I received an email with three fitness questions. Instead of responding privately, I decided to answer them in a blog post. I will need help with the third question. The email came from someone who read and successfully tried some of the ideas from the post Lower Risk Alternatives to the Barbell Back Squat.
1) You say that you do your strength building exercises to failure. Do you literally mean that you do one rep every 5-7 days? Or do you have a few minutes rest and do a few in one session?
One rep is for static holds. If you are lifting slow, be it 5, 10 or 30 seconds, you will do more than 1 rep. If you are going to failure, you will only need to do 1 set.
If you are an ectomorph or workout in an environment that limits your intensity, such as being an a hot environment, you can decrease the intensity and increase the sets. Still lift slow though. I cover this more in the post Is High Intensity Training Best For Ectomorphs?
The most important thing about HIT is selecting safe exercises with low skill requirements and doing them slowly in a way that minimizes momentum. Experiment with rep speed (and static holds) and number of sets. Then allow time for recovery.
Most fitness protocols advise more workouts per week, but they are also recommending exercises with a higher skill component. The more complex the exercise, the more practice is needed, which means more volume and reduced intensity. With HIT we eliminate the need to practice the skill of the movement, so the volume requirements aren’t needed, which allows us to focus on increasing intensity. Thus we only need to workout every 5 or 7 days.
2) I don’t go to a gym. Is there an equivalent to this great body weight squat that you can do for upper body? Just say if one of your recommended books would help answer that.
Yes. Push-ups and Chin-ups, either done very slowly or as a static hold. The book Hillfit 2.0 does an excellent job covering body weight HIT training. I don’t have a chin-up bar myself, so I go to a park a few blocks away and use the “monkey bars” on the playground. Since I’m only there for a few minutes a week, it is not inconvenient.
3) Going all-out. I have been doing 2 hill sprints per week – 8 reps till failure for 30 seconds, 90 seconds rest. Also, one strength building session which is to failure too. Thoughts? Too much? OK? I’m in great shape and in my early 30s.
I am not an expert in running, but I think you are on the right path, especially with the uphill portion. The only pain free running I’ve done since 1995 has been sprinting uphill. See my post Running Up That Hill – Sprinting Salvation For Tall People. My only suggestion is to space out the days between your HIT workout and your sprints. Try and make sure your legs are somewhat recovered before tearing up that hill.
Maybe one of my running readers can help out with question #3? How does a runner gauge “too much” before it becomes a problem?
Jun 23, 2014 — 12:54 pm
Whether something is “ok” or not is hard to say. Ok for what? Building explosive power? Improving lower body aesthetics? Increasing V02max? To an extent, the hill running described here will do all of that.
I would say, however, that what is described is closer to hill repeats than hill sprints. Renato Canova, an Italian distance coach in Kenya, and his protege Brad Hudson are the two best known advocates of hill sprints in the distance running world. For them, it’s all about building “specific” strength within the movement pattern their athletes use. As such, they sprint for 10-15 seconds, then rest for 2-3 minutes. Essentially, they treat the exercise like weightlifting. Full recovery so that full effort can be given. (http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/short-steep-swift-strength?page=single)
A 30/90 work/rest interval is, to put it too simply, more about strength endurance, stroke volume, and anaerobic capacity.
Both of these things are “good”, and as a distance runner, I do both. (Twice a week is about right, I’d say.) But they serve different purposes.
Jun 23, 2014 — 1:01 pm
I love this post – thank you MAS; it covers a lot of the questions I’ve been asking myself since your last post on the assisted pull-up machine. In answer to your question about running frequency/intensity, I can tell you that in my experience, I could NOT feel when I was over-doing it and ended up hurting myself (during marathon training).
I was also going to ask you, MAS, a very similar question to the email you posted about. In your experience, does the following schedule seem like too much: 1 day of Big 5, 1 day of body weight HIT, 2 days of interval sprints, 1 day long & slow bike ride or kayaking, 1 day complete rest each week.
Jun 23, 2014 — 1:09 pm
@Alex – Thanks for the great response.
@Rita – Yes, that sounds like too much to me. The Big 5 and body weight HIT are accomplishing the same thing. I’d use the Big 5 when you have gym access and body weight when you either don’t have a gym, on vacation or just need something different to do. The sprints will depend upon how taxed your legs are from the HIT. You could reduce intensity on the HIT (leg portion) if the sprints are important to you. The long bike/kayak is recreation and should be fine.
My “if were Rita” alternate plan might be:
1 day Big 5 or body weight HIT
1 day sprints
1-2 days long bike/kayak
3-4 days rest (walking is fine here)
Jun 23, 2014 — 1:28 pm
Thanks, MAS! I’m starting to see that my problem is probably too much rather than too little exercise. I am grateful for your help!
Jun 23, 2014 — 1:47 pm
I agree with Alex about his opinion on hill sprints versus hill repeats. I do hill sprints once a week on my leg training day. However I do 3.5 to 6.5 second sprints (8 reps of the shorter ones, 6 reps of a medium distance and only 5 reps of the longer ones, alternating from week to week…and between 2 and a half and 3 and a half minutes of rest depending on the length of the sprint). I use this as speed work, and as a specific part of my leg strengthening day. I will then wait for an hour or so before doing my version of a HIT leg session. I also do two different upper body HIT sessions a week and I try on the same day to do an interval session (of varying intensity at the local track on the same day), however energy levels and circumstances can either change the days that I do this ( or whether I do the interval session on a separate day) Sometimes I will only do one interval session per week, if energy levels dictate. The rest of the time I go for brisk walks lasting between 30 minutes to an hour, which generally lead to between 2 and a half to 4 hours of walking a week. If I’m feeling energetic I’ll throw in a few short runs on these walks, as long as I can maintain my nasal breathing without difficulty (which is my indicator that I’m not pushing it too hard). These walks, despite being brisk, are still easy and fairly relaxing.
Despite this probably being more than MAS might recommend, it is still far less, and far less taxing from the stuff I used to do in my 20’s and 30’s. When I ran, I pushed practically EVERY run, despite the distance, always aiming for a time. When I went to the gym, whether it was cardio or weights, I would push it hard every time. I find this way of training is far more enjoyable, relaxed and sustainable. 3 x 30 minute (approx) strength training sessions per week (2 upper body, 1 lower) 1 x short hill sprints, 1-2 interval sessions ,and 3 -4 walking days seems to be okay for me right now, but I won’t be scared to adjust if I have to as I get older.
It was due to writers like MAS, Bill DeSimone, Clarence Bass, Richard Winett, and even Mark Sisson’s (only agreed with his exercise approach, not his dietary recommendations) that I had the courage to change my approach to exercise. I now exercise in a way that I want to,NOT in a way that I feel I have to. Exercising has become enjoyable for the first time in years.
Jun 23, 2014 — 2:27 pm
@Stuart – what do you not like about Sisson’s dietary recs?
Jun 23, 2014 — 4:15 pm
@Stuart – I am honored to be included on that list of fitness writers.
@Rita – I can’t speak for Stuart, but the problems I see with The Primal Blueprint are his false demonization of legumes and his claim that over 100 grams of carbs causes “insidious weight gain”.
Jun 24, 2014 — 12:52 am
The whole Paleo thing is a bit too “One size fits all” for me. (As are most “diets”). Considering that as a species we are highly adaptable, and have colonized, survived and thrived on most of the planet, with each group living on different dietary staples due to their circumstance / environment / food availability, I find it hard to follow a recommendation that insists that we would prosper eating just one way only.
I also view food and people’s reactions to it, as almost like watered down pharmaceutical drugs. Some people get positive benefits from Aspirin, for example, others (like Bruce Lee apparently) don’t. Even steroids seem to be beneficial to some and harmful to others based upon their genetic responses to them.
I have always seemed to tolerate and benefitted from a relatively high carb diet, and thanks to my parents / genetics always been fairly lean. I would encourage people to do their own experimentation (like MAS) to determine their own ideal dose levels, not blindly follow the recommendations of others based upon their own responses / preferences. This is just my opinion however.
Jun 24, 2014 — 9:21 am
I think Sisson’s biggest sin (and he would probably agree) is that he uses the word “Blueprint”…
he needs a “less ridged” term… like maybe “guidelines”? It is all about personal discovery…
Jun 24, 2014 — 10:37 am
If the Paleo crowd truly were correct, then they might want to inform half of the Asian subcontinent, who seem to do okay on a higher carb diet (Remember the old adage of the World War Two Japanese soldiers marching and fighting on a bowl of rice per day? Possibly stretching the truth a bit, but it makes a point). There seems to be an untapped market there. I would suggest, with a strong conviction, that there are Asian populations that are (taking poverty and disease out of the equation) far healthier than your typical Westerner who eats more meat on average….
Jun 24, 2014 — 12:00 pm
I want to public thank you for helping me (ex skinny-fat, tall “hardgainer”) to gain muscle and shed fat (Hillfit and blog articles) answering directly in my e-mail on the end of 2013. With bodyweight HIT, weighted walking and hill sprints i am in the best shape of my life, not huge, not skinny, kind of spartan looking (always dreamed of). Working now in “hardening” more the muscles (that dense compact look). You are the guy, KEEP THE GOOD WORK!
Jun 24, 2014 — 3:39 pm
@Marcello – That sounds awesome! Glad to hear the bodyweight HIT is working for you.
Jun 25, 2014 — 1:20 pm
Stuart: Is meat the problem or is it processed/made made foods?
I would suggest, with a strong conviction, that there are Inuit populations that are (taking poverty and disease out of the equation) far healthier than your typical Westerner and they eat primarily meat/fat…
Jun 25, 2014 — 1:22 pm
that should be “man made” foods… 🙂
Jun 25, 2014 — 3:05 pm
@BigTex – the superior health of the Inuit population may not have a damn thing to do with diet. correlation is not the same as causation and there are way, way to many factors that are not controlled/accounted for to make that idea any more than mere speculation (although as far as speculation goes it’s a nice idea).
Jun 25, 2014 — 7:18 pm
You keep thinking that, Noralee…I was just poking fun at all the foolishness on this blog…you people need to get a life…Correlation is not the same as castration… 🙂
Jun 25, 2014 — 7:51 pm
I am more swayed by the argument that eating the entire animal nose to tail is more healthy than just eating muscle meat. it has to do with the balance between methionine and glycine amino acids. Denise Minger covers this in her book.