Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More grist for the HIT mill

FFG includes a lot of discussion about the effectiveness of various forms of sprinting – high-intensity training or HIT – so I wanted to point you to a recent scientific review of these techniques. It appears in the January 2012 Journal of Physiology.

The article primarily discusses two different modes of sprinting, and their positive effects on the body: 1) Thirty seconds of all-out cycling (or sprinting), 4 to 6 repetitions, with four minutes of rest in between reps. This is called the Wingate Test; 2) 10 times 60-second bursts at about 90 percent of maximum heart rate, with one minute rests between each rep.

The authors describe the first one, the Wingate Test, as "extremely demanding and [possibly] not ... safe, tolerable or appealing for some individuals." Therefore, they designed the second protocol to be easier for people who are just getting back into exercise or coming off a disease.

Personally, the first protocol almost seems easier because of fewer reps and longer rests. It, in turn, is easier than the Tabata protocol described in the book and many other places: 8 20-second sprints all-out with just 10-second rests. As I get into Springtime sprinting, I'll have to put these two protocols (other than Tabata, which has kicked my butt before) to the test.

At any rate, the training gains from these protocols are remarkable, as they usually are when they show up in these scientific journals. When compared with endurance training that typically takes many hours per week, the HIT sessions produced "an increased capacity for whole-body and skeletal muscle lipid oxidation, enhanced peripheral vascular structure and function, improved exercise performance as measured by time-to-exhaustion tests or time trials and increased maximal oxygen uptake."

Translation: you can burn fats and utilize oxygen better, and you can go longer and harder than before.

HIT can serve as an effective alternate to traditional endurance training, inducing similar or even superior changes in a range of physiological, performance and health-related markers in both healthy individuals and diseased populations.

Among many other health benefits, the article says that HIT also activates a protein in your muscle cells called PGC-1a. This protein or protein complex helps control fat metabolism and the building of more mitochondria in your muscle cells (the scientific term being "mitochondrial biogenesis").

Interestingly, to those of us who do cold outdoor exercise (and are looking for some benefits from it!), PGC-1a is also induced by cold exposure. It plays a key role in adaptive thermogenesis, by which you burn calories to stay warm.

A typically unmentioned benefit of sprint intervals in these articles is that they help make you faster, particularly compared with slow endurance training. Sprinting helps you regain your former speed, or the legacy that birth bequeaths most of us as humans.

You don't need to be faster, you say? It's true, modern life does coddle us. As Laurence Gonzales put it in his book Deep Survival, we're like fish in an aquarium. The oxygen bubbles up to us, the food comes down. Having more speed, however, might save your or a loved one's, or a stranger's, life some day. Less fatally, foot speed might help you catch up to that person you have a crush on, who's way ahead of you in the subway station, and that would change your life!

Monday, February 27, 2012

At long last, a sparkling ski day

After a middling snow season, the Vermont Green Mountains received on the upper slopes in excess of 20 inches of fine powder on Saturday night. This was followed by a perfectly blue day on February 26th, and I spent about four hours skiing the slopes and the woods at Sugarbush with hardly a break, an almost frantic pent-up enthusiasm.

My son did the same thing with his ski camp, leading a number of forays into very steep, advanced wooded sectors. The effect of all the bright sun, cool air, and hard downhill skiing was a kind of knackered inspiration. Great day!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Book On The Way In April 2012

My new book Fitness For Geeks will be published around Patriot's Day in late April. Right now, it's under production and we're putting on the finishing touches. The publisher is O'Reilly Media, the famous (and best!) software book producer. This blog site will be used as a conduit to readers and for accompanying content, as new fitness software and developments are breaking weekly.

It's actually an exploding field, self-tracking devices and the use of gear to measure your fitness activities: Endomondo, FitBit, Garmin Connect, Alpine Replay – I cover a lot of them. Many of these sites are actually interconnected, so that the user has a vast amount of accessible data and charts on the web. If you've been active, that is.

The book contains a ton of information on nutrition, guidance on resistance training, and my own take on the crucial importance of outdoor exercise (just getting outside and moving), along with a number of interviews with scientists, pro athletes, and other fitness aficionados. At this point, it's a little like waiting for a child to be born.