Training once a week: a fast-track to optimal fitness?
Linda Evangelista wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.
Scott Reynolds, on the other hand, won’t work out if his resting heart rate is any more than 55 beats per minute.
In fact, Reynolds, an elite trainer and the owner of Peak Altitude Training, only works out “properly” once a week.
Reynolds is one of a new breed of athletes who are changing the way they train, treating their bodies more like supermodels or supercars and only going hard when they will get bang for their buck.
“A big session can take up to three days to recover from. Most people don’t realise that,” Reynolds explains, adding that recovery, like resting heart rate, is dependent on a number of factors including age, genetics, sleep and general health and fitness.
In the 25 years he’s been coaching, John Beradi, founder of Precision Nutriton, says most people, “treat their bodies like teenagers learning to drive a car”.
It’s full-throttle all the way, with no concept of fluidly shifting between gears and realising that the moments they ease off the pedal are as important as the ones they press it to the metal.
One orthopaedic surgeon, Gorav Datta told The Telegraph, London, that the popularity of high-intensity workout regimes has contributed to a four-fold increase in bone and joint damage among patients under 30.
“Cult fitness regimes and the use of over-zealous personal trainers, all of which emphasise high-intensity, high-impact work, appeal to those who want to cram exercise into their hectic daily lives,” Dr Datta said.
“The problem, however, is that these short and intense bursts and repetitions can wreak havoc with joints and, longer-term, lead to the need for surgery.”
For this reason, instead of having several hard sessions each week, Reynolds trains at a lower intensity most of the time and has one “hit-out” each week.
“I train more efficiently now,” he says, adding that he’s fitter than he’s ever been. “My body is ready for that session – I train like an animal – I’m not doing it at 70 or 80 per cent, I’m doing it at 100 per cent…
“If you’re going to improve you need to push yourself to 90 per cent or beyond.”
Veronika Larisova, an exercise physiologist who specialises in injury, agrees.
Instead of the five HIT sessions followed by long runs that she used to do, she trains hard once or twice a week and moves gently on other days.
“As I get older, my body is not able to cope with training so hard, so often,” Larisova says, “but it’s also unnecessary – I want to remain injury-free and, if I train too much, it makes my performance worse because I’m depleted.”
With this new approach, Larisova says she is as fit as she has ever been. “Actually, I’m doing better now.”
Beradi also suggests doing less, better.
“The more extreme your overtraining, the more you’ll ‘pay’ via illness, injury, or exhaustion,” he explains. “The more severe the payback, the more ‘time off’ you’ll need from exercise.”
Interestingly, Beradi says that often the very reason we are driven to work out, drives burnout: we are escaping stress as we create it in our bodies.
“Strenuous exercise releases chemicals that kill pain and make us happy… temporarily,” Beradi says.
“By the way, these chemicals are also released when your body thinks you’re in big trouble and about to die. Their evolutionary job is to help us float away in a happy painless haze as the saber-toothed tiger is eating our arm off. So in a sense, they’re stress-related chemicals.
“For some people, these chemicals become a ‘hit’. Pushing their bodies to the limit and working hard becomes their drug.”
Of course, when we drive our bodies to the limit, we often don’t realise the damage we’re doing until it’s too late. When we finally “lift the hood”, as Beradi puts it, we are likely to find:
“Poor lubrication: Our connective tissues are creaky and frayed; Radiator overheating: More inflammation; Battery drained: Feel-good brain chemicals and anabolic (building-up) hormones have gone down; Rust: Catabolic (breaking-down) hormones such as cortisol have gone up”.
Given HIT’s mainstream popularity is relatively new, Reynolds anticipates we won’t see the full impact on people’s bodies for another five or 10 years.
This wouldn’t be a huge surprise given the number of people who are training in this way five or more times a week, despite The American College of Sport’s Medicine suggesting only one or two high intensity sessions a week.
“There’s no way you can push yourself to the max, if you’re doing it every day,” says Larisova, who suggests that people who want to remain injury-free do no more than three intense sessions a week, interspersed with easy swims, walks, cycles, yoga and, of course, more incidental movement.
She adds that a long-term sedentary lifestyle also creates “dysfunction and imbalances” like poor posture and a lack of core control that need to be addressed before we attempt to smash out hard sessions.
“Training smart is the next thing,” Reynolds adds. “Everyone is getting smashed right now and feel like if they’re not sweating, they’re not getting a good work out. It’s just not the case.”
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