There are tons of reasons why most people do not see results from the mainstream workout & nutrition programs. The reason why is sadly, the majority of workout routines and nutrition programs are leading you astray. Click to read our thoughts on why most routines do not work.
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He’s on the last rep, and Jimmy’s face is bright red. He’s pushing so hard, his cheeks are puffing outward, and he looks like he may explode at any moment. “Breathe Jimmy, breathe!” he hears, but all he can focus on is moving the weight. Breathing is the last of his priorities right now.
Many people new to strength training tend to hold their breath as they approach maximal effort. Breathing is typically an action regulated by the autonomic nervous system--it’s automatic. In a light exercise, the breath automatically begins to speed up. The body senses excess carbon dioxide and tries to get rid of it in exchange for oxygen, in turn speeding the breath and increasing the depth of it. Yet in a state of emergency, somehow the natural tendency is to sometimes override the autonomic functions and to focus solely on the task at hand, in this case moving large amounts of weight.
What Breathing Does for Your Health
What’s ironic is that this halt in breathing is actually detrimental to the success of the lift, and it is also a lost opportunity for some of the great health benefits from breathing properly. In fact, one of the primary sources of the health benefits from yoga or meditation may be attributed to the practice of controlled breathing (1).
Another recent study (2) even showed that the immune system can be voluntarily controlled. Two groups (one trained in a particular controlled breathing practice and one untrained) were given a toxic bacteria. The trained group, who used meditation and breathing practices, experienced far less symptoms and recovered faster.
Other Advantages of Breathing Properly
With the right type of breathing, we can increase our mindfulness, understanding the experience of lifting and learning how to cope for the future. We can improve our focus, and give ourselves that extra push at the end of a set. We can even influence our hormones, like epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, which not only helps us during our lift, but triggers a stimulus for all kinds of adaptations after our high-intensity bout. To put it simply, breathing is a crucial tool, especially in the middle of a strength-training session.
Breathe Right for the Situation
Okay, so maybe we should put more focus on our breathing during a lift. But then, naturally the question becomes, how should we be breathing? Typically during heavy lifts, one is taught to breathe in on the eccentric motion (like lowering the bench press), and then breathe out as you push the weight back up (the concentric movement). However, when we’re doing a super slow set as advised in the Platform program, this would require very long breaths in and out, and this becomes a bit impractical in such a high-intensity situation.
With this in mind, the best approach is to breathe deep, with your diaphragm, and fast. This becomes somewhat of a controlled hyperventilation, if you will. Continuous breathing in this fashion increases the state of acute stress during our workout, which is one of the main sources for all the health benefits of exercise. And in addition to all the other benefits already discussed, we can alleviate some of that pressure we’d be experiencing in holding our breath (no one wants a hernia).
So focus on your breathing when you exercise, especially during a high-intensity workout. And let us know how it goes!
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc
I wince when I hear how a person needs to "go on a run" so he or she can "burn off the dessert." "Going on a run" for most translates to as much as an hour or so of slow jogging, either on a treadmill or around the local area. I can get behind the idea of being outdoors and getting the blood pumping, but the unrealized truth of the matter is that an hour of jogging burns less calories than the amount in a typical breakfast for most Americans. And in fact, not only is low-intensity jogging not the best way to lose fat, but it's more likely to cause injury, impose muscle loss, and it's not even the best choice for heart health. Whether your goal is to cut down some body fat, or live longer, long-distance is likely a waste of your time.
Running Causes Injuries
An epidemiological study on running injuries reports that runners are at between a 37% and 56% risk for having a running-related injury within a given year (1). An earlier study of 3,000 recreational and competitive runners even showed runners are at a 60% risk of getting injured in general (2). I know if someone told me I was at a 60% risk of getting injured if I were to partake in a given exercise, I'd probably take a pass.
Running consists of repeated impact loads to the muscles and joints throughout the body, ramping up inflammation, and generally leading to some kind of serious injury that makes any sort of exercise impossible for some time. Often, serious runners are training multiple times a week, never really letting the related inflammation subside. On top of that, chronic inflammation is agreed to be the most direct cause of aging and disease out there (see previous blog post!).
When exercising for long durations (as in low-intensity, long distance running), the energy stores in your muscles (glycogen) become depleted, and your body looks for energy anywhere it can find it. Unfortunately, this energy may come from places you don't want it to, like your own muscle.
For most people who are living on a carbohydrate (glucose) based metabolism, the body is even more likely to break down muscle into the preferred energy source, glucose.
What’s also ironic is that it takes more calories to sustain muscle then it does fat cells, and so losing muscle actually slows down your metabolism and makes you burn less calories in a given day. Additionally, the loss of muscle means decreased insulin sensitivity and a correspondingly increased susceptibility to metabolic diseases like diabetes.
And decreased muscle mass means even more likelihood of getting injured! Sounds like a lose-lose-lose situation in these respects...
Aerobic "Cardio" Exercise and Heart Health
But what about running for a healthy heart? Most people believe that aerobic exercise is the best exercise for a healthy heart and for health in general. But what does the term aerobic exercise actually imply?
Well it basically means you're only tapping your aerobic metabolism, and your intensity is not high enough to make your body access full metabolism in your muscle cells.
Think of electrical conduits that only need to get electricity to a small group of people (in this case energy to your muscles). This would imply only a small group of generators are required to create the energy, and small inefficient power lines can be used just fine. This is low-intensity exercise. However, what if this same electrical line is now required to fuel a huge city? Suddenly a whole new system of delivering electrical power is required, along with a more robust and efficient delivery system as well (even if for a short time, like in high-intensity exercises).
This is analogous to what happens in high intensity exercise, where aerobic metabolism and anaerobic metabolism are tested to their full capacity. In fact, the way glucose metabolism works is that glucose must go through anaerobic metabolism to get to the aerobic pathway in the muscle cells, so it’s not possible to only trigger aerobic metabolism without the other. In a high intensity environment, the whole system is forced to work more efficiently, and your heart becomes better at delivering nutrient-rich blood to your muscle cells too!
We cause adaptations when we can tap into the “fight or flight” response of our body. We can do this effectively in high intensity exercises, but unfortunately many runners sink into a comfortable pace that they get used to, and this beneficial adaptation never comes. Running can be beneficial with this concept in mind: our advice would be to try short intense sprints, with only a little recovery time in between, rather than long steady-paced runs. Now let us know how much harder your heart’s working when you run in this fashion!
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc
I looked at the clock: it had been 25 minutes. I looked at the thermometer: it was 160 degrees. This is as hot as I could make it go up to. I was ready to get out but my goal was 30 minutes. I had become more used to the feeling so it was a lot easier to make it to 25 minutes now than it had been a few months ago. I was heat-adapted. But with my heart racing and sweat dripping, I was ready to get out of there, and I could care less about being heat-adapted. Even so, I knew this was mental and just kept going...my goal was exhaustion. I knew all the benefits and I wanted to reap them.
I was in the sauna for a little over 30 minutes for that session, one of the several sessions I do per week. Though there are numerous benefits to sauna usage, there are three main benefits we’ll touch on. In this first of three posts I’ll focus on increasing muscle size, aka, hypertrophy.
But how can short heat exposure possibly help cause hypertrophy? Through our friends Heat Shock Proteins, or HSPs. These are activated by heat and are a hormetic (positive acute stress) response to said heat. They scavenge for free radicals (molecule(s) that damage cells), help maintain glutathione (a coenzyme that assists in reducing oxidation and the body’s master antioxidant), and even repair damaged proteins. All three of these effects help to prevent protein damage and degradation, thereby helping to maintain muscle.
Another way heat exposure assists hypertrophy is through Growth Hormone release. Growth hormone is a major catalyst for keeping and synthesizing new muscle. Generally speaking, the more growth hormone you have, the easier it is to build muscle. That said, it’s been shown to be increased significantly in sauna sessions of just 15 to 20 minutes (1, 2).
Insulin Sensitivity is key in decreasing body fat, but how can it help increase muscle? Well, insulin delivers nutrients like branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) into muscle. These nutrients are vital to synthesizing proteins, thereby acting anabolically. And heat exposure, like sauna usage, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity by increasing glucose transporters (3), thereby making it easier to build muscle. In general, the more sensitive you are to insulin, the easier your muscles will absorb nutrients and have the ability to build new muscle.
So if you want to decrease muscle breakdown and increase your body’s ability to build new muscle, hit up a local sauna near you. At first aim for something manageable like 5 or 10 minutes. The more you do, the better you get, and the more heat adapted you’ll be. So are you ready to bring the heat?
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc