In 2009 I found my time getting swallowed up by the demands of my career job while starting my own business on the side and trying to keep to my crossfit workout program (which I dearly loved).
I barely had any time or energy to socialize or get anything else done. More worryingly my performance in my workouts was going down – not up. I found myself getting more and more tired during and after workouts, having to hold off on some exercises due to persistent muscle soreness and back and shoulder muscle injuries.
I finally stopped ignoring that my exercise program wasn’t helping.
Something was going to have to give – but I needed exercise for stress relief as well as to stay healthy. Right? I needed to find time-efficient workouts and how to optimize workouts for strength and size gains
Today’s interview is about how I fixed all of these problems, re-found greater health, higher energy levels and saved a crap load of time so I could work even harder on my startup. And discovered the joys of tracking workout results, and watching them improve… every single workout.
Enter the Time-Efficient Workout
The solution found me in a bookstore. The book’s title popped out at me as the answer to my problems (and seeming far too good to be true). “Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week“.
Today’s guest is Doug McGuff, co-author of the book, and an emergency doctor, gym owner and weight lifter.
His book describes how to perform, track accurately and optimize High Intensity Training workouts, and the many well researched benefits to doing this type of workout.
Doug himself has been practicing high intensity training since age 15 – that’s 37 years, and been training clients with it since 1997 (that’s 17 years!). As you’ll see in the interview Doug has a very solid grip on the research and science behind his workouts.
The show notes, biomarkers, and links to the apps, devices and labs and everything else mentioned are below. Enjoy the show and let me know what you think in the comments!
- Where high intensity training came from and its use in the world’s of athletics and rehabilitation.
- How to reduce the volume (amount) of exercise you do and how different body types can benefit from different exercise volumes.
- The neural development and psychological benefits of strength training and how you see them in terms of increased performance in the gym.
- Using time tracking to optimize each workout and exercise by measuring by ‘muscular failure’.
- Finding the right ‘load’ to use in training for each exercise based on a specific time measurement taken for each workout.
- The speed bumps that each exercise (exercise movement) have – and how to surpass these and increase strength despite this barrier.
- Why weight training, done the Body by Science way, trains your cardiovascular system – or in other words trains your metabolism and energy production (as effectively, or more than, traditional aerobic exercise like jogging).
- Creating the largest stimulus for growth via ‘peak intensity’, in terms of strength per exercise and in terms of metabolism for the workout as a whole.
- How approaching weight training with the slow protocol makes it one of the safest exercises and has translated to Doug McGuff never having seen a training related injury at his gym.
- The unique calibration used in Body by Science workouts to optimize training stimulus vs recovery time so that you get the most growth and development out of your body and avoid overtraining.
Give some love to Doug on Twitter to thank him for this interview.
Click Here to let him know you enjoyed the show!
Biomarkers in this Episode
- Time Under Load: The time in seconds your muscles are loaded with weights for a particular exercise. Typical times aimed for are 80 seconds (1 minute 20 seconds). Doug McGuff specified that when you have stabilized at 80 seconds for an exercise (i.e. can’t increase the time under load) for a couple of weeks you will increase the weight for your next workout. Increasing your time under load for an exercise indicates that your performance is improving (your time should not go down unless you increase the weight lifted).
Other Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Doug McGuff, Body by Science and Ultimate Exercise
- Body by Science: The original book describing how to do these workouts and explaining the science behind them in detail. Doug also mentioned his second book covering the workouts in more depth, named Body by Science Question & Answer book
- You can also connect with Doug at his personal site, on the Body by Science website and on twitter @DougMcGuff.
- Arthur Jones Inventor of the weight machines we see in all gyms today via his brand, which is still a leader in the field, Nautilus.
- Tim Ferriss’ Geek to Freak blog post and his book, “The 4-Hour Body” including his “Occam’s Protocol” for efficiently gaining muscle mass. Both of these describe “Body by Science” style workouts.
- Cross Fit workouts and gyms have becoming increasingly popular the last decade and advocate a high exercise volume approach to fitness.
- Renaissance Exercise, founded by long time advocate of high intensity training, Ken Hutchins, mentioned by Doug for their equipment and perspective on training.
- Mark’s Daily Apple/ Mark Sisson: Doug mentioned that he has submitted a book for publishing with Mark Sisson’s publishing company on how healthcare got to the state it is in today.
Other People, Resources and Books Mentioned
Full Interview Transcript
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show today. As I mentioned, I have been using your workout since 2009 and they really change the way I approach everything and really help me in various areas of my life beyond working out. So I think this is a fantastic, interesting topic and of course it has got loads of quantifying areas too, so thank you for coming up.
[Doug McGuff]: Thank you, Damien, It is a pleasure to be here.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Just to give people a little bit of background, you published your book, Body By Science, in 2009. Could you give us a brief background of where these workouts and this approach came from and a bit of the history and what led to you publishing that book?
[Doug McGuff]: Sure. It has been a lifelong interest of mine, probably since I was about 14 or 15 years old. I started working out around that time and I was doing it to improve performance as a BMX racer, which is a type of sprint bicycle racing, and it worked so astoundingly well that I was immediately hooked. And that was back in the late 1970s, and it just so happened at that time the nautilus training concept was exploding. That was invented by Arthur Jones to introduce the idea of high- intensity training, that by making the intensity level of the exercise higher, that the exercise could be more effective and more time-efficient. I traded my janitorial services for a membership at a Nautilus gym and while cleaning up in the office I found a copy of The Nautilus Training Principles Bulletin written by Arthur Jones. And the owner let me take a copy of it and I read it cover to cover in one sitting and have been interested ever since.
Over time, that concept of high-intensity training has been refined more and more over the years. The idea of a high-intensity training is that the intensity and the amount of training are inversely proportional out of necessity. And as more and more refinements were made to produce higher and higher levels of intensity, what was found was that for the body to recover and produce a good adaptive change that ratio, that inverse ratio, was actually quite disproportionate. For any incremental increase in intensity you are able to achieve through modifications in protocol or equipment, that the amount and frequency in training had to go down disproportionately.
Probably the first time that was really driven home was in the 1980s when Nautilus was researching the use of high-intensity strength training for the treatment of osteoporosis. And they created what led into the super slow exercise protocol, lifting and lower the weight very slowly in order to protect these elderly, frail women that they were training. And what they found was two things – one is very little went a long way. It was very easy to overtrain people. And two, a rate of progress that was much more dramatic than they had seen in the past. And they thought perhaps that was attributable to the fact that these were elderly and deconditioned subjects, but when they took the protocol and applied it to more normal athletic populations, they found a similar sort of response. And over the years from that point forward into time, that sort of protocol has been refined more and more by the inventor of the protocol, Kim Hutchins, as well as other people that have made different tweaks to that protocol along the way, both in terms of protocol and equipment, and that is kind of where we have arrived today, where we have really refined things so that it can very hard and very brief.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, and to give someone a kind of rough idea of what this requires, with the people you are training how often do they work out?
[Doug McGuff]: When you look at the population in general, how well you recover from exercise is kind of distributed on a bell curve. On the extreme left tail of that bell curve you have people with very good recovery ability that can recover from this kind of workout in 48 hours, but they are quite rare. On the opposite end of the curve you may find some people that need 14 days and sometimes longer to completely recover between workouts and in the middle you are going to find the average recovery time is going to float somewhere between four and nine days, with seven being roughly average.
So that is where most of our clients tend to fall out. We have a handful that train twice a week and do well at it and we have others that either because of their lifestyle, they are full-time shift workers, night shift workers, have small children, they will end up falling out to about an every 12th day frequency. So it is variable but the average is about every 7th day.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And how long does a training session last, typically?
[Doug McGuff]: Most of our training sessions will last somewhere between eight and 15 minutes with there being a certainty that any given client will do not one second more than that. The workouts that tend to run a little bit longer are actually in the less robust subjects. And small, petite females that are not so strong or our senior clients that are older and perhaps a little bit frailer, they require a little bit more time between machines and they can tolerate a higher volume of work because they are not bringing so much punishment to themselves, as is the case with a much stronger person.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So in that case you have to do more types of exercises, individual exercises, to get the more volume?
[Doug McGuff]: Yes, they can actually tolerate a higher volume of exercise and sometimes in order to deliver an adequate stimulus to them we actually have to do a little bit more than we do with someone that is able to train at a higher level. The clients with workouts that last a little bit longer is it can be either because they have some sort of limitation that makes us have to be more gradual about working our way up to muscular failure or just their tolerance for high-intensity exertion as such that we kind of have got to take an incremental workup to actually reaching the level of fatigue necessary to trigger the stimulus, whereas someone that is more aggressive and stronger can, for lack of a better term, do themselves in at a faster rate because they can tolerate a higher level of fatigue accumulated more quickly.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so for the people at home I just want to make sure that they get all the concepts we are talking about. So when it comes to volume you are talking about – how would you explain that in kind of layman terms?
[Doug McGuff]: Well, we do typically anywhere between three to six, and typically about five movements. And each movement is done in only one set and the set is carried out in a way where the muscle is under continuous load and there is no escape and we typically use super slow reps, which is on the equipment we have an excursion in the lifting phase of around 8 to 12 phase, and the same in the lowering phase.
So the movement is quite slow, and that is to deprive the clients of using any momentum to get out from under the load, so the muscle is being continuously loaded and fatigued. And that results in reaching a point where they can no longer move that load, typically in about one minute, 20 seconds, to two minutes, the will typically bite the dust in that time frame. And then we move quickly from one exercise to the next.
So you go through those five movements very quickly, so you have got two minutes reaching failure on each machine and very little rest in between the two.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So in your case volume is really equating to time that you were actually doing exercise. If you add that up it is like the total volume.
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, and the reason we did that was the way that we know whether a client is appropriately recovered between workouts is simply by the record keeping. We know the resistance that they used last time, what their recorded time to reaching muscular failure was, and on a subsequent workout if they are not performing in that realm or we see a drop off in performance, we know that recovery may have been inadequate and is a cause for that. So that gives us some sort of feedback on adjusting their volume and recovery so that they are showing improvement on a workout by workout basis.
What we found initially is that when we are using a very slow rep cadence, where you are going ten seconds out and ten seconds back, each repetition lasts 20 seconds. So simply counting repetitions provided too gross of a measure of performance for us. Because someone could do four repetitions and that could be the full 80 seconds or they could have stopped somewhere around 72 seconds and if you just recorded four you never would have seen the difference between the two.
So we started running a stopwatch on it just to get more of a fine-tuned dial so the drop off in performance when you are using such slow reps would then become evident to us.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, and simply put if you are lifting the same way as you said resistance, then you get a longer time, and then you are getting stronger?
[Doug McGuff]: Technically, yes, although you really have to be careful with that because the process we are trying to trigger is very intrinsic. The stimulus that is causing the adaptation we are looking for is called inroad. And inroad is the momentary fatiguing of muscle. If you start out with 100 units of strength at the beginning of the set, at the end of the set you end up with only 40 units of leftover strength, and how quickly and aggressively we can go from 100 down to 40 determines the quality of the stimulus.
So what you have to be careful of is that both instructor and client are focused on that intrinsic goal. It is possible to focus on the extrinsic goal, making the weight go up and down for longer. And if you focus on that goal extrinsically then what you can do is you can sandbag during the easy parts of the range of motion. You can squiggle and worm and do anything to milk out extra time to show apparent progress on paper. So the process only works if the subject and hopefully the instructor are blinded to the actual recording process.
So the client, we don’t show them their weights, we don’t let them know a goal time, we just have them – and literally sometimes what we are shooting for is actually a shorter time under load. We want them to police their form in such a way that they bite the dust sooner rather than later. Because it is possible to be coming very close to failure and then heave and jab and do some sort of form discrepancy which actually compromises the stimulus but gives you an extra rep. And that is what we very strictly want to de-emphasize and keep them blinded to their performance so that they are just focusing on that and performance occurs organically. And in a blinded fashion so that we can use that data in a meaningful way.
And our instructors, when they are running the stopwatch, they are not sitting there watching the stopwatch and comparing it to the prior performance because then you start to coax the wrong behavior out of the subject. The stopwatch is either hanging on the machine or held behind the back so that however it turns out is really just serendipitous to the process.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so this is very interesting. You are basically trying to do it in a controlled manner so that the data isn’t biased, as you say squiggling and kind of cheating just because you want to hit the same mark. I remember when I was doing this that I have to admit that sometimes I wanted to get the same time or greater than the week before.
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, it is a very strong human tendency to do that sort of thing when in fact if you are really becoming more refined and applying the stimulus to yourself. You may go from one workout to the next and all of a sudden you are reaching failure ten seconds sooner than you did previously, but for a good reason. So you kind of have to have some insight into that to be able to milk the most out of the protocol. But one thing that became evident as we did this in a blinded fashion is that when you have selected a proper weight, and there is a pretty wide range of what this proper weight can be, what happens is you end up recruiting the targeted musculature, the motor units in that in a sequential fashion.
You fatigue one set of motor units that are slow twitch and as soon as they drop out then you jump to the next set of motor units that are higher order intermediate twitch and if you fatigue those quickly enough you will jump next to your highest order motor units that are the strongest, but the fastest fatiguing. But when you do the set correctly, you are recruiting those in boxcar-like fashion one right after the other. And what the time under load ends up representing, and at least this is my theory, is a signature of what your fiber type and mix is. And what you will see is once you get up to a meaningful resistance, then on a workout by workout basis and in a blinded fashion the client starts to fail almost to the second. We first saw this when we had a client that would bail on the overhead, press at one minute 21 seconds, every time.
So once you have found that, you are now at a meaningful resistance. And meaningful resistance has a fairly broad range. If you want to progress the weight or the resistance, once you have found that recurring time under load or that signature time under load, that is a period in which you can jump the resistance on a workout by workout basis fairly aggressively. Now, eventually that falls off and there is a range of meaningful weight for that particular time under load. Eventually you get heavy enough where some imperfection in the machine strength curve or friction or something is going to make you have a sudden drop down in your time under load. But there is a broad range of weight where you are almost going to reach failure, to the second.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So when you say ‘reaching failure to the second,’ what does that actually mean? That means that you have reached a time that is going to be the same every workout?
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, okay, so the instructor loads you in the machine and says to very gradually start the movement, get it moving, keep it barely moving, they reinforce what you are doing, not resting at a lockout, smooth turnarounds. But the moment you started the stopwatch is behind their back and they pushed start. And they police very good form and you lift and lower the weight until your fatigue reaches a point where you can no longer make the weight move because your forced output has dropped below the selected resistance. At that point they will have you try to attempt to produce movement even though it is impossible for several more seconds. And then that will reach a point of failure where you can no longer sustain the effort and then he presses the stop button on the stopwatch, again behind his back.
This workout it says one minute 21 seconds, he records that on that chart. You come back next week and we increase the resistance by four foot-pounds, repeat the process. You reach failure, the stopwatch is behind his back, he pulls it out, and it says one minute and 21 seconds.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So you are progressing in weight and the time is remaining still, which means you are getting stronger.
[Doug McGuff]: Correct, or it means that you are at least aggressively recruiting all of the musculature that you have available. Because what you will find is as people become very advanced, the limitations of this quantified approach are not the subject and his body, although that is somewhat of a contributor. The bigger contributor is the limitations of the equipment and the mechanics involved. Every movement has a sticking point, which is sort of like a little speed bump where the resistance is higher than it should be for your strength output and your leverage at any given point in the range of motion.
So you have this movement that has got a speed bump. But when you first start out and you are not very strong and you are not using a lot of weight it is like pushing a Yugo over a speedbump. But by the time you become very strong and you are using a higher resistance, that sticking point becomes much more meaningful. Now it is like pushing a mack truck over a speedbump.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So by speedbump do you mean certain muscle fibers are kind of like the weakest link?
[Doug McGuff]: No, I mean that there is something about the movement itself where there is a mismatch between the resistance the machine is delivering and the forced output of your muscles. So if anyone has ever done a chest press or a bench press type movement you will know that the hardest point in the range of motion is when you shoulders and your elbows reached 90 degrees, because the involved levers and moment arm of those levers have a lowest forced output at that point. And there is no real way to construct into the machine enough of a dropoff to account for that. So there will always be this sticking point as you come out of the bottom and your elbows reach 90 degrees. And that becomes a weight limiting factor after a certain amount of weight, where you will always fail at that point in the range of motion for purely mechanical reasons.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, okay, understood.
[Doug McGuff]: But that is not so important as by the time you reach that being a problem you have already progressed quite a bit and become much, much stronger. And then you are into a realm of the exercise that becomes more difficult to quantify, but is actually even more productive. Because what you come to understand then is you have progressed through this well enough to understand the internal process going on and you have become much more adept at simply using the resistance as a tool, the resistance as something to contract your musculature against because the continuous contraction against a meaningful load that produces a deep level of fatigue is the stimulus.
Eventually, increasing load over time is not just the load going up over time that produces the adaptation. It is your ability to contract against the meaningful load and produce a deep level of fatigue that is the stimulus. So you don’t have to forever progress the weight in order for there to be results. So what appears on paper does not necessarily always reflect what is going on internally, and that is because of the mechanical limitations of how we apply the resistance to the body.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, honestly. So to take your example, I am sure you have been doing this for a very long time now. You are going to do this and you are going to get stronger week by week and eventually you are going to hit a peak genetic point, for a better word, where you have kind of built as much musculature and strength as you are genetically susceptible to do. How long does that take and what does that mean for the workouts afterwards?
[Doug McGuff]: Well, it is variable for different people. Some people ramp up to a full expression of genetic potential within a matter of 12 weeks. For other people it seems to draw out over many, many years with a quick rise up to where the curve becomes [inaudible 00:24:45] but then there are very gradual improvements over long, long spans of time. And those gradual improvements are eeked out by becoming more and more masterful in the application of the stimulus to your own body.
And that is where the really neat aspects of this kind of training come in, you get not only the physical adaptation but all of those sort of [inaudible 00:25:11], zen-like mind-body connection benefits that come along with that. And to some extent the science is starting to bear out how quickly you approach that [acentonic 00:25:23] curve and has a lot to do with your own genetic makeup.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I’m sorry, could you clarify – what does [acentonic 00:25:30] curve mean?
[Doug McGuff]: Well, if you picture a sigmoidal curve where you start off with a gradual rise in slope and then it becomes very steep almost straight up, but then the slope becomes more gradual. So it is like an S-curve, yes. So acentonic is when you get to the top of the S and you start to bump up against your potential.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, it starts. So you are getting less benefits per workout at that stage.
[Doug McGuff]: Correct. It is sort of a diminishing marginal utility, but it is because you are reaching the limits of your own adaptability and genetic potential.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, I think there is a lot of – I just wanted to bring up that since you popularized this method Tim [Ferris 00:26:09] also has popularized it with his 12-week Occam’s protocol and his posts about Geek to Freak, I am sure you are aware, has created a lot of controversy because people don’t believe that it is possible to gain that type of mass. But I just wanted to bring up that basically his is exactly the same method as your method. And that is why.
[Doug McGuff]: Yes, he actually consulted with me when he was writing the Four Hour Body. It was supposed to be a two-hour Skype consult, and I think he was in the Dominican Republic at the time or – but the electricity grid there was just very, very sharky so the two hours ended up happening over about a three month period. We finally got it all together where he gathered the information from me that he needed it anyway. It was a fun time.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, great, great. I am sure that people of aware of that also, just to make the connection that it is actually the same method and everything. One thing you just brought up is the mental aspect of this. And one thing that I have seen in myself and in other people using this protocol is that the first workout they will get to a certain level and then the second workout they tend to go a lot further. And i put that down to either psychology in terms of getting used to pushing themselves harder. or actual neural development of the links between the muscle, the muscle fibers, and in the neural connections, so they basically have more bandwidth to tell their muscles to contract. How do you look at that? Have you seen that kind of evolution?
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the answer to that is all of the above. What we are coming to find out about muscle is that it is more than just tissue that contracts and produces movement, it is actually turning out that it is the largest by mass endocrine organ in the body. It secretes all sorts of chemical messengers, cytockines that have been termed myokines. One of which is brain-derived neurotropic factor, which causes neurons to reach out to each other and make new connections, and that is kind of part of improving your neuromotor efficiency and your ability to aggressively recruit muscle.
Part of it is becoming tougher, simply. It is not that you are becoming limitless, but you are learning where your limits actually are and that they are in fact further out than you ever imagined them to be. And that is one of the benefits of this kind of training that goes beyond any objective, physical results that you can produce. It is just the psychological benefit that comes from doing hard things.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, it is like learning to overcome a challenge, which is really hard. The first time that people do this workout they find it very, very hard. And then they realize that just by trying harder mentally they can go a lot further. And that applies of course to other areas of their life. It kind of transfers and they can see that they can overcome hard goals and challenges like that.
[Doug McGuff]: Yes, and it is amazing that until you do this sort of thing you don’t realize the extent to which your body has almost like preinstalled software that sets up a panic reaction when you face muscular fatigue. When the window between what you are struggling against and what your capability is starts to close and narrow down, there is a panic point where you just try to escape that experience by any means possible. And it takes an understanding that this there and a deliberate mental focus to overcome it. And as you do that, your ability to overcome that panic and push through it reveals that where you’re actual endgame is much further down the road than you thought. And whether it is simply metaphor or if it is just a manifestation of the fact that this exists in many different areas of your life, I am not certain. But what I am certain of is that as you become more adept at doing this you become much more panic-resistant in almost any situation.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That is very interesting, and of course beneficial. So I think there is so much in these workouts that I am trying not to miss important details. One of the unique things about it is that you put all of the exercises very close together. So that is why we are getting down to this 12-minute window because you are starting with a chest press, you are going straight to a leg press and then a shoulder press. And literally you line up your machines, so if you are using machines to do your presses and then you are kind of ready to go with the right weights and you move from one to the other pretty much as fast as you can, is that the way that you run it?
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, and you can go overboard with that concept where the metabolic effect of the workout can be a right limiting factor. And it is a little bit of a tweak or an art form to get the most out of it without causing it to be an unnecessary burden to the rest of the workout. So for most of our clients we do move them briskly between machines and it can be anywhere between five and 45 seconds between the movements, depending on their metabolic condition at any given point in time.
Your ability to deal with the waste products of high-intensity exertion is a trainable factor. So over time two things are happening and you have kind of got to juggle these a little bit. One is as you get stronger you are doing a much larger amount of both mechanical and metabolic work. So as you get stronger you are producing a lot more metabolic byproducts and fatigue, lactic acid and such. And your body’s ability to metabolically deal with that is trainable.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So is that, when we are talking about metabolism, would you put that down to the generation of ATP in the mitochondria and efficiency of your energy output?
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, there is a lot to it though. I mean, it is more than just how quickly you can produce ATP. The experience at a cellular level is that the anaerobic portion of metabolism, turning glucose into pyruvate outside the mitochondria, doesn’t produce a whole lot of energy per cycle. But you can turn that cycle really, really fast, such that you can deliver pyruvate, the end product of that cycle, to the mitochondria at a rate faster than which it can use it. Now, once the mitochondria picks up pyruvate it can make 36 ATP per cycle, but that cycle can only turn so fast.
So when you are delivering pyruvate to the mitochondria faster than it can use it, pyruvate stacks up in the cell. When it does that gets shuttled through lactate dehydrogenase and you make lactic acid. That begins to drop the pH within the cell and as your pH goes from 7.4 down to 7.0 and beyond, the metabolic machinery and all the enzymatic processes within the cell start to fail and fall apart.
The way your body deals with that is, number one, your mitochondria adapt and learn how to handle pyruvate more quickly. Number two, your body finds other destinations for the lactate. The lactate that is circulating in your blood can be brought back to your liver and the enzymes that do this can up regulate. You can take lactate which is circulating in your bloodstream, bring it back to the liver, and that can go through a process of gluconeogenesis to make more glucose. And that is a process called the Cori cycle.
Your body learns to generate buffers to offset the acidosis. Your body makes a chemical called [2-3-diphosphoglycerate 00:34:01] that makes your hemoglobin molecule offload oxygen to the tissues much easier. And that enzyme exists in higher levels that lives in altitude, like Colorado Springs or high in the mountains, because you have to be more efficient at offloading oxygen. Well, you do this kind of training and you upregulate that enzyme. So there are multiple different things that make you more metabolically capable of high level of exertion and dealing with the byproducts of that high level of exertion.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, and well this metabolic aspect is traditionally a lot of people, say aerobics, when they are referring to these kinds of adaptations.
[Doug McGuff]: They do, but that is incorrect. Aerobics is a term that just took on a life of its own. Aerobic refers to that portion of metabolism that occurs within the mitochondria. But aerobic became synonymous with any metabolic work or any cardiovascular conditioning. As if somehow magically just the mitochondria could be hooked up to the heart and blood vessels. But that is not true. The entire cell is serviced by the cardiovascular system. And number two is the aerobic system cannot even run unless it is delivered substrate by the anaerobic system in the first place.
so, exercise of any type only occurs when we start to rise the intensity above a resting level and start to deliver pyruvate more rapidly to the mitochondria. And the type of training that we are talking about today is just taking that delivery mechanism to its ultimate expression by taking it as aggressively as we can.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so what I wanted to make clear for people at home is instead of talking about cardio or aerobic here, we are talking about metabolic, which seems like a better term for it because it is more about energy production.
[Doug McGuff]: Right, and the book goes into that in great detail. Me and John LIttle, my coauthor, wanted to make a big, big deal in making this metabolic distinction, because not only do you not want it, and it is not really possible just to isolate a segment of metabolism and focus on it, what you really ought to be focused on in terms of having a level of fitness that is complete and actually confers survival benefit in extreme situations, is you want global metabolic conditioning. And that is what this delivers.
You can get more aerobic-type metabolic conditioning than out of most traditional protocols because you are actually causing the aerobic cycle to run as fast as it possibly can.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So it is like the HIT, the high-intensity training which people associate with cardio work as well?
[Doug McGuff]: Right, the spring interval type training. And it does a very similar thing. As you move from one machine to the next what you are doing is in a steer step fashion you are stacking these metabolic byproducts and you are incrementally forcing themitochondria to work harder and harder by delivering substrate to them faster than they can handle.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So you are trying to hit peaks of intensity in terms of metabolic output so that your body is like oh, we are going to have to be better at this next time because we have got to deal with these peaks.
[Doug McGuff]: Right, the advantage that doing it with controlled cadence weight training as opposed to an aerobic piece gives you is safety. In order to produce a level of meaningful intensity on any aerobic piece, you have to exercise in such a way that you risk injury because the forces have to go up exponentially, along with the intensity. But with appropriately done weight training, with a slow cadence, the forces – as the intensity goes up, the force is actually diminishing because you are becoming weaker and weaker but you are doing it through a controlled lifting and lowering of a fixed amount of weight.
So force is mass times acceleration. The weight you are using is a given mass, but the movement protocol is such that almost all acceleration is taken away.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. I think people can relate to that because when they are lifting the weight it gets harder every time. So when you are saying they are getting weaker, it is getting harder to lift the same weight.
[Doug McGuff]: Right, but the force that your body is seeing is actually staying stable or in fact going down because the force your body is going to see is never greater than mass times the acceleration and we have done everything we can to eliminate acceleration out of the movement so that your muscles are continually loaded. As opposed to being on an [inaudible 00:38:44] or a treadmill where you have to turn the speed up really high and everything is flailing around and you are pounding the surface harder and your joints are seeing more force. All the while you are becoming fatigued and the force is going up and your risk for injury is going up. As opposed to when you are doing a controlled movement leg press. When you hit failure it is because you are producing less force than the mass you are trying to lift. So at the peak of intensity it is actually getting safer, which is a very unique twist.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, so there are less injuries. I think one thing that we kind of skipped over is the major difference between this and traditional weight training, that with traditional weight training you have reps and rest in between each rep. So it is like one, rest, two, when you have got the barbel. With this method it is a constant load, you don’t stop in between, and there is no rest when you take the strain off completely. It is just a constant movement.
[Doug McGuff]: Correct, and depending on the type of movement we are using, we are enforcing a specific performance behavior to ensure that. So if you are doing a compound movement, a multi-joint movement, for instance – a pushing movement like a chest press, traditionally as you get out to the top of a chest press, if you wanted to you could lock your elbows and create a bone-on-bone power and give yourself a little bit of rest. And what we do in our training regimen is as you approach that lockout, we never go to complete lockout. We never go to complete lockout.
We stop our joints this short of lockout and we do what is called a turnaround technique, which is basically a change in direction like you are going over a loop, or cresting the top of a roller coaster, so that you change direction from positive to negative in this very slow, continuous loop that occurs prior to joint lockout so that your muscles never get any escape from the load that they are facing. As opposed to a single joint movement. Let’s say you are doing movement like a barbell curl or an arm-cross chest block. In that, when you reach the point where the weight is completely lifted and you are in full contraction, you are actually under a much heavier load and there is no rest from the weight in a single joint movement.
So in that we will actually, after the second or third repetition, induce what is called a squeeze technique, where the person actually contracts harder against the weight and their congested muscle tissue to make the load that the muscle is seeing actually increase. So there are specific behaviors that occur during different given movements that basically are carried out just to make it as hard as possible.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So, to give the listeners an idea, at the end of this workout you are really breathing hard. You are puffing as if you have been running. People are typically used to that kind of experience when they are sprinting, not so much when they are lifting weights, because there is this rest in between. So the metabolic aspect isn’t really pushed because it is like one, rest, two, rest. And there is that metabolic rest in between. But with yours, like, what is the experience at the end of the 12-minute workout?
[Doug McGuff]: It is dramatic. Your ears will be roaring, your awareness will constrict down to like you are looking through a paper towel tube. Your heart is racing, you’re breathing very hard and very fast as a means of your body is blowing off carbon dioxide and as a means of trying to normalize your blood pH from the severe lactic acidosis that has accumulated during the workout. So it would be very similar to the kind of metabolic experience if you ran an all out 440 meter dash. At its minimum it would be like that. I mean, it is a very profound and demanding metabolic experience.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, so we are basically saying that this workout can do everything for you – like, typically people will do weights and cardio because they want the balance. But in terms of this workout, because it has this metabolic emphasis as well as the strength emphasis, it is basically and all conditioning system?
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, it does give you total conditioning. Now, if there is a specific metabolic oriented sporting event that you want to participate in, you will have to do some participation rehearsal of that kind of activity in order to turn your dial up or down for that specific combination of metabolic elements. But the workout will make you capable of doing that across a broad continuum. So if you want to go out and run a 10K, you will be in good condition where you can start off training for the 10K and then refine that without having to start from scratch.
By the same token, if you want to be a sprinter you are well-suited for that as well. But you do have to do some rehearsal of a specific metabolic activity in order to optimize your performance at it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So what you are saying is adaptations are specific, so if you want to win a 10K run, you have got to do a 10K, yeah, exactly. Okay, so have you looked at other markers? I think a lot of people at home are not going to be like well, this cannot be the same as cardio. Have you looked at other biomarkers which illustrate the improvement in metabolic activities? Like [inaudible 00:44:10] or potentially mitochondria markers or anything like that?
[Doug McGuff]: Well, the book is replete with studies that kind of demonstrate that. So that is available in the bibliography of the book and if anyone just wants to plug into PubMed and explore that kind of thing you can see good evidence for that. Serendipitously we are not doing it deliberately as part of running the protocol in the business, but we do gets lot of reports from clients of improvements in all sorts of metrics. We have had plenty of type two diabetics that were essentially cured that were on oral hypoglycemics and started to have spells of hypoglycemia because they essentially no longer needed the medication and went off those meds.
We have had lots of clients go off of statins because all those numbers had normalized for them. Women who have had their DEXA scan done every year that have shown reversal of bone mineral loss and no longer carrying a diagnosis of osteoporosis. We have seen hemoglobin A1cs drop very significantly. We have seen people that keep track of that or their C-reactive proteins and other things, so very significant improvement. But that is all just anecdotal evidence that is by the reporting of our clients. That is not science, that is anecdotal evidence with a strong reporting bias built in, but it is still there.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right it is kind of like N=1 experiments, each person just recording their own thing.
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, I wouldn’t take any of that to the literature. But there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence through the facility. But that is not something that we are actively studying or seeking either.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I continue my own experience, just to add another anecdotal one. I was suffering from chronic fatigue and I was trying to battle it, just pushing it, so I was doing crossfit, and I was trying to eat Paleo and making various changes like this. And I was exhausted still and having difficulty working and things like this. And then I discovered your work and I started taking this basically very limited approach to stimulus, which is once per week. Or actually I actually got to the point where I think I was working out – one set of body parts we haven’t really spoken about, but one set with the legs once every 12 days or something. So I was really taking the long recovery approach.
And I found myself getting more energy, slowly having more energy days, less low energy days. And it got better for me over time. Where as crossfit seemed to push me the other, which is a very high-volume kind of program.
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, and it will work but when you are faced with that kind of issue what you really have to understand is that this is not something that can be overcome with a warrior mentally or a Navy SEAL buzz training mentality. Because what you have to understand is that those sort of indoctrination versions of exercise are not done as a stimulus, response thing. They are not putting people through that in order to get them physically conditioned. They are putting people through that to weed people out to find out who are the most resilient intrinsically.
So that kind of Johnny Quest mentality to exercise can backfire on you because of this whole mindset of don’t force it, get a bigger hammer, really does not work because first you have to have the capacity and that capacity has to be brought out through intelligent programming that respects your body’s need for intensity and recovery.
Once you have done that, what you will find is once you have given someone the metabolic capability and the muscular strength to function at a higher level, then their activity levels will spontaneously rise. And then that starts to happen then you have people that are conditioned in such a way that they find themselves going to do crossfit activities as recreation but clearly I think that people that have chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, I really do believe that is just a metabolic illness that involves mitochondrial down regulation, the ability to generate citrate through the mitochondria is just down regulated over time because of dietary and activity issues. And that can be cured with an intelligent application of exercise, but it cannot be fixed by saying okay, I am just going to man up and bring a sledgehammer to this process. Because that will just backfire on you.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, right, and there is a lot of controversy about that chronic fatigue or communities and so on where the approach has been psychological, like you are talking about. The psychological light, let’s push for it that kind of thing, versus your approach which is actually trying to define the exact stimulus you are capable of using at this moment in time. And then trying to identify the exact amount of recovery you need before you provide another stimulus.
[Doug McGuff]: Right, and the other focus is that by using a protocol that uses 100% of the mechanical work that is going on to try to use the highest percentage of that mechanical work for producing the largest amount of the internal process that is actually the stimulus. And a lot of people, the people that originated super slow that are now known as renaissance exercisers, they have a specific term for this.
Inroading is the internal process of producing rapid and deep fatigue. But they have this concept of inroading versus outroading. And outroading is just like moving furniture. It is doing a lot of mechanical work, but it is doing it with such a level of form that very little of that mechanical work is directed internally at producing rapid and deep fatigue, which is actually the stimulus. So you can have someone sling a sledgehammer at a tractor tire and do a shit ton of mechanical work but very little of that work will be brought inward to the body, producing a very specific focus of fatigue to produce a desired adaptation. So you can pound a tractor tire all you want, but not necessarily have spent all that mechanical work on producing much that is productive.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, exactly. One of the points that I think is really essential to this whole method is the recovery. And you talk about this extensively and we haven’t really touched on that. But how do you know when you need to recover more? This is the essential part which most people ignore and don’t focus on enough. And we have spoken about this in previous podcasts, the importance of recovery in any training program or, you know, in life in general. And obviously today we run around like stressed individuals and we push ourselves and we try to do exercise, we try to work and we try to sleep less. So there is a lot less emphasis on recovery. So how do you define, in this program, how much recovery is required before you train out again? And how do we know that we have to wait an extra few days? As i explained eventually I was doing the workout, so a kind of partial workout once every 12 days. So how do you get to that point in understanding because at first it starts at 7 days a week. How do you understand exactly how much recovery you should be putting into it?
[Doug McGuff]: This is probably one of the most important concepts of the book. And i will probably make this a final comment, since we are running out of time. But there are several ways of approaching this. One is when you have not appropriately recovered, when a client has not appropriately recovered, we can see that both on paper – there usually is a fairly marked drop off in performance, but also their behavior as they are administering the stimulus to themselves, tends to fall apart sooner, that panic that we spoke about earlier that they had mastered now expresses itself prematurely during the work set. So that is one evidence.
From a more qualitative standpoint in a given individual, you will feel it. You will feel it in terms of the day after a workout you will feel like you have been run over by a truck. You will have that whole flu-like syndrome going on. On a more protracted basis, what I always tell people is that the workout the next day, you should feel a little fatigued and maybe a little below baseline, but overall you should feel invigorated and have a sense of well being. And for certain, over the course of a week you ought to feel above baseline more days that you feel at baseline or below baseline. And that is a gross, qualitative measure that you can use for that. But certainly your performance record will reveal it to you. But you have to really pay attention to how you are feeling, both the day after a workout and over the course of the week between workouts. You should definitely be feeling above baseline more days that below.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, and before you go to your next workout you should basically be feeling great. If you are feeling in any way tired or anything it is a signal that you are not actually ready.
[Doug McGuff]: Right, and when I work out a schedule and you go into it feeling just kind of meh, that is not good. You want to go in raring to go. You want to feel like you can push a truck over, that kind of sensation.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And I would like to say that is one of the things I liked about this. It is like each – because you are only doing it once every week or once every ten days or whatever, you are actually really excited to go to the gym. And you have only got 12 minutes to make the most of it. So I found that it is a great, efficient exercise and motivation tool. Because you are like, ‘I am going to put as much in it, because I have only got this one chance in ten days to make the most of this.’
[Doug McGuff]: And the other thing that really drives that process is once you have an intellectual understanding of exactly what the stimulus is and how your body responds to it, then you really know that you want to apply that in the most effective way possible and that is very motivating. The link to my blog, through Dr. McGuff, DrMcGuff.com – if you go through there, there was a blog that I put in there that was called rock, hammer, nailgun. And it describes the difference between different types of workouts and using equipment and technology and mental understanding of the process to refine that and what you really want out of it is nail gun.
So having an intellectual understanding of exactly what you are trying to accomplish makes you much more effective at doing a really hard, brief, and effective workout.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: The last point on the recovery was like in terms of the performance charts they are tracking the time, coming back to the time. I guess the biggest indicator that you need to recover more is if you are using the same weight and your time starts declining?
[Doug McGuff]: Yes, not necessarily that it starts declining because you can have a few seconds drop off as a result of refining your effort and doing yourself in sooner, but when you have not recovered adequately you will have a drop off in time that is significant. And that will be combined with a bewildering feeling of what in the hell is wrong here. Because you will reach failure suddenly, you will have that sense of panic come on way too soon. You will know that things aren’t right.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great. I am conscious that time is running out. Thank you for so much information and detail. It has been great. Are you working on anything currently? Anything that you can update us on? I will put links, of course, to your blogs and everything but is there anything interesting that you are currently working on that you would like to bring up?
[Doug McGuff]: Right now we are just turning in a manuscript to Mark Sissen, Mark’s Daily Apple. He has a publishing company but this one is actually being done by me and a coauthor named Dr. Robert Murphy, who is an economist. And it is an expose and deconstruction on how the American healthcare system got where it is today. So that manuscript is being turned at this time and hopefully that book will be out in the near future. But right now we I just post my workout every week with a little subject on high-intensity training, some of the recent scientific literature is always on the blog. And I can always be reached for consultation and/or questions through DrMcGuff.com. I have got all the social links with Facebook and Twitter and post pictures from workouts on Instagram every week, so there is always something going on.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yup, and I would add that your book Body By Science is extremely detailed. And we kind of jumped over many, many topics because it is so deep today. And it is so different, so really I would highly recommend that people get that.
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, and actually if you go on Amazon for the book, the book has a companion with a question and answer book. When we originally wrote the book we turned in 840 pages of manuscript that had to be pared down to 209 pages. The question and answer book has everything else that was in there done in a question and answer format, and it is pretty informative as well.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Well great, Doug. Thank you so much for your time today. It has been a pleasure.
[Doug McGuff]: Yeah, Damien, it was my pleasure. I really appreciate it.