The high intensity approach to conditioning has been forced fed to us. From the misinterpreted tabata study that high intensity intervals are the only way to condition for fat loss, we now face the job of re-educating people as to what makes up a healthy approach to training and working out. Here is a good read as to why the tabata approach is destined to fail.
Instead what I’ve used is a more measured approach. It’s not new, it has been around forever. Joel Jamieson refers to it as “High Performance Recovery Training” – I like to go with just “High Performance Training” instead as a lot of people associate the word “recovery” as code for “not working very hard” during a training session. Incorporating this type of training develops the capacity of your aerobic system and increases the size of your heart thus allowing you to do more while exerting less energy when it comes to life, work and or sports.
The good news is, by using a more measured approach in the gym with high performance training I have noticed a lot of benefits in the people I coach on a weekly basis. Some of those benefits include people with resting heart rates of 70 bpm or more reporting the following:
- Lower Resting Heart Rate
- Improved ability to fall asleep
- Fat loss
- Better able to deal with daily demands
It is worth noting that when people first train using HPT they usually redline (90% or more of max HR) and find it incredibly difficult to maintain a certain heart rate range. This usually shows that they previously emphasized using their glycolytic and alactic systems – the high intensity protocol has a time and a place but we as coaches have mistakenly over prescribed this approach. The intensity mindset as Joel Jamieson discusses here, is not an approach that will lead to long term success. The mindset incorporates a mental approach of believing that your success is determined by how hard you train. More is better. This is a flawed concept as the body has a limit to how much energy it can produce, therefore; More does not mean better.
The developed world has mini stressors everywhere you look. They range in intensity such as Whole Foods being sold out of your favorite vegan dessert compared to getting squashed into a train so you can get to a demanding job in order to pay the bills. To deal with this stress, your body needs to mobilize energy to prepare for the heightened need to perform. Remember, perform doesn’t necessarily only mean physically, mental stress requires energy too. So when the body is constantly mobilizing energy as we go through our day with all the usual mini stressors, the body is expending valuable energy as it puts out these constant stress fires by shuttling energy around the body.
“Energy is the currency of the body”
If you spend all your energy you are overdrawn and this comes with repercussions.
The “more is better” school of thought will include people who are normally quite toned up creatures. After dealing with a stressful day at the office, intense traffic on the way to the gym as well as tending to other issues at home and in their personal life, by the time they get to the gym, what do they have left? Not much.
Putting them through an exhaustive training session in this instance will further throw them into a “Recovery Debt” as Joel Jamieson refers to it – this is where someone is continually unable to allocate enough energy to recover and rebuild. Most of their energy is spent on biological functions, stress and physical activity. These people usually never see the results they wish when it comes to training and will jump around from coach to coach and program to program looking for answers.
Instead, HPT looks to shift your body into a “recovery state” by working in a heart rate recovery zone, usually a range of 70-85% of max heart rate for 30-40 minutes.
Here are five reasons why I recommend using High Performance Training.
1 – Resting Heart Rate & Life Expectancy
A Danish study revealed there is a higher risk of early mortality directly linked with having a high resting heart rate. It makes sense as a high RHR usually indicates that the heart has to work harder in order to keep you alive. It also shows an inefficient aerobic system and a body unable to recover optimally. The study found a 16% increased risk of early mortality when it came to a resting heart rate that was 10 beats higher than 50 bpm. That 16% then increases again if you’re at 70bpm RHR. Incorporating high performance training for 30-40 minutes once or twice a week will help significantly lower your RHR over time. Some steady state (aka cardiac output) work on an airdyne or air assault bike for 40 minutes once a week while keeping your heart rate in the 120-140bpm range is also worth incorporating.
2 – Have a Big Heart
While this is something you hear people use to describe someone who is kind, a big heart also leads to extended life spans. As mentioned in the first point, cardiac output or high performance training will help lower your RHR. It will also create an adaptation in your heart called eccentric hypertrophy.
Basically, this allows the heart to get bigger and pump more blood per beat, this process is known as stroke volume. HPT creates an efficient heart and therefore the heart needs less beats per minute to pump blood around the body.
This has a knock on effect to your Heart Rate Recovery. This is how many beats your heart rate can drop in sixty seconds post exercise. I previously wrote an article on testing and tracking your conditioning here, which will fill you in on HRR and whats considered optimal and sub-optimal. The more blood your heart can pump with less beats is the basic goal here.
3 – Flip the Switch
The aerobic system is utilized during HPT. This system allows you to recover better – something my friend Alex Tanskey has written about. HPT also helps you flip the switch in order to tone down at night before bed. This can lead to better sleep and in turn to waking up feeling more rested. All integral parts of recovering properly.
If you struggle with sleep, getting to a more relaxed state and feeling rested there is a good chance your body is constantly operating in a sympathetic state (fight or flight) – we need to switch that to a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). This is done by activating the aerobic system and training in the recovery zones (120-150bpm) as well as exhaling fully. More on this further down the page in point three.
4 – Restore Movement Patterns & Mobility
A lot of times the big breakthrough for the people I coach comes when they have been incorporating HPT consistently with me for two months or more. Running for a lot of these people is usually a highly anaerobic event, staying in the 160-170 bpm for however long they go, so we stay away from that. Instead we use a circuit or one modality such as the bike in order to gain the adaptation we are looking for. Typically these people will carry a lot of resting tension but the aerobic emphasis in HPT helps reduce some of that tone and this can restore movement patterns and mobility that may have been previously inaccessible. When someone has gone from a predominantly sympathetic to a more parasympathetic state with HPT, I have seen people regain movement and mobility that was previously restricted. Over time, pain goes away and people just feel better. It’s voodoo I tell ya!
It’s voodoo I tell ya! Here is an example of a breathing reset I use to help reduce tone before and after my training. Focus on exhaling fully as you push the floor away.
People are spending so much energy on training and dealing with the stress of daily life, that there’s just not enough left over to go towards recovery and rebuilding the body – Joel Jamieson
5 – Dynamic Energy Control
Being able to determine how hard you work is known as dynamic energy control and does not get enough attention. I previously wrote about it here. Always working at 90% or higher of your max heart rate no matter what you are doing in the gym is not a badge of honor. Chances are you are an “anaerobic animal” and as point one states, this may negatively impact your life expectancy.
You do not necessarily have to use running, the bike or the rower for HPT. You can simply mix and match different exercises together to create a 10 minute circuit. Then repeat 2-3 times working in the 70-85% of max heart rate range. Here’s a favorite circuit of mine.
Sample HPT Circuit
A – TGU (x3 each side)
Use 50-60% of what you would normally use for heavy TGU’s and alternate sides after each rep.
B – Sled Drag & Push (x 5 minutes)
I use 4 plates on a sled for 5 minutes and it helps me work in the 70-75% range of my max heart rate.
C – Air Assault Bike (x 3-5 minutes)
Find a wattage that will keep you in the desired heart rate range and work on maintaining that wattage throughout by using dynamic energy control. For me 288 watts is the sweet spot for 75% of max heart rate.
Of course, use appropriate measures to warm up before your workout and tone down afterwards. If you’re leaving the gym hyped up like Sylvester Stallone in a “Rambo” fight scene then you’re doing it wrong. Here’s to incorporating HPT into your program and seeing results when it comes to your training goals.