If you are among those who run to keep your weight down, be healthy and stay in shape, read on. In this article, I’ll talk about why running is definitely not the be all end all in the world of cardio. Let’s cover the 4 alternatives to running that are even better for your hormones and for your weight management. You really don’t need to spend hours working out to get the results … which is great news for those of us who don’t think they have time to workout. Actually, you do have plenty of time to leverage the benefits of cardio training without investing the hours of time required to do “jogging.”
Eight years ago, I was part of the slow-go running culture too. My dad was marathon training at the time and logging 80-90 mile weeks. I honestly thought running was the best form of cardio out there. I was training to run a 5K in under 20 minutes and was on par to reach that goal, however the race got cancelled, and as luck would have it, I never did race the 5K. Ironically, the very next week, I started to learn more about the surge workout program and how it benefits your hormones and weight in a nicer way than slow-go cardio, which is what I now call long distance running. Truthfully, humans were meant to be surgers and cross trainers. Not to say that some can’t become distance athletes, but by nature, humans weren’t designed to be distance runners.
I made the move away from steady running and into sprints and HIIT (high intensity interval training). Even if surge training isn’t something you do daily, you can still reap some of the benefits by fitting it into your cross training schedule. This type of training is a great complement even for distance runners. It helps with results and may even help to offset the damage that longer running can do to your hormones. One of the negative side effects of running is that it raises your cortisol, as a result of your body being stressed (thinking that it’s being chased in the wild … when else would the human body ever have to run non-stop, for that long, in ancestral times?). Longer, slower cardio causes the body to produce higher levels of cortisol, which in turn stimulates your appetite, is catabolic, increases fat storing and slows down and inhibits recovery. Slow-go cardio also decreases your testosterone levels and decreases your immune system post exercise, which may explain why many runners get sick after they run that big race they have been training for.
Certainly, there are benefits to slow-go cardio, otherwise we wouldn’t see people doing it. Running helps to lower your resting heart rate, increases your good HDL cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, keeps your brain young as it promotes circulation to your brain and aids in detoxifying your body and stimulating your lymphatic system.
A study performed in 2012 found that running decreases your chance of death by 19% … but then it goes on to suggest that distance running actually increases your mortality rate. Perplexed researchers observed that there is a U-shaped relationship. If you do no running, your mortality rate is higher, and if you do too much running, your mortality rate increases again. However, there is a sweet spot when it comes to running. If you run 20 miles or less per week, your mortality rate decreases. So, I recommend that you try to stay within the optimal range for the most benefits.
I can’t argue with all the good benefits we know are associated with traditional cardio. But how does one take advantage of the benefits without the negative affects on our hormones? Enter THE SURGE.
The surge, or HIIT (high intensity interval training), is in my opinion, much better for you, prevents you from hitting a plateau, and causes your muscles to keep guessing. HIIT or the surge has a much better effect on helping you lose your abdominal fat and lowering your insulin resistance.
Insulin is also known as the fat-hormone. It’s job is to regulate blood sugar levels and helps to manage fats and proteins into your cells. A diet high with sugars and grains causes an excessive insulin response and eventually leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when your body and cells become desensitized to insulin so your body has to produce more and more to have the same effect. This affects your other hormones and is tied to even more weight gain and issues burning fat properly. It often will eventually lead to adult onset diabetes, which sadly now occurs in many kids! With quality fitness and diet, cells are able to actually regain their insulin sensitivity, meaning that blood levels of insulin, the fat hormone, actually decrease.
The right duration and intensity of exercise also helps your growth hormone (GH) and testosterone ramp back up. These two hormones decrease as we age and can help stop cancer if elevated back up to the optimal levels. Exercise — when done right — can help ramp these hormone levels for hours and sometimes even days. The growth hormone plays an important role in how the body metabolises food for energy. It is an important hormone and is affected by many factors: exercise, sleep, emotional stress and diet. Testosterone is not only important for males to produce but also females. It affects the brain, bone mass, muscle mass, fat distribution, the vascular system, and energy levels. Exercise also helps to normalize two more important hormones: estrogen and thyroid hormone.
Like testosterone, both males and females actually produce estrogen. It is important as it helps regulate the fat-to-muscle ratio, metabolism, mood and sex drive. If estrogen is too low, it can lead to a loss of menstruation in women as well as osteoporosis.
Thyroid hormone problems most affect women than men, but it can affect both. Your thyroid can be working too much or too little. The thyroid:
- Controls your metabolism (how fast or slow you burn calories)
- Slows or increase your heart rate
- Raises or lowers your body temperature, can alter how slow or fast food is digested
- Affects your muscle strength
- Controls how quickly your body replaces cells
My good friend, and the absolute fitness guru, Dr. Fred Roberto, who developed the MaxT3 fitness DVD for Maximized Living, emphasizes
“Three T’s” that are important for the right exercise program:
1. Time (duration of your workout)
Shorter more intense intervals have the biggest impact on your bodies physiology. You really have to push it to get that heart rate up but it’s only for a short duration of time.
2. Tempo (the intensity of your workout)
Push as hard as you can for 20 seconds. Give it your all and keep in mind that you get to rest for 20 seconds after it’s done.
3. Type (the kinds of exercises you are doing)
Mix it up and focus on full-body movements! No muscles in the body were designed to act independently!
All of these factors have an impact on your hormone production. The best type of workout for your hormones and your body’s physiology is done in a short, sweet and INTENSE 12 minutes or less. It’s best if you get in some form of rigorous movement almost daily, and with 12 minute workouts, everyone would agree it’s more easily doable. Science is showing us that you don’t need to work out or run for hours a day to get the results you are after.
Follow this basic rhythm for a surge:
- 20 seconds on (intense)
- 20 seconds rest
- 20 seconds on (intense)
- 20 seconds rest
- 20 seconds on (intense)
- Do this for 5-6 different exercises, and you’re done.
There are many reasons why people still want to and still will run. It’s not just about the health benefits, but rather the other elements that get them out on the pavement daily. People love the social factor, the fresh air and enjoy the neighborhood and environment they run in. I don’t want to tell you to stop running. I’m not “against” running. But there are ways to get fit that are kinder to your body. Whether you are ditching the sport of running completely, or just working to add in some variety, here are my top four change-ups that you can implement today:
Runners need to ensure that they throw in sprint/interval type workouts in their training for the surge effect. Make sprints fun by choosing random objects to sprint to and then slow it down to a job or walk once you reach it, then repeat. Vary your speed, intensity and distance as you go.
2. GO BAREFOOT
Spice up your running routine by trying barefoot running on the grass, sand, hills and trails … but please don’t try it on the pavement! Even with 5-finger shoes / barefoot running shoes, running on the pavement without proper running shoes is far too jarring on your body and joints. When a beach is accessible, barefoot running makes sense, and I’ll certainly do this when I’m on vacation. It’s a great workout and you’ll keep your muscles guessing. Hiking hills in barefoot running shoes is another great option.
Is barefoot running the way to go?
Those who are on the barefoot running train feel that running in shoes is unnatural, hinders their natural stride and causes pain and injuries. The difference they feel is how your foot hits the ground while barefoot. You tend to land more on the ball of your foot instead of your heel. Your heel hitting first generates a force up to 3 times your body weight which can lead to injuries such as achilles tendonitis and stress fractures.
“We’ve over-supported our feet [in running shoes] to the point that our foot doesn’t have to do what it’s designed to do,” says Irene S. Davis, PhD, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and director of the Spaulding National Running Center. “When you support a muscle, it doesn’t have to work as hard. When it doesn’t have to work as hard, it gets weak.“
How do I start barefoot running safely? The most important thing to keep in mind is to be careful when starting out barefoot running and work in to it slowly and mindfully to prevent injuries. Start on the right surfaces as indicated above (soft sand is best). Your calves and feet have to work harder to accommodate this new style of running with a different foot strike and shorter stride. Start slow and start with a walk-run intervals and MaxT3 fitness DVDslowly build up.
3. HILL INTERVALS
Head out for a walk in a hilly area. This is great way to explore and get your workout in at the same time. Hill intervals add in the surge factor and gets that heart rate up! You can also add some surging sprints in the mix as well to keep things interesting.
You can even walk or run stairs to get that HIIT factor in. Don’t be afraid to mix in some bodyweight surge type exercises between sprints or stairs as well to really kick it up a notch. Try adding in High knees, Burpees, fast push-ups, air squats, shoulder push-ups, calf raises and fast dips just to name a few. The possibilities are endless. There are so many bodyweight type exercises you can modify to use with the surge principles. Don’t be afraid to be creative but make sure you use proper form so you don’t get hurt.
Get out there. Throw slow-go cardio out the window. Have fun with the surge workout style and get creative.
What ways do you add the surge method into your workouts? Share with me below in the comments.