Category Archives: 2-Exercise

Questions Not Answers Improve Motivation

In the recent research report, Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self-Talk: The Role of the Interrogative Form of Simple Future Tense, psychologists discovered that the linguistic form of your internal dialogue impacts your external performance. In fact, there is a significant difference in performance depending on whether you are using declarative self-talk (I will do 250 sit-ups!) or interrogative self-talk (Will I do 250 sit-ups?).

Image by: crystaljingsr

Why Form Matters

Declarative statements tend to be linked to external motivation.  External motivation takes the form of the carrot or the stick. For example, motivating employees by promising a bonus for finishing a project early is using the carrot.  Telling them that if the project isn’t finished on time, they will be fired is using the stick. 

On the other hand, the authors report that previous research has shown:

(1) Open ended questions tend to generate thoughts about accomplishing a goal, without accompanying feelings of these thoughts being imposed by someone else (Sheldon, Williams, & Joiner, 2003). (2) Rhetorical questions within a strong message increase the perception of the message source as less pressuring and therefore less threatening to the autonomy of the message recipient (Burnkrant & Howard, 1984). (3) The question form is universally perceived to be more respectful of the autonomy of the person addressed (Pass the salt. vs Can you pass the salt?) (Hotgraves & Yang, 1990).

Intrinsic motivation vs. external motivation

The results of this study, demonstrate that the positive aspects of the interrogative form carry over to self-talk. One possible reason for this result is that using the interrogative form encourages intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is evident when people engage in an activity for its own sake, without some obvious external incentive present. Intrinsic motivation facilitates intention, and intention leads to external performance of goal directed behavior.

External motivation creates weak or limited intent. Coach John Wooden, described the weakness of external motivation as similar to the motivation created by a prison guard. Like a guard watching over a chain gang, you can force people to just do it, but as soon as you turn your back, they are running away from you.  There is no sustained intention to reach the external goal.

By using the declarative form, our self-talk mimics the prison guard, forcing us to behave a certain way for a little while, but as soon as an excuse presents itself, we are off and running.  On the other hand, this study finds that if, rather than telling yourself to do something, you ask yourself: Will I do it?, the scale tips away from external motivation and toward internal motivation.

For more on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation see: (1) Jeff Monday’s 4m 56s video: Behavioral Economics of Intrinsic Motivation Remastered. (2) Dan Pink’s 18m 37s TED talk: The Surprising Science of Motivation


It’s In The Details

I suspect that there are at least two additional reasons why the interrogative form is more effective than the declarative.  Using the declarative pretty much ends the conversation, whereas asking a question invites follow-on questions.  Note, follow-on questions are what makes the Socratic method an effective tool for teaching critical thinking skills, as follow-on questions lead students to explore the details of an issue and to consider exceptions to general rules.

If I ask myself a simple question: Will I stick to my schedule today?, I naturally progress to questions like: How will I organize my day? Will I be disciplined in starting and ending projects?  If I get off schedule, will I make the effort to get back on schedule? Now, I’m putting my mind to good use, as these new questions, focus on the small things necessary for accomplishing the big thing and I consider how to handle exceptions like getting off schedule.

Through the use of follow-on questions, the details and corresponding action steps come into focus.  Once the details and action steps are laid out, forming the intent necessary to complete an initial small step is less difficult than forming the intent to accomplish an entire, potentially overwhelming, project.  This is the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step concept.

Meanwhile, getting off schedule is treated as an exception to be managed, rather than as failure. Thus, switching to the interrogative leads to: (1) focusing on the detailed action steps necessary for consistent performance (which could help facilitate intent) and (2) acknowledges exceptions to perfect performance (which leads to considering ways to manage them).

Verbs for thought

Having discovered a significant effect from changing self-talk from the declarative to the interrogative, the authors of the report wonder what effects using different verbs may have. They list can, should, and would as verbs worth exploring.  Of the three verbs suggested, should jumps out as an important question to ask.  I can’t help but wonder if introspective talk using should leads to improvements in ethical decision making.

Will I lose 5 Pounds Before Summer?

After reading this post, will you use that voice in your head more effectively?  All you have to do is make one simple change.  Rather than engaging in self-talk that tells you what to do, ask yourself: Will you do it? Will I lose five pounds before summer? Will I stick to my workout schedule?  Will I spend more time with friends and family? Will I get organized?



Overtraining? Prospect Theory in the Gym.
Longevity and the Distribution of Healthcare Costs.
Do Nutrition Labels Increase Food Cravings?

Trunk Strength – The Answer is Simple

Photo by: yewenyi

Working The Trunk

There must be lots to learn about core strength, as every month there is an accumulation of magazine articles, web posts, and whispered advice related to: core exercises for men, best core exercises, core workouts…etc.

I prefer the term trunk to core and don’t think anything was gained by adding new terminology, particularly, given this definition for core strength: The balanced development of the deep and superficial muscles that stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body, especially the abdominals and muscles of the back.

Duke Kahanamoku - That's a Solid Trunk

What works the trunk?  Everything works the trunk.  Look back at the definition, if you can’t stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body, you can’t exercise…if you can’t stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body, you can’t sit up, crawl, or walk.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I bet Michael Phelps didn’t build abs like this by doing Hard Core – Exercises to Strengthen Your Abs For Better Performance.  He got in the pool and swam.  If you do something athletic on a regular basis, then, as you improve, you will strengthen the muscles that stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body.

Photo by: marcopako

The secret to building a solid trunk is to do something athletic.  Swim, run, lift, ski, hike, do tai chi in the park, ride a bicycle along the river…they will all work your trunk.

Note: If you want abs like Michael Phelps, you have to drop your body fat percentage.  I’ve seen fighters with rock solid abdominal and low back strength with belly’s that don’t look anything like that, until they cut weight.  Keep in mind while athletes are getting to and maintaining ultra-low body fat percentages, keeping them from getting sick is a major concern. But that’s another post for another time…

Don’t Sweat the technique

I am not saying don’t do exercises that focus on your trunk.   I am saying don’t worry about finding the 10 Most Effective Core Exercises Ever.

As part of building a solid foundation in your sport, you will likely be doing trunk specific exercises to help you perform better.  That’s fine. Your coach, instructor, classmates, fellow athletes and friends will be more than happy to hook you up with some challenging exercises.

Zumba Time

Think you have pretty solid trunk strength and want to challenge yourself, then get out of your comfort zone.  Rob over at Combat Trainer recently did exactly that.  He lost a bet and ended up paying it off by enjoying a Zumba class.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his abs, lower back, and hips felt a little sore after all of that dancing.

My recommendation for getting out of your comfort zone and working your trunk…go horseback riding.  If you aren’t riding on a regular basis, even if you’ve done everything you need to sculpt a rock-solid midsection, your trunk is going to feel it.

Stabilize, Align, and Move

Photo by: pmorgan

Dave Sandel from Athlete Creator took the DIY approach and built his own set of challenges.

Otherwise, let the Diesel Crew teach you how to do dragon flags.

The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. -Bruce Lee

Don’t believe the hype

You don’t have to do a Core Workout to strengthen your trunk, but you have to do something.  Only one thing is guaranteed to kill your trunk strength…remaining sedentary.

Overtraining? Prospect Theory in the Gym.

Prospect theory, developed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky of Princeton University, describes cognitive bias in the handling of decisions that involve risk.  Kahnemman and Tversky showed that the function described by human behavior when making decisions involving risk is asymmetrical.  The asymmetry results, because people value gains and losses differently and demonstrate different risk preferences under different conditions.

People tend to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains (loss aversion).  Some studies suggest that the negative impact of losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as the positive impact of gains.  Thus, if you have made some small gains, you will tend to behave conservatively and forego taking risks that could result in additional gains (the curve on the right is convex and flattens out quickly).  Conversely, if you have sustained a loss, then the psychological pain is likely to push you to take unreasonable risks in an effort to get back to even (the curve on the left is concave and takes a steep drop, before it flattens out).

Recent studies with Capuchin monkeys demonstrate that these behavioral asymmetries extend far back along the evolutionary time line.

Irrational Behavior in the Gym…Say it isn’t so

Like the Capuchin monkeys’ market, athletic performance and physical fitness are measured by gains and losses.  As we appear to be pre-programmed to value gains and losses differently and demonstrate different risk preferences under different conditions, we should see some recurring irrational behavior in the gym.  Below are three common instances of irrational behavior that I have both demonstrated myself and witnessed in others.

(1) Afraid to Take a Break

An athlete that is overtraining is focused on conserving their gains (this is particularly true, when training for an upcoming event such as a marathon or a fight).  Taking time away from training is seen as risky behavior and to be avoided (risk averse).  Even if resting and recovering may let the body heal, grow stronger, and result in greater overall gains in performance, there remains an irrational fear of any drop in performance due to breaking the routine.  Therefore, they are willing to forego acquiring additional gains, in order to avoid the anticipated psychological pain from any potential loss in performance resulting from taking a break.

(2) Married to Your Routine

Similarly, an athlete that is making slow gains or maintaining performance is likely to be less willing to take a chance on a new training protocol, even if doing so has the potential to lead to large gains in performance.  In this situation, most athletes prefer to make small adjustments to their established routine and will actively resist wholesale changes.

(3) Risking it All When Injured

On the other hand, if an injury occurs while an athlete is training hard and making significant gains in performance, you can expect that they will not want to rest, relax, and allow the injury to completely heal before resuming their training.  Rather, they may grudgingly scale back their training or find some other way to “train around” the injury.  With many injuries, continuing to train or compete is risky behavior, which could lead to permanent damage.  However, an injured athlete suffering the psychological pain of having sustained a loss is much more willing to take unreasonable risks to get back to their pre-injury level of performance.

Cognitive Interrupt

The trick then is to develop cognitive breaks that interrupt this pre-programmed behavior and allow you to make better decisions by recognizing:

(1) with small gains in performance, you will tend to overtrain, become overly risk averse, and may forego opportunities to make additional gains (you could even become a bit dogmatic);

(2) that when you have sustained a training setback, you are more willing to take unreasonable risks in an effort to overcome the loss and alleviate the psychological pain that comes with it.

An experienced coach or trainer can make a positive difference in these situations.  Periodization, a pre-planned training schedule, can help (See Arthur Lydiard and Tudor Bompa).  Also, keeping detailed training logs and forcing yourself to review them at regular intervals, with this asymmetry in mind, is another good way to facilitate improved decision making.

What methods have you found best help athletes step back from their pre-programmed responses and engage their cognitive systems?

Conquering Conditioning – How to Use the Pool to Improve Your Training

Too hot to run sprints…get in the pool!

Last week’s Straight to the Bar twitterchat on conditioning, sparked a great conversation.  Rob DeCillis of Combat Trainer hosted and the ideas and information were flowing.

Photo by: jurvetson

The conversation got me thinking…with the importance of breath control and conditioning for MMA and boxing, why don’t we hear more about fighters using the pool as part of their training.

I tossed a few ideas out and there was definitely interest in the topic.  So, as promised, I’m following up with some more ideas about conquering conditioning in the pool.

Swimming alone will do wonders for your breathing and cardiovascular conditioning.  But, if you get bored easily and find following a black line tedious, then here are 7 ideas that will hold your interest, challenge your cardiovascular conditioning, and teach you to better control your breathing.

Swimming Underwater

Nothing teaches you to measure your breathing and stay focused like swimming underwater (watch how relaxed Kevin Busscher is in the video).  Swimming under water, teaches you to take deeper fuller breaths, to measure your exhalation, and to become familiar with functioning without panicking in the absence of oxygen.

It’s also very easy to measure improvement.  Keep in mind, you have to be ever more careful as you improve.  With greater time and distance underwater, you will want to have a spotter and/or let the lifeguard know what you are up to.

Safety fact: underwater swimmer’s can drop into unconsciousness, but appear to continue swimming, as their arms and legs continue to rhythmically pull and kick.

Sprints With Bodyweight Exercises

Pick your swim distance (25 yards or 50 meters).  Pick a stroke.  Pick a body weight exercise and number of repetitions.  Sprint to the end of the pool (or to the end of the pool and back).  Quickly and carefully get out of the pool and up on the deck.  Complete your body weight exercises.  Get back into the pool, sprint, repeat.  Remember, pool decks are slippery.  You want to pick bodyweight exercises that are stable.  This is not the time for burpees, handstand push-ups, or pistols.

Let’s run through a few examples:

(25 yard freestyle sprint / 25 push-ups) x 4 = 1 set

(25 yard freestyle sprint / 25 push-ups / 25 yard freestyle sprint / 50 flutter kicks) x 2 = 1 set

(25 yard butterfly sprint / 25 push-ups / 25 yard backstroke sprint / 25 body weight squats / 25 yard breaststroke sprint /50 flutter kicks / 25 yard freestyle sprint / chair dips) = 1 set

You get the idea…lots of possible combinations.

Add Some Resistance

Put on a sweat shirt, get in the pool, now swim.  Not easy.  Once you get good at swimming with the sweat shirt, add sweat pants.  Need some more resistance, put on your favorite pair of Chuckie T’s and do it all over again.  The sneakers add weight and decrease the efficiency of your kicking.  This is an old school workout that never goes out of style.

Fun With Dive Bricks

A standard dive brick weighs 10 pounds.  The easiest way to work with one is to swim across the pool while holding the brick with both hands.  At first, you will need to keep the brick close to your body.  Eventually you will be able to hold it out in front, while you kick across the pool.  Doing this works your core and taxes your cardiovascular system.

Individual Relays

For these relays, rather than switching swimmers, switch to a different piece of gear with each sprint.  I like to use a kick board, a pull buoy, and hand paddles.  Get in the pool.  Leave your hand paddles behind.  Use the kick board to carry the pull buoy to the other end of the pool.  Once you get there, put the kick board on the deck, grab the pull buoy and sprint back.  When you touch the wall, swap the pull buoy for the hand paddles.  Drop off the hand paddles and freestyle sprint back…grab the pull buoy…keep cycling through.

Drown Proofing

This is an exercise made famous by the US Navy SEALs.  It’s very easy to explain.  Head to the deep end of the pool.   Keep your hands behind your back.  Exhale and drop to the bottom.  Kick off the bottom of the pool.  As you break through the water’s surface, take a full deep breath.  Sink back to the bottom, by controlling your exhalation.  Kick off the bottom.  Repeat.  If you get a good rhythm going, you can do this exercise for extended periods of time, longer than you can tread water…hence the name.

The Dreaded Water Bottle

Last, but not least, the dreaded water bottle.  Take an empty 5 gallon water bottle to the deep end of the pool.  Sink it.  Swim down to the bottle, lift it above your head, kick off the bottom of the pool, then hold the bottle above your head and in the air until all of the the water in the bottle drains out.

If you are like me, that is to say, without a massive upper body or particularly strong legs, then technique is your friend.  I follow a three step approach for solving this puzzle.  In the early stage, while the bottle is mostly full, kick to the top, hold the bottle above the surface, drain some water, then use the weight of the bottle, to drive you back to the bottom.  Rebound off the bottom of the pool, surface, and let some more water out.

The middle stage is the toughest.  The bottle is 1/3 to 1/2 empty.  It is no longer negatively buoyant.  So, you have to tread water with the bottle above your head, but the weight from the bottle, keeps your face beneath the surface.  Remain calm, as you kick furiously and your lungs burn, water will slowly drain from the bottle and you will start to rise.

If you don’t lose your focus, you can initiate the third phase by rotating the bottle.  As you rotate the bottle, the water will start to circulate.  The swirling action increases the rate that water drains from the bottle (or, maybe it just gives you something other than your lungs to focus on).  As the water drains and the bottle lightens, you can switch it to one hand, relax a little bit and enjoy the oxygen you are now able to pull into your lungs.  This is a great exercise at the end of a workout, as it is both a mental and physical challenge.

Time to Hit the Local Pool

There you have it, seven fun ways to work on your tan and your conditioning at the same time.



The Past, Present, and Future of Interval Training

Sleep Your Way To Better Physical and Mental Performance

DIY Fitness Gear – Sandbag 101

Sleep Your Way To Better Physical and Mental Performance

Photo by: Thomas Hawk

If you don’t get enough sleep, personal performance suffers.  It’s that simple.  Oh, and you probably don’t get enough sleep.  According to the Newsweek Article, The Surprising Toll of Sleep Deprivation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel fully rested and function at their best.

Most of us aren’t getting that much sleep.  The cumulative effects of shorting ourselves on sleep, even if it is just a little each night, include a steady decline in cognitive abilities and reaction time…not likely to help you think creatively at work or perform well athletically.  Long term, short sleep duration can unbalance hormones and lead to negative long term health effects.

Ultimately, quality sleep is central to your quality of life…so, what are some strategies for getting a good night’s sleep.  The Zen to Fitness post Switch Off And Get Some Sleep discusses the pitfalls of modern distractions and how they keep us from getting to bed.  This post also provides strategies for establishing a more regular sleep pattern.

If you do not prefer sleeping for 7 to 9 consecutive hours or your work and commuting schedule do not allow for it, then you should review the Straight to the Bar article Biphasic Sleep: 30 Day Summary.  Scott Bird provides a thorough review of his experience adopting this sleep routine, which focuses on ninety minute sleep cycles and breaks each day’s sleep into two intervals.  Scott provides a thorough report and concludes that overall he loves this approach to sleep.

One last thought on getting a good night’s sleep comes from Mike Mahler.  Mike applies magnesium transdermally (as an oil) and takes 5mg of melatonin before going to bed.  As discussed previously in the post Consult Your Biological Clock to Optimize the Effectiveness of Vitamin and Mineral Supplements, magnesium and zinc tend to induce drowsiness, which is why I take these supplements after dinner.  I frequently use melatonin to help me get to sleep and ward off the effects of jet lag while travelling.  I usually take 1-2mg in these situations.  5mg strikes me as a pretty large dose, but Mike is a big guy.

Because I have melatonin on hand, for the last two weeks, I have been taking it before bed.  The results, I fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.  During the day I feel better too…not surprising, now that I am getting more sleep.



Consult Your Biological Clock to Optimize the Effectiveness of Vitamin and Mineral Supplements



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The Past, Present, and Future of Interval Training


Photo by: nocklebeast

Mention intervals to anyone that has participated in organized athletics, and you will open a floodgate of memories (often unpleasant) of hard work on the field, in the pool, on the track, around the rink, or down the court.  Time after time, interval training comes up as an efficient method for aerobic conditioning and for reducing weight.  Interval training works.  It improves the performance of high school athletes and it can improve the performance of older athletes too.

Interval training is high intensity work, interspersed with short intervals of rest.  The main idea: rest intervals allow more work to be completed at a higher level of intensity than can be accomplished with steady state training.

The modern history of interval training developed to improve running performance (See Lance Smith’s overview – Running Through History or  Steve Magness’s Learning From the Past: Training Through the Ages).  20th century runners and their coaches get the credit for developing this training method.  Around 1910, the Finn Paavo Nurmi and his coach Lauri Pikhala put together an interval system of training.  Also, the Finnish gold medalist (5k, 10k, 8k, and cross-country) Hannes Kolehmainen prepared for his Olympic performances with interval training.  These runners focused on alternating fast and slow runs.  In some cases they would ramp up the effort, while decreasing the distance.  For example, a 4 to 7k run, with fast speed over the last 1 to 2k, immediately followed by four to five sprints.  Or, they would start with a set of sprints, followed by a longer distance run (e.g. 3km) at 75-90% of max effort.

By the mid-1930’s, the Swedish coach Gosta Holmer developed a different style of interval training.  His style of training called for the athlete to vary the speed based on how they felt.  So, during a long run, an athlete may alternate between a fast and a slow pace or between a fast and a medium pace or between a medium and a slow pace.  The Swedish word for this type of training is Fartlek or speed play.  Fartlek continues to be a very popular form of training for runners.

German coach Woldemar Gerschler, watched the Finns and Swedes and determined that there was an opportunity to include more speed work.  With Gerschler interval training reached its modern definition.  His system focused on greater intesity of effort, because the periods of rest or light running that followed allowed for partial recovery, prior to the next hard effort.

Interval training faded somewhat during World War II, but re-emerged with Emil Zatopek.  Zatopek was an innovative athlete, willing to experiment and vary his training methods.  For example, he would run in heavy army boots (they added resistance, were cheap, and lasted well on the rugged trails that he preferred to train on).  When he heard that other athletes were lifting weights to gain strength, he experimented with running with his wife on his back.  And, he ran intervals.  Zatopek would break longer runs into shorter bursts, so that his overall average pace was faster.  Zatopek took interval training to previously unheard of levels of intensity and volume.

After Zatopek, the next big breakthrough for runners came from Percy Cerutty in Australia and Arthur Lydiard in New Zealand.  Cerutty was known to dislike interval training and his Stotan (stoic/Spartan)training philosophy added resistance training to running.  His runners often ran on beaches and up dunes.  Lydiard developed the now essential tool of periodization and insisted on high volumes of running by his athletes.

Intervals continued to play a role in training runners, but interval training was only one part of a periodized program that included a high volume of training (with long intervals), dune running, weight training, and simulating race conditions.  This training program could be laid out over a set period of time with the goal of preparing an athlete for peak performance at a scheduled key event.  Advances in running continued to come, but they were driven by tweaking periodization, training at altitude, introducing plyometric exercises, and understanding  lactic acid build-up and VO2 max.

Other athletes, particularly those engaged in multi-sprint sports (soccer, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and swimming) continue to use interval training, as a key technique for improving cardio-vascular endurance.  Intervals have proven to be a better method of training these athletes, because long distance training at 70-80% of maximum heart rate can be detrimental to strength and power.  Variations in the duration and intensity of the work period and the duration of rest periods can be tailored to meet the needs of the particular sport.

Experiments with these variables continued and in 1996, Izumi Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Japan published the results of his study on the effects of High Intensity Interval Training.  Tabata designed a scientific study of a protocol that was being used by Japanese speed skaters.  He compared two groups of athletes over a six week period.  The first group engaged in one hour of moderate intensity (70% of VO2 max) steady state endurance training on a stationary bicycle.  These athletes trained five days per week.

The second group followed a protocol similar to the one being used by Japanese speed skaters.  This group did their work on a stationary bicycle too.  After a 10 minute warm up, they engaged in a 4 minute period of  8 intervals with a 2:1 ratio between work and rest.  It may help to think of this as 8 sets of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest.  During the work phase, intensity was kept high at 270% of VO2 max with pedalling speeds at 90 rpm.  If pedalling speed dropped below 85 rpm, the set was ended.  If an athlete could complete nine sets at 90 rpm, then the resistance was increased to require 11 watts of additional work during the work sessions.  Interval training was followed by a cool down period.  One day a week the protocol was changed to allow for 30m of moderate intensity (70% of VO2 max) steady state training, followed by 4 rounds of 20s of high intensity work followed by 10s of rest.

The result:Via: Body Recomposition

As you can see, the Tabata protocol did not exceed the results of the steady state group for VO2 max.  However, the Tabata group made substantial gains in VO2 max, particularly during the first half of the experiment.  Also, the experiment started with a significant gap in VO2 max between the two groups and over the six weeks, the Tabata group was able to narrow the gap significantly.

The other significant finding is that the Tabata method of training resulted in improvements to anaerobic capacity.  Whereas, the steady state training did not improve anaerobic capacity.  This makes sense, given that the Tabata group was training for short periods of time at levels that exceeded their aerobic capacity.

Key findings of this study: (1) athletes can achieve good (not maximal) improvement in VO2 max with High Intensity Interval Training; (2) high intensity interval training has some anaerobic benefits for athletes, that cannot be achieved with steady state aerobic exercise alone; (3) compared to the steady state group, less time was required for this type of training.

Coaches and trainers have applied the Tabata protocol to many other exercises.  Porting this protocol to a rowing machine or sprints on the track or in the pool is straightforward.  However, an interesting set of mutations have occurred.  First, coaches and trainers began applying a Tabata inspired protocol to body-weight exercises, such as pushups, pullups, or burpees (8 rounds of 20s of intense effort, performing as many repetitions as possible, followed by 10s of rest).  Then, they created circuit training routines, where each station had a different exercise and followed the Tabata inspired 8 rounds of 20s of intense effort followed by 10s of rest (e.g. Tabata This by CrossFit).  Next came the incorporation of resistance training exercises, using barbells, dumbbells, and other weights (e.g. front squats and thrusters).  These adaptations have become popular in recent years with the rise of CrossFit.  Note, these mutations are not following the Tabata protocol, even if they are colloquially referred to as Tabata workouts.

More recently, efforts have been made to develop and study interval training that is less intense than the Tabata protocol.  The goal is to retain most of the benefits, while being able to safely incorporate high intensity intervals into general fitness training.  A 2009 study by Jonathan Little and Martin Gibala of the Kinesiology Department at McMaster University focused on a two week session of a less extreme form of high intensity interval training.  Subjects completed 8 to 12 rounds on a stationary bike with 60 seconds of exercise at approximately 100% of VO2 max, followed by 75s of rest.  The results in improved VO2 max approximated the results expected for individuals training for longer periods of time (5 hours per week) at steady state levels.  This less extreme form of High Intensity Interval Training has gained traction in the popular press, as people are hoping that the protocol may allow for health benefits similar to longer periods of steady state training (improved cardio-vascular endurance and weight loss) with less time spent on the dreadmill.

As runners discovered, interval training has its limits.  Intervals are not a magic formula or universal solution.  Although the initial results are positive, before anointing High Intensity Interval Training as the optimum protocol for restoring fitness in the general population, issues remain:

—For individuals training on their own, intensity is not likely to be at Tabata levels and even working at the less intense levels may be a hard sell.

—Does this form of training adequately prepare muscles to perform in an endurance setting?  VO2 max is only one element of endurance performance.  While a Tabata trained athlete may have adequate VO2 to compete in an endurance event, it seems likely that they may be under prepared in other areas necessary for successful performance.  One area of concern is  whether muscle endurance is trained adequately.

—Similarly, with Tabata inspired resistance training, what sort of gains can be expected.  For example, if my current maximum number of reps for pullups is 15 and I follow a Tabata inspired 8 rounds doing pullups four times per week with a fifth day doing 8 pullups and 4 Tabata inspired rounds, after 6 weeks can I anticipate that my max performance will improve to 18 or 20 repetitions?

—Where are the plateaus?  As pointed out in the Body Recomposition piece, the majority of the VO2 gains come in the first three weeks of training and the majority of anaerobic gains come within the first four weeks.  Will continued training result in breaking through this plateau, will further training of this sort maintain the new levels of performance, or  over time will there be deterioration (burn out)?

Coaches, athletes, and scientists will continue to study and experiment with interval training.  Meanwhile, interval training is a versatile conditioning method that you can incorporate into your training. How versatile…check out Indecent Intervals, by John Berardi for some inspiration.



Barefoot Runners of the World Unite

Avoiding Death by Exercise

Hip Flexors




EXERCISE: DIY Fitness Gear – Sandbag 101

When I saw this 40 lbs bag of cat litter on sale for 3 bucks, I knew it was time to get to work building a sandbag.  For version 1, I went with a quick and dirty approach, because I really wanted to try the exercises and knew that a proper final version would require more time.  I vowed to be careful with the bag, as I did not want to be sweeping and vacuuming up cat litter for the rest of the day.

I grabbed a handful of plastic shopping bags, fitted bags on both ends, and duct taped them to form a secondary barrier if the main bag broke.  Then, I repeated the process to create a tertiary barrier.  A nylon gym bag that was not getting used served as the shell.  I lined the bottom of the bag with an old bath mat.  Inserted my wrapped cat litter, zipped up the bag and got to work.

I worked through several reps of each exercise in these MBody Strength videos.  I went slow and watched my form.  At 40 lbs, this is not a heavy bag, but I didn’t want a careless mistake on my first day out to ruin the experience.

So, how was it?  It was a blast.  I could feel these exercises working muscles throughout my legs, trunk, and upper body.  Because it is unstable, you constantly adjust and re-balance the weight, engaging all muscles, big and little within a given muscle group.  With the complex exercises, you engage several muscle groups.  I also felt it in my fingers, as grabbing the folds of the bag, really works your grip (Hey – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guys I’m talking to you).

I liked it well enough, that I will be investing the time to create a more durable set up.  I will follow Ross Enamait’s plans, which you should download here.  For me, this means loading large Ziploc bags about 3/4 full, zipping them shut, duct taping the end of the bag, then double bagging, sealing, and duct taping the end of the second bag.  This should create enough of a barrier to keep the cat litter from leaking and the packages from rupturing.  An added benefit of this approach is that I will be able to add or reduce the weight of the sandbag by adding or removing packages of cat litter.  For added safety, I will stuff the bag with old beach towels or blankets.  This will cushion the packages and fill out the bag.  A quick visit to the local thrift store should take care of that.

Version 2 Under Construction

For an overview of the benefits of sandbag training read this article by Josh Henkin.  If you want to learn more about building your own gym equipment, you should read my previous post on this topic here.   If you are into projects like this, join Scott Bird and Keith Johnson for their twitter chat this Wednesday discussing DIY Combat Training Equipment, including sandbags.  For details on twitter chat 58 click here and spend some time exploring Scott’s website Straight to the Bar.

One last update.  If you have been following my workouts, then you are familiar with Max Barry from NU-FiT (btw Max helped Scott with last week’s twitter chat on Optimum Wellness).  Max’s 1500 challenge gave me a wake up call on my conditioning.  Since then, I have been creatively employing his MetCon routines to  get back to where I need to be.  All the while, Max and I have had some good conversations on twitter.  Max is always very positive, which makes him an excellent motivator.  This week, he paid me a great compliment by listing SEE on his blog roll.  Please repay the kindness – check out his blog for quality workout routines, nutrition tips, and healthy recipes.



EXERCISE: DIY Gym Equipment

EXERCISE: Strength Flows From the Hands

EAT: DIY Greek Style Yogurt


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