Think about any number of commercials for sports drinks or basketball shoes. What are the overwhelming constants in all of these ads? Sweat. Hard Word. “No Pain, No Gain”.
At some point in the 30-second artistic rendition of athletic determination, some exhausted twenty-something is bent over at the waist, hands on his or her knees, gasping for air with rivers of sweat meandering around their chiseled facial features. Sometimes that sweat is even different colors, (which is a medical condition… they really should get that checked out…) presumably from the overwhelming overdose of whatever flavor “yellow” is.
Here’s my question, though: have we ever asked what that athlete did to get to that point? Was it worth it? Why did they do it? Did they really improve their prospects by sweating red juice all over a basketball court? Or did they make themselves feel better by (possibly literally) working their butts off until they sweat themselves into a 3-hour long Netflix coma?
Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: High Intensity Interval Training (a.k.a. HIIT — the hardcore exercise that is seemingly illustrated in these commercials) is not a bad thing! Just like anything else in this world, though, there is a time and a place.
A Bit of Science:
As an Exercise Physiologist, I study the science of what goes on inside your body when you work out. Clinically, it is my job to analyze the interactions of different systems in the body, and show how they respond to different levels of activity.
For example, a marathon runner such as the great and powerful “Meb” needs to make sure that his muscles are provided with a steady flow of energy needed to perform the same contractions tens of thousands of times. (Simply put, this is an interaction between Type I muscle fibers and fat metabolism.) Conversely, a sprinter such as Usain Bolt needs much more power out of his muscles, but they don’t need to last nearly as long. (This is an interaction between Type II muscle fibers and the Creatine-Phosphate system, as well as carbohydrate metabolism). The problem lies, however, in the fact that most of the other activities in modern exercise — especially team sports — fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. This means that we need to devise a plan that has a combination of the two training techniques: Meb’s Long, Slow Distance (LSD) training, and Bolt’s HIIT training.
Why should we care about the science of this stuff? It relates back to the title of this article. It is my job to use the science of the human body to allow others to work out smarter, not (needlessly) harder.
See Where you Fit:
This picture shows a rough example of what kind of metabolism most people are likely to come across when performing certain activities. (Keep in mind, this is just an example. A person’s position in the sports listed, their level of fitness and even their nutrition can change this picture significantly. This is just to illustrate that you’re more likely to use a carbohydrate system in a 5K as opposed to a century (100 mile) bike ride.) It’s a great idea to think about what type of training is needed when you’re looking into your sports. Does an ultra marathoner need to do sprint training? Absolutely! There are many benefits to keeping fast-twitch muscles twitching fast-ly (I know its not a word, but it played well in my head…) But does he or she need to sprint as much as a 100-meter sprinter? Probably not. As for all of the other activities sprinkled throughout the middle of the picture, the big takeaway is that being well trained in both systems is a must. So keep sprinting and sweating, but try to slow down every one in a while and reap the LSD goodness!
When you’re heading out to do the next day of training, ask yourself a few questions:
- Where does my sport/activity lay on that amazing picture I found in that exercise genius’ article? (What? Is that not how you’d phrase that question?!)
- Have I been giving enough love to both systems?
- When is the last time I went slow?
- When is the last time I went fast?
- How can I make sure that I’m actually taking steps toward getting better? Is it always just to sweat?
Knowing the correct answer to these sorts of questions can change the way you exercise and change the way you play.
I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve had to ask an endurance athlete to slow down on his or her training days. (You can tell that those commercials work, because most people always want to go fast!) But slowing down works! Giving love to each system actually works! There was one man I worked with recently that lost 20 pounds in less than 3 months and gained a decent amount of speed on his bike rides by slowing down. (The opposite is also true, yet more rare. I have actually had to ask people to do the HIIT training more on occasion).
Just remember this: Hard work is great. It’s great training for the mind and body. Just make sure that when you do work out, you work out smarter, not harder. Give your body a chance to adapt and adjust and you’ll be blowing away the competition in no time!
Oh, and if you sweat any random colors, please call a doctor… We’re all worried about you.