What if I said, “You can gain weight and heal faster at the same time. And you only have to commit to one extra hour a week?”
Intrigued? Well, the best part is it’s true and you don’t have to tweak SCD to do it.
Gaining weight is on the minds of many who attempt the Specific Carbohydrate Diet… healing faster is on everyone’s. A much debated and usually misunderstood piece of healing is working out. Elaine guarded against it for good reasons: our diseased bodies are not the same as athletes, bodybuilders or marathoners; our hormones, gut, and many other organs are just not functioning the way they should right now. So, for us to carry-on trying to belong to the groups above makes little sense. That doesn’t mean you can’t be any of the above and have a digestive disease. It just means there are special tweaks and rules to abide by during healing.
Here Are a Few Tweaks to Live By if You’re Just Starting Out:
- Total time of training should be as low as possible to conserve body resources (Less is more in the gym. Get in and out in under an hour, changing included)
- Rest time is of very high importance, the body is continually fighting your digestive problems and now it has to rebuild muscles (don’t go to the gym every day)
- Unless training for a specific event, exercises with the smallest chance of injury should be used (if you’re hurt you can’t get any of the benefits of training)
- Training intensity and exercise form are the most important things to keep in mind while training (push yourself as hard as possible, but use proper form to stay injury free)
- Cardio creates chronic inflammation and wastes precious resources, time and calories (Just stop already. Go for walks outside instead)
These tweaks to your workout program will make sure you’re looking and feeling better right away. There is no need to wait unless instructed by a doctor. In fact, check this out:
- Strength training produces many positive adaptations (some of which help metabolism, hormones, and blood flow)
- Strength training benefits include: higher bone mass, larger lean muscle mass and promotes positive balance of chemicals in the brain
So, why did I include that last bullet point? Because I see several emails each week from people who are at risk of osteoporosis or already have it, about ½ of the people we email say they want to gain weight and one the biggest pink elephants in this community is that many of us have battled depression, anxiety and other mental problems.
Strength training, done properly, will help all of these problems! But don’t run away yet and start chucking dumbbells around. Remember, we must filter the body of strength training knowledge through our lens of digestive problems. Only then can we filter and find what we should be doing.
Luckily for all of us, Anja emailed me. It turns out she has discovered many of the same things I have. She’s gone down the rabbit hole of working out while trying to heal, finding out what works and doesn’t. So, without further ado…
An Introduction to HIT
“Intensity of effort is almost the entire answer in itself; lacking the proper intensity of effort, little or nothing in the way of results will be produced by any amount of exercise—at least not in the way of muscular size or strength increases. But given the proper intensity of effort, then very little in the way of exercise is required for the production of best possible results.” – Arthur Jones, Nautilus Bulletin #1, 1970
I’ve been suffering from digestive illness for the past 8 years. Conventional medicine has not been very helpful for me unfortunately, so I began to look into alternative ways of improving my physical and mental well-being, including exercise.
But for most of that time, I was doing everything wrong. Even becoming a personal trainer did not make me wiser in this regard. And, I know now that I was also likely working against my own healing and recovery.
What I was missing was the recognition of certain facts of reality that must be heeded in order to reap the rewards of exercise. So, in this post I want to provide a brief overview of those facts, and then draw out the implications for digestive healing.
Exercise – The Facts
The first thing one needs to understand is that gains in muscle, strength, and cardiovascular conditioning are the result of successful adaptation—an adaptation made by the body to the demands placed upon it by exercise. The biological identity of the human body is such that while individuals vary in their maximum potential for muscle gains, the biochemical changes necessary to produce these gains are universal.
In particular, for exercise to trigger muscle growth, muscles must be engaged as fully and completely as possible and made to momentarily fail. Achieving this requires sufficient intensity—you have got to work as hard as you can.
Steve: This is an important take home point. Most people I’ve met have no idea how far they could actually push themselves, including myself. Look to go the extra mile every time.
But—and this is crucial—since intensity is inversely related to duration, it cannot be kept up for long. You can train very hard or very long, but you cannot do both at the same time.
Moreover, the body’s adaptation response occurs not during exercise, but during rest—and the time it needs to adapt is actually much longer than is often assumed. If the exercise stimulus is reintroduced to the body before it has had sufficient time to recover, it will be hindered in producing the response intended by exercise. Too much stress will deplete the body’s ability to adequately restore itself. Exercise duration and frequency are therefore determined by how much time the body needs to recover and adapt.
Steve: Many will debate this point because they fail to define the goal of a specific training program. In some programs, full recovery might not be the goal. However, things are different for us coming from the digestive healing lens
Finally, since the body constantly seeks to establish equilibrium by adapting to the stress placed upon it by high intensity exercise, exercise has to progress in intensity in order to elicit a continued adaptation response over time.
So, it is the intensity of exercise that produces most of the benefits, not volume or frequency.
Steve: Again program goals can change this, but not for our group
Now, what do these facts translate to in the gym?
The most proven way to grow bigger and stronger, is to lift weights—lift as hard as you can for only the time it takes you to reach complete failure—and no more. Then, rest for as long as your body needs to fully recover.
But What About Cardio?
Advocates of steady-state cardiovascular exercise claim that because it primarily stimulates the body’s aerobic metabolism (i.e. energy produced by using oxygen to break down fats and carbohydrates), such exercise plays an important role in conditioning the heart and lungs, and promoting fat loss.
However, the purpose of the heart and lungs is to support the activities of the body that involve the muscular system (e.g., hunting for food or escaping a predator). Hence, as long as strength training is sufficiently intense, the heart and lungs must work harder and thereby will be conditioned. Incidentally, intense enough strength training also prompts the biochemical process involved in mobilizing fat to be used for fuel.
In addition, aerobic exercise has some decided disadvantages over strength training:
- The most efficient way to burning fat and keeping off weight is to grow and maintain muscle, because muscle is metabolically more expensive than fat (i.e. it burns more calories). Aerobic exercise may produce some fat loss, but since it is supposed to be kept up over a long duration, it cannot possibly be intense enough to trigger the building of muscle.
- Worse, long bouts of such activity can deprive the body of the energy necessary to recover and support muscle growth.
- Over the long-term it can cause overuse injury to the knees, hips, and back due to the forces imposed on them. By contrast, strength training is very safe provided it is properly conducted.
So, What Does All of This Have to do With Digestive Healing?
There are two important points to make here.
One, building muscle has been shown to promote the kind of physical and mental environment conducive to reducing pain, preventing injury, and increasing metabolic, hormonal and psychological functioning. In other words, building muscle can not only make you look but also feel better.
Two, exercise is a stressor on the body, which means it requires substantial resources for recovery. If you overdo it in the gym (weight or cardio-wise) and do not allow your body the time to heal, you will undermine not only your goal of muscle growth and fat loss, but also your goal of digestive healing.
Splendid. Now that we have covered the basics, my next post will give you some practical advice on how to develop a training program that optimizes your exercise and digestive healing goals.
In the meantime, to learn more about HIT training, I highly recommend you read High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way by Mike Mentzer and John Little, Body by Science by Doug McGuff and John Little, and Arthur Jones’ classic Nautilus Bulletin #1 and Nautilus Bulletin #2. A good summary of the research regarding HIT’s effectiveness is provided by Smith and Bruce-Low in Strength training methods and the work of Arthur Jones. For an excellent HIT blog, check out Drew Baye’s High Intensity Training.
Anja Hartleb-Parson is Vice President of Research for an educational non-profit. As the owner of Lead Your Self Coaching, she also helps people fine-tune their thinking skills for maximum achievement.