OK, so now that intensity has been brought up, I think I'll jump in with my impressions of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) gathered over the last couple of months. This will be a long post, but I hope I can make it worthwhile for some of the more serious Bears in this thread to slog all the way through it.
First, a little about where I'm coming from. I started skiing late, at about age 35. Out of the blue, one day my younger brother asked if I'd like to go up to Breckenridge with him for a long spring weekend. I had never even thought of skiing (snow) before, but the Mahre brothers had just won their gold and silver medals at the 1984 Olympics, so I was at least intrigued. I had never thought of myself as athletic, being bookish in school and always the last to be picked for any team in physical education class. Well, I took to skiing like the proverbial duck to water. I was so sucked in that the night of my first day on skis I bought a pair of boots. Sure, my feet hurt from the rentals, but I knew that THIS was something I REALLY wanted to get good at. The fact that a girl I had been dating had gotten me into ballet helped quite a lot, as my legs were in great shape right then. Over the ensuing 25+ years, I have really only spent any quality time in the gym in the fall months leading up to ski season. Last fall, I came out of my usual summer hiatus and jumped on the stair stepper machine for my usual 20 min warm up and thought I was dying at 12 min. I learned the hard lesson that I could no longer take cardiovascular fitness for granted. I managed to get into passable shape for the '13-'14 season and last spring I found inspiration in a thread @SkiMangoJazz started: http://www.epicski.com/t/127226/26-years-12-of-them-with-intensive-training-to-get-to-this-point The book Younger Next Year figured prominently in a couple of pages of that thread and downloading the Kindle version of the book got me off the couch for good. (SMG credits Josh Matta for introducing him to that book)
So, about three months into my new fitness awareness this past summer, I was exchanging emails with a friend I have gone up to Park City with each March for about the last ten years. Bob, also in his 60s, has always been in good shape and is a huge follower of good nutrition. He recommended that I go to mercola.com and search "high intensity training". I had seen a few articles in the NY Times over the past couple of years on HIT, so had a passing familiarity with the concept. The revolutionary promise of HIT is that we can achieve the fitness levels we want by committing minutes, instead of hours, per week to our workout regimen. Not only is that an alluring concept for our harried modern life, there is evidence that long, slow workouts may actually be detrimental to the goals we seek. More on that below. Anyway, I only really see Bob once a year and when I read his recommendation, it clicked that on a subliminal level I had noted last March at the resort's hot tub that he looked to be in particularly good shape. He said he had been following a HIT regimen for about the last two years, so I had to learn more. Again, I was intrigued.
So, if you have stuck with me so far, here goes: In the three videos below and in the book Body By Science by Doug McGuff, MD, I hope to get you up to speed on the current thinking on the benefits of HIT and HIIT. There has been a fair amount of research, particularly at McGill University in Canada, on specific physiologic benefits to short duration, highly intense activity. Sure, there are the benefits we seek of greater strength and endurance, and better performance on the ski slopes, but there are also significant benefits in several physiologic processes, including increases in human growth hormone secretion, an improved blood cholesterol profile, and greater cellular sensitivity to insulin. The latter is the antidote to the modern plagues of metabolic syndrome and its close relative, diabetes.
So, the three videos I want to recommend are all linked at Dr. Mercola's web site, mercola.com. Bob had introduced me to the web site 10 years ago and while the man is very knowledgeable, I found his web site just commercial enough to be a little off-putting. I say that because I don't want you to be so put off as to not gain some benefit from the videos I want to link here.
The first video is actually a copy of a BBC program my wife had recorded off of PBS earlier this year and I happened to watch just before HIT came onto my radar. I was really glad to find it at mercola.com because our DVR died and the recording was lost. The host is a British doctor who, I think, does a series of programs on health and fitness. It has professional BBC production quality and will definitely hold your interest for the hour or so that it runs. In it, we are introduced to the concept that the HIT protocol he is taught must be to such a level of intensity that at the end of 20 seconds he is so physically drained that he could not possibly go another 5 seconds on the exercise bike the researchers have him use as his tool. The goal is to completely drain the leg muscles of glycogen stores so they have to draw acutely from the bloodstream for replenishment. This level of intensity is the common thread through all that I have read or seen on HIT and HIIT- the effort must be so complete that the body must expend significant effort to recover.
The next video is a 1:20 interview by Dr Mercola with Phil Campbell. I take it from the video that he has a reputation for training professional athletes, including some NFL players. He currently is attached to a University program in Mississippi where he is conducting research on HIT. He introduces the concept of accessing the fast and super-fast twitch muscle fibers as not only the key to improved fitness and athletic performance, but a whole host of physiologic benefits, including a huge natural spurt of human growth hormone. HGH can be thought of as our body's own fountain of youth. In adulthood, HGH production drops off, so this is huge news. The interview is great, but if you are a Cliff Notes type, read the accompanying text.
In the third video I would like to introduce, Dr. Mercola has a 2:00 interview with Dr. Doug McGuff, the author of Body by Science. He greatly expands on the fast twitch fiber as the key to training for fitness. I remember from way back that slow twitch fibers tend to be in abundance in endurance athletes like swimmers and marathon runners and that fast twitch fibers tend to be in abundance in sprinters like Usain Bolt. Certainly, the body types are very different. We all have all fiber types, but we need to pay particular attention to the fast twitch fibers. He maintains that not only can you access fast twitch fibers with fast movements, like Phil Campbell's regimen, but you can get to them by super slow resistance exercise that first fatigues the population of slow twitch fibers. That is the key: long and slow workout regimens like jogging and spending an hour on the treadmill only ever work the slow twitch fibers. Dr. McGuff maintains that such a regimen is actually detrimental to muscle fitness, a concept that I am sure is not without controversy in exercise circles. He goes into a lot of detail that, as a MD myself, I find to ring very true. Not only does he throw out a lot of concepts, but he backs up those statements by citing studies; his book is extensively footnoted. He maintains that you can reach, and exceed, your fitness goals with a single 20 minute workout each week. In fact, he warns that, with the intensity of the workout requiring up to 14 days of recovery, there is a real risk of falling into an overtraining syndrome if you try to push it too far. If you can slog through the entire 2 hour interview you will be greatly rewarded. But, again, about 90% of the material is summarized in the accompanying text.
So, that's it. I hope some have made it all the way through the 4+ hours of video material here. I can say that my own personal experience is that, when I started down this fitness road back in April I started with the old classic 20 min of cardio followed by a meander through the resistance machines and free weights at the gym, as I had done intermittently for years. These videos and Dr McGuff's book have transformed my routine in the last 8 weeks to where I now go to the gym with a laser focus on what I want to accomplish. And, I accomplish that in 20-30 minutes door-to-door, where I used to spend 1-2 hours each workout. Also, I don't feel any guilt when I might lay off for the weekend. While I definitely got into better shape between April and July, even after only 8 weeks on HIIT, I feel even better and find a definite improvement in the image I see in the mirror. The workouts truly are intense, and I almost get a moment of dread as I approach the gym because I know it's really going to hurt. Fortunately, the hurt is short-lived and the benefit is huge. In the interview and in his book, Dr McGuff says that even though he does not require that his workout clients work out more than once a week, he has found that when they reach a certain level of fitness, something in their being reawakens and they actually seek out activities such as hiking on the off days. I have found that to be true with me, and have reawakened an interest in yoga and Pilates as well. As you can no doubt tell, I approach this subject with almost evangelical zeal, and have bored many of my friends and co-workers with all of this. I hope that this clicks with and benefits at least a couple of Bears out there.