How to Naturally Train off Body Fat Without Stressing the Body
A strong and flexible body throughout life doesn’t have to cost a personal trainer or tons of self-discipline. And a strong and flexible body in balance is rarely a body that is trained often and hard.
The exercise principles of this post are written in connection with my post about how to get naturally through menopause (which will be released very soon), but most people can benefit from these ideas, especially those who struggle with chronic stress, but also those who just like to train but don’t want to drain.
Training for those who suffer from stress - and for the many going through menopause - can be a balancing act, because you don’t want to trigger more of the stress hormone cortisol, that is so abundant in the body already, but you want to increase the production of the fat-burning and muscle-building youth hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone - and you also want to have a little more of the free happiness medicine endorphin and serotonin, and those things can very easily collide unless you set cunningly at it.
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Contents of this post
Exercise, Stress, And Cortisol
The Cave Woman Knew A Thing Or Two
The Cave Woman's Five Training Principles
What I Do
But Most Importantly
Home exercise products worth owning
1. Exercise, Stress, And Cortisol
Exercise is a catabolic activity (breaking down), and the body will increase its production of cortisol during workout.
As cortisol enters the blood stream it stimulates adrenaline, which activates the sympathetic nervous system and turns on your flight or fight response, which makes you ready to take action—whether to crush a heavy set of deadlifts, outsprint an opponent, win a verbal fight, or solve a difficult mental problem at work.
People who suffer from chronic stress and anxiety – and many menopausal women, cortisol and norepinephrine are continuously overproduced. The body’s cortisol receptors become resistant to cortisol signals and desensitized to the negative feedback telling it to “chill out,” and the adrenals keep getting the message to pump out cortisol.
Thus training can be another stress problem for the body, because the adrenal glands don’t distinguish between the different types of stress situations. This means cortisol is elevated equally in response to depression, injury, lack of food, intense exercise, a long commute in the car, a fight with a loved one, etc.
When cortisol levels are chronically high you will often lose muscle mass and increase fat deposits - especially around the stomach, because high cortisol levels in combination with high insulin levels, typically causes the body to store fat.
2. The Cave Woman Knew A Thing Or Two
The idea is to train with the correct intensities that can create the well-being the body needs to create all the helpful hormones that can keep muscles strong, the spine erect, the bones whole, the spirits up, the brain sharp and fat deposits in check. The best remedy for that - ladies - is a stimulated testosterone production.
Testosterone is, like cortisol, produced in the adrenal glands, but because the body always priorities immediate survival situations, will an elevated cortisol in the body decrease the production of testosterone - and here it’s worth noting that especially cardiovascular exercise, such as very long running, swimming, and cycling sessions, increases cortisol levels too, and decrease muscle mass.
On the other hand the right mix of weight training, short sprint intervals, and recovery time improve the cortisol balance and increase testosterone production. And the good news is that aging doesn’t appear to reduce the ability of your body to adapt to strength training - so it's never too late to get started.
I' inspired by Mark Sisson’s training system. He has developed a lifestyle program inspired by the cave-people's way of life. Our ancestors were in pretty good shape throughout their life, they had strong muscles, joints and bones and rarely suffered from chronically stress.
3. The Cave Woman's Five Training Principles
- Move around a lot at a slow pace
- Lift heavy things
- Run really fast every once in a while
1. Move around a lot at a slow pace
The cave woman and her family spent an average of several hours each day moving about at a “low level aerobic pace.” They hunted, gathered, foraged, wandered, scouted, migrated, climbed and crawled. This low level of activity prompted their genes to build a stronger capillary (blood vessel) network to fuel each muscle cell, to be able to store some excess food as fat, but also to be readily able to convert the stored fat back into energy.
It was also crucial to the cave woman not to get injured, as a broken ankle or pulled muscle could be fatal for her survival.
Of course, she did all this without the benefit of paved sidewalks or nice shoes. Because every footfall landed at a different angle, every muscle, tendon and ligament worked and became stronger together in balance.
Note that she did NOT go out and “jog” at 80% of her MAX Heart Rate for long periods of time.
How to do it today
Do some form of low level aerobic activity 3-5 hours a week, whether it is walking, hiking, easy bike riding or swimming.
Ideally, and when possible, find time to go barefoot or wear as little foot support as possible – like five finger shoes.
Low-level activity is necessary (especially if you find yourself chained to a desk every day). The combined effect will be an increase in capillary perfusion, fat-burning and overall integration of muscle strength and flexibility.
What is Low-level aerobic activity?
- Low-level aerobic activity involves working most of the time at 55 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Rule of thumb
- The lower limit of 55 percent of max is a very, very comfortable rate.
- If you’re heaving and panting and sweating, you are not moving at a slow pace—no matter what the speedometer says.
- The upper limit of 75 percent of max is still a very comfortable intensity level.
- For accomplished endurance athletes, it’s ok to use 80 percent as an upper limit.
How to calculate Maximum Heart Rate
- Warm up for a few minutes,
- Exercise at a high intensity for about two minutes,
- Then sprint as fast as you can for the last fifteen seconds.
- Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply with 6.
This formula is fairly accurate for most of the population:
- For males, 220 - age = Estimated Maximum Heart Rate
- For females, 226 - age = Estimated Maximum Heart Rate
226-53 year = maximum heart rate of 173
55% = 173 * 0,55 = 95 beats per minute
75% = 173 * 0.75 = 129 beats per minute
Walking is the ultimate “gateway exercise”—our preeminent mode of transportation for a couple million years.
Many people aren’t ready to lift heavy weights or do a bunch of pull-ups right away, but almost everyone can walk—even if you can only start with a trip around the block.
Walking sets the stage for more advanced and more intense movements, and you should be able to walk for 30 minutes before you attempt bodyweight exercises or sprints.
Technically an offshoot of walking. The terrain shifts, there are rocks to lift and toss, tree limbs to climb, and hills to scale. Because your foot lands differently on varied terrain, you train the small muscles in your feet more effectively, which affects the entire muscular system of the body.
4 benefits of walking in 15 minutes after dinner
- It increases metabolism and improves digestion.
- It improves blood circulation. A walk lowers the bloods levels of fat (triglycerides and cholesterol), but also enhances blood circulation to various parts of the body. This is mainly due to the fact that walking ensures proper supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart, which in turn causes better blood circulation.
- It improves sleep and relieves stress
- Stabilizes blood sugar. A walk after having dinner uses the excess glucose present in the blood thereby controlling sugar levels.
If you walk for 15 minutes after your lunch break, and for 15 minutes after your dinner every day, then you would have achieved 3.5 hours of walking in a week. If you also walk 15 minutes in the mornings then you would achieve more than 5 hours of walking in a week.
2. Lift heavy things
The women carried their babies much of the time, as well as bundles of prewood, or whatever they had gathered, foraged or scavenged. The men carried heavy spears or other tools, they dragged heavy carcasses of animals they had hunted, and they moved large boulders or logs to build shelters.
They also lifted themselves into trees or up onto higher ground when escaping from danger or to scout a new route.
The biochemical signals created by these very brief but intense muscle contractions generated a slight surge in growth hormone and a reduction in myostatin gene expression, prompting an increase in muscle size and power; particularly fast twitch fibers.
How to do it today
Go to the gym and lift weights for 30-45 minutes, 2-3 times a week. Focus on movements that involve the entire body and in wider ranges of motion – not just on isolating body parts. Emulate the movements of our ancestors: jumping, squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, twisting, etc.
This will stimulate your genes to increase muscle strength and power, increase bone density, improve insulin sensitivity, stimulate growth hormone secretion, and consume stored body fat.
The principle is to work hard, but in short bursts / intervals.
Suggestion - do variations of these exercises.
- Triceps dips
- Jumping Jacks
- Step up and down on the low bench
- Jump Rope
Most gyms have "HIIT" classes (High Intensive Interval Training), and the exercises mentioned above are often included in these classes and adjusted to the student’s levels. The classes are usual of one-hour session, which can be stressful for some bodies. On the other hand these classes are a good place to learn to master a lot of body lifting exercises, and you can most often arrange with the coach that you only participate in half an hour or at half pace.
Here is an inspirational video of Kayla Itsines. In her "28-Minute Bikini Body Workout" you get ideas for body weight exercises and on how to do them. You control the pace yourself.
Tip: Don’t compete. Instead, be present and concentrated in each exercise and movement. It‘s not about speed and number of repetitions, but about being stronger, minimizing release of cortisol and maximize testosterone production.
Use your senses Use the senses consciously with the movements - especially the eyes, the eyes stand for 70% of our movements. Look in the direction of movement or muscle group that provides most. In the movements - especially the eyes, our vision stands for 70% of our movements. Look in the direction of the movements or the muscle groups that are working the most.
Yoga and Pilates also fits into this training category
Pilates require you to engage virtually your whole body, and emphasizes your body’s core — the abdomen, oblique, lower back, inner and outer thigh, butt, and so on. For this reason, Pilates develops much of what exercisers need — strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and good posture.
Vinyasa Yoga also uses body weight to strengthen muscles and can be great for improving muscles and bones, and to de-stress through stretching and breathing.
3. Run really fast every once in a while
In a world where danger lurked around every corner, your ability to run was a strong indicator of whether you would live long enough to pass your genes down to the next generation.
Avoiding a charging beast to save your life, or surging forward to catch a different beast for dinner, the net effect was still survival.
These sprints triggered growth hormone and improved fast twitch muscle, which made sure that next time this happened she could sprint a little faster.
How to do it today
Do some form of intense anaerobic sprint bursts once a week. This could be as simple as six or eight (or more) short sprints up a hill, on the grass, at the beach… or repeated intense sessions on a bicycle (stationary, road or mountain bike).
- Sprinting is about quality over quantity. Even as you progress with your fitness, you don’t ever have to go longer than 30 seconds for a single interval, and no more than six repetitions of this duration.
- Alternatively, you could max out with 8–10 repetitions of 15-second intervals. Workouts like these are plenty for most everyone to hit that 95% of genetic potential marker.
- You can measure your progress in sprinting by going faster during your efforts - but never increase the number of maximum intervals recommended.
- For beginners, your first few sprint might only be ten or fifteen seconds and your rest interval two minutes.
- It’s better that you ease into this than go overboard and get injured or burned out in your first few sessions.
- If you haven’t gone all-out in anything physical for years, or if you are concerned
- about overdoing it, just go 80 or 85 percent those first few sessions until you are comfortable.
- As your fitness, speed and strength improve, you might increase that time to 20 or 30 seconds per work interval and decrease the rest interval to a minute or a minute and fifteen seconds.
How to do sprints
- Sprint sessions must begin with a proper warm-up—five or ten minutes of light intensity exercise of the same type that you will be sprinting at.
- After you’ve warmed up sufficiently, take a minute or two to do a few “transition” sessions where you gradually ramp up the speed or effort until you hit max for just a few seconds, then ease it back down.
- This will prepare you for the speed and effort you’ll be “digging down” for when you begin the actual sprints.
- As you start your first actual sprint, ease into that as well for a few seconds, rather than bursting out of the blocks as if a starter’s gun went off.
- You want to get up to speed as soon as possible, but you’ll avoid injury if you accelerate smoothly.
All work and no play make Wilma a dull girl.
Play has been an important part of our lives for thousands of years and is used to connect us with others, enjoy life and to solidify social bonds and to prompt the release of endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals) and to mitigate any lingering stress effects of life-threatening situations.
How to mix play into your exercise routines
Spend some time each week involved in active play. Simply go out and play. Do something that gives a sense of joy, freedom and carefreeness.
- Play Rounders.
- Play Beach Volley.
- Do group training with people that make you happy.
- Go horseback riding in nature.
- Take dance or Zumba classes.
We aren’t machines, after all. Our bodies work hard everyday to keep us going as smoothly as possible. We need down time. We need to rest, and we need to relax. Without care, rest and recovery we burn out. It’s always been like that.
5 ideas for care and recovery
1. Massage has been used for thousands of years by people of all ages, because massage
- Has a relaxing effect on the body,
- It lowers inflammation levels in the muscles after exercise,
- It increases levels of the mood enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and
- Might also support the body's detoxification processes.
2. Meditation is providing deep relaxing and prevention of stress. The body releases serotonin during deep meditation - a substance that is essential to the conduct and the sense of joy and well-being. Moreover, this is what meditation practice can do to your body:
- Improve heart and lungs
- Improved concentration
- Promote better contact with feelings and intuition
- Improve immune System
- Lower blood pressure and pulse
- Strengthened circuit
- Better sleep
- Relief of anxiety
3. Deep Breathing. Breathe deeply into your stomach once a day, and I can really recommend giving this deeply relaxing method a go once in a while.
- Lie on your back with the soles of the feet together. Let your knees and your arms fall out to the side. Palms up. Neck long.
- Breathe normally a few times
- Inhale deeply from the nose now and exhale fully. Inhale again and than exhale again. Total emptying.
- Now inhale deeply through your nose and fill your stomach up like a big balloon there is about to burst.
- Hold the breath in on a count to 7 (but no longer than it still feels comfortable).
- Then exhale, making sure to empty yourself completely.
- Inhale normal. And exhale normal.
- Inhale. And exhale fully. Emptying your self out completely.
- Repeat steps 4-8 five times.
4. Be a couch potato when the urge hit you, with no guilt about what else you should have been doing.
5. Sleep. Get plenty of quality sleep. Our lives are so hectic and full of things to do after the sun goes down that it’s often difficult to get enough sleep. Yet sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining good health, vibrant energy and a strong immune system.
4. What I do
I love Pilates and HIIT - and I’m so fortunate to train with some wonderful people week after week, so workout is often also my playtime.
This is how a typical week for me could look like - but with room for life's spontaneity too!
I meditates 20 minutes each morning, walk a little each day after lunch and dinner, practice Pilates two to four times a week, and once a week I max out with HIIT training or sprinting.
Monday: Pilates on the mat or practicing handstand or pull-ups
Tuesday: Pilates on the Reformer or recover
Wednesday: Pilates on the mat or practicing handstand or pull-ups
Thursday: Pilates on the Reformer or recover
Friday: HIIT or sprinting
Saturday: Horseback riding in nature (yeah - I wish!), relaxing, doing some stretching, or getting a massage.
Sunday: Relaxing completely or doing some stretching.
Outline for a weekly workout plan:
Tuesday: Lift Heavy Things
Wednesday: Move Slowly, Play or Rest
Friday: Move Slowly, Play or Rest
Saturday: Lift Heavy Things
Sunday: Move Slowly, Play or Rest
5. But most importantly
First and foremost, I encourage you to listen to your body. Our bodies and life situations change constantly, and thus the body feels different every day. There are days where you have lots of energy, where you can allow yourself to max it out. And there are days where you feel tired and need rest, and then that is what you do. Sometimes you have an injury, and then your workout should work around that to avoid further damage.
If you follow these principles, you will find that your body recover and improves faster than if you push it too hard.
Note, however - it's the BODY that we listen to - not the EGO, which always has very, very convincing arguments ready for you to chose the to lie on the couch instead of in a plank.
6. Home exercise products worth owning
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All information in this blog is strictly for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by The Danish Health Authority. The products linked to in this blog and any information published in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this blog is not a substitute for a faceto-face consultation with your physician, and should not be construed as medical advice. The entire contents of this blog are based upon the opinions of Hanne Robinson. By reading and using this blog, you agree to only use this publication for personal informational use and not as a substitute for medical or other professional advice.