rich froning

Work Harder, Not Longer

**I originally wrote this in May of 2012, lots of things have changed since then in regard to views and thoughts on energy systems work/capacity. However, for 90% of people interested in non-competitive exercise/fitness, “this” is still my absolute recommendation.***

So, you want to get lean? Well then go fix your diet, sleep, and supplementation. If your diet is garbage, all the working out in the world will still leave you far from where your physique goals most likely are. Work on your “diet” is a never ending quest for improvements in body composition, performance, and more than anything, your health.

pat barber pullups

**The non-self explanatory pictures in this post are CrossFit folks who have gone the intensity over volume route.**

Anyways, we could ramble about all of that endlessly, but here’s the meat of where this post is heading: Everyday, almost without fail, someone asks either Vanessa or I about “needing” to do extra cardio so that they can burn fat. Wrong answser kids. Like we harp on endlessly, body composition is almost totally dependent on your diet. Past that, let’s look at the long “cardio” session’s failure on a couple levels. Here’s an awesome little piece from the CrossFit Endurance crew:

Aerobic Training has the following benefits and drawbacks:

*Increased cardiovascular function
*Better fat utilization
*Greater capillarization
*Increased Mitochondrial growth

*Decreased muscle mass
*Decreased strength
*Decreased power
*Decreased speed
*Decreased anaerobic capacity
*Decreased testosterone levels

It is apparent that the many drawbacks of LSD training easily overpower the limited benefits. It is our contention that limiting an athlete’s exposure to LSD training will allow them to remain not only functionally competent in other areas of fitness and competitive in aerobic endurance pursuits, but DOMINATE in ALL areas of fitness.”

Alright, “cardio”/aerobic work isn’t totally worthless, but it’s certainly sub-par when compared to anaerobic exercise (otherwise known as busting your ass!) Here’s another awesome little piece from the CrossFit Endurance crew:

Anaerobic Training has the following benefits and drawbacks:

*Increased cardiovascular function
*Decreased body fat
*Increased muscle mass
*Increased strength
*Increased power
*Increased speed
*Increased anaerobic capacity

*Intensity can speed up overtraining

energy systems graph

Anaerobic training encapsulates training the Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP), ATP / Phospho-creatine system, the lactic acid system, and the aerobic system through various methods that stress one system, two systems, or multiple systems.The time length of the individual efforts combined with the rest periods between efforts determines the system/s stressed. As demonstrated by the graph, the systems overlap and “feed” into each other. Notice that as you are training all three anaerobic systems you are SIMULTANEOUSLY training your aerobic engine!

Studies demonstrate that the adaptations caused by anaerobic training are similar to high volume endurance training, however, this adaptation comes at much lower training volumes! (Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. J Physiol. 2008 Jan 1;586(1):151-60. Epub 2007 Nov 8.)

Here’s a breakdown of the different energy systems listed above:

Matthews (1971) [2] divides the running requirements of various sports into the following “energy pathways”: ATP-CP and LA, LA-02, and 02.

  • ATP – Adenosine Triphosphate: a complex chemical compound formed with the energy released from food and stored in all cells, particularly muscles. Only from the energy released by the breakdown of this compound can the cells perform work. The breakdown of ATP produces energy and ADP.
  • CP – Creatine Phosphate: a chemical compound stored in muscle, which when broken down aids in the manufacture of ATP. The combination of ADP and CP produces ATP.
  • LA – Lactic acid: a fatiguing metabolite of the lactic acid system resulting from the incomplete breakdown of glucose. However Noakes in South Africa has discovered that although excessive lactate production is part of the extreme fatigue process, it is the protons produced at the same time that restricts further performance
  • O2 means aerobic running in which ATP is manufactured from food, mainly sugar and fat. This system produces ATP copiously and is the prime energy source during endurance activities

When working at 95% effort these energy pathways are time limited and the general consensus on these times are as follows:

Duration Classification Energy Supplied By
1 to 4 seconds Anaerobic ATP (in muscles)
4 to 10 seconds Anaerobic ATP + CP
10 to 45 seconds Anaerobic ATP + CP + Muscle glycogen
45 to 120 seconds Anaerobic, Lactic Muscle glycogen
120 to 240 seconds Aerobic + Anaerobic Muscle glycogen + lactic acid
240 to 600 seconds Aerobic Muscle glycogen + fatty acids

So what does that really mean for those of us with small brains (like myself)? Past 240-600 seconds (4:00-10:00) of working out, we’re approaching what’s equivalent to exercise masturbation. Sure, it might be fun and “rewarding,” but it’s not accomplishing much besides taking up time and creating overuse injuries.


crossfit eva nicole
Now, one HUGE piece of that is that we’re talking about “working at 95% effort.” Trust me, there’s not many people that are capable of sustaining true +95% effort for a whole lot longer than 4:00, much less 10 freaking minutes of going all out! If you can hold near maximal effort for about 4:00, then you’re getting the cardio/aerobic benefit without having to jog around like an extra in a crappy movie for an hour. Alright, so you don’t need to go long times and distances for the cardiovascular system and aerobic pathway to benefit, but nobody REALLY cares that much about that. Everyone is just worried about L.G.N., looking good nekkid! Now I know that you guys and girls all love and appreciate me, but most of you want to hear stuff like this from people like doctors and scientists. “A study by Gibala et al. demonstrated 2.5 hours of sprint interval training produced similar biochemical muscle changes to 10.5 hours of endurance training and similar endurance performance benefits. According to a study by King, HIIT increases the resting metabolic rate (RMR) for the following 24 hours due to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and may
improve maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) more effectively than doing only traditional, long aerobic workouts.”“High-intensity interval training has also been shown to improve athletic performance. For already well-trained athletes, improvements in performance become difficult to attain and increases in training volume can potentially yield no improvements. Previous research would suggest that, for athletes who are already trained, improvements in endurance performance can be achieved through high-intensity interval training.”“Long aerobic workouts have been promoted as the best method to reduce fat, as fatty acid utilization usually occurs after at least 30 minutes of training. HIIT is somewhat counterintuitive in this regard, but has nonetheless been shown to burn fat more effectively. There may be a number of factors that contribute to this, including an increase in resting metabolic rate. HIIT also significantly lowers insulin resistance and causes skeletal muscle adaptations that result in enhanced skeletal muscle fat oxidation and improved glucose tolerance.”

rich froning

“Recently it has been shown that two weeks of HIIT can substantially improve insulin action in young healthy men. Similarly, in young women, HIIT three times per week for 15 weeks compared to the same frequency of SSE exercise was associated with significant reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat, and insulin resistance. HIIT may therefore represent a viable method for prevention of type-2 diabetes.”

“Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously…Running or cycling for hours a week widens the network of vessels supplying muscle cells and also boosts the numbers of mitochondria in them so that a person can carry out activities of daily living more effectively and without strain, and crucially with less risk of a heart attack, stroke or diabetes. But the traditional approach to exercise is time consuming. Martin Gibala and his team have shown that the same results can be obtained in far less time with brief spurts of higher-intensity exercise. To achieve the study’s equivalent results by endurance training you’d need to complete over 10 hours of continuous moderate bicycling exercise over a two-week period.”

“Doing bursts of hard exercise not only improves cardiovascular fitness but also the body’s ability to burn fat, even during low- or moderate-intensity workouts, according to a study published this month, also in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Eight women in their early 20s cycled for 10 sets of four minutes of hard riding, followed by two minutes of rest. Over two weeks, they completed seven interval workouts.

After interval training, the amount of fat burned in an hour of continuous moderate cycling increased by 36 percent, said Jason L. Talanian, the lead author of the study and an exercise scientist at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Cardiovascular fitness — the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to working muscles — improved by 13 percent.”

marathoner runner vs sprinter

Are we starting to get the point across here yet? You’ll never look GREAT without fixing what you put in your face-hole! BUT, you can be stronger, faster, leaner, and more athletic by spending less time working out. Oh yeah, plus you’ll still be good at doing that boring ass, longer stuff should the need ever arise. You know, like if you need to run 26.2 miles for your life…Oh no, wait, that would never happen.

In summary: Fix your diet if it’s crappy. Then, chase intensity in your workouts, but not at the expense of dedicated strength work. We’ll talk more about that on another day, but lifting heavy might just be the most important part of fitness as a whole.

REFERENCES, or “Smart people with documentation about this stuff should this brief synopsis have not been enough for you.”

Babraj J, Vollaard N, Keast C, Guppy F, Cottrell G, Timmons J (2009). “Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males”BMC Endocrine Disorders 9: 3. doi:10.1186/1472-6823-9-3. PMC 2640399. PMID 19175906.

Boutcher SH (2011). “High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss”J Obes 2011: 868305.doi:10.1155/2011/868305. PMC 2991639. PMID 21113312.

Driller Matthew, Fell James, Gregory John, Shing Cecilia, Williams Andrew (2009). “The effects of high-intensity interval training in well-trained rowers”International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 4: 1.

Gibala, Martin J; Jonathan P. Little, Martin van Essen, Geoffrey P. Wilkin, Kirsten A. Burgomaster, Adeel Safdar, Sandeep Raha and Mark A. Tarnopolsky (September 15 2006). “Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance”.J Physiol 575 (3): 901–911. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2006.112094. PMC 1995688. PMID 16825308. Retrieved 2008-07-23.

Jonathan P Little, Adeel S Safdar, Geoffrey P Wilkin, Mark a Tarnopolsky, and Martin J Gibala. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanismsThe Journal of Physiology, 2010; DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.181743

MATTHEWS, D. et al. (1971) The Physiological Basis of Physical Education and Athletics. Philadelphia: Saunders

Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, Boutcher SH (April 2008). “The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women”. Int J Obes (Lond) 32 (4): 684–91.doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803781PMID 18197184.

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