In this episode, I am speaking with Alex Viada – one of the world’s top fitness experts. He has designed a hybrid training method that trains your body for health, strength, and longevity. The amazing thing about this particular method is that it can be applied to ANYONE regardless of their individual fitness level. We will discuss the best way to exercise for muscle gain, fat loss & longevity, the importance of pain tolerance and more.
If you want to benefit from Alex’s brilliance, go sign up for the Strength Blueprint here.
In this podcast, Alex and I will discuss:
- The different types of exercise and how they affect the body
- The primary keys that set HIIT apart from other types of training
- How to find the best kind of training for you!
- The best leg exercises (and how to maximize their effect!)
- “My muscles are sore” what does that mean?
- The best types of training for fat loss
- How to train for muscle gain
- The secret link between cardio and strength training (this is critical if you want to build muscle)
- How to get toned (ladies, it is not what you think)
- How to use the “calories in, calories out” paradigm to your advantage
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Ari Whitten: Hey there, welcome back to The Energy Blueprint podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten, and with me now is my friend Alex Viada, who is probably one of the fittest people on the planet, as you can tell if you’re watching the video by his muscle tee that he’s currently wearing right now. He’s really a freak of nature in terms of fitness. He’s participated and competed in nearly every sport imaginable, some with greater success than others since being dragged into his first swim meet when he was four years old. He’s coached over 300 athletes of all ages and levels in sports ranging from bodybuilding, to ultra running, to triathlon, to cycling, to powerlifting.
He’s also prepared close to 40 individuals for Ranger School for SEALs training and BUDS training and other selective military programs. Many athletes working with complete human performance which is Alex’s company, find themselves setting personal records and strength speed and distance at the same time, something that was traditionally seen as impossible. Now, I want to add a couple personal notes. One, Alex happens to live in the same city that I’m in. He’s actually a personal friend of mine. I’ve hung out with him on a number of occasions.
He’s just an absolutely wonderful human being but incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable. I would as someone who’s been studying fitness, exercise physiology, nutrition as it pertains to fitness and body composition for over 20 years, I’ve acquired a lot of information on this subject, but I would put Alex as really like in the top .1% of people on the planet as far as knowledge of exercise science. He’s really a pro and world class at what he does, and that’s actually why I reached out to him to create a whole exercise regimen, which we have called The Strength Blueprint, which is a set of exercise programs that are that’s designed.
It’s basically four different programs that are sequential in nature and that are designed for everybody from the most basic level of fitness, like people who are just coming out of chronic fatigue syndrome, they haven’t been able to do any exercise, and they’re looking to get started with the most basic regimen possible, to the level of very advanced super fit athlete and that whole range in between. He’s designed an amazing program, which we’re selling from the Energy Blueprint called The Strength Blueprint.
I am inviting him on the show for, I believe this the third time to talk some cool stuff around exercise science and how to be more fit and how to be more healthy, and how to lose fat, and how to get stronger, and improve your endurance, and all kinds of good stuff. Alex, welcome to the show again.
The different types of exercise
Alex Viada: Ari, thanks so much. I appreciate the intro and kind words. Again, I apologize for the muscle tee, but as we were just discussing, it is unprecedented heatwave out here and even the air conditioning in the house can’t keep up. I have an excuse.
Ari Whitten: Yes, good excuse to show off the muscles. Let’s talk about different types of exercises, something we broached a little bit in the first interview that we did. What was that? Probably a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago at this point. Let’s talk about how you conceptualize the spectrum of exercise and specifically strength training, or weight training or resistance exercise variably by those kind of mostly interchangeable terms versus cardio or endurance exercise. How do you conceptualize the big picture of exercise and how these different types of exercise, what kinds of stimuli they create for the body, what kinds of adaptations they’re stimulating in the body.
Alex Viada: Sure. Really to break it down, when I think about exercise in general, and I think one of the things that’s really important, especially for people who are just getting started to keep in mind is anything that challenges your body in a new way and pushes it a little past its equilibrium, and induces some sort of stress to it is going to generate a response. Your body, your muscles, your lungs, your heart, they don’t know that they’re doing resistance training, or that they’re doing cardio. We’ve only really been for the last 2,000 years, well, maybe 3,000 years if you go back to like ancient Roman before, talking about like actually exerting ourselves for something other than survival.
All your body sees, whether you’re picking an object up or going up a flight of stairs or anything else. All it’s saying is, “Okay, we’re being asked to do some things here. We’re burning glucose. We’re burning fat. Heart rate’s going up, we’re using oxygen, we’re using up oxygen.” All that the body is seeing is, “Okay, what do I need to do to actually get better at performing this the next time so it’s not quite so challenging?” When people are just starting out I’ll tell them, “Look, forget about resistance training versus cardio versus anything else. Everything is going to check all those boxes for you when you first start.” Even at an advanced level, everything does check quite a few boxes. When I talk about strength training versus resistance training, I think of it as a spectrum. You have a slider on the spectrum that adjusts what a given exercise falls into.
That slider is basically how many muscular contractions you’re doing at a given moment and for how long you’re doing it. That’s really it. If you’re doing very few contractions for a short period of time and stressing the body that’s resistance training, like press or squat or anything else. If you’re doing a lot of contractions over a long period of time at a sustainable level, that’s going to be, obviously, lower output, well, that’s cardio and that’s it.
Ari Whitten: I don’t want to maybe jump too far ahead or add too much complexity to the spectrum that you’re painting, but just to avoid confusion, I think there’s one more important layer in that which is the loading on the system determines the number of repetitions that’s possible. I know there’s people listening who don’t have this background who are like, well, why? If I lift, I don’t know, this pair of dog toenail clippers that I have here because I was just cutting the dog’s toenails, that’s half a pound or whatever. If I lift this five times, why is that resistance exercise, but if I lift it 100 times, it’s endurance exercise? Explain what’s wrong with that.
Alex Viada: Yes. Usually, the idea is, remember, whatever stimulus is done at that point, has to be a stress. It actually has to be unsustainable or poorly sustainable past that timeframe that you’re discussing. If you’re doing this, if something is a stress after 20 seconds of lifting it, it’s probably resistance training. If you could do it for an hour, it’s probably cardio. Now, obviously, some things are better than others. Lifting toenail clippers for an hour’s probably not going to do much for you. That’s because it’s not really putting that much stress on the heart or anything else. You might get slightly better biceps from it.
In fact, you even look at people who come from no exercise background whatsoever who work in say, an Amazon warehouse loading shelves, and they’ll start to see good development in their arms and upper body and everything else. Even lifting relatively light boxes. The thing to remember is it’s just where on the spectrum of resistance and duration that it lies. When you start getting deeper into it, of course, you start looking at what’s the limiting factor in performance? Is it cardiovascular output? Is it oxygen? Those tend to be the limiting factor, the longer duration, which is why, again, it’s called cardio, but there are also muscular adaptations that take place over there.
On the resistance side of things, the cardiovascular system, yes, it’s taxed in the short term, but the adaptations aren’t quite as profound to support that. Those are more muscular adaptations. One of the biggest breakthroughs, I think, when we started training people, and like you pointed out we work with a lot of military, we work with a lot of people who combined strength and endurance. Is when we started getting people away from this cardio versus resistance training, dichotomous mindset and saying, think about it all as just stress. Think about it as stress on the body and think about managing stress.
Managing how much you’re working the heart, how much you’re working the muscles and everything else, and put that on a continuum. You’ll really start to be able to conceptualize how to bring things together, and also conceptualize how to start, if that’s where you’re coming from.
How HIIT works on the body
Ari Whitten: Okay, so many avenues we can go down. One other layer I want to add to this is high-intensity interval training. Okay, how do we make sense of that on the spectrum that you’re talking about? Let’s say it is a stress that, in many cases, you can only sustain for maybe 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds somewhere in there. Which is similar to length of time that you might be doing strength-based weight training resistance exercise, and yet it’s somewhat of a different category, doesn’t really stimulate the same adaptation. How do you explain that difference?
Alex Viada: Well, and that’s precisely what makes it interesting and where it fits in the model is it’s trying to get the best of both worlds. It’s saying let’s do exercises and let’s do a time domain and resistance more associated with resistance training. Let’s do it repeatedly with rest periods in between that keep the heart rate up and the total duration pushes over into the endurance territory. Don’t we get the best of both worlds? In some ways, yes. In some ways, the answer is yes, people who do high-intensity interval training are like, well you build muscle which you associate with resistance, and you improve your cardio which you associate with cardiovascular training.
That, of course, the downside of that is, when you look into the bigger picture is stress and stress on the body and everything else. That’s the other critical variable here is high-intensity interval training is a fantastic workout. There are some people who do nothing but high-intensity interval training and get lean and muscular and everything else, but it’s going to have its own limits.
The amount of resistance you can do is going to be limited by the fact that there are limiting factors on the cardiovascular side. It’s also very stressful to your nervous system. It’s very, very stressful psychologically, mentally, doing multiple intervals. What you start to see is that the resistance training gets compromised a little bit by some of the cardiovascular stressors, and the cardiovascular side gets compromised by some of the resistance training stressors.
You don’t get the maximum benefit that you would get from cardiovascular training, which includes 30, 40, 50 minutes of just slightly elevated heart rate, which has its own adaptations. You don’t get some of the best adaptations from the resistance side, which is full, heavy, muscular contraction with adequate rest to allow you to perform that same stress at the same level of intensity over and over again. It’s a compromise, and it’s a good compromise. A lot of people get good benefits from the compromise, but it’s still important to remember that it is a compromise. You may do better adjusting the slider one way or the other to reap the maximum benefits all up and down the spectrum.
Ari Whitten: Okay, I want to get into that in a second. As far as what kinds of individual context one might want to adjust that slider in one direction or the other. I think what you’re alluding to in your answer there is the fact that there are somewhat competing adaptations between the endurance, the cardio end of the spectrum and the resistance, strength end of the spectrum. To what extent are these competing stimuli that there’s some people who make the argument and there’s some science to support this idea that there are actually opposing sets of adaptations that are competing with one another, giving the body mixed messages.
Can you make sense of that body of literature and explain on a practical level, how would we get the benefits without sending mixed messages to our body?
Alex Viada: Sure. In fact, what’s interesting is that of the two major biochemical pathways responsible for both muscle growth and increase in strength and what you typically consider cardiovascular adaptations which I can go into in a minute or aerobic adaptations. Each of these systems, yes, they’re a slider as well, but they operate across purposes. Generally, when one system is active, it temporarily blunts expression of the other and there are a lot of reasons for that. People typically talk about the resistance training one which they consider the mTOR pathway, and the aerobic training one which they consider the AMP kinase pathway.
Now, the reason why these work across purposes is typically, one of these pathways is responsible for degrading certain systems and one is responsible for building certain systems. There’s a whole spectrum. Now, the important thing to remember is with any pathway in the body, it’s always more complicated. The mTOR pathway is responsible for 1,000 different things besides muscle growth. The AMP kinase pathway is responsible for 1,000 different things besides building your aerobic system. These systems they’re not completely on or off. One isn’t necessarily good, one isn’t necessarily bad.
The moment thing to remember is there are elements of the mTOR pathway that are still useful for your aerobic system and there are elements of the AMP kinase system that are still useful for your muscle strength and size and everything else.
Ari Whitten: Explain that in one layer, more of depth. Then, hopefully, we don’t get too sidetracked. We can connect to that.
Alex Viada: For example, part of the AMP kinase pathway is it increases the number of mitochondrial profiles in your muscle. In other words, AMP kinase that pathway is partially stimulated by hypoxia and hyperglycemia. In other words, if a muscle cell or any cell is deprived of oxygen and glucose, it goes into the state of hypoxia and hyperglycemia and the AMP kinase pathway is stimulated to actually produce more mitochondria. Now, one of the positives of that, of course, is that that is also a critical component of strength training. More mitochondria has more ability to circulate energy substrates, more ability to generate ATP and everything else.
That is so critical for muscle utilization. You need that pathway to actually maximize your skeletal muscle strength and endurance and ability. Not having that whatsoever, of course, it is a related pathway. It is actually component of muscle growth. If you build a cell larger, but don’t increase mitochondrial proliferation within the cell, that’s going to be a very big, very useless muscle cell. It’s not going to have any energy whatsoever. It’s going to be able to perform very few contractions and everything else. The mTOR pathway, a lot of the growth processes there, which include the generation of more structural proteins.
Which can include actually a generation of, for example, more sites for the blood cells to grow within the muscle. A lot of these other adaptations for the mTOR pathway that consists of muscle growing are required for actually bringing in more blood and oxygen to the cells in an area. They can’t exist without each other.
Ari Whitten: Got it.
Alex Viada: That’s one of the biggest things is if you say, well, this is aerobic athletes pathway. No, it’s not. Both of them are absolutely critical for all elements of strength, of endurance and everything else. Already, yes, they compete across purposes. You can say that one is responsible for building muscle and one is responsible for aerobic adaptations, but really, they’re both responsible for both. That’s a little bit why, the thing is, even if one mutes the other as well, remember when the body is stressed by something and the body is adapting to something, this takes place over an extended period of time.
In other words, if you resistance train or do something on the resistance short duration side of the slider and you temporarily stimulate that muscle growing mTOR pathway and temporarily blunt the AMP kinase pathway, that doesn’t mean that this pathway is off forever. Say I go out and do a run right after lifting, people say well, that’s bad because you want to lift to stimulate muscle growth, but then you immediately go out and you induce this hypoxic hypoglycemic environment from running. You’re going to stimulate the AMP kinase pathway, which is going to shut off the muscle growth pathway.
That’s true temporarily, but this pathway may only be active for an hour or two after exercise, all the factors that continue to lead and to stimulate the muscle growth pathway, for example, you look at a lot of the micro trauma. You look at a lot of the macrophage proliferation to the area and inflammatory, proinflammatory factors this can be going on, you will have regular stimulation and muscle growth pathway for 48 to 72 hours after resistance training. Blunting it for an hour or two because you went for a run doesn’t mean you’re still not reaping the benefits.
It’s not like you just flip the switch and suddenly, all the muscle growth is turned off and you’re going to do nothing but aerobic adaptation. It is constantly an interplay between the two systems as the cell as you go through various phases of repair. After a mixed modality workout, say I go lift, then I go for a run, and then I go lift some heavy boxes afterwards, my body over the next 24 to 48 hours is going to be going between those two pathways building structures. It’s going to be building some skeletal muscle synthesizing new contractual proteins. It’s going to be increasing mitochondria density in certain muscle cells, certain areas.
It’s going to be doing all of this going back and forth. The enzymes here are going to be upregulated. It’s going to develop more, and then it’s going to shift back over and grow here. The body’s smart, it’s not just shutting one down and turning the one on. It is constantly engaging in the process of both.
How to structure your workouts for optimal benefits
Ari Whitten: Got it. Having said all of that, do you think that this factor just doesn’t matter at all? Meaning, speaking in terms of practical examples, someone who weight trains and then goes for a three-mile run after or a long walk, fast-paced walk, let’s say, versus someone who separates the resistance exercise from the cardio from the endurance exercise. Do you think that it’s insignificant to separate them by several hours or do them on different days? In the grand scheme of things does it matter to your end result?
Alex Viada: It can be somewhat beneficial. What it comes down to is the ability to elicit an adequate stimulus. What that means is the biggest single factor, the biggest single determination on whether or not you should divide them up or not, is whether you can actually elicit a sufficient stimulus through that exercise type with no break. In other words, if I go lift and then go for a walk, and my walk it’s challenging only because my legs are tired, not necessarily because I’m pushing my cardiovascular system and inducing. For example, if I lift very, very heavy, my legs are very, very fatigued. Then I decided to go for a long hike. Normally, the benefits for that hike will be, like you said, like inducing that localized hypoxia, hypoglycemia, basically tiring out those muscles and keeping the heart rate up and everything else. If that fatigue in my legs from that strength training is forcing me to go at a slightly slower pace, or for shorter duration, or everything else, I’m not actually stressing this side of the spectrum enough. It’s still fatigued.
Ari Whitten: Which side, just for people listening?
Alex Viada: Sorry, not stressing the “aerobic side” of the spectrum enough. In other words, fatigue from the lifting is going to minimize my ability to actually elicit proper stress in another arena. I think that’s very, very critical to remember. When I work with clients, and this is something that you talk about quite a bit, when you look at an individual’s overall stress, if overall stress is too high, your ability to benefit from productive stress goes down. If I’m very fatigued, if I’m mentally tired, if I’m wiped out from that lifting session, all my body knows is that I’m stressed and I’m fatigued. It can’t necessarily perform that cardiovascular activity at a high enough level of quality.
I don’t have the reserves to impart that much new stress, to impart productive stress. I have so much leftover stress, whether it’s productive or unproductive, from weight training, that I can no longer throw more productive stress in the mix. That becomes really, really critical. When it comes to, on a biochemical level, yes, it’s a consideration, but it’s a comparatively minor one to that. At that point, I tell people, if you’re worried about the biochemistry of it, don’t be. That is 1% to 2% of the whole picture.
If you can divide it up, that’s great, but I would rather you perform these activities at a time where you know, for example, if you’re your best in the morning, and you say, “Okay, well I’m at my best in the morning. I’m going to lift in the morning and I’m just going to go for my walk in the afternoon when my energy levels are feeling down,” I would rather you do them both in the morning and get the most out of it then than do an activity at a time of day that’s unfavorable for you.
It’s unfavorable for your schedule. Maybe it’s unfavorable for your circadian rhythm, for your cycle and everything else that keeps you up. Don’t do it then. There might be a slight advantage in doing it and separating it but that might be outweighed by other factors that might mean more to you personally as an individual, as based on your specific situation.
How to stimulate muscle growth
Ari Whitten: Got it. Okay. There’s many potential nuances I’m sure we could delve into here. For example, the context of, let’s say, someone who aspires to be a bodybuilder is all about wanting to maximize muscle growth. Maybe in that kind of context, you’d want that extra little advantage of separating the weight training from the cardio. Then maybe in the context of, hey, the average Joe who just wants to put on a little bit of muscle and maybe mostly lose fat and be lean, in that kind of context, it’s probably totally insignificant. Is that accurate to say?
Alex Viada: Absolutely. I’d say, in that latter group, it’s doing the work for you.
Ari Whitten: Got it. Okay. We went pretty somewhat technical in getting into some exercise science and biochemistry related stuff in some of these physiological pathways at the beginning. I’m concerned that we might have lost some people who maybe don’t necessarily understand all the complexity that you just went into there. On a basic level big picture, let’s talk about translating this picture that you’ve painted of the spectrum of different types of exercise and the different types of stimuli that it’s putting on the body into something very practical.
We talked a bit about this in the first podcast, but let’s say somebody is interested in just general health, anti-aging, longevity, disease prevention, and let’s say somebody is interested in fat loss specifically and somebody is interested in primarily muscle gain. How would you organize the types of training in those three different contexts?
Alex Viada: Sure. For somebody just interested in general health and longevity, again, it very much depends on the current activity level. That’s why when we put the whole Strength Blueprint together, we started it out with a program that was just learning to manage stress and just learning to do a tiny bit more than you’re doing now. Remarkably, for most of these individuals, the programs look fairly similar.
The biggest difference is, of course, just a level of intensity that you put into each. Because we do, again, even for hyper-specialized individuals, we recommend something across the entire spectrum. As we said, what benefits one side of the spectrum eventually comes around to benefit the other. There’s no reason to only do one or the other. In fact, some of our best athletes, hyper-specialized in some way, on one side, realize that doing something from the exact opposite end of the spectrum actually bolsters their overall performance.
We’re a complex organism. We’re not intended to be hyper-specialized. Backing up, somebody interested in just general health and longevity, I think there are the three basic pillars. One of them is obviously your basic functional muscular strength. What I mean by functional is, I consider the gold standard you can do and if–
Ari Whitten: You mean like doing 540s, while standing on a Bosu ball and doing a one-arm kettlebell swing.
Alex Viada: Absolutely, absolutely, while juggling two dumbbells in your left hand.
Ari Whitten: Juggling axes and alternating that with torches that are on fire.
Alex Viada: Look, if it ever comes to a situation where you absolutely have to do that and your life depends on it, you will be so glad you practiced that in the gym.
Ari Whitten: It’s super-functional.
Alex Viada: It’s super-functional.
Ari Whitten: For that scenario, yes. [laughs]
Alex Viada: Part of that scenario, which is right just slightly below the threshold of what I would consider critical function. It’s basically you can look at your daily activities, and then think about the heaviest thing, most awkward thing you’re going to pick up ever, just in your daily activity. If you know you can do 15-20% more than that, you’re probably in pretty good shape for what life throws at you.
When I talk about a functional strength sort of thing, what I’m specifically referring to is that you have the ability to balance your body, move external loads that are just a little bit heavier than something you might find in real life, and most importantly, you can move your own body through space in a quick manner that is just slightly greater than life would ever require of you.
Why training is essential for health and longevity
Ari Whitten: I’m interrupting your flow here, but I just want to flag that point of moving your body through space as something to come back to because I’ve actually had a theory around that for several years. I never actually put it out there because there was never any significant science to support it, but now there is actually a bit of science to support it just in the last few weeks. Anyway, I want to come back to that. You’re talking general health and longevity, then we’ll get into fat loss and muscle gain.
Alex Viada: General health and longevity, like I said, I’ll tell people you want to spend a lot of time. Now more than ever, it’s really funny because when I used to talk about setting up a home gym for people who just want general health, a home gym for people just want general health isn’t always going to consist of a barbell and squat rack. I’ve talked to people I said, “You don’t have dumbbells, that’s great. Fill up a gallon water jug with water, duct tape at shut, put some tape on the handles, and what do you have? You have an 8-pound dumbbell.”
Not only that, it’s a practical shape. It’s a practical size. It’s something you conceivably lift. Ironically enough, now that gyms are progressing more towards odd objects, you can walk into a gym, and you’ll find odd-shaped kettlebells. You’ll find sandbags. You’ll find all this stuff that is– it literally looks like somebody just cleaned out their barn. A lot of this stuff, when I talk about functional strength, one of the things I love people to do is just learn to manipulate and move odd objects through space around them. Learn how to lift up a light sandbag rather than doing 5-pound or 10-pound dumbbell curls, which is still great.
If you don’t have axes, get yourself a 10-pound sandbag and lift it up. Get to the point where you can comfortably lift again, maybe 35-40% of your total body weight up to a standing position, and you’ll probably be pretty ready for what life throws at you. Two to three sessions, two to three full-body sessions like that per week, focused on odd object lifting or just general resistance training in that 10-15 repetition range is honestly more than adequate. People do that, and then basically say, “Okay, can you also get your heart rate up to about 65-75% of your max for 30-45 minutes 2-3 times a week?”
Frankly, that’s it. All of this stuff is a little bit self progressing as well, because the heart rate limited work, especially as long as you’re focusing on doing that, as your heart gets fitter and as it pumps more blood per stroke and everything else, you can actually do more work per minute as you get fitter. You can follow 30-45 minutes per week at 75% of your max heart rate for 10 years, and you’ll just keep getting faster and faster and faster, and fitter and fitter and fitter.
Ari Whitten: Nice. Those are the basic requirements for general health longevity, disease prevention.
Alex Viada: Yes.
Ari Whitten: If you could just briefly spell out what that looks like in terms of one’s weekly routine as far as their types of exercise.
Alex Viada: Sure. Yes. What I’ll basically say is if you can do three days a week, I typically say one “upper body”, one ‘lower body,” and one “full body.” I know that sounds. Basically, an upper body movement consists of an upper-body press, either overhead or in front of you. That’s something as simple as lifting an object overhead. It can be a two-handed overhead lift, lifting up a kettlebell on both hands or a sandbag or a jug or anything else, or a barbell, whatever you have on hand.
It consists of some sort of pulling motion, which can consist of anything from an assisted pull up to a row to even just a bent-over row of any sort, lifting any object from the floor, pulling it towards your chest. That’s it. Then some sort of arm flexion and some sort of arm extension. Arm flexion is your basic curl movement but it could be a compound movement of any sort. Arm extension is basically any sort of triceps push move. It can be push up. It can be an assisted push up, push up against a wall, anything else. That right there, four movements, four, basically, that takes care of most of the major muscles in the upper body. That’s literally all you need.
Ari Whitten: Okay. That’s for the weight training or exercise component.
Alex Viada: Yes. That’s for weight training. For lower body, lower body is even easier. Basically, say, all you need is some sort of deep knee bend to actually get the benefits. If you can do a single deep knee bend, which is any kind of squatting based movement, and that can be a goblet squat, that can be an air squat, that can be anything along those lines, that’s great. You can do a dumbbell or odd object deadlift, where you basically just put something on the ground, then do knees, grab it and pick it up. That’s all there is to it.
The second would be some sort of lunge type movement. That’s a unilateral, one leg at a time, type of lunge. You can do step-ups. You could do something as simple as standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs and just step up, step down. You could get more advanced into walking lunges. You can do walking lunges with weights. You can do anything like that. All of that pretty much covers your basis. Simple.
Ari Whitten: I will just add walking lunges with heavyweight as a killer.
Alex Viada: It’s absolutely horrible.
Ari Whitten: To do that at really a maximal intensity, which few people do. Typically, you don’t see men doing it with heavy weights. You don’t see men doing walking lunges very often. Typically, you see women doing that exercise. They’ll either do it with no weight or just the stereotypical three-pound ping dumbbells. I can tell you from experience, loading up, walking lunges with heavy weights is brutal, brutal exercise.
Alex Viada: It’s really interesting too because a lot of it, it sounds like such a simple exercise, but you’ll see it in almost a physical-therapy-type setting of people just doing very shallow walking lunges. Just slightly deeper knee bends when they walk, and all the way, the other end of the spectrum. We’ve got people who are training for Special Forces selection doing long walking lunges because it’s one of the biggest builders of strength and strength endurance you can possibly imagine. We have ultra runners doing them. We have pro-strong men doing them. This is one exercise that’s easy to learn that has almost unlimited upside potential in how long it’s going to keep giving you benefits for. I think everyone should do them, honestly. It’s just that I resist doing them myself.
Ari Whitten: Without digressing too much, I’ll just add heavy weighted sled is also I think one of the absolute best exercises out there. It’s another one that people often do it with very light weights, and as more of a cardio interval training type thing, but if you load that up with heavy weights, I think it’s absolutely one of the best leg exercises you can do.
Alex Viada: Well, actually on the full-body day, one of the things I recommend is people do one core bracing move, which can be anything from a plank to a hanging leg raise or anything like that. The other thing is some sort of drag or pull. One of my favorite things to do is just start people off with something like a tire drag, where you get an old tire, put it on the ground, tie a rope around it, and either drag it behind you, put it on the waist belt and walk with it, or doing a pull, stand there and pull it on a rope towards you, all pretty easy to set up, and again, unlimited upside potential, works nearly everything in your body.
What I really like about these kind of movements is they force you to learn how to engage your body in ways that is actually performing work. It’s not just lifting something up and putting it back down in a controlled environment. It’s actually doing productive work, which, of course, when you’re talking about something truly functional, that’s the way you need to think about it. When you think about functional training for life, what you’re doing is trying to perform work that you can actually translate into something potentially practical.
Ari Whitten: Yes. I’m questioning whether to go down the digression of concentric-only training. There’s an interesting distinction that you’re alluding to here, of performing work in this context would be physically moving one object from one place to another place. Like, from here, 50 feet away, or 100 feet away, right? When you engage in that, whether you’re pushing it or pulling it or dragging it or whatever, it’s predominantly concentric-only movements, it’s muscle contractions, as opposed to the typical gym movement of up-down, up-down, up-down where the object actually doesn’t really move from one place to another.
Hopefully, listeners can follow what I’m saying. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that since you brought it up. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on concentric-only training that accomplishes work in that way, versus the typical gym movements?
Alex Viada: Yes. The idea of concentric-only training there’s a whole host of benefits to it including a lesser degree of muscular soreness from it. When you’re talking about getting stronger, soreness is not a requirement for building strength. It’s not a requirement for building muscle, it never is. People used to chase it in many ways, because usually, muscular soreness corresponds to, “Okay, I really worked that muscle,” but one of the downsides, of course, is soreness is just an indicator that you’ve worked a muscle in many cases.
It’s not an indicator of actual growth adaptation or growth stimulus. Concentric, as you said, is basically when the muscle is contracting and pulling the load with it, and eccentric is when the muscle is relaxing, but resisting a load pulling. Like you said, in other words, doing a curl or lifting a weight up in front of you, it’s concentric on the way up because your muscle extracts, it’s eccentric on the way down. Eccentric movement is notorious for causing a lot of soreness and micro-trauma and muscular damage. If you are training for absolute hypertrophy even then, it’s not necessarily needed. In fact, you can make tremendous progress on concentric-only movements. Eccentric movement, yes, in some cases it can provide an additional growth stimulus.
There’s some evidence that some of the plates between muscle cells, or motor units and all that get an extra stimulus from it, et cetera, et cetera. It’s generally so challenging to recover from performing a lot of that kind of movement is really not a great idea for most casual trainees. There are several people out there who advocate for almost concentric-only muscular training systems, and I think for the average person starting a weight training program, it’s actually not a bad idea.
How to get the best results from cardio training
Ari Whitten: Yes, I’ve been one of those people advocating for that in the past, many years ago. One of the things I abandoned because there wasn’t a huge body of literature out there at the time but anyway, I took us on a digression there. Let’s get back to the practical, general health longevity anti-aging routine. You spell that the resistance exercise portion of that, what would the cardio portion of it look like?
Alex Viada: Cardio, when I tell people to stay in that lower heart rate zone, rather than doing the high-intensity work, it’s because a lot of the cardiovascular adaptations you’re looking for things that have to do with vascular elasticity, left ventricle, enlargement and actual health of the heart muscle itself. Not just making the heart stronger, but actually improving the amount of blood it pumps, improving elasticity of the blood vessels and everything else. When you go for a sprint and your heart is racing and contracting as hard as it possibly can, and it’s pounding in your chest, it’s actually not operating in its most efficient.
It’s pumping blood through almost too quickly and the blood flowing back in isn’t actually stretching the heart. It’s pumping blood out as quickly as it goes in. When you operate at a lower level of intensity of about 65% to 75% of your max heart rate, and there are a million calculators out there for maximum heart rate. 220 minus age is one. I would say that there are a lot of different resources people can find.
When you operate at 65% to 75%, what you’re doing is you’re actually maximizing the amount of blood that’s flowing in and allowing that right ventricle, that right atrium, right ventricle, you’re allowing that to actually stretch. That is that all around cardiac hypertrophy that is actually very, very healthy. Talk about maximizing the benefits. When I tell people if you have to do one kind of cardio, do something that keeps it in that range, the modality doesn’t matter. You can go for a long walk, you can push a stroller. In fact, pushing a stroller is actually one of the most difficult ways to run and train. One of my good friends who’s an outstanding runs coach–
Ari Whitten: I have to ask how you know that as someone who doesn’t have kids, are you running off with people’s babies?
Alex Viada: [laughs] It’s just stealing and running down the road. It’s just training.
Ari Whitten: You don’t work out, this is the best exercise.
Alex Viada: I’ll be right back, I just need eight miles. One of my good friends, he trains with a lot of the very, very top level Spartan racers. Some of them were just insane freak athletes. He chalks up a lot of his personal progress to when he had his first kid and he started doing all of his runs with a stroller. All of his measures of aerobic fitness skyrocketed after that. After having been mostly stagnant, he thought he was a high-level athlete. His VO2 max had gone up .1% in the last year. He ran for a year and a half with a stroller and literally saw his mile time, he dropped 32 seconds off his mile time.
Which for somebody at his level was just absolutely insane. When I tell people, “Look, anything you can do even if you start out walking, if you can push something or if you can carry something or even pull or push a dog with you and you get your heart rate in that zone, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you’re reaping the benefits.
Ari Whitten: My dog pulls me. Does that count?
Alex Viada: Yes, that is actually centric back work.
Ari Whitten: That’s good, it’s like asymmetric back work, yes.
Alex Viada: It is actually exhausting. There’s the whole posture. I would rather walk on my own than have a dog pull me up the mountain, honestly.
Ari Whitten: Yes, no, for sure. Actually, my dog’s still young. So the process of training him to walk on a leash from being a puppy has actually genuinely been pretty exhausting.
Alex Viada: It is. It really is. It’s funny to joke about this. Definitely not something to underestimate is how much of work it actually is.
Ari Whitten: Yes, he’s a strong little sucker. Okay, you’ve got that cardio aspect. How often would you do those kind of workouts?
Alex Viada: If you can do those twice a week, at 30 minutes, that’s fine. If you could do it three times a week at 30 minutes, that’s better. If you could do it three times a week at 45 minutes that’s even better.
Ari Whitten: Okay, what is if it’s a daily thing? I just gave the example of walking my dog. I take my dog actually for, I think he’s half Cal dog so he’s got a ton of energy and quite frankly, if I don’t run his face off every day, he will drive us all crazy. I take him for two-hour long walks. I don’t just stand there and throw the ball for him. Usually, I’m hiking Black’s Beach up and down the cliff. We’re going on various canyons and trails and things like that.
Alex Viada: That’s what I’ll tell people is if you can get 100 to 120 cumulative minutes per week with your heart rate over 65%, it doesn’t matter how you divide it up. It really doesn’t.
Ari Whitten: I’m doing probably, I don’t know, I guess 100 minutes a day, I would imagine.
Alex Viada: The thing is, to a certain extent, one of the nice things about that kind of cardiovascular activity is it’s not going to appreciably hurt you. You almost can’t do too much of it. It’s at a low-enough intensity that the stress while it’s there is a type of stress that the human body is particularly good at tolerating quite a bit of. The stress of the human body is not designed for it, but long, slow distance is is what we are mostly, we’re heavily adapted towards. While the human body is not meant for lifting massive amounts of weight, that’s why productive stress in lifting accumulate so quickly.
Productive stress for long distance, low-intensity, cardiovascular activity, we have a huge tolerance for it. If we go and walk at a fast pace, there are all kinds of things that will probably give out long before cardiovascular system does. Hydration, food, everything else, heatstroke, all that kind of stuff is going to hit us long before our cardiovascular system is completely stressed and can’t keep up. You tell people, look, if you can get out and do that every single morning for 60 minutes, and then the afternoon for another 30, you’re not going to hurt yourself.
Ari Whitten: Yes. This is somewhat of a side point. There’s a lot of people who have really had their lives transformed in this way, by getting a dog. Apart from the emotional connection, the love, the affection, the bonding that you have, the relationship you have, having a dog is this responsibility, especially a really energetic dog. This responsibility to get out every day without exception and do the exercise which also is a great thing for you.
There’s a lot of people who have transformed their health and their body, losing a ton of fat as a result of just getting a dog and getting into that routine.
On the flip side of it, I just want to mention warning, do not get a dog if you’re uncertain whether you can adhere to that, because then you have a neglected, unhappy, unhealthy dog, who’s probably going to drive you crazy and then you’re abusing it. That’s not a good situation.
Alex Viada: One of the best things you can do, and if there’s any PSA, I want to tell people, certain shelters would love to welcome volunteer dog walkers.
Ari Whitten: That’s true too. Yes, a great idea.
Alex Viada: That is always something you can always volunteer to do, and shelters love it. In some places, it actually counts as community service, if anyone is interested.
Ari Whitten: If anyone needs any community service [inaudible 00:45:33]
Alex Viada: If anyone’s probation officer. It’s a really nice thing you can do. It’s a great service for the animals that helps out your community, and it’s great for you, so just throwing that out there.
How to exercise for muscle gain
Ari Whitten: Let’s talk about muscle gain briefly. Then I want to spend a little bit of time on fat loss. How would the program be structured? You can do this at a high level without going into heavy detail, but high level, what does that program look like for muscle gain?
Alex Viada: High-level, it’s very, very similar. The major difference for muscle gain really comes into level of intensity of the weight training program. You can still do that upper-lower full body. The only difference, of course, at that point is you need to really get into that steady progressive overload, and your emphasis needs to be staying in a repetition range, much closer to muscular failure, not at muscular failure, mind you.
Whereas for general health and wellness, you think about resistance training in terms of what is a practical level of strength, plus 15%. For muscle gain, you need to think about it as kind of an ongoing continuous process. When you’re looking to gain muscle, every movement should be done in that, kind of anywhere from 6 to 10 repetitions, but what matters more than anything is the level of perceived intensity you’re putting into it.
There are all kinds of debates on there on how many reps you should do to build muscle, and what’s ideal and rest periods and everything else. The single biggest deciding factor for muscle gain is actual intensity and load applied to the muscle. That’s it. If you’re doing something where you complete six repetitions and you would probably reach true muscular failure at seven to eight, as long as you’re doing one or two sets of that, you’re probably doing enough to stimulate muscle growth for the target muscle that is starting to fail.
Ari Whitten: Got it. That’s at a beginner level.
Alex Viada: At a beginner level.
Ari Whitten: One to two sets of that would be enough to stimulate significant growth, and then several years into the training, you probably want to be more in the neighborhood of 3 to 10 sets per body part roughly.
Alex Viada: Yes, and the thing is that of course, there’s diminishing returns with that. You’ll see significantly better progress at three sets and two after about three years. Somewhat better with four sets. Again, this is per muscle group. A given workout, you figured you’re hitting four major muscles. When you start getting into 5, 6,7,8, 9,10 of the incremental benefit, it starts to get very, very small. Of course, then you need to start thinking about cumulative stress because you’re always weighing stress against stimulus, and stimulus can get–
Technically, if you could recover from 200 sets, that would be fantastic, but you probably reach an individual level of recovery around six or seven sets per muscle group in most cases. That’s about where you’re not going to see any more benefit.
Ari Whitten: Got it.
Alex Viada: The most important thing is tension. That’s it.
Ari Whitten: Then in this context of muscle gain, you’d still recommend someone to do cardio, but in this case, it’s less about that it that it’s doing something meaningful to help the muscle-building process, and more just about general health.
Alex Viada: Yes, absolutely. I think the biggest thing is, when I tell people who are interested more in muscle gain, obviously, start adjusting that load, adjusting that repetition range. Keep your cardio in, not necessarily because it’s going to give you a noticeable performance boost, but because removing it will gradually degrade the quality of your strength training workouts. I see that quite a bit. I’ll see people as they get stronger, they start taking longer, longer rest periods, they start getting winded more easily. They think it’s just because they’re lifting heavier and everything else. More often than not, it’s because they’ve neglected their cardiovascular system to the point that they are no longer capable of doing as much quality work in the same one time.
Ari Whitten: I’ve experienced that personally. I went through a phase years ago where I thought, any cardio I do, to our earlier discussion, any cardio I do is going to inhibit the muscle-building process, and so it was active avoidance of any cardio-like activity. I absolutely noticed a big improvement in my recovery between sets, my work capacity, my recovery from the exercise, my capacity for the total amount of exercise being done was increased dramatically when I started doing cardio more regularly.
Alex Viada: Yes. That’s what I tell people, is even between resistance training sets, aerobic systems are what’s responsible for helping your muscles get all the nutrients that they need to recover to the point where they can perform the next piece of work. If your aerobic systems are terrible, it’s taking that muscle so long to recover in between sets, that you’re probably, if you’re going to get out of the gym or get done with your work at any reasonable amount of time, you’re probably degrading your set quality as the workout goes on. Build up that aerobic system, you can do more productive work in the same amount of time.
Ari Whitten: Got it.
How the type of exercise you do affects your body composition
Ari Whitten: I want to tell you about this theory that I had years ago that I spent quite a bit of time developing, and made a lot of logical sense to me, but ultimately, there wasn’t a lot in the way of scientific backing of really any science that had even tested the theory. It was so speculative that I never felt comfortable releasing it. Interestingly, there’s a bit of data that’s come out very recently that supported it.
Here’s what it is. It relates to exercise and fat loss specifically. You mentioned earlier in this discussion the idea of moving your body through space. If we think of different types of exercise as creating different types of challenges, different types of stimuli to the body, that the body then responds to in somewhat different ways. There’s overlap, and you did a great job explaining the gray areas and nuance around that. To illustrate the point in an extreme way, the stimulus from lifting, doing a bicep curl, or, pressing a giant, heavy log overhead is a different stimulus than jogging five miles. They’re taxing different systems of the body in different ways.
Ultimately, one is communicating to the body like, “Hey, I want you to get better at running a long distance and maximizing the endurance capacity of the muscles and the heart and cardiovascular system.” The other one is saying to the body, “I want you to build more muscle tissue and increase strength so that you can press this giant log overhead or do this bicep curl with this heavy weight.” One is predominantly sending the signal for muscle growth, one, muscle endurance.
If we think of the body in that way of almost personifying the stimuli challenges to the body in this way and the adaptations it makes, it’s obvious what creates the stimulus for muscle gain, what tells the body to build more muscle, it’s lift a heavy object. What is the stimulus that tells the body, “Hey, I want you to lose fat to get better at this thing?” To better survive and to better do, to better perform this particular activity, you need to lose fat. What I came to ultimately was, move your body through space, something where you perform that activity better by being lighter.
The power to weight ratio of your muscular force relative to your body weight matters. Something like running has this, even walking has it, doing bodyweight exercises. Many different types of body weight exercise puts that stress on the system. Something like rock climbing does. There’s lots of gray areas here, but I’ll give you one layer of data that I was pulling from. There’s some research on different kinds of college athletes. If you compare college runners, female college runners, to female college swimmers.
The reason this comparison is important is because in a water environment, you’re not supporting your body weight. You’re in a weightless environment where basically your body weight doesn’t matter. If anything, there might be an advantage to having higher levels of body fat as you might float easier. My question was, “Hey, does that matter? Does swimming versus running, you might have similar amounts of total training, total exercise, total calorie burn, do you ultimately have different levels of body fat?” and you do.
Actually, female college swimmers are often notorious for struggling with being overweight and having difficulty losing fat. Female college runners are often too lean and too skinny such that they lose their period. There’s actually research that’s quantified the body fat percentages, and they are dramatically different despite again, similar amounts of caloric expenditure.
There’s some layers of data that supports this theory of mine. I ultimately call it body propulsion, that you need to move your body through space to give it that signal, “Hey, lose weight to better adapt to the stimulus.” The one final piece I’ll mention is just literally in the last few weeks, there was a study in animals and now a study in humans that replicated it, where they actually attached extra weight to the body. They used a weight vest. They discovered that there is actually a weight sensing system in the lower body that seems to, in response to carrying more weight and challenging that weight sensing system, the body loses fat.
I saw that and I was like, “Holy shit. There’s at least some element of truth in what I was saying.” I still think it’s probably right, but I’ve always been quite frankly afraid to put it out there, and present it as some great truth, when the science hasn’t really tested it.
Alex Viada: Honestly, when you started talking, that’s exactly what I started thinking about as well, the idea that there is a pressure sensor or a weight sensing system in the human body. There is a lot of merit to that. There’s a lot of promising research on that. I think where that comes in– We know that there are already structures, even within the bones, for example, that could detect deformation due to weight and as a result, elicits certain adaptations.
It would stand to reason that any organism, especially in a terrestrial organism that is meant to move itself over distance, would have some mechanisms that are responsible for helping to regulate different things like skeletal muscle and body fat, et cetera. It would be absolutely of adaptive value for humans if they find themselves in a situation where they have to move themselves long distances, that they carry less weight up to a certain point. Obviously, we have other issues. There are so many bodily feedbacks that [unintelligible].
The idea that something like running would preferentially cause more stress and stimulus to these weight sensors than something like swimming or something like lifting absolutely has huge amounts of merit to it. I’ve even noticed this myself. Cyclists don’t tend to lose weight as quickly as runners do for caloric burn.
Ari Whitten: That’s one of the gray areas, or even a lot of the cardio machines at the gym that are not so weight bearing.
Alex Viada: Exactly, because you’re not getting– If there are these pressure sensors, these weight sensors, and there is a direct link from those to body fat, which seems to hold true in preliminary data, it would make absolute sense that something where you are physically impacting ground repeatedly would cause more stimulation and cause a greater stimulation of these organs or these structures than anything else. I think that’s absolutely fascinating. I think there is a huge amount of potential exploration to be done there especially, when it comes to both weight loss interventions, performance considerations for different types of athletes.
I know there’ve been a couple of people that have even done n=1 and of one personal studies on wearing weight vests and seeing weight loss happen. As they increase the weight, their body weight goes down to compensate. That really does seem to bear that out. I think it’s a fascinating area of research. I think there is more evidence for the existence of some structures than there is against it.
Ari Whitten: I think at that point, since we’re releasing this on the podcast, then we need to put out a program on it so someone else doesn’t steal our idea and then claim it.
Alex Viada: No, let’s do that. [[laughs] I think there’s a huge area to investigate then. When some people start looking at why, if they’re not responding to different types of exercises as much as I think they should, maybe consider something along those lines and wonder why, for example, long-distance rucking tends to be something that just pulls weight off of these soldiers and selection like nothing else. They almost can’t eat enough and they’re putting–
Ari Whitten: Is it that carrying heavy backpacks over long distance?
Alex Viada: Yes. It’s literally just walking with heavy packs. You’ll have people that go into those programs and they’re doing what they think is as much work per day and eating almost the same amounts because when these guys get meal breaks, they just eat everything in sight. For some reason, this endless rucking, this endless hiking with heavy weight just seems to pull weight off them like nothing else. That further reinforces that this is a very, very likely phenomenon that we’re seeing.
Ari Whitten: Very cool. I was thinking that nothing would connect for you, and that maybe you’d just say, “No, I think that calorie burn is calorie burn regardless of how it’s done.” I’m glad that it jives for you and that it seems logically plausible. It’s cool that there’s some actual research to support the mechanisms behind it. It’s cool that you connected the dots with the rucking there as well. I’m glad I had the courage to broach into this speculative territory and put this theory on it out there. I’ve actually been sitting on it for probably five years now, without ever really talking about it publicly.
Alex Viada: Honestly, I hope in a case like this, a couple of people pick up on and go, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” They try it out and they get more other people interested, and that’s the kind of thing that grows. It’s like the flux concept. It’s everything is so complicated. There’s so much going on. There’s so many different feedback mechanisms. Yes, it helps to look at things simply. It helps look at calories in, calories out, but there’s so much more going on that I think have a much more profound effect than we give it credit for. When there are so many anomalies in the literature, like what you’re seeing on fat between swimmers and runners, we’ve got to take a look at that.
Ari Whitten: Yes, absolutely.
Alex Viada: Cool.
Ari Whitten: Awesome.
How to exercise for fat loss
Ari Whitten: Okay, I want to segue into fat loss. One point that I want to make here is, and maybe you can speak to this, I’m curious what your thoughts are as well, but in my experience, a lot of people who are trying to improve the look of their body make the mistake of thinking that it’s only about weight loss, and they neglect the muscle gain part of the equation. I think a lot of people end up losing a lot of weight and then not ending up with the body that they want. Because they’ve underestimated, hey, actually having a significant amount of muscle mass is part of having a nice aesthetic body.
The people that, this is subjective, but the people that most people’s that would admire and say, “Hey, that’s a good looking body, that’s a body I would aspire to”, generally speaking, if they probably have more muscle mass than you realize, then they probably do a quite a bit more resistance training than you realize. It’s not just, this is a common mistake in women, it’s not just a function of calorie restriction and weight loss and cardio. Do you have any thoughts on that aspect of things?
Alex Viada: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s one of the most challenging things because you look at a lot of people who you think, “Wow, they’re in phenomenal shape.” If they dieted down to that point, they probably looked very, very muscular beforehand. I think a lot of people, especially guys, are often amazed at how much weight they have to lose to get as lean as they want to be. I’ve got colleagues of mine who started out dieting at 230 pounds. They said, “Oh, man, I’m going to look really good at 210.” They get down to 170 pounds before they’re actually as lean as they thought they would be at 210.
That’s really, really telling, because you look at a guy who’s 170 pounds of lean, you think okay, yes, he’s more muscle than everything else. You look at a guy who’s 230 pounds thinking he’s 10 pounds away from that level of leanness, that’s a big, big difference. I think when it comes down to it, a lot of us, even those of us who have a good amount of muscle mass, don’t realize it only takes a little bit of underlying muscle to create a lot of external shape. I think it’s a double-edged sword. If you want to get really, really lean, of course, you’re probably going to have to lose a lot more weight than you think. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look good by putting on just a little bit of muscle, and you might be surprised at how much closer to your ideal physique you’ll be just by adding on a little muscle while you burn a little bit of fat.
Ari Whitten: Excellent, I can’t help to add, but this, that there’s also this idea that many people have, especially women often have around getting toned. Or they’ll say things like, “I want to firm up” or, “I want to look more toned.” Well, how do you translate that into actual what’s going on physiologically to give a more toned look?
Alex Viada: Well, along that is that when people say toned, what I generally tend to envision is people see the typical, say, female cross-fitter builder, female body builders absolutely ripped and strided and everything else, they say, “Okay, that’s not it. I want something a little softer.” When you talk about something that’s a little bit softer, what you’re talking about is you still have an appreciable amount of body fat deposits, but there is an underlying level of muscle that is forcing that into shape. You get all the aesthetically pleasing shapes people want.
You have the taper, you have the leg shape, you have a little bit of that arm tone and everything else, which is really just a little bit of softness, but it’s on top of what is a good amount of muscle underneath it giving it shape. You have to build that muscle in order for it to get that shape. It doesn’t matter how you build the muscle. People say you should do high repetitions to get toned or anything else. That’s not really it. Tone is a combination of underlying shape and lower but not super low body fat. When I tell people if they want to get there and you say you’re going to have to build some muscle, and you’re going to have to lose some fat.
It’s getting to that ideal level. Now, you might–
Ari Whitten: To that point, those are the only things you can do. You can either build muscle and you can lose fat. This idea that a lot of people have to get more toned is actually those two things. It is a combination of increased muscle mass or decreased fatness.
Alex Viada: It is. It’s just that that toned physique is probably a higher body fat than some people may actually think based on looking at them, but it’s amazing how much a little muscle can go to make a slightly higher body fat look good.
Ari Whitten: Yes, absolutely.
Alex Viada: I think a lot of people need to keep that in mind when they think, “Oh, maybe I need to be super lean.” Or, “How long is this going to take?” Put on a little bit of muscle first, and then when you start peeling away the fat, we’ll start to see the shape you like a lot sooner.
Ari Whitten: Yes, absolutely.
Alex Viada: Very, it’s going to be a much more metabolically healthy shape at that point.
Ari Whitten: That was exactly the point I was hoping you’d make, because I think there’s there’s so many women who need to hear that who neglect this, the muscle-building side of things. Now let’s talk about fat loss. What is the optimal exercise regimen look for people who are trying to lose fat?
Alex Viada: Honestly, it looks very, very similar. Again, I know that sounds almost like a cop-out, but when you’re losing fat, obviously, the most important thing is the nutrition program that you’re on. That’s going to determine what you gain and lose. That’s going to determine that deficit. What’s critically important about the training at that point, though, is the training needs to be very much focused on, first of all, facilitating that caloric deficit, but it’s very difficult to burn enough calories through exercise to actually deepen a caloric deficit, there are downsides too, which I can talk about in a second, and maintaining that existing muscle, or potentially even building somewhat that you’re in a deficit.
Now, there’s some advantage to burning extra calories through exercise, when you get to the concept of energy flux. Basically, it means that all things being equal, if I eat 1,500 calories a day and my body burns 1,500 calories a day, I’m going to look a certain way. If I eat 2,000 a day but burn 2,000 a day as the same person, I’m actually going to end up being a little bit leaner. If I want to induce a deficit, I can do that strictly by caloric restriction, or I can do that through a combination of caloric restriction and exercise. Maintaining that energy flux, in other words, more calories in but more calories out, is going to net result in a healthier body with a better body composition than just with the deficit.
Ari Whitten: I have to say, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been studying this field for a long time, 20 plus years, flux is a concept I talk a lot about. I think it’s really important. The research on is actually quite impressive. I see it almost never talked about by anybody in the fitness industry, and it blows my mind that people don’t talk about it because it’s so important.
Alex Viada: It’s staggering how little emphasis is paid to it. The people said, “Well, this is the most important thing in weight loss.” The concept of energy flux, and thinking about all the various processes that are happening, like you said, this isn’t like you’re filling a fuel tank and you’re emptying it. It’s all the nutrients that are coming in. The process of burning calories isn’t just sitting there burning fuel like it’s gasoline coming through. You’re talking about breakdown of stores and breakdown of certain structures in the body and all that, and then rebuilding them. Rebuilding them with fresh tissue, and discarding old cells and building new cells, and emptying out adipose tissue and insulin action.
This whole turnover and this whole cleaning process that goes on as flux levels increase, there’s so many benefits to it. Of course, you don’t get yourself into too stressed a state. Too high oxidation or anything else look like ultra runners [unintelligible 00:58:52]. There’s so many advantages to it. You’d think that should be part of any fat loss program, is paying not only attention to the deficit, and obviously to maintaining the focus on strength training, to hold on to that existing metabolically active skeletal muscle, but also looking at that overall level of caloric flux, and trying to practically maximize that in a way that is still not overstressing you.
Ari Whitten: Yes. I’m tempted to go down a little rabbit hole with flux here, but I just want to say to the point that you were just making, just observe the natural world. Observe any animal. You go for a walk, any animal you see, whether it’s a bird, a crow flying in the sky, or it’s a squirrel, or a rabbit, or whatever it is, what you’ll notice is their whole day is spent in periods of physical movement, energy expenditure, and then acquiring some food, and then physical movement, and acquiring some food, and physical movement, and acquiring some food. It’s just like a universal principle of pretty much almost all animals. Humans have largely disconnected ourselves from that. We’re taking a bunch of food, sit around for four hours, taking a bunch more food, sit around, taking a bunch more food, and maybe once in a while, do a bit of exercise, hopefully. [laughs]
Alex Viada: Hopefully, it is. It’s really, really interesting, and of course you look at our ancestry, and obviously different species work in different ways. People say, “Well, what about big cats? They just gorge themselves and sleep.” We’re not big cats. They have very different diet, very different physiology. They’ve evolved in a very different way. They’ve evolved to gorge themselves on massive, massive meals, and then literally sit around.
Ari Whitten: Too much to avoid starvation.
Alex Viada: To avoid starvation, exactly. You look at cats, and a lot of them are on the razor’s edge. You look at a cheetah, it can’t afford too many failed hunts because then it’s dead. It’s a very, very different thing. When you look at humans and you look at a lot of, say, foraging apes and the like, that’s much more kind of what we’re like. Activity, rest, activity, rest, activity, rest, all day. Maintaining a level of flux. A lot of our cellular systems, a lot of these cleaning systems, a toffee G, everything else, and fat burning and hormone regulation, everything else is based around that continuous interplay of stress and relaxation. Not huge chunks of time where we gorge ourselves and then sit.
Human evolution, gut microbiome is highly adaptable and everything else, but for the most part, if we really want to change that evolution, we need another 200,000 years of a mostly sedentary lifestyle to actually start to optimize our bodies for what we’re doing right now. Even this epigenetic micro evolution can’t keep pace with how drastically our lifestyles have changed.
Ari Whitten: Yes, 100%. Getting back to the practical fat loss regimen, let’s complete the rest of that.
Alex Viada: Sure. I would say that the strength training program should very, very much follow what you will do, almost for muscle building. The thing to keep in mind, though, is when you’re muscle building and you’re assumed to be eating about the same amount, either isocaloric, or at a slight surplus, push yourself. You can afford to push yourself for two to three sets, if you’re beginner. Three to four, if you’re intermediate. Four to five, if you’re advanced, to near failure. If you’re doing it for fat loss, reduce the number of sets probably by about one or two, and make those workouts a little bit shorter. Reason for that is, you don’t have the caloric reserve to really account for that much additional stress.
The other thing is, what you mentioned before about concentric movements versus eccentric, I find that programs that more heavily emphasize only concentric movements actually do better for people who are in a fat loss phase because they’re able to maintain workout quality even when in a deficit, and that’s something to keep in mind. If you are in an extended fat loss phase, and you’re going into the gym, and you want to keep your energy levels as high as possible, think more about focusing on the contraction portion of movement, and allow yourself to relax a little bit more or perform the relaxation part of the movement a little bit faster.
Keeping that general mindset, you’re going to be able to do more productive work with probably less soreness because that whole fatigue versus stimulus that we’re talking about, you’re inducing a little bit less fatigue, or you’re inducing significantly less fatigue for almost as much stimulus, so that the cost benefit every additional set is significantly greater when you shift more heavily to concentric movements in fat loss phases.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Let’s say someone is listening, they want to lose fat, and in fact, their primary goal, the way they’re looking at this currently, is they’re weighing themselves on the scale and they’re saying, “Okay, I’m 160 pounds, I’d love to be 130 pounds. That’s my target goal weight.” I’m speaking as them right now. “I’ve read that cardio puts me in my fat burning zone, and causes my cells to burn off a lot more fats for fuel. Why would I waste any time with the resistance exercise? Why not just restrict calories, do a bunch of cardio to keep me in my fat-burning zone, and spend all my time and energy there? Why waste time with resistance exercise?”
Alex Viada: I think one of the biggest things is, of course with skeletal muscle, is there is very much a user or loser type of mentality. Usually if people are 160 pounds, they say, “I want to get to 130 pounds.” Part of it is because what my doctor said I should probably be there, but another part of it is they probably also have in mind roughly how they want to be, how they want to feel, how they want to look and everything else.
People lose weight because they want to be metabolically healthy, they want less wear and tear on their joints. They want to be able to move with less discomfort, greater longevity, and they want to look a certain way. If you diet from 160-130 with no resistance training whatsoever, in the process of getting there, even if you’re still doing cardio, you’re going to be losing muscle, you’re going to be losing all that scale, you’re going to be losing that metabolically active tissue. There are a lot of enzymes, a lot of structural regrowth associated with resistance training that is extremely healthy for you. If you’re doing those to improve your lifestyle, simply cutting off 30 pounds, that’s almost something you should arrive at by virtue of making these changes, these physiological changes that get you there in the first place. Going from 160 to 130, just by shaving off body tissue, you’re just going to be a smaller version of what you are right now. You’re not necessarily going to hurt any less. Yes, your knees may be better, but you’re not going to be any more. You might be a little more metabolically healthy, sure, but you’re not going to feel any stronger, you’re not necessarily going to feel like you’re any stronger for your body weights. You’ll lose a lot in that process.
Ari Whitten: What would be the difference between that scenario versus if someone did plenty of resistance exercise during that weight loss phase?
Alex Viada: If you’re doing plenty of resistance exercise, they will probably feel healthier as they’re dieting at 150 than the other person will feel at 130. As they’re losing weight, when they continue down at 145, they’re going to look better, they’re going to look more toned, they’re going to feel stronger. When they hit 140, they’re going to feel like they have more energy than they’ve ever had in their life. When they hit 135, they’re going to look better than they ever thought they could look, and feel better than they ever thought that they could feel. By the time they get to 130, they may not even realize they need to get to 130, because at that point, they will have everything they’re looking for. Blood panels will look improved, energy levels will look improved, muscular size and shape and function will be better. Levels of alertness will be better. They’ll be sleeping better. Will have fewer orthopedic aches and pains and everything else.
They may realize that they’ve arrived at what they thought was their long-term destination long before they get there. At that point, suddenly the weight loss and the number and all that, yes sure, it matters. By the time they get to 130, their entire life will be different. They haven’t just lost weight, they’ve fixed everything that they thought they would, and more, and that’s why we’re doing this. It’s not just about getting to a specific number. It’s about everything you hope you’ll have when you get to that number. Why not start working towards it now? You’ll get it long before you can get there.
Ari Whitten: Excellent. Are you okay on time to go another 15 minutes or so?
Alex Viada: Yes.
Ari Whitten: Okay. Two more things I want to talk about. You’ve alluded to some aspects of this, especially around the concentric eccentric discussion. What are the main factors in muscle growth? You’ve talked about, again, a Concentric Eccentric, you’ve talked about overall volume of sets for body part to shoot for, and repetitions being in 6 to 10 range. What other factors should someone be aware of when it comes to wanting to maximize muscle growth?
Alex Viada: The most critical thing, as I mentioned, is really– When it comes down to the growth stimulus is applied by sufficient tension to actually stress those muscular cross-bridges. Basically the structure is almost between muscle fibers. There are a lot of sensors, neurological sensors, mechanical sensors, et cetera. Solid structures that actually sense that tension and that degree of tension that caused the growth stimulus. One of the reasons why it’s critical to do more than one set, of course, is because during a given set, and especially if you’re only doing one exercises, there were multiple reasons why you may not be able to complete the set. When you do multiple sets, when you’re exhausting and you are ensuring that as many of those cross-bridges as possible are stressed within the muscle, you’re ensuring that it’s not things like, say, momentary discomfort, or say joint discomfort, or a postural discomfort that terminates the stress before you can maximize it.
In other words, that’s why I say, if people want to do two different types of curls, one with their hand facing one way, one with their hand facing the other, what makes that more effective is not that you’re working it from different angles, it’s that you’re actually able to exhaust the target muscle completely without other muscles surrounding muscles also contributing to the fatigue in different ways. Applying that tension as close as possible to muscular failure is all that matters. Almost everything else, when it comes down to it, exhaustion of substrates, in other words, using the available glycogen, that’s a totally different pathway. None of those other things seem to stimulate muscle growth as much as tension does.
The thing that matters, of course, as you alluded to, as you get more experienced, your body can obviously tolerate more stress. One of the reasons why you have to do more and more sets, is actually maximizing that tension, and actually inducing a level of stress beyond what the body can handle, may take more sets.
Ari Whitten: Got it. Excellent. You covered the tissue damage component of things. What about the high repetitions and the accumulation of lactic acid and other cellular waste products and feeling the burn? Does that play a significant role in muscle growth?
Alex Viada: Well, indirectly only. I know that sounds like a cop out answer. It really depends. Accumulation of lactic acid has a couple benefits. Localized acidosis has a lot of effects on everything from the circulatory system to insulin to everything else. When you’re actually feeling the burn in a muscle, you’re increasing blood flow. You’re decreasing the pH of the surrounding area, which actually changes the amount of oxygen that your blood is releasing to the muscle that actually causes it to release more oxygen to the surrounding muscle. You’re effectively feeding that muscle more nutrients and more oxygen and more blood.
One of the reasons that that can be beneficial is especially, remember I said there are a lot of things that can diminish muscular performance that aren’t just strength. In other words, if you built a muscle with no aerobic system whatsoever underlying it, it would fatigue, just due to factors beyond tension. It would just run out of nutrients long before it stimulated itself. When you do high repetition sets, what you’re doing is, since you’re forcing so much oxygen, so many nutrients to it, you’re basically allowing the muscle at that point to continue to do more productive work before it exhausts.
Now, this is one reason why I recommend people warm up with higher repetitions and lower weight before they actually get to the productive work set. One of the reasons for that is some of that early work is doing things like increasing blood flow, allowing more oxygen to get to the muscle, increasing perfusion and everything else, which is actually facilitating the muscle doing more productive work before it fatigues. A lot of that pump high repetition work, in and of itself, may not elicit enough tension to actually grow muscles. You’ll still elicit some tension, and you’ll be doing so much low grade work there that you can actually get some growth stimulus from it, but you don’t need to do that.
It’s just a roundabout way of facilitating more work being done, which, at the end of the day, can mean more productive tension. If you’re just doing high-rep work, it’s not going to do it.
Ari Whitten: Okay. Biggest factors in muscle growth. I think you maybe didn’t say this explicitly, but you’ve touched on it indirectly. Mechanical load, the total amount of just work that a muscle does, and that you talked about in the context of sets and reps, as a percentage of the total weight that one can do, that 6 to 10 rep range being the right rep range, or most optimal rep range, and doing a certain amount of volume of work in that rep range enough to stimulate muscle growth. The potential for tissue damage from the eccentric portion to contribute some additional benefit, maybe.
Then the potential for the accumulation of metabolites in lactic acid to contribute at least indirectly to a small extent. Then the systematic overload of increasing the challenge to the muscles over a period of time. Do you think that encapsulates all of the major points of muscle growth, or is there anything you want to add to that?
Alex Viada: The only other thing I would add is frequency. Working a target muscle once every 72 hours to 96 hours, or 3 or 4 days, seems to be a bad ideal. Obviously, the harder you work it, the less frequently you can use it. Between 72 and 96 hours is about the appropriate, super compensation window for really, really maximizing muscle growth. If you absolutely want to maximize muscle growth, make sure to hit a muscle once you’re at that window interval. You may find to do that, of course, you may have to do things like, again, avoid excessive eccentric movement, or you may still be sore. Avoid training to muscular failure, or you’ll still be sore. That’s why a lot of those things tend to fall lower in the priority, because remember, those are second order benefits. The reason why they benefit is they cause proliferation of other growth factors and everything else and building up the support structures and all that, but those are lesser benefits than the first one.
If you really just remember that, get adequate attention, adequate frequency, adequate load, you’ll be in pretty good shape.
Ari Whitten: Got it. As far as fat loss, conceptualizing the big picture factors there, it’s mainly do exercise, not necessarily to be in your fat burning zone for the purposes of burning off fat during the exercise itself, but for general health, do the resistance exercise to keep muscle mass and build muscle mass, and retain the muscle mass during the weight loss process who you selectively lose primarily fat rather than muscle, and do exercise in general to increase overall calorie flux. Anything else you want to add to that?
Alex Viada: No, the only thing I would say is on the resistance training, just remember if you can switch to more concentric only exercises, reduce the number of sets and ever so slightly, but maintain that intensity, and possibly reduce the frequency, stretch it out by another 24 hours, and you should be good. That’s exactly the way you outlined it.
How to exercise if you suffer from chronic fatigue
Ari Whitten: Then the last thing I want to touch on, which is a topic you brought up, you suggested that we could talk about today, which is endurance exercise and chronic illness, and pain tolerance. Talk to me about kind of the research that you’ve done narrower or the research that you’ve seen in that area.
Alex Viada: Yes, there’s some very, very interesting research on both how endurance exercise increases, or it actually improves the body’s ability to manage pain and manage discomfort on both a psychological level and a neurological level. At first, there was just the observation that endurance athletes seem to have greater pain tolerance.
I want to distinguish or differentiate between pain threshold and pain tolerance. Pain threshold is when you first notice the pain. Pain tolerance is when the pain becomes unbearable. For example, if I take a cactus spine and put my finger, the point at which I noticed that it’s uncomfortable is my threshold. The point at which I have to pull my finger away is my tolerance.
What’s interesting about pain is that there is both the understanding and the perception of pain, and there’s the emotional component of pain. Here’s another reason this makes a difference. If I sit here and I poke my finger with that cactus spine, I can probably tolerate it much better than if somebody just comes up to me out of nowhere and starts poking that into my back. Part of that is one of the biggest things about fear or about pain, is that fear component, that emotional component of pain where you associate potential pain with harm, with danger, with risk.
Endurance sports that are especially pushing yourself in endurance endeavors, allows you to start to differentiate and start to widen the gap between the perception of pain and the emotional attachment to pain. A lot of endurance athletes, by willfully inflicting discomfort and realizing that discomfort itself is not indicative necessarily of long term harm, is a very, very useful thing for a lot of individuals who deal with chronic pain, because chronic pain over time, it really begins to blur those lines, where every bout of discomfort is associated with there’s such a strong emotional component to it, that it makes it very, very difficult to actually continue to function when you’re dealing with an acute bout of pain.
As you train, and endurance activities not only does that gap between your threshold and your tolerance and the physical notion of pain and the emotional attachment, not only does that gap begin to widen, what endurance athletes have, good ones come up with far more associative aspects of dealing with pain as opposed to dissociative. I think most people are familiar with that, but basically dissociative is when you feel discomfort, you start pretending you’re somewhere else. Associative is when you actually isolate the pain, and you say, “Okay, I’m feeling this, I’m experiencing this, but I can manage it.”
Associative techniques are outstanding for endurance athletes, and there’s something endurance sports force you to develop, because, again, you’re running on a treadmill, or you’re walking up a hill or anything else, and it’s uncomfortable, your legs hurt. If you were just sitting around and you suddenly felt all the symptoms that you feel when you’re walking up a hill, suddenly your breathing becomes labored, your heart rate goes up, your life starts to burn, your chest starts aching, everything else, you would probably be in a full-blown panic attack.
Being able to induce that state in yourself and go through the mental discipline of saying, “I’m experiencing this. I know how to deal with this. I’m comfortable with this. I can compartmentalize this discomfort, and I know that I will get through this”, is extremely, extremely useful. There have been studies at this point that have shown that on absolute measures of pain, study endurance exercise actually reduces both the emotional impact of discomfort, and the actual objective rating of pain on a 1 to 10 scale in both patients with chronic pain and people who don’t have chronic pain. It works across the board.
Ari Whitten: You just made me think of something I was just watching the other day, this film on– it’s actually on a number of different extreme sports athletes, mountaineers, and surfers, and it features this one champion freediver. I’m practicing sort of breath-hold training, and it blows my mind how– I’m like a child compared to this guy’s level of what he’s able to do. I’m not even remotely in the same territory as far as what he’s managed to do with breath-holding capacity. One of the things that goes on there, I’m sure you probably know about, is kind of build-up carbon dioxide and then you get this urge to breathe. One of the things they learn how to do in freediving is they learn how to basically psychologically overcome that urge to breathe and disconnect.
Like most people, when they get that feeling, that urge to breathe, it’s like I’m about to die, my body’s about to completely shut down and I’m about to pass out and die and drown and whatever. They learn that actually that urge to breathe actually happens way before your actual true capacity to stay underwater and continue holding your breath. They learn to feel that, and then stay with that for a way, way longer period of time, and they push into this whole other territory of, I don’t even know what it feels like, but it’s a sensation that’s way beyond that initial urge to breath that is your actual true need for oxygen.
One of the things they said that was super interesting fits, it’s much more extreme than what you’re just talking about, but it fits with it, he said he learns to live in this territory between life and death. Like they learned to get comfortable in this. What for most people is this super narrow fraction of it’s like a second or two maybe, or a few seconds that it feels like between that urge to breathe and between the feeling of you’re going to die, and they learn to operate for minutes of time in that territory. It’s just, anyway it’s fascinating, and I think it relates to what you’re talking about.
Alex Viada: It absolutely does, and I think that’s so fascinating as well because we get into that anything ranging from all the mask stuff now and going on, people– when your CO2 levels start to rise at all, the urge to increase it, it’s basically a linear relationship between rise in CO2 and the urge to breathe. With oxygen though, it’s a hyperbolic relationship. In other words, your actual oxygenation can drop significantly before you have an urge to breathe. Part of the reason for that is carbon dioxide build-up is kind of this leading indicator, but in and of itself, it’s not hurting you when it first starts to rise at all. It’s not going to hurt you for quite some time. What’s going to hurt you is when your oxygen levels plummet, but that is so far down the line that most people don’t get to that, they say, when somebody has had a heart attack or they stop breathing, you have mere minutes, you have five minutes before, or 5 or 10 minutes before the brain is in danger. Why is it that people start panicking like they’re about to die within 20 seconds of holding their breath? At three minutes, they still have plenty of oxygen going through their system. Their heart’s still pumping even. They can last even longer.
It’s realizing how that, again, that discomfort, that pain itself that even no susception, the sensation, those things that transmit discomfort, they don’t necessarily indicate damage, they don’t necessarily indicate harm. It’s just your body’s way of saying, hey, we’re feeling something here. We’re just letting you know, and then your brain starts to say oh my God, it’s panic mode. Like you’re saying, anything that induces that state willingly, whether you’re doing breath-holding exercises and looking at free divers or endurance exercises, you look at cyclists at the end of the climate they’re smiling and laughing with each other. Their legs are so on fire that most of us would be hunched over our handlebars, actually in excruciating discomfort.
Learning how to compartmentalize that and emotionally detach yourself and say, wait a minute, I’m in control here. This is discomfort, but I’m not going to let this break me. It is, it’s a discipline, it’s something you go through, and as you understand your body better and better and better, and how far and how that– pain is just your body’s way of letting you know that something is going on. What you do with it is up to you. That is a very, very powerful thing. As you’re saying, there are a lot of different ways to induce that. Whether it’s, again, using dive tables and breath holding techniques, or whether it’s endurance exercise or anything else, all of these things really help us take better control over a lot of these body processes that I think too often we let run away.
Ari Whitten: Yes, and I love how you’ve applied this to people dealing with chronic illness and chronic pain. I think that’s brilliant. To wrap up, I would love it if you could give two or three final tips to people, and these can either be practical tips, or you could speak to maybe one or two common mistakes or errors of thinking that people have in this territory of using exercise to improve their health, build muscle, improve fat loss, lose fat. What do you think are, I guess, top two or three tips that you want to leave people with, or talk through two or three mistakes you want to correct in people’s mind?
Alex Viada: The first mistake is always the one that is, thinks I should lose weight to get healthy before I start some resistance training or exercise. Yes, obviously get a doctors note, all that kind of a thing, but also bear in mind sometimes physicians have a very binary thought of what exercise may be as well. They may say, “Well, you can just walk,” and you say, “Isn’t that exercise?” Don’t take this as a note to ignore your doctor. Anyway, the first thing people do is they wait too long or they say, “You know what, I’ll start resistance training once I’ve, whatever.” The correct time to always start was probably yesterday, the next best time is today.
No matter how wide you start, no matter what you start with doing, as long as it’s something that’s stressing your body beyond what it’s comfortable with right now, you’re going to get some benefit from it. I’m going to tell people, no matter what stage of development you’re in, maybe the thing where if you have a patient who is 500 pounds and has bariatric bypass surgery and everything else, I would still advise them, pick up a weight in their hand just to do something. It is never, ever, ever too early to start. The second thing is, patients with chronic illness very often worry that exercise is going to tax their system beyond what they’re capable o6f handling.
Say I can barely get out of bed and you’re expecting me to go, what? One of the biggest tips I would give people is, make a tracker for your energy levels. We actually include that in one of the templates. It is, track things day to day and week to week. Start to find patterns. Start to find times when you have more energy, when you have less energy. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt, but also recognize certain patterns of sleep and daily activity and everything else that will give you enough of an energy reserve to start doing some kind of exercise.
The more you track it, the more you look for trends, the better control you’re taking over your own energy levels, over your own life. I know this is something you emphasize endlessly, as this something you can take control over. Let this be something else, and really be proactive about that. It’s not always intuitive. Some people don’t want to keep a daily diary of, well, I walked up and down the flight of stairs three times today, but it’s worth it. It really is. That’s the next piece, and this applies at all levels even. There are people who say, “Oh, I’d love to get back into running 5K’s but I’m just tired all the time,” and you say, “Well, track your week.” It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. A tracker like that is, even if you’re an elite athlete, you should be tracking this stuff anyway, and just keeping tabs on things, it doesn’t matter. It’s never too early to start tracking. It’s never too late to start tracking.
If I had to give one more tip, it would loop back to the very first thing we talked about, don’t differentiate between strength training and cardio and think you have to do one or the other. Remember, it’s all on a spectrum. The best thing to do is not one or the other, it’s to do a little bit of both.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well, to everybody listening. Hopefully you now see why I regard Alex as literally, he’s pretty much my go-to exercise expert. As someone who’s been studying this stuff for 20 years, I still learn a ton from this guy every time I talk to him. He’s someone that whenever I have questions about anything related to this, even for my own personal stuff, this is the person that I go to, and that’s why he’s the person that I asked to design the exercise program that we created, which is, again, called the Strength Blueprint. You can get that on theenergyblueprint.com/strength-blueprint. Again, it’s got four different phases that you can enter into.
Depending on where you’re at currently, in terms of your fitness level, you might be starting at, if you’re just coming out of chronic illness or chronic fatigue syndrome or something like that, maybe you’re going to start at stage one. If you’re already pretty fit and working out, maybe you’d start at stage two or three. I doubt anybody’s fit enough that they’re going to be starting at stage four. There’s plenty of room, almost no matter how fit you are, for significant progression. Go to theenergyblueprint.com/strength-blueprint, if you want to get a regimen designed by this brilliant guy that you’ve just been listening to for the last hour and a half.
I hope you all have enjoyed this episode. Alex, thank you so much. As always, brilliant. Always a pleasure talking to you, my friend.
Alex Viada: Thank you very much. Good talk to you.
The different types of exercise (08:06)
How HIIT works on the body (14:05)
How to structure your workouts for optimal benefits (23:50)
How to stimulate muscle growth (27:40)
Why training is essential for health and longevity (32:04)
How to get the best results from cardio training (43:05)
How to exercise for muscle gain (51:00)
How the type of exercise you do affects your body composition (1:01:05)
How to exercise for fat loss (1:11:35)
How to exercise if you suffer from chronic fatigue (1:31:30)