The tagline we use for our personal training studio is “40 minutes a week to buff”. In essence, we claim that you can build a fit, healthy, beautiful body with only two twenty minute workouts a week. I am aware that this is a remarkable claim bordering on hyperbole, but we have been very successful in helping people get in shape with relatively little overall exercise. You may be wondering…how is this possible? After all, conventional wisdom says that you need to exercise every day, and that you need to burn as many calories a day as you take in to maintain your weight. This is a common sense paradigm for addressing weight balance and general fitness. I, too, believed and practiced that approach for many years as well. I did have relative success with the conventional approach, but if I had to keep doing what I did then to maintain a healthy body weight and a good level of fitness, I would have quit years ago. To give you some insight into my routine back in the day, I would do a three mile run about 3 to 4 times a week, and then on top of that I was in the gym doing a strength training program 4 days a week, doing many sets for each body-part, thus forcing the need for me to split my routine up so I can get all of my sets in. I did not address my diet, for I figured that I exercised enough to burn any excess calories I took in. I did stay relatively lean, but I did not build much muscle. More to the point, though, is that this was an exhausting routine and there is no way I would have been able to maintain it throughout the years while I was raising kids, building a business, and spending quality time with my wife. Luckily, I learned years ago that a large volume of exercise for developing a fit and healthy body was not necessary, and that a large amount of exercise is actually counter productive for long term health.
The secret to building a fit and healthy body is not through volumes of exercise and strict adherence to calorie counting. The secret is in sending the right signals to the body, telling it to stay lean and fit. The signals we want to send to the body are: gain and maintain muscle mass..and make it necessary to burn fat instead of storing fat. That’s it. If we send those signals, the body will then keep the muscle and burn the fat. The really cool thing about this approach is that one does not have to do a lot of exercise, nor count calories to send the appropriate signals.
So what are the signals?
To Gain Muscle:
Intense strength training. Contrary to popular belief, getting stronger is best achieved by training harder rather than longer. The real goal of any strength raining program, be it power lifting, bodybuilding, or even crossfit® is to get the fast twitch fibers of the muscle to fire. Once they are recruited to work, they will then get stronger. Moreover, it is the fast twitch fibers that will literally reshape the body by increasing tone and definition in women and more mass along with definition in men. The slow twitch fibers, on the other hand, do not.
It is rather easy to work the slow twitch fibers because they produce lower amounts of force as compared to the fast twitch fibers, and the body will always call on them first whenever it needs to move. Furthermore, the slow twitch fibers can fire over and over again without fatiguing. It is the slow twitch fibers that the body will use almost exclusively during any type of cardio exercise. Think of long distance running, cycling, or even just walking. They all tend to use the slow twitch fibers. Contrast that to the fast twitch fibers, which are bigger and more powerful. These fibers, when called on to produce muscular force, require more energy and resources from the body than the slow twitch fibers and they tend to burn out rather quickly.
Understanding that it is essential for us to recruit the fast twitch fibers in the context of our workout program, we need to gear the workout to do just that. Since it is obvious that low intensity effort such as jogging, long distance cycling, or any other cardio type of exercise will not produce the results we want, we want to minimize how often we do the cardio types of exercise. Ironically, this also applies to many strength training programs you see people do. They will do many sets and exercises for each body part, “attacking the muscle from every angle”, and spend a great deal of their free time in the gym. The problem with that approach is this: for every set they add to their routine, they will have to lower the intensity on every set they do, just so they can finish the workout. In other words, the more exercises they add, the less likely they will stimulate the fast twitch fibers.
That does beg the question…what is the best way to work the fast twitch fibers? There is plenty of research that demonstrates the efficacy of performing a set, be it for the chest, back, legs and so on, by using a load (weight) that is light enough for the trainee to do at least 6 repetitions, but that the load is also heavy enough to fatigue the working muscle in 12 repetitions or less. There is a bit more to this, for it is also of critical importance on how the repetition is done as well. The trainee must use a slow and controlled cadence with good form, especially toward the end of the set. If the trainee does the set right, he will make a deep inroad into his starting level of strength, thus tapping the fast twitch fibers toward the end of the set.
Minimize or completely eliminate endurance exercise. Common wisdom says that we need endurance exercise to lose fat because that is the best way to burn more energy over a longer period of time. Additionally, low intensity, longer duration exercise, in theory, also draws from the fat stores more readily than high intensity workouts do. I do not believe this is so and I will go into more detail about my viewpoint in a bit, but for the effect of sending signals to the body, endurance exercise actually tells the body to lose muscle. Endurance exercise tells the body that it does not need the fast twitch fibers, and if the body keeps getting these signals, it would simply let the fast twitch fibers atrophy.
Make the workouts hard but short in duration and do them semi-occasionally. Once the body gets the signal to make muscle, it needs a lot of downtime to actually build the muscle. Intense strength training really zaps the physical reserves of the body. For starters, the workouts actually creates micro trauma to the muscle fibers, and they need time to repair. Along with the muscular system, both the endocrine system and the central nervous system, among other systems of the body, need time to recover as well. Once again, research shows that it takes more than one day for everything to fully recover, and in many cases it takes up to three or four days. Since it only takes one properly performed set to stimulate the fast twitch fibers, it is also much easier to work the whole body in one session in under 30 minutes. The brevity of the exercise session also helps aid the body in recovery too.
To Lose Fat:
Restrict your carbohydrate intake. There is considerable controversy surrounding whether carbohydrates cause the body to store fat. Dr Atkins made a big splash back in the early 70’s when he bucked the traditional advice claiming that a high fat diet caused not only fat gain, but heart disease as well. Dr Atkins noticed from observing his patients that by cutting back carbohydrate intake, they would lose fat more readily than by simply cutting back calories, and his hypothesis was that it was carbohydrate intake that caused fat gain because of the insulin response to carbohydrates. The main function of insulin is to draw the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the muscle and fat cells for both energy use and storage, and it seemed to Dr Atkins that chronic insulin secretion led to obesity. It turns out that he was right. Insulin does send the signal to the body to store fat instead of burning it. The physio-chemical response of the body to the secretion of insulin is too lengthy to put into this post, but here is one example of what happens: there is an enzyme called Lipoprotein lipase that acts as a gateway for glucose to be transported to either a muscle cell or fat cell. Interestingly, when the body releases insulin, the Lipoprotein lipase on the muscles down regulate, and the Lipoprotein lipase on the fat cells up regulate. This process switches when there is no insulin-the Lipoprotein lipase on the muscle cells up regulate and the Lipoproetin lipase on the fat cells down regulate. In other words, insulin tells the muscle to stop using fat, and at the same time, it tells that fat cells to store more fat. Same enzyme. Different responses via insulin. Thus, minimizing insulin secretion is a signal to the body to burn fat instead of storing it.
Practice Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent fasting is simply allowing yourself to skip a meal from time to time. More specifically, it is a planned fasting protocol done sporadically. For example, someone who practices intermittent fasting may decide to eat for an eight hour window every day and refrain from eating the rest of the time. Another example is eating 500 calories a day two or three times a week, coupled with eating normally the rest of the week. Yet one other popular example is to fast for 24 hours one time a week. The rational behind intermittent fasting is that whenever the body uses energy, it will always call on the glycogen in the muscle first before it will use energy from the fat stores, and since the glycogen stores always get filled up after meals, especially high carbohydrate meals, it is a long time after a meal for the body to start burning fat again. Additionally, intermittent fasting, in theory, helps the body to switch from sugar burning to fat burning, back to sugar burning again. High carbohydrate diets tend to make the body run on carbohydrates only (glucose) on a constant base and it will feel sluggish whenever it runs low on the easily burning fuel. Intermittent fasting keeps the body running smoothly on both glucose and fat, so you never have to worry about “bonking” if have to skip a meal from time to time. And just as importantly, intermittent fasting is very beneficial for the fat burning signal.
Train Above the Anaerobic Threshold. To achieve this, you must push yourself very hard on your sets, and keep the rest intervals short between the sets. The goal after every set you do is to rest just enough for the heart rate to get down low enough for you to do another hard set, but not to baseline. If you do that, you will trigger the “fight or flight” response of the body. The fight or flight response triggers the release of both cortisol and adrenaline at the same time. These hormones, when released in conjunction, help the body to mobilize it’s resources to handle the crisis at hand. In other words, it will make the the body release fat along with glucose for fuel, and have the body as a whole ready for intense work. Dr. McGruff calls it the amplification cascade because the body will release fat and glucose at an exponential rate than when the body is in a normal state. Furthermore, it is this acute stimulation that tells the body to get stronger while you rest. This is in contrast to most strength training programs in that the conventional approach has long rest intervals and lengthy workouts. You can get stronger training the conventional way, but you do not get much fat burning effects from it. Triggering the amplification cascade via training above the anaerobic threshold is an important signal for both muscle building and fat burning.
We are told from many fitness professionals that we need to do a lot of cardio work and spend several hours a week in the gym to develop a fit, shapely body. Moreover, conventional wisdom says that to lose fat, one has to burn more calories on a daily basis than one takes in to see fat loss, regardless of the source. This approach, in my opinion will be mediocre and very difficult to stick to for any length of time, much less for the rest of your life. Sending the signals to the body telling it to gain muscle and burn fat is far more efficient, for sending the right signals takes a fraction of the time a conventional diet and exercise program does to achieve remarkable results. We have streamlined the approach so well that two twenty minute workouts a week is all that is required.
In part 2 of this blog, I will show real time results with the Hystrength(sm) approach.