure off of knees and still provide a ton of benefits. Learn, modify, and perfect your air squat over time using three squat progressions. If you’re already familiar with the motion but finding your squats result in knees caving, lower back or hip joints pain, your form might need a further tune up. Follow along with the video or these three progressions to get your squat into shape. https://youtu.be/1A0msu0FDl8 Squat Progression 1: Use an Assist Find a supportive assist, such as a wall, bar, pole, or the back of a chair – anything that is sturdy and comes to about navel height. Come to a neutral position with feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and explore your range of motion. Aim to achieve 20-30 of these assisted squats before moving on to Progression 2. Squat Progression 2: No Assist, with a Spot Use a box or a bench to act as a ‘spotter’ while working on your full squat form. When in the … Continue reading “How To Squat with Proper Technique (with Video)”
Back in the day, only the most hard core weightlifters used kettlebells. Now, everyone’s catching on to their effectiveness and versatility. With just 3-4 sizes of kettlebells stashed away behind your sofa, you can do a full-body resistance workout that you feel the next day.
The free weights at the gym are great, but you don’t always have time to get there. Or maybe your gym is still closed. Investing in a few kettlebells will give you the means to emulate some of the more savage strength-building movements that you get with an expensive trainer, without having to leave your house or cough up a membership fee. You can even incorporate kettlebells into your microworkout regime.
Hi Folks! This week, Erin is navigating the age-old pain versus gain debate, providing strategies for injury-free workouts, ditching the restrictive diet mentality, and the real reason you’re not seeing results. Keep your questions coming over in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group or in the comments below. Raymond asked: “I’m struggling to lose the last 10 pounds, mainly because I can’t be as active as I need to be. Every time I try to exercise or do strength training, I end up in pain. Part of me doesn’t want to do it because I know I’ll be miserable for a few days afterward. Any tips on exercising pain-free?” It sounds like you’re clear on your end goal: to lose those last 10 pounds. But you’re also struggling with body pain every time you work out. I hear you Raymond. Pain is no fun. Thankfully, you don’t have to subject yourself to it in order to lose weight. The whole no pain, no gain mentality is total BS. Punishing yourself just to reach your end goal is never a good plan. But let’s take a step back and look at your situation for a minute. You say every time you try to exercise or strength train, you end up in pain. Is that true? Is it every time? Or is it only when you do certain exercises or do them for a certain amount of time? We often look at workouts as lifting dumbbells, taking a class, or going for a run. Or we overdo it on a consistent basis because we’re comparing our workouts to that of someone on Instagram or in our circle of friends. All of which has the ability to create undue pain. And not just physical pain. Just remember that any form of movement has the potential to lead to weight loss, or as I prefer to say, fat loss. And a big part of how successful you’ll be starts with how you perceive your efforts. So, I’ve got to ask. Do you look at your workouts as a chore that might finally get the scale down 10 pounds? Or is exercise something you actually enjoy doing? It’s possible that by reframing the way you see your workouts, you could actually diminish your perceived pain. In one study, researchers saw a major distinction between spinal cord injury patients who were motivated to be physically active by positive versus negative incentives. Positive incentives were things like seeing an improvement in mood either during or after the activity and feeling satisfied with their accomplishments. Negative incentives were all motivated by fear or obligation, often causing the participants additional discomfort and pain. Back in the day, our ancestors stayed active by chasing antelope so they’d have dinner or they walked to the nearest spring to get fresh water. There was no selective pressure to find joy in exercise because it simply needed to be done to survive. Thankfully, these days, we have the choice to work out in … Continue reading “Ask a Health Coach: Why Pain Doesn’t Equal Gain”
There is an epidemic of chronic lower back pain. It’s one of the leading causes of “Years Lived with Disability” (YLD), is responsible for over 7 million ER room visits each year, and costs us both time (hard to do much of anything when our lower back is hurting) and money (people with lower back pain end up spending thousands of dollars a year on average to treat it). I can’t think of anything that degrades overall quality of life more than persistent lower back pain.
And as is so often the case, our attempts to treat the condition often make it worse. What does the average person do when their back hurts?
When most people worry about getting old, they focus on the obvious degenerative diseases like diabetes and cancer and Alzheimer’s or the catastrophic health emergencies that can occur, like strokes or heart attacks. They think about the melange of medicines they might have to take, the panicked rush to the ER in the dead of night, the slow but unmistakable descent into painful oblivion. But one of the deadliest health conditions afflicting older adults is also one of the most silent and unknown: sarcopenia, or the degeneration and loss of muscle mass and strength. People just don’t think about losing muscle mass and strength as they get older. If they do, they assume it’s just part of the aging process. They figure it’s unavoidable, because, after all, everyone around them just gets weaker and more decrepit as they age. It’s one of those “inevitabilities” that you “just have to accept.” Screw that. Muscle loss is not your destiny. You don’t have to sit there and take it. In fact, sitting there and taking it is the single best way to get sarcopenia; standing up and fighting is the single best way to avoid it. Plus, taking the necessary steps to mitigate or even prevent sarcopenia will help prevent all those other age-related maladies I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Instantly download your Quick Start Guide to a Healthy Gut Health Problems Related to Muscle Atrophy, or Muscle Loss Sarcopenia the specific condition is linked to a number of poor health outcomes: 3.5x higher risk of mortality 3x higher risk of functional decline Greater risk of falls Higher chance of hospitalization Muscle itself is a powerful endocrine organ, emitting hormonal messages that regulate metabolism, inflammation, and overall function. Muscle also provides a metabolic reservoir for support and recovery from physical trauma—injuries, wounds, damage to our tissues. When muscle mass drops to extremely low levels, it means you’re not only more likely to be hospitalized, you’re more likely to never make it out of that hospital bed. Worse still, sarcopenia isn’t just loss of muscle: It’s degradation of the muscle tissue. It’s conversion from fast-twitch Type 2 muscle fibers that can handle heavy loads and high intensity to slow-twitch Type 1 muscle fibers that can only handle lighter loads and lower intensities. It’s the loss of motor units at the muscle itself, forcing the few remaining motor units to pick up the slack and extending recovery times. It’s the loss of cardiac strength, which impairs cardiovascular function and lowers VO2max. It’s the impairment of tendon function, reducing strength and mobility and increasing the risk of injury. Sarcopenia Definition The European Working Group diagnoses sarcopenia if you have two of three conditions: Low muscle mass Low muscle strength Poor physical performance (walking speed, for example) Even if you don’t have full-blown sarcopenia, you may have “pre-sarcopenia.” Millions of people are walking around (or, rather, shuffling around) with lower-than-ideal muscle mass and strength. Today’s post applies to them, too. So whether you’re looking at the … Continue reading “What Is Sarcopenia and How Can You Defeat It?”