As Little As Needed

"Do as little as needed, not as much as possible," is the training philosophy of Henk Kraaijenhoff, who's had tremendous success coaching Olympians. That caught my eye because it's easy for a TOJ to always do as much as possible because s/he enjoys it so much. The problem with too much is it leads to inflammation and can sabotage your effort to get fit.

I found the quote in The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Tim Ferriss, a young guy who turned himself into a living experiment on diet and exercise. Despite its hyperbolic title, there's lots of thought-provoking, useful material in the book.

Sometimes you have to laugh at his narcissism and obsessiveness (like when he weighs his boel movements), but, to his credit, he did personally test many of the diet and exercise theories discussed in the book. And he consulted with an array of high-powered experts in medicine, exercise physiology, nutrition, coaching and training. Every chapter is followed by excellent links to websites and resources.

A few chapters this TOJ found especially provocative were entitled "Ultra-Endurance I - Going from 5K to 50K in 12 Weeks - Phase I," "Ultra-Endurance II...," and "Effortless Superhuman." What is so interesting is that they contain more minimalist approaches to training for activities like distance running and power lifting that totally challenge traditional exercise regimens. Some you'll find very counter intuitive (less is more) or just plain wacky. Yet the people discussed have demonstrated impressive results by unconventional means.

For example:

-- A 36 year old man who finished a 28.4 mile ultramarathon with 18,500 feet of elevation gain by running lots of 400 meter intervals and never more than 5K.
-- A 43 year old marathoner, with only 11 weeks left before the NYC marathon, took a minute off her per mile pace by doing 16 minutes of sprint training per week and four sessions of weights and calisthenics.
-- A triathlete completes one of the toughest 100 mile runs in the world by training an average of 6.5 miles per week, mostly strength training, CrossFit, intervals and pace work.
-- A Chinese speed-skating team captures medals by improving their ability to perform a dead lift with barbells, not skating more.
-- A 70 year old sets an American weight lifting record working out only once a week. Read about
this record deadlift.
-- A high school 400 meter runner cuts two seconds off her time by running only 33 meter repeats and strength training; weighing just 119 lbs., she deadlifts 340 lbs.

There's a pattern in many of these stories:
  • High speed/low volume. You train for running long distances by sprinting short distances. You get strong by a few reps of a heavy weight, not multiple sets of high reps with lighter weights. Running with a faster stride rate (versus stride length) naturally leads to more efficient running mechanics. 
  • Strength enables endurance. If you are a distance runner, the tendons and ligaments of your foot and lower leg fail more often than your VO2max or muscles. Strength training enables a runner to recover faster and have be ready for more training, if needed. Short periods of jumping (plyometrics) helps you run faster than just running itself.
  • Intensity (measured by heart rate) of exercise can be more effective than volume (time spent).
  • Strength comes from a few reps of a weight close to the maximum you can lift, and not lifting until you are exhausted. 
  • You really only need a few basic exercises. 
Ferriss in-your-face views have generated supporters and critics. Look at some of the positive and negative reviews on Amazon, all 1,200+ of them (Ferriss is a great self-promoter and salesman, probably why he included sex in the book's title and a totally silly, unnecessary chapter). A couple of physicians are especially critical of some of his claims.

However, a TOJ tries to be pretty open-minded. We are all a little different, and every person needs to find out what works for them. There are always new and useful exercise ideas to explore. Ferris makes you think, which is good, and I've no doubt some of his unorthodox ideas are absolutely correct.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for yet another interesting post. I always find your blog to be thought provoking and insightful. I recently read the book Strength For Life by Shawn Phillips, which also follows the Less is More, or more accurately Quality vs Quantity concept. A month into qualify strength with dumbbells and speed interval running sessions later and I'm a believer. Yesterday I ran 22 miles with fewer than usual miles under my belt, yet I felt much stronger and really enjoyed the run. Hmmm - at 47 I believe I've found a second wind! Thanks for the great blog! ~ Tim (Minnesota )

Rick said...

I appreciate your intelligent posts. I also think of myself as a tuff old jock -62, a lifetime workout addict who suffered the indignity of sudden cardiac death during a USTA tennis match in June '09. The short version -defense attorney for cardiology cases- among others - a cardiologist playing for the other team did world class cpr for 12 minutes until the rescue squad arrived to shock me back to life. Despite a couple of failed bypass grafts, I am training for triathlons and road races.