Ideal Exercise

Many times a patient will ask me what I did over the weekend. I’m often a bit hard put to come up with anything concrete beyond the fact that I did errands or some reading. But one of the things I usually do, as part of my continuing efforts to educate myself and my patients, is to read up in the literature on chiropractic and wellness. This is not entirely selfless. I enjoy learning about health and applying the principles to my daily life. At same time, I’m able to impart the latest information to my patients and be available as a resource for any questions they might have.

This last weekend I was listening to an interview with Doug McGuff M.D. He has done quite a bit of work with super slow strength training. This is a form of strength training that is designed to completely exhaust muscle groups in order to stimulate maximum health benefits.  It accomplishes this with a minimum of time invested. He made so many good points that it’s hard to summarize the whole thing. But I’ll try to highlight some of the key messages. For those who are interested, they can find the entire interview on my Facebook fan page. I do want to emphasize that the vast majority people don’t get enough exercise and any exercise, even walking for 20 min. each day, is good. But for those who want to take their conditioning to the next level, Dr. McGuff advocates performing one set of 5 different exercises each session to engage the major muscle groups. These are leg press, arm row (in a horizontal plane), chest press (horizontal plane), overhead pull down (vertical plane) and overhead press (vertical plane). The key is to perform one set of these exercises to complete exhaustion. This entails doing them extremely slowly without stopping or resting. Slowly means literally as low as you can and still continue the movement. Start moving such that the first inch takes about 3 seconds and then continue very slowly. When you reach the end range of motion, don’t rest by fully extending your limb instead immediately began to slowly retract the weight. When you finally can’t possibly do any more, keep pushing for a few extra seconds and then slowly lower the weight.  Don’t wait for more than 30 seconds or so between each of the five exercises.

You will find that after work I like this you will be exhausted. The key now is to rest for a few days so your body can completely recover from the stimulus you have given it. Many overenthusiastic people (such as myself) start another intense session too soon before the body is fully recovered. How do you know you have recovered? The next session you can do more weight for a longer period. For many people beginning with lower weights, they may be able to do this 3x/week. As you get into higher weights, it actually takes longer for the body to recover. As a result, you may end up going four, five days even a week between sessions. Obviously you can do other types of exercises in the meantime. Just avoid this intense exercise. The key here is to listen to your body. Once you are getting in shape, and have allowed your body enough time to rest, you should feel like you’re chomping at the bit and ready to exercise some more.

Another version of this type of high intensity exercise is called Peak 8 exercise.  Here, the idea is the same – to completely exhaust your muscles. However with this approach, you do it by performing an activity (it could be anything: running, swimming, elliptical, biking) in 8 intense bursts lasting 30 seconds each.  Basically, you warm up for 3 min. then engage in 30 seconds of intense exercise as fast and intense as you possibly can followed by 90 seconds of moderate activity then another 30 second burst. Do this for eight repetitions total then cool down with moderate to light activity for 3 min. and you’re done.

Although with the super slow weight training you are moving slowly and with the Peak 8 exercises you are moving very quickly the goal of each of them is the same. You want to completely exhaust your muscles to the point that you can’t possibly do anymore.

When you do this you are stimulating your body to use your fast twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are the last to be exhausted. When they are stimulated this results in tremendous conditioning benefits for the body which include, among other things, lower insulin levels. Lower insulin levels translate into lower body fat and significantly better metabolic conditioning.  Traditional aerobic exercises only recruit the slow twitch and the intermediate twitch muscle fibers.  So the irony is that you could exercise, for example, by running moderate pace for an hour and yet never get as much benefit of metabolic conditioning as you would with these shorter duration higher intensity workouts.