By Dr. Mercola
If you're like most people, one of the biggest hurdles you face when trying to maintain an exercise program is finding the time to do it on a regular basis. The great news is, you might never have to resort to this excuse ever again!
There's increasing amounts of evidence supporting the notion that you can cut your workout time significantly while reaping better benefits.
The study above is yet another example of how a significantly shorter workout, performed at greater intensity, can give you better results than your conventional strength training routine.
The UF Health Science Center explains:
"Called NeGator, it uses eccentric — or negative — resistance training, which capitalizes on the fact that the human body can support and lower weights that are too heavy to lift.
Through a system of motors, pulleys, cams and sensors it adds weight when a person is performing a lowering motion, and removes that weight when the person is lifting.
… The team has distilled down to what a person needs to do to get the benefit of strength training while doing as few exercises as possible in as little time as possible as infrequently as possible."
Here -- just as in my Sprint 8 exercise -- you're striving for maximum effort during one set. And then you're done.
The NeGator workout described above is a great way to lower your exercise time but it will not increase your growth hormone like Peak 8 exercises do. I have been exercising for over four decades and in my mind this is the biggest improvement in exercise training I have seen in that time.
I certainly didn't invent it. I actually used a specific type of Sprint 8 exercises, interval training, when I was in high school, college, and medical school. But like most people, when I finished school, I stopped exercising like that.
Sprint 8 type exercises are what kids and animals spontaneously do. It is the natural way to stay fit and one of the only ways we know to increase growth hormone naturally.
Evolution of Sprint 8 Exercises
I first became sensitized to this work through Dr. Al Sears' PACE program. I really loved his concept and explanation and was highly motivated to implement the program but I never fully did.
Earlier this year I met Phil Campbell who wrote the book Ready Set Go. Phil is a major expert in this area and provided me with very detailed and specific instructions on how to implement the program.
How Shorter, Faster Exercises Stimulate Growth Hormone Production
To fully grasp the benefits of Peak Fitness exercises, you first need to understand that you have three different types of muscle fibers:
We now know that in order to naturally increase your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH), you must engage your super-fast muscle fibers.
HGH is a vital hormone that is key for physical strength, health and longevity.
Neither traditionally performed aerobic cardio nor conventional strength training will work anything but your slow muscle fibers, and hence has no impact on production of HGH. On the contrary, it has the unfortunate effect of actually causing the super fast fibers to decrease or atrophy, further impeding natural HGH production.
Plyometric burst types of exercises will engage your fast muscle fibers, but only high-intensity burst cardio, such as Sprint 8 exercises, will engage your super fast fibers and promote HGH.
Exercise Also Stimulates the Growth of New Brain Cells
You've probably already heard that exercise is good for your brain function too. In fact, it increases production of brand new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis. More brain cells can lead to improved thinking and processing of information.
The question was largely: how?
Recent studies, published in the journals Cell and PloS One are now bringing us closer to the answer.
Part of the answer involves the adult stem cells, which your brain is full of.
Adult stem cells have the capacity to divide into new stem cells or new neurons as needed, but certain factors can slow them down, such as bone-morphogenetic protein, or BMP.
"The more active BMP and its various signals are in your brain, the more inactive your stem cells become and the less neurogenesis you undergo," the New York Times explains. "Your brain grows slower, less nimble, older."
Exercise reduces the impact of BMP, so that your adult stem cells can continue performing their vital functions of keeping your brain agile.
Remarkably, mice with access to running wheels reduced the BMP in their brains by HALF in just one week. In addition, these mice also showed "a notable increase in Noggin, a beautifully named brain protein that acts as a BMP antagonist," the New York Times writes.
It appears that the less BMP activity you have in your brain, the more beneficial Noggin is produced as well.
The New York Times quotes Dr. Kessler, author of several of the recent studies on this topic:
"If ever exercise enthusiasts wanted a rationale for what they're doing, this should be it. Exercise, through a complex interplay with Noggin and BMP, helps to ensure that neuronal stem cells stay lively and new brain cells are born."
I add this in here to emphasize, again, that exercise is not just about losing weight and bulking up. It's about far more than just looking good – it can also help your brain function, and that's surely something we all want to hold onto!
This is also important to remember when it comes to school age children, and as I discussed in a recent article, physical education programs can have a dramatic impact on school performance.
Two Foods You Should Never Eat After Sprint 8 Exercises
It would be best to AVOID all sugar and fruit juice for two hours after your workout, otherwise you will obliterate the growth hormone response and ruin the major benefit of the workout, which is to increase your growth hormone level. Remember that after age 35, your growth hormone levels radically decrease.
The reason why restricting these carbs after exercise works is that they will prevent the production of the hormone somatostatin. One of the primary purposes of this hormone is to inhibit the production of human growth hormone.
Virtually all exercises, certainly nearly all cardio or standard aerobics, fail miserably when it comes to increasing growth hormone. So if you decide to use the only type of exercise that will increase growth hormone, then it would be a shame to make a foolish food choice that would wipe out most of the benefit from doing these amazing types of exercise.
When you break your exercise session into intervals like this -- short segments that alternate high intensity with a rest period in-between – you can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities in a fraction of the time.
This makes logical sense when you consider that, historically, long-duration exercise isn't "natural." Our ancient ancestors never ran for mile after mile without rest or recovery. Their exercise was primarily hunting -- short bursts of exertion, followed by periods of rest.
By exercising in short bursts, followed by periods of recovery, you recreate exactly what your body needs for optimum health, and that includes both the production of growth hormones and the burning of excess body fat.
Please understand that the sugar and juice restriction are really intended for nearly everyone reading this whose primary purpose is to increase human growth hormone naturally, through exercise, to improve their health.
There is a very small group of elite and professional athletes who are actively competing, where increasing growth hormone is not their primary goal. For these athletes, consuming some carbs, preferably dextrose-based, in the recovery period is probably a good idea to improve their recovery time, as they are competing and not so concerned about long-term growth hormone levels.
It is also important to understand that the two hour post workout sugar restriction is for Sprint 8 exercises NOT for strength training or, if you chose to, aerobic exercises. Since neither of these exercises increases growth hormone, there is not an issue with the sugar restriction within the bounds of replacing needs generated from the exercise.
Fast Recovery vs Growth Hormone Release
To expound on this issue further, Phil Campbell provided the following information:
"When I train young athletes in speed – www.40speed.com - I explain to them that the research shows 20 to 25 grams of protein (within 30 minutes of training) with a 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein, starts the recovery process quicker.
This advice is given to everyone as general advice in most fitness magazines today and is mostly based on research led by Dr John Ivey on young cyclists who have to perform several days in a row, and a quick recovery during competition is extremely important. Clearly, young athletes more concerned with fast recovery than maximizing HGH release should use this strategy.
However, if you are middle-aged, or in a non-competitive phase of training, and keeping HGH circulating as long as possible is your goal, then protein intake (20 to 25 grams after training) is a great strategy, but you need to monitor the glycemic rating of carbs because of the variable impact of carbs on insulin, which in turn impacts the HGH release process.
There are a couple of variables that come into play that can change the rules for adults wanting to maximize human growth hormone from exercise.
Research shows that a spike of insulin after training increases somatostatin (the hormone that shuts down HGH).
So, here's where this issue gets complicated, because it's difficult to estimate the glycemic rating of food on different people with different muscle to body fat ratios. And what makes this issue very complicated is that the insulin producing process is variable for every adult to some degree.
It depends on where you are on the Metabolic Syndrome scale. Metabolic Syndrome just became an official medical condition in 2001, and the research shows that even a few carbs can spike insulin for some people with insulin resistance.
If you are lean and do not need to drop a lot of body fat, then you can probably eat some carbs without spiking insulin -- and maybe even some refined sugar depending on the interaction of the carbs with an intake of post-training protein, which will somewhat negate the impact of the carbs on the insulin response – as opposed to an intake of carbs on an empty stomach.
So, as you can see, there are many variables that come into play.
In short, carbs with the protein can be good after training as long as the glycemic response doesn't spike your insulin.
Research shows that the insulin response of an individual is lessened with youth and/or lean body weight (muscle vs. body fat), and that's another reason why it's so important to maintain muscle throughout life.
From a performance training strategy perspective for runners, I would suggest consider training with the strategy of maximizing HGH release (except on really hot days or on the one-long-run-a-week day) because this strategy should build muscle to make you faster, and reduce body fat so you have less to carry.
For competitions, and those hot, long-training days, I'd suggest using the quick recovery strategy of 1 to 4 ratio of protein to carbs, because in this instance, your body does not care what the quality of glucose is; it just needs glucose."
What's so Great about Sprint 8 Technique?
I recently coined the terms 'Peak Fitness Technique' to describe my comprehensive exercise program and its key component.
In a moment, I will list all the facets included in the Peak Fitness program, but the most recent, major addition to the program is the Sprint 8 exercise.
Sprint 8 refers to peak exercises done once or twice a week, in which you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period.
To perform these properly you will want to get very close to, if not exceed, your maximum heart rate by the last interval. Your maximum heart rate is calculated as 220 minus your age. You will need a heart rate monitor to measure this as it is nearly impossible to accurately measure your heart rate manually when it is above 150.
And believe me accuracy is the key here. There is a HUGE difference of a heart rate of 170 and 174 (or 160 and 164 if you are over 50). Once you reach your maximum heart rate you may feel a bit nauseous and light headed and, of course, VERY short of breath. But your body catches up quite rapidly and in about 30-60 seconds will start to feel much better. And when you're done, you will feel tired, but probably will feel great!
IMPORTANT Heart Rate Note
After you stop the intense 30-second phase, your heart rate will continue to rise for another five to ten seconds as you enter your recovery phase. So please be sure and note your heart rate about ten seconds after you start the recovery cycle.
If you are continuing to push every time, your heart rate will climb every cycle, and it should look something like mine, below.
The following graph is from my actual heart rate taken with a chest strap while I was doing a Sprint 8 recumbent bike workout.
Please notice that when I start the next cycle, my starting heart rate is always higher than the previous heart rate. Remember, the high intensity phase of the workout is only 30 seconds, and the recovery phase is 90 seconds.
It is important to note that the only accurate way to monitor your heart rate is with a monitor. It is simply too darn difficult to accurately measure your heart rate when it is over 150. I tried several times and overestimated my rate by 20!
So trust me, use a heart rate monitor and avoid deceiving yourself.
My Heart Rate for Sprint 8 Fitness Workout
Sprint 8 Instructions
I recommend using a recumbent bicycle for the Sprint 8 exercise, although you certainly can use an elliptical machine, a treadmill, or anywhere outdoors for that matter. However, unless you are already an athlete, I would strongly advise against sprinting outdoors, as several people I know became injured doing it the first time that way.
Just warm up for three to five minutes and then go all out as hard as you can for 30 seconds. In the warm up you typically get your heart rate around 60 to 70% of its maximum (220-your age). So if you are 50 your max heart rate would be170 and your warm up heart rate would be 102-119.
The first repetition is usually pretty easy as your starting heart rate is low and you can do the entire 30 seconds without stress.
Since you only recover for 90 seconds your heart rate gradually continues to climb after every repetition so hopefully by the time you finish your last repetition it is at or above your maximum heart rate.
Remember to cool down for a few minutes after your 8th repetition.
Unless you work out regularly you will likely need to work your way up to 8 cycles. You can start with 2-4 and gradually increase to 8, but ideally, you should get to 8 cycles. The magic really starts to happen around repetition number 7 and 8.
Here are the principles:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Then, go all out, as hard as you can for 30 seconds
- Recover for 90 seconds
- Repeat 7 more times, for a total of 8 repetitions
- Cool down for a few minutes afterwards by cutting down your intensity by 50-80%.
If you have a history of heart disease or any concern please get clearance from your health care professional to start this. Most people of average fitness will be able to do this. It is only a matter of how much time it will take you to build up to the full 8 reps.
The beautiful thing about this approach is that if you are out of shape you simply will be unable to train very hard as the lactic acid will build up in your muscles quickly and prevent you from stressing your heart very much.
Phil Campbell will also be teaching again at the Malibu Greta B's Fitness Camp this November. If this is something that interests you would definitely be worthwhile to consider attending.
Don't Waste Your Time Doing Loads of Inefficient Cardio
That may sound like a major conflict with everything you have read about exercise but let me tell you that I was a runner for over 40 years and logged in tens of thousands of miles. So I am telling you this from a perspective of having major personal experience.
I actually stopped all my running over a year ago and conventional cardio type training in the spring. Since I have been doing the Peak Exercise program I have:
- Lowered my overall body fat from 17.4% down to 11.5%
- Lost 12.5 lbs. while gaining 4.5 lbs. of muscle
- Lost 2 12/16 inches off my waist
- Gained 1/2 inch on my arms
- Gained 1/2 inch on my legs
- Gained 2 inches on my chest
Here's a series of before and after photos showing my progress, from May 2009, to July this year.
The key is to use strength training with Sprint 8 high-intensity workouts that will increase your growth hormone and help you cut off fat like a hot knife through butter.
Even though I gained 4.5 pounds of muscle this past year, nearly half of that has been in the last month when I started the Sprint 8 exercises. Similarly, a major percentage of the other improvements were only noted after I started the Sprint 8 exercises.
You must know that Sprint 8 is something you work up to as ideally you push yourself to your maximum heart rate (220-your age). This is very uncomfortable for nearly everyone and you really have to push your body very hard to reach it.
But the great thing about this is that you are only pushing yourself that hard for 30 seconds, and really the first 15 seconds are easy, it is only the last 15 seconds that are a challenge.
Also got my 24 hour urine growth hormone results back yesterday and it came back more than three times higher than the upper limits of normal for a young adult. Normal reference ranges are 1000-4000 and mine came back at 14,000. This is without taking any growth hormone or supplements to cause it to increase.
An absolutely amazing testimony to the effectiveness of Sprint 8 exercises.
The Complete Peak Fitness Program
As I mentioned earlier, Peak Fitness is a comprehensive program, designed to truly optimize your overall health.
Sprint 8 is a crucial component to this program, but it's still important to include a variety of activities to reap all the benefits that exercise has to offer, from improved mental health and emotional balance to greater strength, vigor and a longer life.
In addition, keep in mind that as you progress – no matter which exercise you're doing – you must continue to push yourself and work a little harder to keep challenging your body as you get stronger and faster.
In addition to the Sprint 8 exercise, which I explained above, the Peak Fitness program also includes:
- Aerobic exercises: Jogging, using an elliptical machine, and walking fast are all examples of aerobic exercise. Although standard aerobic exercises can't compete with Sprint 8 exercises for promoting growth hormone or fat burning, simply getting your heart pumping will improve blood flow and increase the release of endorphins, which act as natural pain killers. Aerobic exercises will also activate your immune system, and help increase your stamina over time, both of which are important for optimal health.
- Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program.
Keep in mind that you need enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild.
- Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability.
Exercise programs like Pilates and yoga are great options for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific core exercises you can learn from a personal trainer.
- Stretching: My favorite type of stretching is active isolated stretches (AIS) developed by Aaron Mattes. With AIS, you hold each stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints. This technique also allows your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity.
No matter what your age and current level of fitness, implementing a comprehensive exercise regimen such as this one can provide enormous benefits for your health. And don't feel overwhelmed by the variety and intensity. Just start small and slow, and build up gradually until all elements are included.
Be patient with yourself.
There's No Time Like Now!
If you're still on the fence about starting an exercise program, there's no time like the present. I guarantee you it will make a major difference in your energy levels, self-esteem and probably your entire outlook on life. It is really that powerful.
And please don't use your age as an excuse, because no matter your age, exercise can provide enormous benefits for your health.
If you happen to be over 40, though, it's especially important to either start or step up your exercise program. This is the time of life when your physical strength, stamina, balance and flexibility start to decline, and exercise can help to counteract that.
I also can't stress enough the importance of using precision to develop your individual workout program. You need to make sure you're getting enough exercise to achieve all the benefits, but not so much that you injure yourself, and you need variety to condition and build your entire body and prevent boredom.
If you've been sedentary for any length of time or you're out of shape for some other reason, it is vitally important to get started with an exercise program -- but start small. One of the main reasons people don't stick with a workout program is because they go too hard, too fast and wind up with an injury, illness or simple exhaustion.
For tips on getting started, check out our new fitness site, Mercola Peak Fitness, which is a treasure trove of fitness videos and articles by Darin Steen, a world-class athlete, bodybuilder and personal trainer. It's a wonderful resource to help you become fitness savvy and make exercise a regular part of your life.