By Dr. Mercola
Phil Campbell is a true veteran in the field of fitness with over 35 years experience in training professional athletes.
Over the years Phil has worked with 18,000 athletes, teaching them how to run faster with the proper speed technique.
Phil helped me understand how to practically change my primarily cardio aerobic exercise program to one that actually increases growth hormone and provides more health benefits.
You may not be aware that I first became interested in health and fitness in 1968 when I read Dr. Ken Cooper's book, Aerobics.
In the '60s, exercise was not embraced by the health and medical profession, and Dr. Cooper was the catalyst for increasing the overall awareness about exercise.
I followed his aerobic program for over 40 years as a runner and then, about five years ago, Dr. Al Sears opened my mind to the possibility that high intensity exercise training was superior to the cardiovascular aerobic-type training I had been using for over four decades.
But Phil Campbell helped me understand the connection to human growth hormones (HGH) and how to practically integrate the program. I have been doing Phil's program, referred to as "Sprint 8" in the video but which we refer to as Peak Fitness on our site, now for two years it's really made a remarkable difference in my fitness level.
Why Long, Slow Cardio Doesn't Deliver Desired Results
For those who are not yet familiar with Peak Fitness, it works because it engages your fast and super-fast twitch muscle fibers, which promotes human growth hormone (HGH), a synergistic, foundational biochemical underpinning that helps make your strength training and everything else work like a charm, and effectively burns off calories.
"Most exercise programs today are built based upon a very incomplete picture of the physiology of your body. For example, long slow cardio, "calories in, calories out," would be a perfect way to look at the body if it were all slow-twitch fiber … [but] there are three muscle fiber types: slow, fast and super-fast … both those types of fast-twitch fibers are essentially 50 percent of your muscle fibers that don't get recruited until you add a velocity of movement."
If you don't actively engage and strengthen all three muscle fiber types and energy systems, then you're not going to work both processes of your heart muscle. Many mistakenly believe that cardio works out your heart muscle, but what you're really working is your slow twitch muscle fibers. You're not effectively engaging the anaerobic process of your heart. Fortunately Peak Fitness type exercises however, do address these fibers and metabolic systems.
Traditional strength training and cardio primarily exercise your slow twitch muscle fibers. Your body kicks in these slow twitch muscles first, in an effort to not recruit your fast twitch muscles, or work your heart anaerobically.
This is why you may not see results even though you spend an hour on the treadmill a few times a week – you're basically denying the natural physiology of your body by not working the other half of your muscle fibers; your fast-twitch muscles.
" … the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, they have taken long-slow cardio and have taken it out of the exercise guidelines and the reason is pretty clear. It just doesn't work. It doesn't work both processes of your heart muscle, aerobic process and anaerobic process. It doesn't work for your fast-twitch fiber.
To really work your cardiovascular system the way you should, I'm now saying you do moderate-intensity cardio (which is still pretty intense) five days a week for 30 minutes ─ or vigorous intensity cardio for 20 minutes, three times a week. This is what Sprint 8 has been for years and years now."
You Should NOT do Peak Fitness Every Day
I want to point out that even though Peak Fitness is, in my impression, an essential, crucial element of any exercise training program -- it is NOT something you should do every day, as your body requires more time to heal in between sessions.
"We have to urge caution because research is pretty clear now: if you do long and slow exercise, your muscle -- that's slow-twitch fiber -- can heal pretty quickly in one day. But when you work fast-twitch fiber, whether it's an NFL athlete, or me or anyone, it takes about 48 hours for that fast-twitch fiber to truly heal back and totally recover. Sprint 8 is one of these programs that you really don't want to do every day … we recommend three times a week."
The benefit of doing this program three times a week comes not only from the way it works your fast and super-fast muscle fibers, but also the way it increases your growth hormone with each session.
Each Peak Fitness Workout May Increase Your Growth Hormones by 771 Percent
Human growth hormone is often referred to as "the fitness hormone." The higher your levels of growth hormone, the healthier and stronger you will be. Once you hit the age of 30, you enter what's called "somatopause," at which point your levels of human HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This decline of HGH is part of what drives your aging process, so maintaining your HGH levels gets increasingly important with age.
The longer you can keep your body producing higher levels of HGH, the longer you will likely experience more robust health and strength. Some athletes choose to inject it for this very reason, though it is a banned substance in nearly every professional sport. I do not recommend injecting HGH however, due to the potential side effects, the cost and, more importantly, it is likely to cause more long-term harm than good. Fortunately, your body produces HGH naturally when you exercise your super-fast muscle fibers during vigorous, high-intensity exercise like Peak Fitness.
"You know, walking is a great thing, but it only works the aerobic process of your heart muscle. It doesn't work the anaerobic process. It only recruits your slow-twitch fibers. So those two other muscle fiber types are meant to be used to exercise is necessary to release growth hormones.
… If we look at the body and say, how do you want us to exercise? When you do this – when you do Sprint 8 – it's almost like the result is screaming this: When you do this, I release this hormone that's so powerful, that if you're an Olympic athlete, your test goes positive for injecting growth hormone. That's how significant Sprint 8 is when you look at growth hormones."
In fact, an eight-week study conducted by Phil and colleagues found that a Peak Fitness session resulted in an average HGH increase of 771 percent! This also translated to increased fat burning among the study participants. Phil states:
"At the end of the eight weeks, results were phenomenal. The average body fat loss was 31 percent. Sprint 8 was designed to replicate the growth hormone production, which in the average case increases 14.4 percent. Basically, Sprint 8 in this one study on middle-aged workers shows that it's twice as effective in body fat loss as injecting growth hormone."
Peak Fitness Also Increases Your Endurance
Another great facet of Peak Fitness is that it gives you both aerobic and anaerobic benefits at the same time, essentially replacing the need to do long, slow training. In fact, Phil points out that if you're trying to build your endurance levels, replacing tedious distance workouts with Peak Fitness is going to give you better results.
"With long-slow cardio there's some benefits, but we know from the sport sciences now that the best way to increase endurance capacity is through hard, fast anaerobic training," Phil says.
… There's a study … that shows you double endurance capacity with the program very similar to Sprint 8, where you go on an all-cardio cycle for 30 seconds except they would rest for two-four minutes before they do another one. Sprints 8, on the other hand, you only get an accurate recovery of a minute and a half because we're trying to multitask an aerobic workout and an anaerobic workout, where they would just look at endurance capacity. So Sprint 8 is actually much more intense than this exercise protocol. But in that protocol, they showed that you double endurance capacity three workouts a week in two weeks' time."
Summary of a Typical Peak Fitness Workout
Here's a summary of what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds
- Recover for 90 seconds
- Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times
As you can see, the entire workout is only 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! That really is a beautiful thing. And within those 20 minutes, 75 percent of that time is warming up, recovering or cooling down. You're really only working out intensely for four minutes. It's hard to believe if you have never done this that you can actually get that much benefit from four minutes of exercise. That's all it is.
Keep in mind that you can use virtually any type of equipment you want for this – an elliptical machine, a treadmill, swimming, even sprinting outdoors (although you will need to do this very carefully to avoid injury) -- as long as you're pushing yourself as hard as you can for 30 seconds. But do be sure to stretch properly and start slowly to avoid injury. Start with two or three repetitions and work your way up, don't expect to do all eight repetitions the first time you try this, especially if you are out of shape.
"There are many different ways you could do Sprint 8. As long as you can get totally exhausted in 30 seconds or less. That's the key. If you can't go longer than 30 seconds -- no matter if you're a professional athlete or just starting -- that means you're doing it correctly. It has to be so intense that after 30 seconds, you're just praying for those last seconds to go by … "
Phil also mentioned that his study showed doing Peak Fitness on an elliptical machine led to a higher release of growth hormone, and he suspects that it is the most challenging type of equipment to use.
One caveat: a treadmill may not be the best choice for Peak Fitness because of the time it takes for the machine to adjust intensities. So instead of the 30-second sprint, by the time the machine calibrates it will only be 20 seconds.
I really discourage people from using the treadmill because I don't believe it is ideal due to lag time to adjust intensity levels and an increased risk of falling off the equipment and injuring yourself. The elliptical is probably close to the best in my opinion. But if you don't have access to a gym or your own equipment, then you can improvise. You can use virtually any type of cardio exercise, as long as you get your knees up and your heart rate up, that's the key.
I would strongly recommend that you invest in a chest strap heart rate monitor to make sure your intensity is on target. If you are able to exceed your calculative maximum heart rate, which is 220 minus your age, by five or 10 beats, then you know you have trained. And you really need to be accurate within a few beats per minute to get the best results. There's a big difference between 166 and 168, but you're not going to be able to calculate that manually. You need an electronic version.
If funds are limited and you can't join the gym or get a piece of equipment, invest in a heart rate monitor. That's going to give you the information you need to make sure you're doing the activity properly.
You Can Use Peak Fitness Principles for Strength Training, Too
Instead of using an elliptical machine three times a week, you can use strength training to get a Peak Fitness workout in too. This is another way to activate HGH while building up different areas in your muscles. The challenge of relying on any specific exercise, the elliptical or the recumbent bike, and so on is that your body adapts to that.
You really want a comprehensive holistic approach for optimal benefits.
Phil explains how to do this:
"It's the same principle. You're applying the same principle of recruiting fast-twitch muscle fiber with strength training as you can with Sprint 8. Your body is trying to do things not to recruit fast-twitch fiber because your body thinks it's trying to help you get through all day by staying to slow-twitch fiber in the system. So if it's a push or press movement away from the center -- like the chest press, bench press, shoulder press, squat or any push or press movement away from the center of the body -- those muscles return loaded with fast-twitch fiber that a lot of times simply don't get worked.
It's real simple to engage that muscle fiber.
So if you come down like on a push-up or a chest press, pause and then explode out -- don't use momentum to come out -- just pause and then explode with velocity because you're getting an intensity of movement.
Whether Sprint 8 or lifting weights, you get intensity from the matter resistance and the velocity of movement. So when you factor in a velocity of movement into that equation, you recruit fast-twitch fiber. … And so you get all three muscle fiber types in the same exercise if you do it that way. We recommend doing that on push or press movements. It's the way to observe your body. A great example would be triceps. Triceps are just loaded with fast-twitch fiber. Triceps press for the rope, for example, is a great way to work it. You let a pause, explode. Pause, explode."
How to Make Sure Your Growth Hormone Stays Optimized AFTER Your Workout
Once you have gone through all the time, effort and energy of stimulating growth hormone release, there's an exercise recovery phase of two to three hours, where you have to be somewhat careful about what foods you choose to eat. If you aren't careful, then you could suppress the stimulus and you won't get that growth hormone benefits that you would have if you have been more careful with your diet.
Specifically, in order to promote HGH release, you do need to restrict sugar intake post-exercise (although carbs can benefit those more interested in fast recovery, such as professional athletes).
"What we recommend … is to get 25 grams of protein afterwards within that 30-minute golden window. There is a lot of research to support that, but there's also some research done by Dr. John Ivy of the University of Texas, a great researcher on a young cyclist who made recovery. They're not looking at growth hormone or maximizing growth hormone. They're trying to get to recover as quickly as possible so they can cycle several days in a row.
They showed that getting a ratio of 4:1 carbs to protein is better for recovery … 4:1 starts recovery faster. If you're going after recovery, that's the best strategy … [if] you're not looking for growth hormone, that is. But on the other side, if your goal for most middle-aged adults and older is to maximize growth hormone to get this wonderful hormone circulating for that full two hours in the surging window for going after body fat (just about like you're doing cardio for two hours), you can do that.
… if you throw too many carbohydrates in … then that releases the hormones called somatostatin. That, for whatever reason, just shuts down growth hormone. That's clear in the research."
So it's important to avoid carbs, especially sugar or fructose-containing foods, in the two hours after your workout, and this includes sports drinks, to be sure you're getting the full HGH benefits.
Now, instead of wasting hours and hours needlessly on slow cardio workouts, you can cut down the time, improve the benefits and improve the quality of your life by doing Peak Fitness exercises for 20 minutes, just three times a week. This is not only about longevity but the quality of your life! For more information, Phil has written a book called Ready Set Go. I strongly recommend picking up a copy of that book if you're interested in using high-intensity exercise to improve your health.
How Does this Change My New Exercise Recommendations?
It is important to recognize that life is a journey and we are constantly growing and learning. I have been exercising for nearly 45 years and most of that time it was FAR from ideal. It certainly helped me more than not exercising but by failing to incorporate many sound foundational principles I wasted loads of time and did not achieve a fraction of the benefits I could have.
One of my goals with this site it to share with you what I learn on my health journey so hopefully you can avoid many of the mistakes I and others make in an effort to achieve high-level health.
I am very grateful to the many mentors in my life. With respect to exercise, Dr. Ken Cooper is responsible for helping me make the lifelong commitment to exercise. More recently Phil Campbell helped me to radically improve my exercise with the concepts articulated in our Peak Fitness Program.
After doing Peak Fitness exercises three times a week for about a year I gradually felt that it was too much for me and I reduced that to once a week, which seemed to work out well. When I interviewed Phil Campbell a second time for this article, though, he made a compelling argument to increase Peak Fitness workouts to three times a week, so you can get growth hormone produced three times instead of once a week.
Made sense to me so I bumped it back up to three times a week.
However I had to reduce the intensity and back it down by about 5% or so, as I was simply too fatigued between sessions. So instead of getting my heart rate to 173 or so, it would be about ten less. Then I recently interviewed Dr. Doug McGuff who is a strong proponent of Super Slow weight training to achieve similar benefits that Phil discusses in this article.
Dr. McGuff has a bit of a different take on using exercise to increase growth hormone. He believes that you only need 12 minutes of Super Slow type strength training once a week to achieve the benefits. I really enjoyed my interview with him as he helped me appreciate a nagging truth that I hadn't quite captured yet and that is the crucial nature of recovery integrated into listening to your body.
Let Me Explain Further
I have known the importance of recovery in exercise training for ages but never applied it to what I have been teaching for an equally long time, which is to Listen to Your Body when it comes to selecting foods.
The epiphany I had with Dr. McGuff is that I wasn't applying the "Listen to Your Body" principle with respect to my exercise program. When I grilled him on parameters of what is the best way to know if you are recovered from your exercise he said you would have a restless energy and feel like you have to engage in some type of physical activity. You will just want to work out.
Well that had not happened to me for some time as I believe I was pushing myself too hard and had not allowed myself enough recovery time. I don't believe this is a problem for most people who exercise, as they are more likely not pushing themselves hard enough, but when you go to extremes as in Peak Fitness high-intensity training programs, this is a serious risk you need to pay careful attention to.
Putting it All Together
So I am currently in a massive experimentation phase and playing with my exercise program. I am doing Peak Fitness 2-3 times a week and also incorporating some changes with my strength training.
Along with this I intend to do active isolated stretching on a daily basis and do very specific strengthening exercises that are designed for small muscles that are missed during virtually all traditional multi muscle strength training exercises. I will likely be exercising the same length of time just breaking it up differently. I suspect that will be more ideal for me and I intend to report on my results as I seek to refine my program so you can learn from it.
I guess the lesson here to learn is that life is an exciting journey. Lean as much as you can from your mistakes and continue to seek new information from different mentors that you can apply and, here is the key, learn to listen to your body so it can guide you into a path that will provide you with the most efficient and effective benefits.