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Dr. Helen

How Do You Decide Which Exercise Works for You?

April 24th, 2014 - 5:45 am

I thought about this as I read Mark Rippetoe’s fascinating discussion of why running is not the panacea that so many people think it is:

This highly informative discussion is intended for those people who have taken seriously the advice of doctors, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and the popular media’s dutiful reporting on these sources of common misinformation about what kind of physical activity is best for your long-term health and continued ability to participate in the business of living well.

Rippetoe goes on to make the case against running and for strength training. Okay, fair enough. I get that we need to be strong, especially as we get older; and strength training helps with this. But I can’t help but feel that a balanced approach is also good if you want to address Rippetoe’s concern that “the more you run, the better you are at running and the worse you are at being strong.”

I have a number of training goals and they change all the time. For example, right now, I want to run a 13 minute mile which I know is not good, but is about the best I can do. It’s important to me. Why? Because running is a skill that can help in situations such as running fast away from something or someone, or running to catch a subway or bus, or running after a kid or adult who needs help etc.

Do I need to run long slow distance? No, probably not. I also want to know self-defense because it is important to me and I would like to take more Krav Maga lessons. I suppose these goals take away from strength building but I don’t have time for all of it. So what do you focus on? If being good at strength building builds strength, that’s good, but will it help me to run faster or be better at self-defense? Wouldn’t practice of these “sports” or exercise be the most helpful? Or maybe a balanced approach that focused on strength and practicing running and Krav Maga would be best. If we only strength train, is that enough or does it depend on one’s goals?

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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Rippetoe has a bit of a gut because he's been deadlifting for decades which adds inches of muscle to your abdomenal wall. He drinks bourbon and eats meat and he's not in the gym to make himself pretty like 90% of the metrosexuals these days--trying to swell up this or that lump on their body like middle school girls looking at themselves in the mirror. No, I'm not Rippetoe, just a fan and a deadlifter myself with a 'gut' somewhat like his that's mostly muscle. True. It's not rationalization. Your gut thickens with deadlifting and squatting. So real weight lifting is not for vain types.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seems that staying active is more important than the type of activity, and that it's counter-productive to focus on just one type of exercise to the exclusion of others. I'd argue against the "natural grains" part of received wisdom about diet because of the research in Gary Taubes' Why We Get Fat and David Perlmutter's Grain Brain. I like the Younger Next Year approach, but at the tender age of 69, I'm finding it harder to go full out on some of the workouts. Currently, I do hot yoga with a very hardass instructor once a week, a couple of runs (more like shuffles now) per week, work with the machines and free weights a couple of times a week, walk on my treadmill when I'm not traveling for a half hour in the morning, and visit a great massage nazi for two hours per week. Works for me...and lets me feel a little better about my alcohol consumption.

I remember Jim Fixx. Isn't it just as likely that he extended his life by running and that he died in spite of, not because of, his exercise?
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
If Mark Rippetoe has all the answers why does his gut hang over his belt?

I'm 61 and in the same shape as I was at 21 and do all kinds of different things. Listen to the old guys like Jack Lalanne who always said to do something for 30 days and then do something else otherwise it gets boring.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Have you considered Crossfit programs? They do have a lot of variety in strength and cardio vascular conditioning. There is also Crossfit Endurance, which is based on crossfit principles, but modified for Triathletes (though you don't need to actually be a triathlete to get the benefits of training).

At any rate, if you do intense martial arts training of any sort (Muay Thai, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga) on a regular basis (3+ times per week), you really shouldn't need any cardio work. Bag work, grappling, even discplined shadow boxing are all superior cardio workouts.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was in college, I managed a for-profit gym and dojo. All modesty aside, now that I am middle-aged, I am still ripped and have the body of someone in their 20's. The keys to life-long fitness are, in this order: 1. sleep 2. proper nutrition 3. intelligent exercise. Sleep is always number 1 because the body only repairs itself and grows stronger during sleep. If you don't get enough regular sleep, it won't matter how well you eat or how well you exercise. Never forget that sleep is number 1. Humans should eat five or six small meals daily instead of only 3 large meals. Eating only 3 meals is a recipe for being fat and out of shape. These meals should consist mainly of fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains, and anything else that naturally grows on a vine or comes from the ground. One guilt free cheat day should be built into every week so a person can enjoy burgers and cake. Most people can last about a week of eating well, and then they need a guilt free cheat day. This cheat day actually helps them meet their long term fitness goals by giving them an incentive to eat right the majority of the week. While they are eating the veggies during the week they can be looking forward to that pie on Saturday. The mistake that most people on diets make is that they get gung-ho and eat right for a month or two, and then they give in to temptation and have a piece of cake. Then they feel so guilty about that one piece of cake that they beat themselves up psychologically and quit eating well entirely. My one guilt free cheat day a week keeps people on an emotionally even keel and allows them to eat well the majority of the time. With exercise, it is key to do both strength training and cardio. However, most people I have trained go about exercise the wrong way. Exercise should be many little fitness sessions instead of one giant pain filled session. What do most fat people do when they go on a fitness program? They get all gung-ho and do too much and almost kill themselves and then they quit forever. It is far smarter to do a little each day on a consistent basis and see results over the long haul. For strength training, I highly recommend getting SPRI bands and working out at home. A home gym allows people to bang out quick sets several times during the day. All those little sets add up. If you strength train at a gym, find out how the maximum amount of weight you can lift, and then try to do only 40% of that weight for 20 reps. NEVER lift your maximum for reps. That is a sure way to get hurt and quit your fitness program. The old adage, "Go heavy or go home" is a ridiculous mantra I hope I never hear again at the gym. As far as cardio, NEVER run long distance, especially not marathons. Every fat person I have ever known wants to run a marathon. What always happens is they train like madmen for months, hate the experience, are in pain the whole time, possibly get hurt... and whether they ultimately complete the marathon or not is irrelevant... they always ultimately quit their fitness program forever. I could name half a dozen morbidly obese people right now who are proud to say, "I ran a marathon once." My reply is, "O.K., but what shape are you in RIGHT NOW?" They use that one fitness accomplishment to justify being fat for the remainder of their lives. Never run long distances. The ordeal is just too painful and will lead to quitting fitness forever. A far smarter way to do cardio is to get yourself a heart rate monitor chest band. Get on a stationary bike and get your heart rate up to 75% of your maximum 3-5 times a week for around 30 minutes. That's all it takes! Forget about marathons or hours on the bike... all that does is destroy your body. That is also why boot-camp programs like Crossfit are ridiculous... they destroy your body and cause too much pain and then people quit. Crossfit also leads to gross over-eating as the body tries to repair itself from gross over-exertion. That gross over-eating always continues after the person has had enough of Crossfit after a few months. Remember, consistency of sleeping well, eating right, and exercising intelligently over long periods of time yield the best results. Don't fall for the gung-ho mentality of people who are on some new fitness craze that they will never be able to sustain for the long haul. I've never known ANYONE who could keep up Crossfit for more than a few months. A year later, they were back to their old fat selves. Again, all modesty aside, I've been lean, healthy, muscular and ripped for decades. I know what I'm talking about. I've seen dozens of health fads come and go over the decades. The honest truth is that we can't beat nature. The only way to be lean and fit is to follow nature's rules. If humans were living in the wild, we would be eating several small meals all day long and exercising in short high intensity bursts as we ran to kill prey or avoid being killed ourselves. Even though we live
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Anyone else besides me remember Jim Fixx? He started the jogging craze. In fact, the running shoe was developed because of him. He died of a heart attack after his daily run.

Anyone else remember Eule Gibbons? He started the natural food craze. He used to do those commercials for Grapenuts cereal. "Reminds me of wild hickory nuts," he would say. He died because a wild hickory nut got stuck in his kidney.

Just goes to show.

I don't know much about Krav Maga, but I understand it is an extremely effective fighting technique. Over my life, I've studied judo, tae kwon do and kung fu. I studied preying mantis kung fu, which is the most complicated form of kung fu, for several years. The first form you learn is black belt level tae kwon do. It is the deadliest form of kung fu.

I got tested by Grandmaster Po from the Wah Lum temple. He came down here to test us and gave a demonstration. It was amazing. This little old man in his 70s, the things he could do. He could balance on an egg and do a one legged squat, without breaking the egg. But what impressed me most was the form he did with a three-section staff. I had always wondered what it was about a three-section staff, but after I saw Grandmaster Po's demonstration, I understood. You could clear a barroom with that weapon, and I'm not kidding.

It takes about ten years of serious study and training to develop proficiency in Wah Lum kung fu. Unfortunately, my instructor gave up after two years and started teaching some Bruce Lee BS.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
As an avid runner in my youth, I remember Fixx's book. He had congenital heart defects and credits running with extending his life (he outlived his father by a decade). Gibbons died of an aneurism stemming from a genetic disorder, not a wild hickory hut. While Gibbons advocated a somewhat unusual diet he didn't walk around the woods and eat whatever he saw; his food prep, like yours, was in the kitchen.

I've been following Rippetoe's columns and bought his book and am starting a strength program, as at my age my knees just can't take competitive running any more. But I think a thrice-weekly jog is a good part of a balanced exercise program.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's an interesting question isn't it? As someone both ex-military and having trained in various martial arts (judo, karate, wing chun, jkd, escrima, silat, bando, ...) since aged 4 (I'm now 21 for the 27th time) I tend to follow the advice of Geoff Thompson (noted martial arts instructor) with regards to training in a combat art:

“Firstly, weight training is to be viewed in the same context as
running or stretching. That is as a supplementary aid to the
combat skills, not as a replacement for them.”
(Geoff Thompson – Weight Training for the Martial Artist ISBN 1 84024 183 7)

You may initially see no direct (obvious) beneficial effect on your combat skill from supplemental training (other than your general fitness level) but as your knowledge, experience and technique improve you 'will' require both supplemental cardiovascular endurance and strength training (and flexibility) to use those techniques to full effect, however if combat is your main aim neither a weight or a running specialist will necessarily give you the best advice:

“After all, would you ask a soccer coach to train a rugger team simply because both sports use a field, a ball and two teams?” (G. Thompson)

I have a number of ('work') injuries (and regularly set off airport metal detectors) and have found benefits from Mr Rippetoe's training regimen but I maintain my running training too. I'd suggest you don't bother with LSD (long, slow, distance) as it has little beneficial effect (either cardiovascular or muscular endurance, except in long distance running of course) but research interval training (eg. Fartlek and similar) it has marked cardiovascular and definite muscular effects (NB. Discuss with your doctor prior of course) which are more applicable (I think) to your stated aims.

Just my opinion of course.
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34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
What I call the "Draka" fitness program is the best. This is a combination of weight training, aerobic exercise (preferably swimming), and martial arts.

Weight training: 4X per week (2 day split)
Swimming: 3X per week - 40 minutes each time
Martial arts: preferably Taekwondo

This is Draka as in the Domination of the Draka.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"So perhaps there is an inherent passivity to an endurance approach to exercise. This is very different from strength training, which is aggressive in its approach: you don’t “endure,” you initiate and you complete — you lift the bar, and then next time you lift more."

Over the past few years I've done ultra running as well as the type of lifting that Mark promotes. The lifting is a lot easier, done a lot quicker, and doesn't require much in the way of thought or preparation. For what I need to do to achieve my goals I can spend an hour in the gym three or four days a week with minimal planning. I do enjoy my gym time and am happy with the physical results. It's easy and aside from having to deal with the annoying archetypes who populate the gym I have no qualms. Focused physical results with minimal effort, not terribly aggressive.

Of course ultrarunning isn't terribly aggressive either. A big part of it is understanding how your body responds to the challenges of running 100 miles in 24 hours or less. If you are smart about it, train and diet properly, you'll succeed. If you are overly aggressive and don't use your mind and will properly you're going to crash and burn and throw away months or years of training. To put it in military terms a successful runner has to be an Eisenhower or Lee. That's why there aren't that many of them. A successful lifter is more of a Custer. Each group has their virtues but the former are rare. The latter are a dime a dozen at any local gym. No offense to the gym rats. Now that I've decided to take it easy I'm right there with them.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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