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13 Weeks: A Writer's Workout

Making fitness fit.

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

August 10, 2013 - 11:00 am

tabatasongs_cover

One of my running themes in these 13 Weeks columns has been that I knew I wanted to be more fit, and knew exercise would help me with my blood sugar as well, but that I found it hard to fit it into my schedule. It’s not that I don’t like the exercise, but the recommendations I hear for five or six hours of exercise a week just don’t seem workable. Add in time to get ready and time to shower and all, and it’s an investment of 10 hours a week or more. That’s 20 tomatoes a week, and if I had another 20 tomatoes a week I’d write more.

Yes, it’s all tomatoes all the time in the Martin household.

(For those of you who came in late, I wrote on Wednesday about my use of the Pomodoro Technique, and how it has helped me as a writer, and I mentioned that I’d found it also helpful integrating exercise into my time. If you want to go read that article, go ahead, we’ll wait for you.)

There is a growing body of research, though, that shows lengthy exercise sessions aren’t actually necessary to get the health benefits of exercise. In a paper entitled “Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease” Dr Martin Gibala and others at McMaster University studied the effects of short intense bursts of exercise compared to longer aerobic exercise and found that a program of 4 intense 30 second bursts of exercise 3 times a week was about as effective as lower intensity training taking several hours a week. Regular 13 Weeks readers may remember me talking about the Tabata protocol, in which training sessions of 20 seconds of all-out effort are interspersed with 10 second breaks; this is very similar.

So, I had this idea: when I’m writing, and my 25 minute Pomodoro time runs out, I take my 5 minute break by doing a Tabata session, usually with my exercise bike but sometimes with kettle bells. (In fact, the tomato just rang. Back in 5 minutes.)

Okay, I’m back. I’ve bought a collection of timed music for Tabata sessions. This video shows an example of several people doing Tabata sessions to music from tabatasongs.com, one of my favorite sources.

YouTube Preview Image

I start one of these songs playing on my Roku box from my Amazon cloud player and get on the exercise bike. I go like hell for 20 seconds, then pedal slowly for ten, and repeat seven more times.

When I get off the bike, I can barely stand — I’m peddling much faster than I could on a real bike, I’d fall over. It takes a minute or two to recover, so I imagine my five minute breaks are more like six or seven minutes. But I’m trying to write for three tomatoes every morning, so I’m getting either two or three sessions every morning as well.

I’ve been doing this for a couple of week only, so it’s hard to say how much real effect it’s having as far as fitness goes, and impossible to say how much effect it’s having on the diabetes yet, but5 there is one effect I can already see: my mood on a morning when I’ve actually done my three tomatoes and two tabatas is much better; I fee awake and I feel like I’ve done something. I can take a shower and go to the office. On the weekends I try to do 5 tomatoes and four tabatas.

Obviously, like all good research, the conclusion is that more study is needed, but I’ve got to say, this actually seems to work well.

Charlie Martin writes on science, health, culture and technology for PJ Media. Follow his 13 week diet and exercise experiment on Facebook and at PJ Lifestyle

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All Comments   (17)
All Comments   (17)
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I'm glad to see Izumi Tabata getting some exposure. His pioneering work with Tabata intervals was published in 1996.

I suspect that high-intensity interval training 15 minutes twice weekly plus serious weight-training for 15-20 minutes twice a week will yield most of the health benefits of exercise, without requiring 5 hours a week. But it's NOT a fun work-out.

-Steve
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Fun" and "work out" aren't phrases I've been able to fit together very well. But this is working out to be 8-12 minutes 4-5 times a week -- although not to classical Tabata intensity levels, but then I'm not starting out as an Olympian either. But see either Gibala's work or that Norwegian study -- they show a slightly better improvement in VO2 uptake and insulin sensitivity over 10 weeks for the HIIT group compared (I think less than 30 min/wk) with a control group doing conventional 65% max training for 135 minutes per week.

Honestly, I'm inclined to be a workaholic anyway -- the increased efficiency, plus the fact that the discomfort only last for 4 minutes, really makes me like this, at least so far.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
" it’s an investment of 10 hours a week" We make time for what is important to us, and if living is important to you, you'll make time.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
And if I get more results from a half-hourt a week but insist on spending ten hours a week, then I'm a fool.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sounds like you've figured out something that will work for you!!! Awesome. :D

Now we await the stats on how things change as you keep this up. No pressure... none at all. LOL.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
The adaptation from high intensity interval training(H.I.T.) is non-linear. The first set's 5-30 seconds is mostly burning energy (glucose) in an anaerobic metabolic pathway. Then burning energy gets less glycolytic (glucose) & glyco-geno-lytic (glycogen) pathways going on.
For weight control purposes : after the 3rd high intensity burst of 30 seconds (with a 4 minute rest recovery between each burst) that exercise bout's musclea switch to actually burning up to 60% of that ATP derived from aerobic metabolism. This is desirable, since then can burn fat; so for H.I.T. to burn fat it must be a performance sequence.
The significant qualification against H.I.T. of short duration is that the exertion is insufficiently prolonged to reliably raise the VO2max that contributes to endurance. The ability to train one's VO2max is ~49% influenced by 21 gene polymorphism traits. Generally reducing body fat tends to raise VO2max.
Most women are slower cycling & running than men due to their gender's lower VO2max. Age lowers VO2max & women over 55 loss of endurance rate is greater than the rate of decline for men's physical performance out of the sack.

35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Muscle bursts of just less than 10 seconds use anaerobic creatine phosphate pathway for energy & phospho-creatine substrate can be provider of ATP for close to 20 seconds. For 30 seconds to 2 minutes skeletal muscle exertion energy comes from anaerobic glyco-lysis.
Over 5 minutes duration muscle energy comes from aerobic pathway of oxidative phosphorylation that uses both fat & glucose. This is good for that muscle exertion capability.
Larger body holds heat more than smaller mass & brain senses how body experiences speed exertion builds up heat (ie: not the temperature degree). When brain registers hyper-thermia it lowers the electrical impulse directed to a muscle; even if core temperature still below 40*Celcius.
Training leads to greater body heat control (slower core heat build up), which reduces the sympathetic nervous system stress, in turn reducing the muscle glycogen getting used & then fat burning increases. During moderate intensity exercise age causes less oxidative phosphorylation of fat & more oxidation of glucose.
Cyclists riding in a pack use 80% aerobic + 15% glycolysis + 5% creatine phosphate. When cyclists climb hill in race use 30% aerobic + 51% glycolysis + 15% creatine phosphate. Then at final sprint to finish line cyclists use 2% aerobic + 8% glycolysis + 90% creatine phosphate pathway.
Age decreased cycling performance is largely due to age lowering of one's lactate tolerance threshold. Endurance training is relevant because it up-regulates the lactate transporter (mono-carboxylate) which shuttles lactate in/out of cells.
Lactate is designed to be shuttled from anaerobic glycolysis performing glycolytic muscle fibers & fed into aerobic oxidative phosphorylation muscle fibers. Thus endurance training keeps % of lactate in blood low & one's physical exertion can carry on longer before the onset of blood lactate accumulation (above 4mMol/Lt.).
We can quickly build up lactic acid in blood from less than 1 minute high intensity exertion. A guideline for judging when at 55 - 75 % below one's lactate threshold is when one is exercising at 60 - 70% of their maximum heart rate (find own max. heart beats rate when no longer able to talk conversationally).
H.I.T. involves rest phase because this lets lactate clear before next burst.
Lower lactate give increased aerobic & anaerobic potential; but lower lactate
itself has not been found to cause a trained professional athlete's peak performance.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hm, here's another Gibala et al study: it appears that HIIT improves insulin sensitivity markedly too.

http://jp.physoc.org/content/588/18/3341.full.pdf
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I certainly do think H.I.T. is excellent for untrained & casual athletes. But it must be done with a period containing more than 3 sets of bursts with intervals of rest to be done right to clear lactate enough to be able to burn proportionately more fat.
Looking at the ratio of oxygen used to CO2 put into circulation gives a respiratory exchange ratio (R.E.R.) of 1.0 when the process of bicarbonates in body that are actively dealing with skeletal muscle anaerobic energy production's lactic acid end up spinning off CO2 molecules.
When the respiratory exchange ratio is only 0.74 (ie: only modest anaerobic metabolism from mostly glycolytic using fibers in our mixed fiber muscles) we are burning 88.4% fat + 11.6% carbohydrate. If get that need for CO2 up to 0.94 ratio (lots of anaerobic ATP production, using 4.998 cal./Lt. O2)) we only burn 13.6%fat + 86.4% carbohydrate. The middle ranges of R.E.R. ratio is 0.84 where burn 54% fat + 45.6% carbohydrate & yet so close to R.E.R. ratio of 0.86 where shift to burning 47.6 fat + 52.4% carbohydrate.
Which points to the conundrum of sedentary obesity who don't exert key fast twitch muscle fibers. Namely that, it is not so much that they do not burn fat, but unfortunately they are burning too little glucose.
Sprinters & power athletes (like fighters & weight lifters) use more fast twitch type IIx glycolytic fibers. Their anaerobic capacity is training them to raise the muscle level of bicarbonate (HCO3-) around to snag the H+ ions lactic acid gives off when becomes lactate leaving behind water (H20) & CO2.
This raises the lactate thereshold & gives faster calcium (Ca++) release for resetting muscle (H+ ion around slows Ca++ rebound leading to sense of fatigue felt in muscle, as well as the local "burn" experience). Insulin sensitivity is partly modulated by movement inside cell of it's internal stores of Ca++.

35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
OKay, and a Tabata routine is 8 bursts. Since I've been getting 3-4 pf them, that's 24-36 over a span of two hours.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
jay, the experimental results seem to say otherwise. See the Gibala study, or for example this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17414804

CONCLUSIONS:
: High-aerobic intensity endurance interval training is significantly more effective than performing the same total work at either lactate threshold or at 70% HRmax, in improving VO2max. The changes in VO2max correspond with changes in SV, indicating a close link between the two.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think it is accepted the H.I.T. increases peak oxygen uptake called VO2 peak (highest level of oxygen taken up when exerting) even better than endurance training. VO2 max on the other hand is the most oxygen capacity that more exertion at that time won't be able to raise higher at that time.
VO2 max in mL/Kg/min is the level where body's exertion hits limit of oxygen useage. It is the absolute exhaustion plateau for muscle activity. In VO2 peak that level is where brain fatigue causes the muscle to stop
work loading.
Other reports on H.I.T. oxygen parameters talk only of VO2 peak - like 2010's "High-intensity interval training improves VO2peak, maximal lactate accumulation, time trial and competition performance in 9–11-year-old swimmers" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2974202/ . Which incidentally also found their H.I.T.- like regimen does increase the skeletal muscle pyruvate de-hydrogenase enzyme.
Examples of VO2max for sedentary adults who run is ~22.7 - 38.5. For Olympic long distance runners who are female VO2max ~66 & males ~79. Tour de France cyclists average ~ 62.5 - 82.5 VO2 max. So I wonder who dieters are that compare to study's "...moderately trained male subjects ..." capable of boosting their "...VO2max from 60.5 to 64.4 ... &... 55.5 to 60.4...."
Those guys were already adapted to competition level if in just 8 weeks got to Tour de France capability. Compare to the average fellows who DREW/Heritage/SSTRIDE studied for 5 months aerobic training finding only 8% of participants raised VO2max by 14%, while close to 30% of participants only boosted VO2max by 8%.
Competition training athletes do raise VO2 max by less than 2 - 3 minutes exertions, yet only up to 60% of their time (not exclusively). They either go beyond their measured VO2max for 15 - 30 seconds or at their VO2max for 2-3 minutes; another tactic is exerting at less than 95% their VO2max for just 4 minutes. For low intensity training they go close to VO2max with 15 minute intervals, or low intensity for 45 minute intervals done under their
VO2max.
Running uses muscle cycle of stretch & shortening. Fast twitch muscle fibers are more damaged by the stretch/shortening dynamic than cycling,
which uses contraction of concentric muscles.
Low intensity (working out at 20 - 40 beats/minute less than one's maximum heart rate) does take longer than high intensity to see benefits. Training high intensity causes statistically quicker injuries, even though not numerically more injuries than low intensity training.
Competition runners train from high intensity with cycles of low intensity to increase endurance. About 20% is high intensity & 80% (or less) is working out at their aerobic threshold. They wear vests with weights when run to change muscle fibers like H.I.T. does.




35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I just got ann egg-timer that only goes to "Thirteen Seconds" which happens to be the amount of time I intend to devote to anymore of these "Thirteen Weeks" templates. For God's sake look around and see just how pernicious the "Thirteen Week" thing has become. It would be one thing if everytime you typed "Thirteen Weeks" a senate democrat got the runs, as opposed to an angel getting his wings.. but really, enough is enough.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
A lot of people are finding this thirteen week pattern useful; it's not like I'm twisting anyone's arm. If you're not, I'll cheerfully refund the admission price.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh yeah and when the guy says "Last One" I'm like...t...h....a...n...k....y..o...u
huffing and puffing
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yup. The closer you come to utterly exhausting yourself with a four-minute Tabata, the better. The original experiments, with already highly-trained atheletes, was so intense they *had* to have three days to recover between sessions.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hooray! Seems like it's all coming together. I just got a kitchen timer for my birthday, one I can actually hear, so I'll try that with Tabata starting Monday. Everything starts Monday. Continued Best Wishes, Charlie!
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
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