Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Aerobics Reflux

I came under fire recently from a couple of scientists who seemed very much invested in the aerobics philosophy. They were angry about my anti-aerobics views and wished to discredit me for my beliefs. I am not a scientist, nor do I claim to be one. I am a well-educated and well-read layman. More importantly, I've done my own experiments over the years, first upon myself, then with hundreds of clients in my personal training business and I concluded long ago that many things the exercise police and scientists tell us simply don't work. Over and over again, things change and theories once taken as gospel are later overturned. You can't trust solely in the scientists, you need to be your own researcher and discover for yourself what it is that works best for you.

With that knowledge, unfortunately, comes the possibility of getting stuck in a rut and refusing to try new things! There is a saying, that you can be "ruined by your success". Sometimes a trainer will have good results with one exercise system, then stubbornly adhere to that system forever! Thus there are good results...and there are optimal results. Honestly, some people are successful in spite of their workout systems. Training is still more art than science.

My experience with aerobics began as a freshman in college. I'd used running as a conditioning tool for wrestling and football throughout high school and never questioned it. Then Cooper came out with the aerobics points system and declared you couldn't do enough aerobic exercise. He downplayed the value of strength training which, at the time, I found very disappointing. After the running boom of the 70's and 80's, people began to notice the aerobic excesses were producing a number of problems. Well-known runners dropped dead mid-training though they were allegedly immune from heart problems. Musculo-skeletal injuries became the norm and you'd see a lot of twisted, tight, pain-ridden bodies out there. I, personally, was one of the lucky ones with a hearty constitution and I enjoyed my running and never suffered significant orthopedic issues. Of course, I was avidly strength-training and doing mobility and flexibility work! Cooper later recanted and his new stance was that anything (aerobics training-wise) over 20 minutes, three times per week, was not for optimal health. He then embraced the importance of strength training. Once I became immersed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I realized that steady-state running (that is, training in "the zone") was utterly worthless as a conditioning tool for my new sport.

Once I stopped running, I was amazed at how much better I felt. I became leaner, more muscular, and more flexible. My strength peaked at a much higher level. I began to do more anaerobic work in the form of short, intense, interval training with the kettlebell, jump rope and Schwinn Airdyne. I also employed interval calisthenic-type movements like bear crawls, squat-thrusts, and sprinter lunges. I encouraged my students and clients to get off the aerobics treadmill wagon and every single one of them obtained better results. I may not be able to argue science-speak but I offer you this, my own experience. Steve Maxwell


Robert said...

Everything you said jibes with my own (and my clients) experience. However I want to add that I have also had success with "reprogramming" the weight gain/loss set point using a combo of resistance training and aerobic training. In my old days as a competitive runner I put it to the test! Of course I was also doing lots of ashtanga yoga to recover from all the training! Anyway....I don't recall ever having seen a comparison of how solidly high intensity versus low aerobic intensity reprograms wasting of excess energy (burns fat). I DO know that once someone is reprogrammed they can go several weeks eating like a pig and not gain much fat. I am not convinced that if someone was to lean up by only anaerobic means that the same would be true. In other words if they stopped would the fat come back on quickly? (of course I would never sytop that long to find out!!)
In my experience there are many ways to lean up and burn the fat off. A combination works pretty well too. aerobic I mean 30 minutes at a low intensity tops. The other days it is balls out tough intensity stuff. Now that I am 48 I feel I have found a great combo. (Plenty of joint mobility work too). I guess Jack Lalanne would be a great example. He has always promoted "vigorous" exercise but he has also spent a LOT of time in that aerobic zone through all those miles of swimming he has logged in (and still does god bless him!)

For athletes in sports such as the fighting arts aerobics are not worth much. That is obvious. For the person looking for all round fitness/health though it might be a different story.

I think the level of volume and intensity that a real runner versus someone exercising in the "aerobic zone" needs to be adressed. Jim Fixx went way over the top. His body couldn't handle all that volume. Would 30 minutes 3-4 times a week have produced the same result? I tend to think not. Back when I trained 50-80 miles a week it was very hard on my body. If I had ran 3-4 miles 3-4 times a week I think the result would have been very different. Do the African runners have the same problems? They train VERY hard. I haven't seen a study done on them either. I said. I have found that covering all the bases. Resistance training 3-4 times a week. High intensity anaerobic 2-4 times a week, Joint Mobility most days, some yoga and easy aerobic 2-3 times a week works great. Kettlebells, Bodyweight, rings, ropes, barbell, dumbell etc.


william said...

Looking good old man. The speedo though.... I added the Fege and whey to my daily intake, good combo. I was out of town when you were here.


j blamey said...

Are you familiar with Kenneth Jay's VO2 protocol? Still aerobic but it is done at 100% of VO2 max for short bouts of time. I was curious to know what you think of it in relation to BJJ and MMA. Is it worth pursuing as a way to enhance recovery time, or would a person get better, more sport specific gains, working with an anaerobic HIIT program?

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi j blamey,
As a black belt with several world titles, and having trained some of the world's greatest grapplers, I can assure you that there are no secret or best exercise routines. It's a very individual thing. A good coach looks at all his athlete's attributes and selects the appropriate protocols. The best training for BJJ and grappling is getting on the mat, period. No amount of VO2 training can replace good BJJ skills and coaching.

As far as Kenneth Jay's protocol is concerned, there are no world-class grapplers in the BJJ community using it that I'm aware of. That's a good indicator.

L.S said...

Hey, I have the same philosophy about the whole aerobics thing. I feel like its helped me lean up better as well as have more strength. Now I was planning on getter either a clubbell or kettlebell.. I can only afford either one of them so whats your advice which one should I get? Many thanks.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi L.S.,

Get a kettlebell, they're far more versatile. Read the "Ask Coach" section on the next blog about the Philadelphia KB cert to learn how to make your own functional clubs.
Thanks for writing.

Frank Taeger said...

Hi Steve!

I have been following some of your teachings together with the greats of functional like Cotter, Enamait, Mahler for some time now.

I wish to tell you that while you are readily saying that what science tells is not what your experience is that science in fact since a LONG time agrees with you. It just didn't hit home for a lot of people yet.

If you wish I might add some studies to my next comment that might be a little crushing to the aerobics community but are scientifically valid. Izumi Tabata started it but by now high intensity exercise has proven in countless studies to be overall more effective in Vo2Max development and anaerobic capacity.

You are doing quite a great job and it is interesting that in our field there are so many uninformed people that are afraid of moving away from mainstream knowledge and seem to be too lazy to get the information that can be so easily obtained through the internet by just one search on a science board.

Good luck to you Steve!


Steve Maxwell said...

Thank you, Frank!
Thanks for writing!