The Lost Art of Intensity…
I’ve been saying for years that fat people finish marathons all the time. What people need to realize is that it’s not about the distance covered it’s about how FAST or INTENSE the distance was covered. I wish people would get this through there heads when January comes and they embark on the magic “run for weight-loss” kick. People see the Kenyan crossing the Boston Marathon finish line and actually believe that running made him/her skinny… The fact of the matter is that the Kenyan’s body type had more to do with the selection of that runner’s mother and father than running 26.2 miles ever did. Some people are “built” for running long distances and some people are not… On average most people are not! You may ask why?
The large majority of our population is just too structurally unsound to run over long distances. Imbalances at the ankle and hip can cause havoc on the knees and low back… Just ask any local Physical Therapist who there number one patient is and more often than not they will say the long distance runner. Professional long distance runners are plagued with over-use injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, anterior knee pain, IT band/lateral knee pain and hip and low back dysfunctions. I won’t even get into the subject concerning Free Radical damage and the actual “oxidizing” that occurs in the body from not only Pollutants in the atmosphere but just from running for prolonged periods of time. The Free Radical damage mentioned has been shown to increase the likelihood of many types of cancers especially that of the brain.
Excessive running also increases a stress hormone called Cortisol. The hormone Cortisol is a necessity in a fight or flight situation like running from a tiger or getting out of a tight jam but elevated Cortisol levels for too long of period can flat out ruin health much less your fat loss program. Elevated Cortisol levels are no stranger to the average person… A typical stressful day usually starts with a “healthy” bowl of cereal, low fat milk and orange juice. This type of breakfast is notorious for stimulating or spiking insulin levels. The elevated insulin level over a long period of time becomes a stressor to the body as well which in turn increases one’s Cortisol levels. Were just getting started… From breakfast you head off to work and in to rush hour traffic, now you’re late for work! More stress, more Cortisol. You finally reach work and find out that you’ve missed your scheduled Monday morning meeting. More stress, more Cortisol. After a long day of work (stress) you feel like the only thing that will relieve your stressful day would be that 8pm spinning class. More stress, more Cortisol! Is there any wonder why heart attacks take place on Mondays more than any other day of the week? With a day such as this the last thing your body needs is spinning or any long duration aerobics at all for that matter. A better choice would be some sort of stress management, a massage or an even better idea would be to get to bed at an earlier time. You see, your body doesn’t know the difference between insulin stress, work stress or spinning stress. Your body only senses a fight or flight situation and when your body thinks it’s in danger the last thing on earth its concerned with is fitting into your size 2.
Wait There’s more!
Another problem with low-intensity/long duration running is that it flat right out doesn’t work for fat loss! Yeah, I said it, it stinks! Is it good for weight loss? Sure, but what good is the lost weight on the scale if you’re destined to gain it back plus 10 pounds extra. Forget the fact that it’s time consuming, places undue amounts of stress on your muscular-skeletal system and causes over-use injuries it’s just not a efficient strategy for LONG-TERM FATLOSS. The key word here is long-term. You see it’s not just Running that’s the problem… It’s Spinning Classes, Aerobic Classes, Cardio-Kickboxing Classes, Zumba Classes, Body-Bar Classes and every other class that they offer at your local big box gym. They all seem to work, but than something interesting happens… Your results start to slow or they magically come to a screeching halt. This usually happens around the beginning or Middle of February the same time you stop your New Years Resolution every year. Is this some sort of a Coincidence? I think not. Look, these classes are fun and boy do they make you sweat! Unfortunately, you can dance in the mirror and laugh and sweat all over that pretty little abdominal mat but until you realize that fun and sweat don’t  always equal fat loss you’ll continue to spin your wheels (pardon the pun). I know, I know, spinning is hard! But is it really? How hard can something be hard if you’re able make it through one of those famous 2 hour Thanksgiving Day rides? We keep getting caught up in this more is better scenario… Let’s explain why these timed based/distance training sessions fail to live up to there promises.
Let’s assume that you are eating enough calories to support those 2 hours of spinning, which you’re probably not, than you are more often than not going to be using your hard earned muscle for energy. You see, the last thing your body wants to do is use body-fat for energy, especially when it thinks your starving… I know you’re doctor informed you that you should eat less and move more but I respectively disagree. When your calories are too low and you engage in any type of physical activity you’re body has to get energy from somewhere. That energy is coming primarily from MUSCLE, the most metabolically active tissue that your body possesses. You know that same tissue that you worked so hard for in that “Body Pump” Class… This is really quite simple, muscle burns calories at rest but the crazy thing is that muscle also needs calories to maintain it self. So, if you’re not eating enough calories muscle becomes a threat to your existence and long-term survival. See, if you’re running for your life on very little food (calories) your bodies best bet is to dump muscle because it’s literally burning calories that you don’t have. Now comes the fun part! Because you’re body thinks you’re in a survival situation, when you do decide to eat that Jenny Craig or Lean Cuisine dinner your body conveniently converts the food to fat and stores it on your inner thigh. This becomes a downward spiral because the running was working. Frustrated you increase the amount of time running, riding the bike etc… Or you just lower your calories even more (this never works) and you end up in an even worse situation than before. This scenario plays out every year in every gym in America! It has successfully made billions of dollars for abdominal gadgets, diet pills, doctors, gym memberships and fad diets across the board. It sounds good, “all you have to do is move more and eat less”! If this concept worked than Americans wouldn’t be the fattest and unhealthiest people on the planet.
Smarter than a Caveman?
In all honesty human beings just were not built to run slow in a straight line for prolonged periods of time… On the contrary we as human beings are best suited for using our energy for short bursts of energy and than recovering like throwing a spear at an elk or deer, chasing it down and dragging it home to feast. Our body’s number one goal is Survival! Running for long stretches from a cave man perspective wouldn’t have been very smart… Think about it; would you want to fatigue yourself by running a 5k or 10k and than get chased by a potential predator? Could you actually manage to flee from danger with runner’s knee or a case of shin splints? How much sense would it make to go on a hunting marathon, SLOWEY running after dinner making all types of commotion, scaring off potential food while simultaneously making you more vulnerable to being eaten? If you really look at it more closely the only way to catch food is if you could actually sneak up on it. You know actually hunt for it. Don’t forget! Animals, yeah, they kind of sense things like danger, oh and they hear pretty well too. In order for you to catch dinner for your family you would have to be berry, berry QUIET like Elmer Fudd looking for that widdle wabbit… You would have to be cunning and keen, patiently (what do Americans know about patience) waiting for the right time to pounce… At the right moment you throw a rock or a sharpened stick, SPRINT and try to catch the prey before it darts off into the deep forest or open plain.
I know it sounds crazy because we no longer have to hunt for food; Burger King and your local supermarket actually do that for us. But before technology and processed food and refrigerators it really was SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST! No drive through windows, delivery options like Nutri-System, Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers. In fact the act of dieting from a survival standpoint makes no sense at all, ironic that the first 3 letters of the word diet are DIE! We Americans no all about dieting were the fattest people on the planet.
If not running Than What?
I’m going to tell you a little secret… Would you like to know why there are so many fat and unhealthy individuals in our country? Aside from the fact that people live off of box foods, skip breakfast, work too much, don’t sleep enough and obviously just don’t move enough. People want results and don’t want to work for them. It just doesn’t work that way! So what’s the SECRET? The secret is INTENSITY. We have to work harder, not longer. If longer worked than you wouldn’t see fat marathon runners, but you do. If easy worked than riding on that bike while talking to your girlfriend would work but it doesn’t. The fact of the matter is that simple and easy is not the same. Easy implies no effort. Simple means not complicated. Achieving total health and lower body fat levels is simple, but it’s far from easy.
Stay tuned for Part 2! I’ll discuss the phenomenon of Chunky Aerobic Teacher Syndrome and how to combat it…
Matt Pack, NASM CPT, Nutrition Lifestyle Coach