Aging Marathoner Tries To Run Fast After 40

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“I’m getting old” is a popular complaint and frequently overheard during military fitness testing. It’s mostly a lame excuse based on societal misperceptions that has nothing to do with human physiology. Here’s what really happens.
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Fitness Crazed

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Fitness Crazed
By Daniel Duane

I’m no scientist, but I sure like reading about science. I’m always looking through newspapers for the latest research about saturated fat and whether it’s still bad for you, or if maybe sugar is poison.

So when I found myself 40, fat and weak, I paid special attention to exercise science articles, in the hopes of getting strong. I found stories about cutting-edge studies that claimed you should do intense, brief workouts instead of long ones.

I hired personal trainers certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine in a training methodology “founded on scientific, evidence-based research.” They taught me to avoid cave man barbell lifts like squats in favor of tricky new exercises on wobble boards and big inflatable balls to stimulate my body’s core.

I learned about the “science” of muscle confusion — central to infomercial workouts like P90X, from beachbody.com. It’s a little hard to understand, but the idea seems to be that you change routines constantly, so that your muscles continue to adapt.

I had fun doing these workouts. Sometimes, when I stood naked in front of the mirror, I thought I looked better. Mostly, though, I looked the same. I mentioned this to an excellent trainer named Callum Weeks, in San Francisco. Mr. Weeks suggested that I focus on one aspect of fitness for a while, maybe strength. So I poked around Amazon and found “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training,” written by Mark Rippetoe, a gym owner in Wichita Falls, Tex.

The program sounded like an unscientific joke. It called for exactly three workouts per week, built around five old-fashioned lifts: the squat, deadlift, power clean, bench press and press. But the black-and-white photographs were so poorly shot, and the people in them were so clearly not fitness models, that it seemed legit.

The book came in the mail and then I went to the gym and, per Mr. Rippetoe’s instructions, did three sets of five reps in the squat, deadlift and standing press. Then I went home and drank milk. Two days later, I did three sets of five in the squat and the bench press. I repeated this basic pattern, alternating the deadlift with the power clean, for a year, adding a little more weight to the bar in every lift, during every session.

Now for the astonishing part: It worked. I was able to lift a tiny bit more every single time, like magic — or, rather, like Milo of Croton, the ancient Greek wrestler who is said to have lifted a newborn calf and then lifted it every day thereafter, as it grew, until Milo carried a full-grown bull. In my own case, I eventually squatted 285 pounds, deadlifted 335 and bench-pressed 235. Those numbers will not impress strength coaches — I weighed 215, after all — but they were a marvel to me.

This raised a question: If all the latest cutting-edge scientific research says that outdated barbell movements have to be updated with core stability tricks and then integrated into super-short high-intensity muscle-confusion routines, how come none of that did much for me, while the same five lifts repeated for a year caused profound structural changes to my body?

The answer, it turns out, is that there are no cutting-edge scientific studies.

I don’t mean that exercise physiologists don’t conduct brilliant research. They do. I mean that they rarely research the practical questions you and I want answered, like which workout routine is best.

“A lot of physiologists come into the discipline because they fundamentally like exercise,” Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario, told me. “But you learn very quickly that there’s not a lot of research money out there to fund applied studies.” On matters as simple as how many sets and reps best promote muscle growth, Mr. Gibala explained, “We can’t nail down the answer.”

Even if the funding were there, Mr. Gibala says, “That’s not state-of-the-art research that you’re going to publish in the best journals and advance your career.” Instead, he says, physiologists study questions of basic science, “like the molecular signaling proteins that regulate skeletal muscle adaptation.”

You know, those.

Of course, Mr. Gibala and his peers are not the problem. The problem is that everybody in the fitness industry grabs onto this basic science — plus the occasional underfunded applied study with a handful of student subjects — and then twists the results to come up with something that sounds like a science-backed recommendation for whatever they’re selling. Most gym owners, for example, want you to walk in the door on Jan. 2 and think, Hey, this looks easy. I can do this. So they buy stationary cardio and strength machines that anybody can use without hurting themselves, often bearing brand names like Sci-Fit (Scientific Solutions for Fitness), which might more accurately be described as scientific solutions for liability management.

As for personal trainers, I’ve known great ones. But the business model is akin to babysitting: There’s no percentage in teaching clients independence by showing them basic barbell lifts and telling them to add weight each time. Better to invent super-fun, high-intensity routines that entertain and bewilder clients, so they’ll never leave you. The “science” of muscle confusion, in other words, looks a lot like the marketing tradecraft of client confusion.

THEN there’s the matter of our collective cravings. From cable news to the nation’s great newspapers, there is a tacit understanding that in fitness stories you and I want to hear variations on exactly one theme: that a just-published research paper in a scientific journal identifies a revolutionary new three-and-a-half minute workout routine guaranteed to give you the body of an underwear model. So powerful is this yearning — this burning ache to look good naked and have great sex and live forever — that even the best-intentioned of fitness journalists scour every little academic study for anything that might justify telling you that same sweet story, one more time.

Steven Devor, an exercise physiologist at Ohio State University, says that people in his profession have become painfully aware of this problem. “A lot of my colleagues would rather poke themselves in the eye than talk to the media,” he says.

The real harm, however, is caused when this fog of misinformation distracts from a parallel truth. Namely, that athletic coaches the world over conduct applied research all the time, and know precisely how to get people fit. If you train for a sport, you already know this, whether you realize it or not. Anybody who has trained for a marathon, for example, knows that regardless of what some TV fitness reporter says about some uncontrolled observational study with 11 elderly subjects somewhere in Finland, the web abounds with straightforward marathon-training plans that go like this: Every week for several months, take a few short runs midweek and a single long run on the weekend. Make sure the long run gets a little bit longer each time. Before you know it, you’ll be able to run 26.2 miles.

Those plans works for the same reason Mr. Rippetoe’s protocol works: The human body is an adaptation machine. If you force it to do something a little harder than it has had to do recently, it will respond — afterward, while you rest — by changing enough to be able to do that new hard task more comfortably next time. This is known as the progressive overload principle. All athletic training involves manipulating that principle through small, steady increases in weight, speed, distance or whatever.

So if your own exercise routine hasn’t brought the changes you’d like, and if you share my vulnerability to anything that sounds like science, remember: If you pay too much attention to stories about exercise research, you’ll stay bewildered; but if you trust the practical knowledge of established athletic cultures, and keep your eye on the progressive overload principle, you will reach a state of clarity.

More:
http://threestormfitness.com/evidence-based-answers-to-fitness-and-nutrition-faqs/

Military Fitness

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Prior to discovering barbell training I did little more than exercise exclusively to score well on the Army APFT and was usually good for a max score or close. After choosing to make barbells primary and now spending almost no time “training” for the APFT, I continue to hit maxes but can now do so against the scoring standards for personnel half my age.

For any of these Cooper-based tests, adding 1-2 sets of push ups and sit ups as a finisher after the real training is done is more than enough practice/conditioning for the test. On non-training days I’ll alternate between 100-200 meter intervals and running about three miles. Starting about a month before the test, this sets me up for an easy max.

Attending an NCOES school, I found it easy to hit the prescribed maximums and then lead others in the Army’s current Physical Readiness Training program (http://www.armyprt.com) For a person following a good strength training program, maxing out on “army pilates” takes about two weeks of conditioning at best. The most difficult part is memorizing the ridiculously-long lists of exercises.

MAJ Long explains why:
http://startingstrength.com/article/why_does_the_army_want_me_weak

More:

https://startingstrength.com/article/a_strength_based_approach_to_the_apft

I have found with any program if you do not believe in it, the results will be marginal at best. Which would explain why some cadets had marginal improvements. I have said for a long time that the Army is a bunch of untrained runners, running a lot, in a box. The problem however stems deeper than just improper programming and useless training. Many times there just simply is no plan because the leader simply does not know what to do. And whats the easiest thing to program? “We are going for a run today”.

I am the company medic for an infantry company. Physical fitness is a huge part of our job. I see every injury sustained by troops before they go to the next level of care, if needed. I see roughly 2 people a day while non-deployed with 90% of those injuries being over use. While deployed I see roughly 2 people A MONTH! Due to the nature of the beast while deployed, soldiers essentially do what they want for their programming. Their routines involve weights. Not running. Unless there is a problem with them not being able to perform their job nothing is said. They do the dumb stuff out of fitness magazine. But they believe in it so fervently the results, if you can call them that, come regardless.

Until the military gets actual trainers dispersed at the Strategic leadership level that can teach leaders how to train troops, and those leaders provide troops with purpose, direction, and motivation regarding PT this redundant problem will remain.

http://startingstrength.com/resources/forum/mark-rippetoe-q-and-a/64903-air-force-pt-test.html

http://threestormfitness.com/evidence-based-answers-to-fitness-and-nutrition-faqs/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/04/well/move/even-a-little-weight-training-may-cut-the-risk-of-heart-attack-and-stroke.html

https://firearmusernetwork.com/acft-dumb-and-dumber/

https://firearmusernetwork.com/army-combat-readiness-test/

A study published in October in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise provides evidence for the first time that even a little weight training might reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. People appear to gain this benefit whether or not they also engage in frequent aerobic exercise.

The study drew from an invaluable cache of health data gathered at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, where thousands of men and women have been undergoing annual checkups, which include filling out detailed questionnaires about their exercise habits and medical history. More than 12,500 records were anonymized for men and women, most of them middle-aged, who had visited the clinic at least twice between 1987 and 2006. The subjects were categorized according to their reported resistance exercise routines, ranging from those who never lifted to those who completed one, two, three or more weekly sessions (or whether they lifted for more or less than an hour each week). Another category was aerobic exercise and whether subjects met the standard recommendation of 150 minutes per week of brisk workouts. This exercise data was then crosschecked against heart attacks, strokes and deaths during the 11 years or so after each participant’s last clinic visit.

The findings were dramatic: The risk of experiencing these events was roughly 50 percent lower for those who lifted weights occasionally, compared with those who never did — even when they were not doing the recommended endurance exercise. People who lifted twice a week, for about an hour or so in total, had the greatest declines in risk. (Interestingly, the subjects who reported weight training four or more times per week did not show any significant health benefits compared with those who never lifted, although the researchers believe this finding is probably a statistical anomaly.)

“The good news,” says Duck-chul Lee, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and co-author of the study, “is that we found substantial heart benefits associated with a very small amount of resistance exercise.” As an associational study, the results show only that people who occasionally lift weights happen to have healthier hearts — not that resistance training directly reduces heart-related health risks. The data, though, does reveal associations between weight lifting and a lower body mass index, Lee says, which might be connected to fewer heart problems. He and his colleagues do not know the specifics of what exercises people were doing — lat pull-downs? dead lifts? squats? — or how many repetitions they did or at what level of resistance. Lee says he is in the early stages of a major study to examine some of those factors. But he doesn’t suggest waiting for those results.

Strength Trumps All Health Markers With No Inflection Point

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Dr. Jonathon Sullivan responding to a query concerning possible negative outcomes from strength training:

Where is your peer-reviewed, properly controlled data to indicate that progressively increasing one’s strength with heavy training causes an inflection point to the negative in either performance or “health” in populations? And what is the consensus of the data as to exactly where this inflection point will occur for any individual or population?

Well, it won’t be found here:

In a study lasting nearly two decades involving 8,762 men aged 20-80 it was found that, “Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders… Muscular strength was independently associated with risk of death from all causes and cancer in men. These findings are valid for men of normal weight, those who are overweight, and younger or older men, and are valid even after adjusting for several potential confounders, including cardiorespiratory fitness.”

TL;DR: Increased muscular strength trumped all other indicators of health and was the single best predictor of reduced mortality in a 18.9 year study involving 8,762 test subjects and categorizing them into low, middle, and upper strength groups. The stronger people proved harder to kill and no inflection point was found.

Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453303/

Associations of Muscle Mass and Strength with All-Cause Mortality among US Older Adults
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28991040

Weightlifting is good for your heart and it doesn’t take much
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181113115430.htm

Research indicates strength training may be more effective for heart health and overall health than cardio, especially for older people.
https://knowridge.com/2018/11/for-older-people-weight-training-is-more-important-than-cardio-exercise/
https://nypost.com/2018/11/19/lifting-weights-is-better-for-your-heart-than-cardio-study/

If we imagine some yet-to-be-found inflection point of negative health from increased strength does exist, the number of humans taking up barbell training that manage to reach that unicorn is too low to consider.

Army Combat Fitness/Readiness Test complaints

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Here is all you need to understand about the Army’s new ACFT: Motivated and intelligent personnel that know how to train effectively will continue to get very good scores, just as before. Malingerers will complain and do poorly or fail, just as before.

Consider what the test is asking personnel to do. Here are the proposed standards as of July 31 2018: July 2018 proposed standards

The ACFT Field Testing Manual explains the standards.
https://www.military.com/sites/default/files/2018-09/Field%20testing%20manual.pdf

This article demonstrates the events:
https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/10/30/videos-heres-how-complete-new-army-fitness-test.html
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Learning By Competing

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Bill Starr was one of the great strength athletes and coaches, having competed and won at Weightlifting up through Olympic levels, Powerlifting, and then taking what he learned and coaching others to do the same. Knowledgeable practitioners in the strength and conditioning field recognize him as one of the innovators. His efforts are a primary reason why sport teams recognize the benefit of Strength and Conditioning coaches.

Starr was an ideal trainer and coach, having first formally competed and achieved success to validate his knowledge before teaching others. He learned what he knew by competing.

And as I learned from fellow competitors in the ensuing years, that’s what they did as well. It was an intuitive process out of necessity. There were no coaches to tell us this, and no one was actively writing about it in the magazines. That’s how we learned just about everything about lifting heavy weights: trial and error, then sitting back and considering just what had been done, both pro and con.

This seldom happens currently. When a strength athlete hits a wall in his routine, he doesn’t study the problem and come up with a viable solution. Rather, he seeks advice from the bounty of experts out there, via books, videos, clinics and DVDs. That’s certainly much faster and easier, but at the same time it’s less effective. Having to beat your head against a wall until you solve the riddle about your program is much more beneficial than having someone else come up with the answer.

Be like Starr. If you want to learn your discipline better and faster, compete!

More:
http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_Starr_HeavyLight_Starr.pdf

http://www.ironmanmagazine.com/the-light-heavy-and-medium-system/

Barbell Training in the Military

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A military Physical Fitness Test is not designed to measure combat effectiveness, nor is it designed to measure combat readiness. Physical Fitness Tests are wellness assessments for hygiene designed to ensure a minimal level of fitness necessary to avoid medical problems, not for improved performance.

Here is how to do it better and actually improve performance.

Starting Strength and Barbell Training in the Military
by
Lt. Col. Christian “Mac” Ward

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