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During our period of no defined race goals and just getting back into exercising I thought I would touch on the next three important areas we should focus on to make you a good all-round athlete that can perform any given activity at any given time when called upon That might be an intense Crossfit session, a long run or even a swim. Last week I discussed the first three key concepts to focus on. These where Get Strong, Exercise Long and Run easy. The next big three are Sprint, mobility and rest. If you look at the Primal Blueprint, the 10 must do Laws developed by Mark Sisson to become “Primal” you will notice my to do list is very similar. From an evolutionary stand point it makes sense that we follow, as close as we can in this modern life, the things that helps us evolve into the people we are today. It makes sense to get stronger, to eat good, healthy unprocessed foods like meats, vegetables and fruit and it makes sense to perform long slow endurance activities. It also makes sense to sprint once in a while, to be agile and mobile to avoid predators. It also makes sense that we get adequate rest and recovery so we are able to perform these tasks again and again.
Once every week, try and perform a high intensity sprint workout. This could be as simple as 5-10 all out sprints over 50-100 metres. It could be up a hill, on sand dunes, at the beach or around a 400m track. Even repeated, intense intervals on a bike. These short bursts of intense activity increase the level of human growth hormone and testosterone. These adaptive hormones are released to improve the body so that if this kind of intensity is needed again in the future the body is better adapted and ready to perform.
This isn’t so much a Primal Blueprint law, but it would be on my list of must do’s for a modern athlete. Being able to perform when called upon relies on the fact that you are fit and able to do the activity required of you. If you are injured, imbalanced or inflexible you might not be able to perform to the best of your ability, you might be in pain or may even injury yourself due to being muscularly imbalanced. This is the reason why I believe it is imperative to perform corrective exercises, foam rolling and strengthening exercises 2-3 times per week.
#6 Rest and Recover
The body needs time to rest, recover and adapt from the hard workout or exercise in able to perform better the next time it is called upon to perform that task. Exercise in itself is a stress on the body. It creates (good) inflammation and oxidative stress that the body must then heal itself to become better. The problem is if we keep piling up hard, intense workout after hard intense workout the body becomes too stressed and overwhelmed by the oxidation that exercise becomes detrimental. That is why I like to prescribe no more than 4 workouts per week (in periods of no defined race goals or the “off season”) so it gives your body a day or two to recover. Performing exercises like Stand Up Paddle Boarding or long hikes are a good way to “actively recover” by doing something that is less intense but still gets the body moving at much lower heart rate intensity. Recovery doesn’t mean doing nothing. In fact that is much worse. Keep active, move around but just keep that intensity down!
#1 Get stronger
This one is a no-brainer: stronger athletes are faster, less likely to get injured, and bounce back from hard runs or exercise quicker than those who don’t do any strength exercises. One of the Primal Blueprint Laws outlined by Mark Sisson is to be more like our primal hunter gatherer ancestors and to Lift Heavy Things.
This is great in theory, but how exactly do you get stronger? What exercises are best? When should you do them?
The three strength routines I do each serve a purpose and each one is athlete-specific and should make you stronger and faster.
The MSP (maximum sustained power) is a power/stamina workout for endurance athletes. It is designed to avoid muscle fatigue on the back end of long exercise. It builds strength in all the areas that athletes need, like the hips, glutes, abs, and lower back.
The Runner Specific Workout is a more challenging strength workout that focuses on hip and glute strength. These muscles are critical for injury prevention and speed, power and endurance during your runs (or any activity).
The Upper Body Strength Workout is specifically designed to increase the strength that you will need during your Spartan Races like grip strength, upper body strength, and the ability to carry odd loads. It helps functional fitness and strength and has a cross over into life in general. It should make you more mobile, injury free, more resilient and be able to carry out daily task with seemingly less effort. Exercises include the bench press, the deadlift, squats, presses and carries.
#2 Exercise Long-Endurance
Most athletes need more endurance. If you take that simple concept to heart, you WILL run faster.
See, too many runners think they have to run faster to race faster. But most of the problem is not being able to maintain a fast pace – and that’s a problem of endurance.
And the long run is one of the best ways to develop that endurance. On your long runs aim to run 5-7 kilometres longer than your next longest runs of the week.
Even if you’re not training for a race, it helps to run one long run per week that’s about 20-30% of your weekly mileage. Keep working at it and focus on very gradual increases in distance every 1-2 weeks. This concept can be used for developed endurance for life in general and being able to run, swim, bike, hike etc when called upon and can be used for any endurance exercise.
#3 Run EASY!
As you are aware my training philosophy is in alignment with the Primal Endurance principle of making your easy days really easy, and your hard days harder.
Polarizing your training this way helps you gain more fitness on hard days while boosting recovery on easy days.
Not sure what “easy” really means? Just follow the “3 C’s” of easy running. Easy runs should be:
Prioritizing recovery and mobility on easy days will help you run even faster during more challenging workouts – and ultimately, your races.
These three strategies can help you cut your injury risk, gain more endurance, run a lot faster and be ready for any type of exercise when its needed.
Wide Push Ups (chest) 8
Mountain climbers (abs) 20 each leg
Side lunges (Legs) 6 each side
Plank (abs) 30 sec
Burpees (Full body) 8
Air squats (Legs)
Bench Dips (arms) 15
Rest 2 min
Should I consult my doctor before doing a fast?
Yes you should. Like any new endeavour, please make sure you check with your doctor if exercise, fasting or nutrition is right for you. I am not a doctor and don’t claim to have all the answers to fasting, nutrition or weight loss so please consult them first.
Will I get hungry?
More than likely yes. If you are quite fat adapted (see my blog post here) you body will prefer fat as its primary fuel source. It will be much easy to get through a fast if you have spent several months eliminating refined carbs (grains, wheat, flour, anything processed) and replacing them with a higher amount of good fats for meat, fish, eggs chicken and coconut oil, butter, heavy cream, avocados etc etc. This will help the body chose fat as its fuel source. If you are still concerned about hunger, ride it out it does not last. Use is as an act of self discipline, knowing that you can and will get through it and you will be better for it as you have refrained from breaking the fast!
If you need some extra tips or tools to get through get out my last blog post here, but you can have some black coffee or tea as they act as an appetite suppressant. Drink as much water as you would like. Have some home made bone broth which is full of minerals that help the immune system as well as reduce inflammation and heal the gut. Bone broth has minimal calories so you are technically not breaking your fast.
Can I still exercise?
Absolutely! Training in an aerobic heart rate zone will help to train your body to prefer fat as its fuel source, as whilst you are working in that low heart rate, steady state exercise zone you are burning predominately fat- this zone of approximately 180 minus your age gives you your maximum aerobic heart rate. Stay under this zone and you will increase you fat burn during a fast. Try to avoid any exercise that is too high an intensity and plan that for days when you are not fasting.
The benefits of exercising in a fasted state are:
*Recover quicker due to an increase in human growth hormone
*Burn more fat due to the higher fat oxidation rate
*Train harder due to increased adrenaline
*Wont bonk or run of energy if you stay in the aerobic or fat burning zone as you have an abundance or stored energy in you fat cells
How should I break my fast?
Do it gently, the longer the fast the more gentlier you should be! I would recommend breaking the fast with a small snack/appetiser then eat a small meal 30-60 minutes after that. Take your time, chew your food and enjoy the experience. Have smaller portions and break drink. Try salad, soup, nuts or almond or peanut butter.
What are the problems to watch for?
Low blood pressure:- often when standing up after squatting down or picking something up of the ground causes dizziness which can be due to low blood pressure or low electrolyte balance. Check with your doctor first if you have low blood pressure before starting and if experienced during the fast consider eating a small meal.
Electrolyte management: as above if you experience dizziness when standing up this could be due to an electrolyte imbalance. Try a magnesium supplement with a 250ml glass of water and a teaspoon of Himilayan rock salt to correct the imbalance.
Headaches: could be withdrawal types symptoms for a lack of sugar, refined carbs or coffee! Could also be a sign of dehydration. Drink more water, it if persists take some curcumin, if it continues stop the fast with a small meal and consult your doctor.
Constipation: it is not uncommon to see slight constipation or at least a decrease in bowel movements- especially due to the fact you are eating less!
Muscle Cramps: again supplement with bone broth and or magnesium tablets.
Will I be cranky?
Maybe- see question 1 to fix the hangry
Will my stomach always grumble?
No. Hunger passes-ride the wave . See my top ten tips here.
Will I be confused?
No you shouldn’t. As fat is a clean buring fuel people are often surprised that during fasting you have clear focus, mental clarity and have a more awareness and concertratrion. This could be due to that fact that your body can now focus on cleaning up cells and getting rid of celluar debris and not have to worry about being constalty focused on metabolism, digusting and processing food and making new cells. oss so please consult them first.
Top Ten Fasting Tips:
1. Drink Water– drink plenty of water, stay hydrated and use it as a satiating mechanism to cope with any hunger.
2. Stay Busy– you will find that not having to make, think, worry about and prepare food is liberating. It frees up a lot of time (and money). This does have a drawback, however, it that if you don’t busy yourself at work, home or with some tasks you may find yourself bored and thinking of food (See point 10). It might be a good idea to fit into your life when you are busier but not stressed or over worked and lacking sleep. Stay active, go for a long walk in the bush or spend time at the beach but make sure you keep busy, especially around meal time.
3. Drink Coffee- black coffee acts as a mild appetite suppressant and is full of beneficial anti-oxidants.
4. Drink a home-made bone broth– bone broth has minimal calories and chock full of minerals that help the immune system, like collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline. These helps the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
5. Ride the hunger waves- hunger won’t last, tough it out and see it as an act of self-discipline. It will make you stronger. I find that I get hunger between 950-10am every time I do an intermittent or 24-48 hour fast. Strange but I can tell the time by when I am hungry. Hunger pangs, must be 10am! That being said ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger or telling us when we are hungry has its own circadian rhythm, or 24 hour cycle, like everything else in our body!
6. Don’t tell people you are fasting- with telling people you are fasting comes the questions and the judgement. Why would you want to do that? You have to eat something or you will go into starvation mode? You’ll breakdown muscle. All untrue. However, if you plan on telling people you are fasting or you have a party and you don’t want to eat, think of an excuse that won’t having the judgement of others. I often say I have already eaten if it’s an afternoon thing or say I am not hungry.
7. Give it time– give yourself a month at least to try intermittent fasting or day long fasts. Don’t be discouraged or feel guilty if you give in to your hunger just try again another time. Being more of a fat burner helps (check my blog on burning fat for fuel here) as your body will prefer the clean burning energy and will switch to burning the abundant stores of fat on your body (over 40,000 calories!!!)
8. Follow a nutritious diet on non-fasting days– don’t eat poorly (high sugar, refined carbs, industrial oils) on your non fasting days, it really defeats the purpose. Stick with good nutritious non processed whole foods like meats, eggs, fish, chicken, vegetables and fruits and when breaking a fast do not chose junk food. Eat a small, nutrient dense meal. If you are hungry have a larger meal a bit later (1-2 hours) as you don’t want to make yourself ill by bingeing on food.
9. Don’t binge- either breaking the fast or on non fasting days.
10. Fit fasting into your own life– don’t try and be un realistic about it or do it on days of high intensity exercise or stressful periods of the week or month. Fit it about your schedule and you are more likely to succeed!