HIIT

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The best exercise for aging muscles

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As we age muscles weaken, cell damage accumulates, and mitochondria, which produce energy, decline in number and energy output. A study sought to determine what type of exercise might best repair that mitochondria damage.

The study was composed of two groups, men and women under thirty and men and women over 64. Subjects were further divided into four sub-groups. Each group did one of the following exercise regimens for 12 weeks:

  • Vigorous weight lifting
  • Moderate bike riding plus light weight lifting
  • Interval training on a bike
  • Those who did nothing

As would be expected weight lifters experienced gains in muscle and strength, and the bike interval trainers increased endurance. Unexpectedly were the changes measured in the cells. From the NYT article reporting on the study, The Best Exercise for Aging Muscles - NYTimes.com, this quote:

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A long list of cardiorespiratory fitness benefits from high intensity interval training

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From the American Heart Association Scientific Statement, Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association | Circulation, an excerpt:

“Cardiorespiratory fitness is a potentially stronger predictor of mortality than established risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

It is important to note that muscles stimulate the cardiovascular system to make positive changes, not the other way around. When the muscles are too weak to push the cardiovascular system, cardiorespiratory fitness declines. High intensity interval training (HIIT) increases strength and promotes cardiorespiratory fitness. The benefits:

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Extending your running life for years

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According to one study a force of up to three times body weight can be exerted on the human foot while running, and it can be much higher at times. Multiply that by each foot fall in a mile, and you have tons of weight absorbed through the joints and connective tissues. While some people are uniquely suited to do this high impact/high intensity jogging for decades of their adult life, many are not.

For those who want to extend their running life there is a solution; keep running and substitute one running day with one session of high intensity interval training (HIIT) for strength. One less day a week of pounding and you'll have stronger muscles protecting those joints. Add up all those days over the course of years of giving your joints a break. Your joints will thank you for it.   

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The esoteric benefits of high intensity strength training

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A small improvement in isolation is just that, a small improvement, but if you add up all the small improvements it can be quite significant, even life changing. There is an incredibly long list of benefits from high intensity strength training.

From the website Body By Science, some of less familiar more esoteric benefits of high intensity strength training:

-Reversal of age-related gene expression

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The same results exercising in just 1/5 the time

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A study examined the effects of two different exercise protocols on health indicators such as insulin sensitivity and cardio-respiratory fitness. The two protocols: the sprint exercise protocol (SIT), three 20-second ‘all-out’ cycle sprints with two minutes of easy cycling between sprints and the moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) protocol, 45 minutes of cycling at a moderate pace. Both had warm-up and cool down periods.

A quote from this article, No time to get fit? Think again, that reported on the study:

“After 12 weeks of training, the results were remarkably similar, even though the MICT protocol involved five times as much exercise and a five-fold greater time commitment.”

And another quote:

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Doctor says asthmatic's improvement using high intensity interval training is remarkable

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I am an asthmatic prone to bronchitis and debilitating migraines induced by sinusitis.

A year and half ago I got pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and my asthma flared up and stay flared.  I was weeks using a nebulizer to get the asthma under control.  

My oxygen consumption level was in the low 80 percent range.  My heart had to work harder to get the oxygen I needed. As a result my blood pressure rose, and my resting pulse was twenty beats per minute higher. I was listless and constantly tired. 

Forced expiratory volume (FEV) measures how much air a person can exhale during a forced breath.  My FEV test was one long wheeze.  I was a mess.

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High intensity interval training increases endurance

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From this article, Scientists Discover Why High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Can Match Endurance Training discussing HIIT:

“Short bursts of just a few minutes of exhausting physical activity can prepare muscles to work harder, boosting the production of new  mitochondria  (powerhouses of the cells, generating the energy that our cells need to do their tasks), which culminates endurance enhancement much like more time consuming endurance training. High-intensity exercise triggers the breakdown of calcium channels as a result of an increased production of free radicals.”

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Winning more but training less

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A few years back Laurence participated in the New York City Triathlon. He did well but didn’t win his age group.  Three years later, he finished 24th overall in the New York City Triathlon overall and finished first in his age group, 45 to 49. He beat his nearest competitor by over five minutes.

He attributed a large part of his success to HIIT, high intensity interval training, a strength/cardio workout taken to a deep fatigue. He had been doing it four years along with his usual swimming, running, biking, and kayaking. His times in triathlon events came down. The strength training program enabled him to spend less time on his bike and in the pool. More time for recovery resulted in continuing improvement. 

I am stronger, recover faster and only devote 30 minutes a week to weightlifting. It is like discovering the fountain of youth. It really does work.

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What to do when chronic running injuries occur

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Ted was a gifted runner. In his late forties his knees began to aggravate him, and they got worse each year.  At age 54 his doctor advised him to stop running. He started strength training with the aim of getting back to running.

We worked around his condition for a while and slowly incorporated leg exercises into the routine - leg curl, calf raises, leg press, adduction, abduction, squats, and occasionally partial leg extensions.

Ted wanted to start running again.  He did and the next day his was limping again. I told him, “You are able to lift 450 pounds on the leg press to a very deep fatigue to the point where your legs are unable to move, and the next day you have not a hint of pain.”  For Ted with adequate rest after strength training he came back stronger each week.  With running there was no recovery or improvement, only injury.

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