If you've been reading my site for some time now, you probably know how much I value having a comprehensive and regular exercise routine.
Exercise is one of the major factors that will help you become optimally healthy and
will give you profound benefits as you age. Being physically active helps you:
- Get high-quality sleep
- Lose, gain, or maintain weight (depending on your needs)
- Fight the common cold and flu
- Improve your resistance to infections
- Lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes
- Improve your brain power to make you smarter
- Prevent and relieve chronic pain, including joint pain, osteoarthritis, and back and musculoskeletal pain1
- Banish depression and improve your emotional health2
I have been exercising regularly for over 45 years now. I used to be a former sub three-hour marathon runner. Back then, I, along with many people, believed that completing a marathon is the epitome of health.
But what I didn't know is that I was committing a major exercise mistake – one that could have severely damaged my health.
Why Marathon Running Puts Your Heart Health in Danger3
I understand the drive that pushes many athletes to compete in strenuous marathons. However, if you examine the research, you will see that these strenuous activities may actually jeopardize your cardiovascular health.
You've probably heard stories of how physically fit marathon runners suddenly die in the middle of long-distance running events. According to one study, the rate of sudden cardiac deaths during a marathon is 0.8 per 100,000 participants – it's rare, but not unlikely.
Here's one notable example: a total of 11 runners have died while competing in the London Marathon since it began in 1981.
There are also reports of Olympic athletes who have died in the middle of strenuous training.
This is because excessive cardio training such marathons or triathlons may actually pose a seven-fold increase in your cardiac risk. Extreme cardio puts extraordinary stress on your heart, one that your body is not designed for.
This is a powerful lesson to anyone who engages in large amounts of cardio exercise.
But, here's good news: I have discovered a simple, high-intensity exercise routine that not only beats traditional cardio workout in terms of common exercise benefits, but also improves your human growth hormone production and helps delay aging – and you can do it in just 20 minutes, too!
Inspiration from Phil Campbell's Sprint 8
I have recently developed a technique called Peak Fitness, a form of high-intensity exercise that offers superb benefits to your overall health. It's a type of interval (anaerobic) training where you alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
Peak Fitness is patterned after fitness expert Phil Campbell's Sprint 8 workout. Phil, author of Ready, Set, Go! Synergy Fitness, is a veteran in the field of fitness, and has over 35 years of experience in training professional athletes. He has worked with over 18,000 athletes, teaching them how to run faster using the proper speed technique.
Phil helped me understand how to practically change my primarily cardio aerobic exercise program to one that actually increases growth hormone and provides more health benefits.
The Advantage of Peak Fitness over Regular Cardio Workouts
To understand how Peak Fitness works, you must first familiarize yourself with the three different types of muscle fibers:
- Slow muscle fibers are your red muscles that are filled with capillaries and mitochondria, and contain a lot of oxygen.
- Fast muscle fibers, which are also red muscles, oxygenate quickly but are five times faster than your slow muscle fibers. Power training, or plyometrics burst types of exercises, will engage your fast muscles.
- Super-fast muscle fibers contain far less blood and less densely packed mitochondria. These are what you use when you do anaerobic short burst exercises.6
If you fail to actively engage and strengthen all these muscle fiber types and energy systems, then you're not going to work both processes of your heart muscle.
A common misconception among many people is that cardio works out the heart muscle. Unfortunately, what you're really working is your slow twitch muscle fibers. You're not effectively engaging the anaerobic process of your heart.7
This is why you may not see results even though you spend an hour on the treadmill a few times a week. You're basically denying the natural physiology of your body because you're not working the other half of your muscle fibers, which are your fast-twitch muscles.
What's more, focusing on just traditional aerobic cardio and strength training, which only work your slow muscles, may cause your super-fast twitch muscles to decrease, leading to muscle atrophy.
This is what makes Peak Fitness superior to typical aerobic cardio exercises – it engages your fast and super-fast twitch muscle fibers, which has many beneficial effects on the metabolic systems in your body.
By engaging these fast and super-fast twitch muscle fibers, Peak Fitness promotes the production of human growth hormone (HGH), a synergistic, foundational biochemical underpinning that helps support your strength training and other exercises, so that they work to your advantage and help you burn off calories effectively.
Once you incorporate high-intensity interval training into your workout routine, you will feel immense benefits such as:
- Reduced body fat
- Dramatically improved muscle tone
- Firmer skin and less wrinkles
- More energy and libido
- Improved athletic speed and performance
- Ability to achieve your fitness goals much faster
Peak Fitness Exercises May Help Slow Down Aging
One of the major reasons why Peak Fitness is a phenomenal exercise is it promotes longevity. The anti-aging benefits of Peak Fitness can be attributed to its ability to:
- Increase production of human growth hormone (HGH)8
Peak Fitness efficiently boosts your human growth hormone (HGH), also known as "the fitness hormone." HGH not only promotes muscle growth and effectively burns your excess fat, but also plays an important part in promoting overall health and longevity.
This means that the higher your levels of growth hormone are, the healthier and stronger you will be.
Unfortunately, once you hit age 30, your levels of HGH begin to drop dramatically, a condition known as somatopause or age-related growth hormone deficiency. As your HGH levels decrease, your levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) also decrease, which is another important factor that affects your body's aging process.
This is why maintaining adequate HGH levels is crucial as you age. The longer your body is able to body produce higher levels of HGH, the longer you will likely experience robust health and strength.
High-intensity interval training workouts like Peak Fitness exercises help your body produce HGH naturally because they engage your fast and super-fast twitch muscle fibers.
This was confirmed by an eight-week study conducted by Phil Campbell and his colleagues. They discovered that a Peak Fitness session can result in an average 771 percent increase in HGH. They also noted increased fat-burning among the study participants.
- Reduce age-related telomere shortening9
Studies have found that exercise, specifically high-intensity exercises like Peak Fitness, have a profound effect on the aging process of your cells.
Your body is made up of more than 10 trillion cells. One theory states that you age because your cells age. Therefore, you can control your aging if you control the aging process of your cells.
This is where stopping age-related telomere shortening comes in.
To learn what a telomere is, you must first know the typical structure of a cell: every cell has a nucleus, which has gene-containing chromosomes. The chromosome is made up of two "arms," with each arm containing a single molecule DNA – this is a string of beads made up of units called bases.
Every DNA molecule is about 100 million bases long. The telomere is located at the tip of each chromosome arm.
Every time your cells divide, starting at the moment of conception, your telomeres shorten. If you unravel the chromosome tip at the moment of conception, your telomere would stretch to 15,000 bases long. Once your telomeres have been reduced to about 5,000 bases, you will essentially die of old age.
There is just a certain intrinsic rate of telomere shortening that occurs just to keep you alive. However, telomere shortening is accelerated by factors like free radical exposure, trans fats, obesity, smoking, and other toxins.
Before, telomere shortening was believed to be unaffected by healthy eating habits or exercise. But now, researchers have discovered a direct association between reduced telomere shortening in your later years and high-intensity-type exercises, like Peak Fitness.
This is very exciting, because the prospect of being able to reduce telomere shortening —essentially stopping the cellular aging process that eventually kills you — is one of the most promising anti-aging strategies known to date. And it can begin with a proper Peak Fitness routine!
How to Do Peak Fitness Exercises
One of the major advantages of Peak Fitness exercises that I'm sure most of you will love is that it can be done in just 20 minutes. Take note that in those 20 minutes, 75 percent will be spent on warming up, recovering, or cooling down – this means you're working out intensely only for four minutes. That's pretty amazing, considering the many profound benefits that you can get in that short span of time.
Here's a summary of what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like:
- Warm up for three minutes.
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. To know that you're achieving the proper intensity, you should feel as if you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds. By the end of this 30-second period, you should reach these markers:
- You will be in oxygen debt, and will have difficulty breathing.
- You will begin to sweat profusely. Typically, this occurs in the second or third repetition, unless you have a thyroid issue and don't sweat much normally.
- There will be a rise in your body temperature.
- You will feel a muscle "burn" as your lactic acid increases.
Recover for 90 seconds. Repeat the high-intensity exercise and recovery seven more times.
If you're out of shape, start with just two or three repetitions, and work your way up to eight – this is where the magic really starts to happen.
Always be mindful of your current fitness level, so you will not overdo the exercise when you first start out.
Remember, there's no "magical speed" when doing Peak Fitness – it's entirely different from one individual to another. Everything depends on your current level of fitness. Some people may reach their anabolic threshold by walking at a quick pace, while others may need to perform a mad dash to get the same effect.
Using a Recumbent Bike or Elliptical Machine for High-Intensity Interval Training
The wonderful thing about Peak Fitness is that you can do it using different cardio equipment. My favorites are the recumbent bike and the elliptical machine. Watch the videos below to see how to do Peak Fitness on these types of gym equipment:
I highly recommend the cardio machines from Vision Fitness, a U.S. company known for its high-quality, precision-crafted fitness bikes, elliptical trainers, and treadmills.
Vision Fitness has teamed up with Phil Campbell, and has incorporated Phil's anaerobic Sprint 8 program into their cardio equipment. With a push of a button, you will be guided through Phil's 20-minute Sprint 8 workout. You don't have to guess when to start, when to speed up, or when to slow down for your recovery cycles.
If you do not have access to any cardio equipment, you can do high-intensity exercises by walking or running on flat ground, or even swimming. However, make sure you stretch properly and start slowly to avoid injury.
Peak Fitness Through Sprinting
Sprinting is one way you can do Peak Fitness, but I only recommend it for individuals who are ready to venture into a more challenging, high-intensity workout.
Remember, sprinting is NOT for everyone. In fact, I advise against it unless you are in phenomenal shape and have special training in sprinting. I know several people who became injured after trying sprinting as their foray into high-intensity interval training.
I also do not recommend sprinting on a treadmill, because it is very risky. Getting the treadmill up to speed takes time, and if you become exhausted, you can fall or get flung off the machine, leading to injury. If you want to try sprinting, I recommend doing it outdoors.
Doing warm-ups is very important before sprinting. In fact, I ended up tearing one of my hamstring muscles many years ago when I failed to follow this advice.
I advise you to do active isolated stretches (AIS) as your sprinting warm-up. The stretches include:
- Hamstring I stretch (straight: 10 reps)
- Hamstring II stretch (foot twisted slightly left: 10 reps)
- Hamstring III stretch (foot twisted slightly right: 10 reps)
- Rolling your hamstrings using a foam roller
Using a Heart Rate Monitor During Peak Exercises Is Highly Recommended10
Phil's technique is called Sprint 8 because if you graph your heart rate, you will see that it peaks eight times during the workout.
Here is a sample chart showing how my heart rate "peaks" eight times during a Peak Fitness session on a recumbent bike. Also note how my anaerobic threshold rises with each repetition.
It's very important to monitor your heart to help optimize your workout. Most recumbent bikes and elliptical machines have timers, and even have heart rate monitors you can connect to. But if you're doing Peak Fitness outdoors without access to these equipment, you will not be able to measure your time and heart rate.
I strongly advise you to invest in a heart rate monitor to make sure your intensity is on target. If you are able to exceed your calculative maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) by five or 10 beats, then you know you have trained.
Accuracy is very important to the success of your Peak Fitness exercises. There is a very large difference between 166 and 168 beats per minute, and you cannot calculate that manually. You need to be really accurate within a few beats per minute to ensure optimal results – this is what the heart rate monitor is for.
An electronic chest strap heart rate monitor is your best option, because it is very accurate.
Don't be alarmed if you feel lightheaded and/or very short of breath when you've reached your maximum heart rate. In about 30 to 60 seconds, your body will catch up, and you'll be back to normal.
How Often Should You Do Peak Fitness Exercises?
I want to point out that even though Peak Fitness is a crucial element of any exercise training program, it should NOT be done on a daily basis because your body needs more time to heal in between sessions.
Phil Campbell says fast muscle fibers require at least 48 hours to truly heal and recover. "Sprint 8 is one of these programs that you really don't want to do every day. We recommend three times a week," he says.
It is best to stick to just two or three Peak Fitness workouts every week. Not only will this allow you to better work your fast and super-fast muscle fibers, but it also helps increase your growth hormone with each session.
Make Sure Your Growth Hormone Stays Optimized Post-Workout
The two to three-hour recovery phase after your intense Peak Fitness routine is very important. During this time frame, you must be very careful in choosing the foods you eat. If you aren't careful, then you could suppress the stimulus and you won't get the growth hormone benefits.
In order to promote HGH release, you must restrict your carbohydrates and sugar consumption after exercise. This will help prevent the production of the hormone somatostatin, which inhibits the production of human growth hormone.11
There is a very small group of professional athletes who do not consider increasing their growth hormone a primary goal in their fitness plan. For these people, carb consumption (preferably dextrose-based) during the recovery period is recommended to help improve their recovery time, as they are competing and are not highly concerned about long-term growth hormone levels.
However, if you're part of the majority whose primary purpose is to increase your human growth level naturally and improve your health, then you need to restrict your sugar and carb consumption after workout.
The most common sugar traps that many exercisers fall for are fruit juices and commercial sports drinks, which are loaded with large amounts of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Avoid these products at all costs!
Peak Fitness: Best Combined with Other Exercise Techniques
Although the benefits that Peak Fitness exercises are unparalleled, you still need a comprehensive approach to exercise.
Ideally, you have to include a variety of exercises in your routine. By switching it up and avoiding doing the same exercises all the time, your body will get the variety of stresses it needs to continuously adapt, improve, and grow stronger.
In addition to Sprint 8, here are other exercise routines to add to your Peak Fitness regimen for you to have a truly comprehensive fitness plan:
- Aerobic exercises – Jogging, using an elliptical machine, and brisk walking are examples of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercises get your heart pumping more efficiently, improving the amount of oxygen in your blood and helping release endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and mood enhancers. Aerobic exercises also activate your immune system and increase your stamina over time.
- Strength Training – Round out your exercise program with a one-set strength training routine to ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program.
When strength-training, do enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. However, make sure you do not exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two rest days to recover, repair, and rebuild.
- Core Exercises – The 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen, and pelvis provide the foundation for movement throughout your entire body. Strengthening them can help protect and support your back, so that your spine and body will be less prone to injury. Core exercises also help you gain greater balance and stability.
- Stretching – My favorite types of stretches are active isolated stretching (AIS), developed by Aaron Mattes. It's completely different from the traditional type of stretching, and is a great way to get flexibility back into your system.12
- Foundation Training – Created by Dr. Eric Goodman, Foundation Training teaches your core muscles – comprising your abdominal muscles, hamstrings, glutes, and adductor muscles – to work together through integrated chains of movement based on how you're meant to move, as opposed to compartmentalized exercises like crunches.13
One Last Tip: Always Listen to Your Body
As I've always stressed, it's very important for you to listen to your body. Start with a few intervals and slowly increase your intensity as you go along.
You can also adjust and change the cardio equipment you use. Start with a recumbent bike or an elliptical. When you feel ready for a more challenging Peak Fitness workout, try sprinting outdoors.
You should also learn how to adjust and set your fitness goals. By doing this, you will come up with a feasible workout strategy that will provide you with the most efficient and effective benefits.