Fitness Myth Busting Part 1: Lactic Acid

The fitness world is full of myths, legends, and downright BS. Sometimes I think it’s harder for people to sift through the nonsense on the internet than it is for them to complete their first workout.

Should I lift weights? Should I do cardio? Should I NEVER do steady state cardio? Will I get bulky? Higher reps, lower reps, heavy, light…wait, WHAT?

There are a thousand questions you can ask about fitness and exercise, and odds are you’ll get a different answer for each of them depending on who you ask. While there are some things out there that are just a matter of differing opinions, there are others that are continuously shared in the fitness world, despite heaps of evidence and science disproving (or at least strongly questioning) their validity.

I was going to take today to talk about 3 of the top three fitness myths out there, and why you need to stop believing in them, stat. However, once I got started on the first one, I realized it was a post in itself. The other two in this series will be coming soon, but for now, myth #1!

The Lactic Acid Myth

We’ve all heard it: if you work out at a high intensity, lactic acid will build up in your muscles. And if you don’t do something to “get it out” at the end of your workout, it will stay there and cause soreness later on. I’ve always pictured this like Ghostbusters slime that seeps into your muscle belly and just sits there for all of eternity.

So, what’s the truth here? Well, get ready for the shock of your life:

Lactic acid doesn’t “build up” in muscles. In fact, lactic acid basically doesn’t exist.

*Mic drop*

whatdidshesay

So, that thing you’ve been hearing about since your days as a middle school track star is nonexistent? Than why oh why does everyone keep talking about it? That’s honestly a good question. So here’s the breakdown:

When you exercise, your body uses different substrates to create energy for your muscles to continue to contract (so that you don’t end up a heap of Ghostbusters Slime on the floor).Energy for your muscles comes first from carbohydrates and fats, and then in more dire times, from protein. The first and easiest source of energy for your working muscles are carbohydrates, which can be turned into energy rather quickly. However, the one downfall to this is that your body needs plenty of oxygen to convert glucose into energy, and when we do high intensity exercise — think hill sprints, sled pushes, heavy KB swings, sets of dreaded burpees– the body lacks enough oxygen to continue this energy making process.

So instead of just shutting down, since our bodies are wild and crazy machines that power through some of the most amazing circumstances, lactate is formed.  Essentially (without going into too much detail and losing all of you), during normal aerobic energy production, glucose is broken down to form pyruvate, which is then converted into energy through a series of steps that utilize oxygen. When oxygen isn’t available, however, pyruvate is converted into lactate. Lactate allows the glycogen breakdown and energy production to continue, even when you’re sucking wind and have very little oxygen on demand for your cells.

crazy-dog

If all of that science talk makes you feel like this, I apologize. It’s almost over! 

Lactate, commonly called “Lactic Acid” is then utilized during those periods of low oxygen. And I’m talking just a few minutes at a time here, not days upon days of some slime sitting inside of your muscles making you sore.

But, here’s the catch that most people don’t realize: once that period of low oxygen is over and the body recovers from that last sprint, sled push or set of burpees, lactate is shuttled out of cells, converted back into pyruvate and the oxygen utilizing process of energy production continues. Thus, lactate is almost immediately cleared from your muscles after a tough workout session; it is only there for the short time that your muscles absolutely need it for energy production. Once it’s need has passed (that is, once your high intensity bout has finished), the body gets rid of it rather quickly and efficiently. Essentially, lactate is an important form of fuel for your muscles, not the enemy. Converting that built up lactate into pyruvate allows your muscles to keep contracting (and your exercise session to continue).

So, lactic acid doesn’t build up in my muscles?

Well, yes and no. During those times of high intensity exercise — I’m talking short bouts of about 1-3 minutes here, lactate does build up in your muscle tissue. And it can build up to quite high levels –but your body will use this quite efficiency as fuel. 

After that high intensity bout though, that lactate does not just hang around. It does not become comfortable, kick it’s shoes off, and crash on your bicep’s couch for a few days. It is just about immediately converted back into a usable form for your muscles, so that you don’t end up in a sweaty heap on the floor.

This cycle can happen over and over again, depending on your fitness level and “lactate threshold”, which is why we are able to do things like HIIT incline hill sprints, and still have legs to walk on afterward. The recovery period is key when training into your lactate zone, and is what allows you to do rep after rep of those torturous hill sprints.

So Why did You Say Lactic acid doesn’t exist?

Because it’s a misnomer, and one that people overuse in the fitness world. Yes, lactate is very important when training at high intensities for short bouts; it allows us to take our training to the next level. However, that’s all it is. Lactic acid is not a byproduct of lactate that hangs around and creates soreness, and in the fitness works, it’s simply a different name for lactate. That’s it. 

Now, at times of high intensity exercise, your body produces lactate, while at the same time producing hydrogen ions (acid). When people refer to lactic acid, they are referring to this acid formation, however that assumption is incorrect. This acid does not stay with lactate, and therefore is not “lactic acid”. There is lactate (fuel for your working muscles) and acid — these are two seperate entities. That acid, along with other metabolites in your blood, contribute to the burning sensation during exercise. But again, this is not lactate or “lactic acid”. 

Now, all of this being said, lactate is very important to training, especially if you are trying to improve performance, or perform at higher intensities for a longer period of time, as in cycling or running road races. Or heck, just squeezing out a couple more hill sprint reps. But training to improve your lactate threshold is a completely different post for a different time (and one that you can find a thousand articles about on the interwebs with a quick search).

The bottom line for this post is that I hope you understand one thing: lactic acid does not build up in your muscles long term and it is not what causes that crippling delayed onset muscle soreness after a tough gym session. And next time someone tells you otherwise, hopefully you’ll be prepared to let them know that any lactate that did form during your workout has cleared rather quickly on its own, thank you very much.

If you want to really sound like a smarty pants, you can even throw around some fancy words like pyruvate or glycolysis. Now go drop some knowledge bombs on those gym bros!

 

Advertisements

Workout Wednesday: Metabolic Finishers

I don’t know about you all, but I love a good metabolic finisher at the end of my workout. I don’t do them every day, but once or twice a week I’ll throw a finisher in to really kick my own butt and add a little cardio/metabolic burst to the end of a session.

If you’re not familiar with metabolic finishers, it’s a term used to describe a short bout of high intensity exercise, meant to give you an extra metabolic burn following your workout. Think HIIT, with out the low points of the intervals, and for a short period of time. These usually last anywhere from 5-10 minutes, but leave me sweaty and gasping for air by the end of that short time!

Again, I don’t do these every day and I don’t recommend doing them every day, especially after a max out lift session or something equally as taxing. But if you are looking for a little bit of fat loss without adding in hours of cardio to your routine, finishers after weight lifting a couple of times per week, plus one or two days of cardio or HIIT could be the way to go. These usually involve continuous motion for the time you are working; very little rest, or as little rest as you can tolerate while still safely completing the exercises is the key here.

Today I’m giving you some of my favorite finishers to try. They’re all pretty simple on paper, but if you push yourself and do them correctly, you’ll get that deep burn you’re looking for! The key here is working as hard as you can for those few minutes, or you won’t get favorable results. Short bouts of high intensity training are really only effective if they are just that — high intensity! So lace up your shoes, get ready to sweat, and let’s go.

4 Quick

KB Swing/Goblet Squat x6 min: 12 kettlebell swings immediately followed by 8 goblet squats, repeat AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) for 6 minutes. The KB swings should be relatively heavy, the goblet squats should be a moderate weight. No rest if possible!

TM Incline Sprints – Contrary to above, you will include some rest periods in this finisher. This is to allow your legs to recover so that you can complete all out effort during the work period. Put the treadmill incline to 8-10% (or adjust to challenge yourself at your level). Standing on the sides of the TM, increase the speed to a quick pace for you (recommended between 7-8 mph). Hop on for a 20s sprint, followed by a 40s rest, while again standing on sides (straddling the belt, if you will). If you have never done start/stop work like this on a treadmill before, please practice hopping on and off from the sides at a low speed and work your way up.

Jump Squat/Plank Up Down x5 min: Complete designated reps of each exercise continuously for 5 minutes. With your jump squats, remember to land softly and with knees facing straight forward (not moving in towards each other). Do these in front of a mirror to be sure of your form. Plank Up Downs: Start in high plank position (on toes and hands), bring your right arm down to your forearm, followed by left arm; now you are in low plank position. Starting with right arm, return to high plank position one hand at a time. This is one rep.

Goblet Squat/Skater Jump/Push up /Burpee AMRAP x 5-10 min: Complete the designated reps of each exercise, in order, continuously for 5-10 minutes depending on your fitness level. For the skater jumps, start on your right leg, slightly bent. Jump laterally to your left, landing on bent left leg. Continue jumping back and forth, landing as low as possible each time (imagine speed skating, although not quite that low).

I usually add these in at the end of a full body lift day (but like I said, not a max attempt day or anything else that’s too taxing on my central nervous system). Except for the treadmill sprints (unless you have a TM at home), all of these can be done at home as well, so these can easily be added in to an at-home workout for those days that you can’t make it to the gym.

As much as I hate to sound like an infomercial here, you really don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill or elliptical to lose body fat (in fact, doing so is likely counteractive). Just 5-10 minutes at the end of your workout could give you a great metabolic boost if you truly work hard enough, and when combined with weight training could be the key to reaching your goals while maintaining healthy, lean muscle. Time is valuable to all of us, so make sure that your time spent in the gym is getting you the results you want without having to spend hours each day doing so.

Readers: Do you add finishers to your workouts? What are some of your favorite exercises to include in metabolic finishers? If you haven’t tried yet, give one of these a try and then let me know how you do! 

 

Take Your Workout To The Next Level

As much as I love heavy weight training and feel that it’s something that most people could benefit from, I do have an appreciation for the importance of cardio.

whatdidshesayCardio? 

Now, when I say cardio, please understand that there is a lot more that falls under the broad umbrella of “cardio” than just slogging away on the elliptical or treadmill. As in all types of training, what type of cardio you do really depends on the goals that you have set for yourself. Want to run a marathon? Well, then, you probably should be running, with some speed work and long runs thrown in there. Want to climb Mt. Everest some day? Running stairs, hill training and hiking will probably do you some good. Want to be strong as hell but also lose some body fat? Strength training plus metabolic conditioning is the answer for you.

What is metabolic conditioning? 

Metabolic conditioning, or metabolic “finishers” are fairly short bouts (10-20 min) of non traditional, high intensity cardio that is typically done at the end of a workout — and generally done with body weight or relatively light weight. However, when crunched for time, a quick and dirty MetCon session can leave you gassed after just 10 minutes of work, which is a lovely alternative for those of us who don’t have hours set aside for the gym every single day.

Who can benefit from metabolic finishers? 

Basically, anyone looking to decrease their body fat or increase their cardiovascular conditioning (without logging endless cardio hours). Heck, even steady-state cardio-ers should give these a try — you may not see a ton of results riding the elliptical every day, but add a 10 minute finisher to that workout, and you may notice a difference quite soon. Strictly speaking for myself, I find long, steady state cardio to be absolute torture. I will run a mile or two at a time periodically, but beyond that, I really hate it. And that is an understatement. But adding in a 10 or 15 minute bout of “cardio” to the end of a workout? That I can do, and usually enjoy, especially when it involves fun things like burpees and squat jumps.

Yeah, I kind of have a weird thing for burpees. So sue me.

How often should people add these to their workouts?

As with many tweaks to a training program, it depends on the person and their goals. If you have been doing the same training routine for a while, no matter what it is, and haven’t seen the fat loss results that you want, try adding in 1-2 short finishers per week. I usually stick with two, but will do three on some weeks depending on how I feel. If after adding in one to two you are still not seeing results after a few weeks, add in one more.

Although just be aware that fat loss results do not happen over night, and they also depend a lot on dietary intake (maybe more so than exercise, but that’s a different blog post).  Also keep in mind that you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you’re doing two heavy leg days plus three intense lower body finishers during the week, your legs may not be getting the recovery time that they need in order to get stronger.

What are some examples of finishers?

The possibilities are pretty much endless here, but here are a few examples of things I’ve been doing lately.

1. Plyo Pyramid Set 

PlyopyramidgraphicThis mini circuit looks innocent enough, but it kicked my ass last time I did it with a 14 lb medicine ball. Following up a moderate weight squat day with this circuit left me sore for days, so don’t let it deceive you! 

2. Battle Ropes Finisher 

Battle Ropes Finisher

If you have access to battling ropes at your gym, give this a try! The whole thing will take you less than 10 minutes, but will leave you sweating and with arms shaking. Check out this post for descriptions/video of all of these moves. 

3. 100 Kettlebell Swings for time. This one doesn’t get a fancy graphic because it’s pretty self explanatory, but these should be heavy KB swings, with as little rest as possible. My best time for 100 swings so far is 3:53, and I’m hoping to get it down to 3 minutes! Remember to pay attention to your form with KB swings, and please don’t do these if you are too fatigued to keep proper form. An injury is never worth a few more calories burned! 

Readers: Do you ever do metabolic finishers at the end of your workout or do you tend to stick to more traditional cardio? What is your favorite exercise to include in a quick, high intensity circuit? 

 

 

Work Out Wednesday – Incline Interval Run

Yo blog peeps! I was too busy stuffing my face enjoying a dinner out with friends last night, so today’s post is a quickie.

As it just so happens, so is today’s workout.

Sometimes we’re all in the need for a quick and dirty workout, right? When you don’t have time to get a full lift in, or if it’s your off-day from lifting, some quick, heart-pumping conditioning can work wonders.  I tend to do interval conditioning about 2 times per week. One of those is usually a stadium run, and the other tends to be a treadmill workout. Every once in a while I throw a day in with a plyo/conditioning circuit, but that’s beside the point.

Interval workouts are a great way to get an excellent conditioning workout in minimal time. Whether they actually are better at blasting fat I’m not sure (there is research that goes both ways), but I don’t think anyone can deny how efficient they are if you’re short on time! Besides, who wants to spend 60 minutes on a dreadmill when  you could get just as much work done in 30? 25? 20?

I’ve done the following treadmill workout with several variations, but I’ll give you the base version, and you can work your own magic from there!

See what I did there? You’re welcome, ladies. 

The entire workout takes between 20-25 minutes, depending on how long you take for warm-up and cool-down. I don’t generally spend too long on my treadmill warm-up, because I make sure a get a good dynamic warmup in before hand. A dynamic warm up, in my opinion, is more beneficial than just hopping on the treadmill to jog/warm-up, but you are free to do whatever type of warm-up you please.

Now lace up your sneakers, crank up your incline, and let’s goooo!

To me, the incline is really the key here. Running up hill is a little bit easier on the knees, and the added incline also helps to give you quite the glute (booty) workout so many women are looking for. Also, your “walk” speed should be a brisk walk; slow enough to allow you to recover but still quick enough that you feel challenged. Don’t slow it down so much so that you’re plodding up that incline!

I’ve also recently started ramping up the times — I was able to comfortably complete this twice over the past couple of weeks while taking down the rest time on the sprint/rest intervals to 20 seconds instead of 30 (Sprint 15 sec, Rest 20 Sec). Back in early spring when I was doing this workout a lot, the 15/30 interval time would kill me at incline level 8. Now? I tried it at that interval time and it was too easy! I guess the obscene amount of stadiums I’ve been running this summer have really paid off… Who doesn’t love seeing progress like that? Remember you can adjust the speeds, incline level, and interval times to fit your fitness level. Have some fun with this one!

If you ask me, hill sprints and intervals are the only way to run. (Not for everyone of course, but for me). I get some sort of sick satisfaction out of them, and I never get bored. If, however, you have an injury or just plain don’t run, you can do this type of workout on other forms of cardio as well! Hop on a bike if that’s more your style, crank up the resistance a little higher than usual, and start your timer!

Heck, sometimes I do sprint intervals on my bike ride to work. Yep I’m that crazy girl doing sprint intervals along the Charles while everyone else is moseying along, trying not to sweat on their commute to work. Booooring.

Do you ever do intervals on an incline? Do you enjoy running on an incline? How often do you do interval training?

Fitness Challenge Week 8: HIIT, Tabata, and Semantics

Hellooo Blogosphere!

So after a week hiatus due to my obsession with the Olympics, the fitness challenges are back. Which brings me to the question…is it week 8 or week 9? I couldn’t decide, so here we are back at week 8….It’s almost as if we’ve gone back in time. I told you guys I would give you 12 weeks of these, and 12 weeks I shall give you, damn it.

Even if no one is doing them.

As you can see by the title of today’s post, this weeks challenge is a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout. It was originally going to be called a Tabata workout, but then I did some extremely scientific research, and had to slow my roll a little bit.

See, I’ve used the term Tabata on here before, and honestly this type of workout has became even trendier than leggings with crop-tops (seriously…can we leave that trend far, far behind?), but what I learned through my research is that most of what the fitness world calls “Tabata” workouts, are not exactly that.

What is Tabata?

Tabata is an exercise protocol that was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata in 1996, after he and his cronies published a study in which they  found HIIT to be more effective than steady state cardio at improving aerobic fitness.  The specifics of the study were that the intervals were 20 seconds of high intensity (170% of VO2 Max) to 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 4 minutes.

Nowadays, the fitness world is a-buzz with “Tabata” workouts, where people perform sets of squat jumps, lunge jumps, push-ups, bicep curls, barbell presses…etc. And if they’re doing it with a 20s work to 10s rest time interval, they’re calling it the T word.

This is all swell, but after reading a few articles including this one, it’s abundantly clear that the widespread use of the term Tabata is not exactly correct. Yes, people are doing 8 rounds of 20 seconds of high intensity work coupled with 10 seconds of rest, but this does not a Tabata make. A true Tabata includes that crucial component — 170% of your VO2 Max. This is a level of exertion that is near impossible to create with push-ups, burpees, squat jumps, or whatever other exercises are being used for the so-called “Tabata”.  Not to mention that this level of exertion is ridiculously difficult for the average-joe to work at, even for just 20 second intervals.

Semantics, I know, but after reading up on it I just couldn’t bring myself to call this a Tabata workout. Maybe Tabata-style? Tabata-ish? Baby Tabata?

Who’s a cute little Baby Tabata!

Hmm…Maybe we better just stick with HIIT.

So regardless of what you call it (I’ll be honest here…Baby Tabata is starting to grow on me), here is your workout for this week! You will perform each group with the 20s work/10s rest interval, and you will take 1 min of rest in between each group. The entire thing will only take 20 minutes, but if you’re working hard enough, 20 minutes will be plenty.

For those of you who are beginners, or who have not done HIIT before, I recommend starting out with just 2 groups instead of all four. Trust me, if you’re working as hard as you can, 10 minutes of this will leave you in a puddle of sweat on the floor.

Another bonus — this is a circuit that you can do with very little equipment, so if you don’t have much time, or can’t make it to the gym… No excuses!

Ready?

Burpees: Begin in a standing position. Squat down, placing hands on floor. Kick legs back to high plank position, quickly bring them back to your hands, and jump straight up. That is one.

Squat Jumps: Do a bodyweight squat, immediately  jump out of squat position and straight up. Continue without pauses between squats, keeping good form in mind.

Lunge Jumps: Lunge forward with R leg. Quickly jump up, switching legs in the air, and landing in jump position with L leg forward.

Lateral Ski Jumps: Starting on R leg, jump laterally to your left and land on L leg, with knee bent. Immediately jump off of L leg to land on R leg. Focus on height and distance of each jump, with proper landing mechanics.

Soup Stirrers: Begin in plank position with forearms on physio/stability ball and feet on floor. Keeping core tight (think of a straight line from head to heels), move arms in a steering-wheel sized circle. Move clockwise for the first set, counterclockwise for the second set, and so on.

A few notes:

If you don’t have a kettlebell, or have not been trained in proper KB swing technique, substitute Frog Jumps for this. (Begin in a squat position. Jump as high and far forward as you can, landing again in squat position. Repeat this.)

If you don’t have a physio-ball for the soup stirrers, substitute side-planks, alternating sides each time you perform that exercise. 

What exercises do you like to include in circuits? Do you do “Tabata-style” workouts? What Olympic sport have you enjoyed the most so far?

Cardio Woes

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

 

 

I hate running.

Didn't mean to shock you.

I hate it. I HATE RUNNING. There, I said it. I have spent a good portion of my adult years really trying to become “a runner”. There was actually even a point in time when I did love it, although that only lasted about a year or two. There is something lovely about a good run along the Charles River on a perfectly crisp spring day, but other than that, I think it’s the pits.  And you know what? That’s OK with me.  I have had a love-hate roller coaster with running for about 10 years now, but I believe that I’ve finally come to terms that I fall heavily on the hate side, rather than the love.

And it’s not really the running that I hate, it’s the steady repetition of it all; that feeling of working so hard but moving so. slow.

(Because let’s face it, I’ve never been fast).

Put me on a hill and tell me to do 10 repeats, and I’m all yours. Set the treadmill up to a 10% incline and tell me to do sprint intervals, Heck Yea! Bring me to Harvard Stadium and ask me to run stadium sprints, and I’m on cloud 9.  I’ll run those stadiums until I can hardly stand on my shaking-like-jelly legs. Hill training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) make me happy, which is the  opposite effect of slow, steady-state jogging. Why does this matter?

Most fitness blogs and websites will show a lot of love to HIIT training, including me. The gains that you will get from HIIT are potentially more than you will get from steady state cardio, depending on the intensity, duration, and frequency. However, I think that as in all other things in life, there is a need for balance. Steady state cardio will definitely help you with your  endurance if you do, say, decide to haphazardly sign up for an impromptu road race. Steady state cardio is also a great way to have a recovery day for tired, overworked muscles.

This is my biggest problem. Because I know that I need balance, I do try to do some steady-state cardio at least once per week, although that has proven to be extremely hard for me over the past few months. Take yesterday, for example. I needed some recovery time for my legs after a tough squat day on Monday, so I hopped on the treadmill and was going to do a steady-state recovery jog. After 20 minutes, however, I got so bored that I almost couldn’t take it anymore. Now, I do realize that cardio is NOT meant to entertain me, but I don’t generally enjoy doing things that are pure mental torture.

So, on I went, cranking up that incline after 20 minutes and spending the last 10 minutes doing hill intervals.  Was this bad for me? Ultimately, no, (especially after my ridiculous food intake during the Pats game this weekend) but I do think that I need to just suck it up and keep it slow sometimes, for balance, and to keep my endurance in check.

After all, there is ONE type of running that I love and I do need to train for, if I expect to totally Dominate come June:

Yep, that’s me! New England Warrior Dash 2011

As long as my runs are broken up by fire, cargo nets, mud pits and other obstacles, I’m game. Maybe if I could get someone to plant dangerous obstacles in my path I could get through a run on my own without extreme boredom.

What about you? Does anyone Love Cardio? Does anyone love steady-state but hate HIIT?? How much cardio do you do per week?