Working at Fitness First I see all sorts of training mistakes and less than optimal strategies to improving health, body composition and functionality.
Endurance athletes have known something for decades that ought to be a central idea in health and fitness. Mark Sisson (former pro-triathlete and mastermind behind the Primal Health movement) talks about the almost universal modern situation of being excellent an sugar-burner yet poor fat-burner. How to test this? There are two obvious ways.. First, how long can you go without eating? Second, do cravings and severe hunger rule the day?
The majority of gyms and trainers are amazing at building a hype around feeling the burn and getting a sweat on to ‘balance’ being sat at a desk all day. When work stress is prevalent, layering that with stressful exercise is not the fastest way to achieve results – unless the desired result is falling ill, getting injured or wasting time.
Think of fat-burning ability as the base of your pyramid. The wider, the base, the greater the return from high intensity training. Training at a lower intensity improves the machinery underlying accessing our own fat storage, in place of relying on external sources of carbohydrates. Think about our ancestors – we would often have been forced to exert ourselves in pursuit of prey, without access to quick sugars or a proper meal. We need to set our nutrition, training and lifestyle up to improve our fat-use to be fit, healthy and live a long time. Improving fat use as fuel is linked to nutrition strategy, but also how movement is approached.
Endurance athletes talk about heart-rate zones to no end. Using the “180 – age” rule of thumb tells us where we want to be spending most of our training time (maybe 80%) to get better at utilising fat as fuel during movement and also at rest.
Using myself as an example, I’d look at 180 – 23 = 157 bpm. What’s my protocol?
I’d structure my movement so that approximately 80% of it is spent at this easy, but not nothing, heart-rate. For example, jump on the treadmill with a heart-rate monitor and adjust the incline until I’m cruising around 154-157 bpm. Start small, say 30 minutes, and over time increase the time to 90 minutes and increase the incline to improve the efficiency of our aerobic energy system.
The standard I like to see is 45 minutes focused walking at 12% on a treadmill – without being completely puffed out. Then if it suits, progress to jogging, running, cycling, whatever.
Luke Leaman of Muscle Nerds describes a protocol including this as a ‘least mode’ plan – slowing down and becoming a fat-burning machine in order to push the functioning of higher-intensity zones to new levels.
Yes, to achieve greater results in Beast Mode, get a whole lot better in Least Mode.
Burn fats, work the aerobic system, get stronger and get faster.