Like your diet, your fitness program should incorporate variety for you to get the best results. Your muscles, in order for them to develop and grow stronger, require a certain level of muscle confusion.1
If your idea of a workout involves long periods of cardio, you may be depriving your body of the wide-ranging benefits exercise offers.
To obtain optimal cardiovascular benefits, you need to work out all three types of muscle fibers and their associated energy systems. Unfortunately, cardio and aerobics can only do so much. The three types of muscle fibers are:2,3
- Slow twitch (red muscle) — Contains more oxygen, and is activated by cardio exercises and strength training
- Fast twitch (white muscle) — Activated by high-intensity exercises
- Super-fast twitch (white muscle) — Consists of both fast twitch and super-fast twitch fibers, and are activated by high-intensity exercises
By sticking to a complete cardio workout, you're neglecting your white muscle fibers, which are at risk of atrophy or deterioration. If your fitness plan does not cover all muscle fibers, you aren't really working your heart in the most beneficial way. Before I delve into what your comprehensive fitness plan should include, let me explain why hours of cardio can harm your health.
Why Prolonged Aerobic Exercises Can Be Dangerous
Long before I formulated my Peak Fitness regimen, much of my exercise efforts were focused on cardio and long-distance running. I was a former sub three-hour marathon runner and spent 40 years of my life with this kind of training.
I later discovered that solely doing aerobics like marathon running can significantly increase your chances of heart damage. Extreme cardio workouts like marathon running puts extraordinary stress on your heart — one that your body is not designed for.4 Read this article to learn more about the dangers of too much marathon running and aerobic training: "The Marathon Myth: Is It the Quickest Way to a Heart Attack."
Incorporate Variety Into Your Exercise Routine
Always remember that your body is designed to be challenged, and too much of something can have a reverse effect. By doing the same type of exercise daily, you are not letting yourself reap the rewards of exercise. When you devise your exercise routine, make sure it incorporates aerobic training, as well as the following types of exercise:
I. Peak Fitness Exercises (High-Intensity Interval Training)
Notice how children move when they play. You will see perfect examples of natural movement, which involves sprinting at high speeds for short amounts of time while resting in between. This is the way your body is supposed to move, and I have good news for you: high-intensity interval training (HIIT) mimics this type of movement and provides significant changes in your health. HIIT has two primary anti-aging benefits:5
Increased production of human growth hormone (HGH)
Human growth hormone (HGH) promotes muscle growth and effectively burns excessive fat. It also plays a major role in promoting overall health and longevity. To stimulate the production of this amazing hormone, you need to perform exercises that will engage your super-fast muscle fibers.
Reduction of age-related telomere shortening
Telomeres are found at the tips of each arm of your chromosomes, found in the nucleus of your cells. Every time your cells divide, your telomeres shorten. While this is the natural way of things, telomere shortening can be accelerated due to smoking, exposure to toxins, processed food diets, and free radical damage.
Research shows a direct association between reduction of telomere shortening in your later years and high-intensity exercises. Read this for an in-depth explanation of the link between HIIT and aging: "Human Growth Hormone in Your Body Can Transform Your Health — Takes Just 20 Minutes."
How to Perform Peak Fitness Exercises
Since 2010, I have been performing a technique called Peak Fitness exercises, patterned after fitness expert Phil Campbell's Sprint 8 workout. This phenomenal technique is exponentially superior to regular cardio workouts and has enabled me to burn fat and gain over 10 pounds of muscle.
An advantage of Peak Fitness exercises is that they can be done in 20 minutes or so, with sprinting done in a total of four minutes. They can also be performed with any type of exercise, with or without equipment.6 This means you don't need to go to the gym to get fit; you can simply sprint outdoors if you wish. It is important to note that Peak Fitness exercises should only be done one to two times a week. Overdoing it can do more harm than good.
Here's a summary of what a typical Peak Fitness routine looks like:6
- Warm up for three minutes
- Exercise at maximum effort for 20 to 30 seconds. The idea is to raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold. During your 20- to 30-second period, you will want to reach the following markers:
- You will find it relatively hard to breathe and talk because you'll be in oxygen debt.
- You will begin to sweat profusely. This often happens during the second or third repetition (unless you have a thyroid issue and don't sweat much normally).
- Your body temperature will rise.
- Your lactic acid supply increases and you will feel a muscle "burn."
- Rest for 90 seconds and continue exercising but with a slower pace and decreased resistance.
- Repeat the high-intensity and recovery cycle for seven more times.
For a demo of Peak Fitness Exercise done on an elliptical machine, watch this video:
It is best to start with only two to three repetitions, especially if you feel that you're out of shape. Slowly work your way up to eight reps. The idea behind Peak 8 is that your heart rate will peak eight times during the workout. When you reach your anaerobic threshold, your HGH release is triggered.
Be mindful of your current fitness level, as there is no standard speed here — Peak Fitness exercise will be based on your own level of fitness. Some people may reach their anaerobic threshold by brisk walking, while others need to do a mad rush to gain the same results.
II. Strength Training
It is a major misconception that strength training or weight training will cause you to merely "bulk up." Building muscle through resistance exercises is actually a crucial part of any well-rounded fitness program, especially if you want to regulate your weight and burn excess fat.
Apart from helping you manage your weight, strength training can also keep your muscles at their peak and help you achieve beneficial changes on the molecular, enzymatic, hormonal, and chemical levels in your body. This enhances your resistance and protects you from diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.7
Incorporating strength training in your workout can lower your risk of chronic inflammation. This type of exercise is also one of the best weapons against visceral fat, which shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs, including your heart, liver, and muscles. This specific type of fat has been linked to serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. On the contrary, the risk of heart complications is very low in lean people.
To burn fat, you need to build muscle. Muscle burns calories even when you're resting or sleeping. An increased amount of calories burned will significantly lower your fat stores.
Apart from keeping your muscles in optimal condition, strength training also strengthens your bones. When you reach your 30s, you reach the maximum growth of your bones. Upon reaching your 40s, decline starts and your bones can become brittle.8 Using weights can put more tension on your muscles and pressure on your bones, and your body will then respond by creating fresh, new bones.9
Strength training can also slash your risk of falls that lead to fractures and broken bones. By lifting weights properly, you can improve your flexibility and balance.10
It is important to have enough repetitions in your weight training routine in order to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough, so your exercise can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough for you to do a minimum of four repetitions.11 I also advise not exercising the same muscle groups every day, as your muscles need to rest, recover, and rebuild.12
III. Functional Training
It goes without saying that your exercise plan will not be complete without exercises that will build a strong core. Your core comprises not only your abdominal muscles, but also your hamstrings, glutes, and adductor muscles — all of which are connected to your pelvis. Developing this particular muscle group:13
- Strengthens your body's foundation for movement throughout your entire body
- Helps support and protect your back
- Makes your spine and body less prone to injury
- Helps you gain greater balance and stability
If you haven't determined what exercises you should perform for your core, I suggest trying Foundation Training. Created by Dr. Eric Goodman, these exercises have been used by many professional and elite athletes. This training was designed to address the root cause of most low back pain, related to weakness and imbalance among your posterior chain of muscles — which, in my opinion, are primarily related to sitting and being sedentary.14
Foundation Training is simple structural changes that help strengthen and realign your posture. It teaches your core muscles to work together through integrated chains of movement. It is based on how you're meant to move, as opposed to compartmentalized exercises like crunches.15
Another technique that you can incorporate into your routine is yoga. Although some people think of this form of meditation as a fad, it really is one of the best practices that can uplift your mind, soul and body.
Remember that yoga requires your whole attention, especially as you move from one asana (position) to another, and if done correctly, it can help you reap a wide range of whole body benefits. A number of studies, as reported by Fox News, The Huffington Post, and Scientific American magazine, have highlighted the positive effects of yoga, including (but not limited to):
- Reduced risk for migraines
- Better sleep
- Improved immune function
- Better sexual performance and satisfaction (in both men and women)
- Suppressed food cravings
Indeed, there is no shortage of health benefits from having regular workout sessions. However, you still need to incorporate a variety of exercises into your workout regimen to ensure optimal results. Aerobic, anaerobic, and resistance training, rounded up with flexibility and core-building exercises like foundation training and yoga, should make up your comprehensive fitness program.
IV: Make Walking Part of Your Daily Routine
Spending as little time as possible sitting down plays an integral role in your health, so I highly recommend making it a goal to sit for only a limited amount of time per day — for example, less than three hours or so. I personally aim to sit less than an hour per day, and most of the time, I was able to meet this goal.
The most noticeable effect that this had on me was that it eliminated the persistent back pain that I’ve struggled with for many years. I’ve tried various techniques to get rid of the pain — chiropractic treatments from a dozen different clinicians, using an inversion table, laser treatment, stretches, ab work, Foundation Training, and other posture exercises — but it was only when I stopped sitting too much did this problem completely disappear.
So instead of sitting, make it a point to get up and walk around. In fact, even two minutes, out of every hour, of walking can already have a significant impact on your well-being. A study found that people who did this increased their lifespan by 33 percent, compared to those who did not.
I typically log 15,000 steps per day, and use a fitness tracker to record my steps. I recommend getting some of the newer fitness trackers, as they can record how much sleep you’re getting as well, so you can become motivated to get to bed earlier and get enough high-quality sleep.
By avoiding sitting and combining high-intensity training and non-exercise activities like walking, you can experience optimal fitness and a pain-free life. But remember that walking should be an addition to, and not a replacement of your fitness regimen.
Another tip: when you incorporate walking into your routine, make sure you practice grounding, or Earthing, as well. There’s really something inherently rewarding about being in direct contact with the Earth — whether it’s your bare hands touching the soil as you tend to your garden, walking barefoot on a warm sandy beach, or raking your toes through a grassy, dewy lawn in the morning.
The satisfying feeling isn’t happenstance — you feel it because being in contact with the Earth gives you an electrically conducive contact that has a number of benefits. The Earth carries an enormous negative charge and, because it is electron-rich, it provides a powerful and abundant supply of antioxidant and free radical-busting electrons. When you ground, you become finely tuned to "work" with the Earth, producing a constant flow of energy between your body and the Earth.
Grounding is one of the most phenomenal strategies that can have a profound impact on your well-being, but sadly, not everyone knows about its amazing benefits. In fact, many Americans today wear rubber- or plastic-soled shoes for most of the day. While they work as effective electrical insulators, they also effectively disconnect you from the Earth’s natural electron flow.
When grounding, make sure you either wear leather-soled shoes or go barefoot. You should also remember that grounding only works if you do it on the proper surfaces. Asphalt, wood, vinyl, rubber, plastic, tar and tarmac are not effective for grounding at all. Instead, good grounding surfaces include:
- Sand at the beach
- Bare soil
- Moist grass
- Concrete and brick (as long as it’s not sealed or painted)
- Ceramic tiles