August 21, 2018
30-29-28-27-26… sandwiched in between music producer Rick Rubin and author Neil Strauss, I struggled against a giant Nautilus machine in Don Wildman’s basement, churning away reps in what Esquire Magazine dubbed “The Most Difficult Workout Ever Created”: a puke-inducing, two-hour long sufferfest that 85-year-old Don Wildman performs three times a week, humbling younger fitness enthusiasts like myself with his extreme level of physical fitness.
Afterwards, as I lay flat on my back recovering on the carpet of Don’s Malibu basement home, I pondered which was more difficult: this workout I’d just completed, the three hours of ultimate frisbee I played with primal godfather 65-year-old Mark Sisson, the extreme isometric “ARXFit” workout with 80-year-old longevity icon Art De Vany, my underwater pool workout with big-wave surfer and seemingly ageless Laird Hamilton, my rock-tower-building workout in the desert with 57-year-old Paul Chek, or my 4-hour sauna foray with the crazy Finnish inventor 67-year-old fitness icon “Vessi” Jalkanen (you’ll get the fitness gems I discovered from each of these amazing humans in this article).
In adventures like this and many more, with some of the fittest old people on the face of the planet, I’ve picked up quite a few tips. For example, want to know how to reverse nearly 40 years of aging?
Lift heavy stuff.
In this article, you’ll learn why lifting heavy stuff could be one of the single most potent tactics at your disposal for defying age. In fact, when it comes to the latest in muscle-building and muscle-maintenance research, this article will serve as your ultimate guide to maintaining youth and building lean, functional muscle in the cleanest, most efficient way possible. I’ll also delve into fascinating anti-aging weight-lifting twin studies, the best type of muscle fiber you need to possess, a single gene that turns on muscle building and anti-aging, how to stop the average human loss of six pounds of muscle per decade, the type of exercise that beats the pants off cardio and aerobics, how to turn cells into tiny muscle-building machines, and much more.
We’ll also venture out of the petri dish and whitewashed lab and into the real world. After all, telomeres and mitochondria are one thing, but the important question is whether activities like weight training, load bearing and powerlifting can truly make you live longer. That’s exactly what you’ll discover via concrete examples: the best anti-aging secrets from some of fittest old people on the face of the planet. A fit and sound body is a physical dwelling for full day-to-day energy, and you will leave this article fully equipped to get the body you want quickly, safely and without oodles of hours spent at the gym.
Longevity & Lifting 101
So why lift heavy stuff?
In the recent study “Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle” it was proven that six months of progressive resistance training, i.e., weight training that gets heavier over time, i.e., “lifting heavy stuff,” made the gene expression pattern of aging mitochondria significantly younger.
See, muscles can become smaller and weaker with age (a process known as “sarcopenia”), and evidence suggests that a key part of the decline occurs in the mitochondria, the components of muscle cells that are the ultimate powerhouses – the primary engine of energy production. During the study, which was done on men at an average age of 70 years old, researchers discovered that the older individuals were able to improve strength by approximately 50% to levels that were only 38% less than that of young individuals.
In other words, the seniors who engaged in weight training closed the strength gap between themselves and their counterparts who were nearly 40 years younger from 59% to 38%. That’s an improvement of almost 36% during the mere six months of the study. Muscle biopsies from the study showed a remarkable reversal of the expression profile of 179 genes associated with age and exercise. Genes that were downregulated with age were correspondingly upregulated with exercise, while genes that were upregulated with age were downregulated with exercise.
The researchers summed things up by reporting that “healthy older adults show a gene expression profile in skeletal muscle consistent with mitochondrial dysfunction and associated processes such as cell death, as compared with young individuals. Moreover, following a period of resistance exercise training in older adults, we found that age-associated transcriptome expression changes were reversed, implying a restoration of a youthful expression profile.”
Yes, you read that right: when it comes to mitochondria, weight training reversed nearly 40 years of aging! But exercise doesn't only affect mitochondria. It also protects DNA from the wear-and-tear of aging, and the addition of fast-twitch muscle fibers to your body precipitates fat loss and improves metabolic function – primarily by acting on telomeres. Telomeres cap the DNA chromosomes in your cells and protect these chromosomes from damage. As you age, telomeres progressively wear out and shorten from repeated cell division, oxidative stress, inflammation and other metabolic processes, eventually leaving the cell's chromosomes unprotected. When the caps are completely eroded or disappear, the wear-and-tear begins to cut into your genes, causing cells to become damaged and discarded as you grow older. Interestingly, a simple test called “Teloyears” actually allows you to test your telomere length and track any anti-aging efforts you may be engaged in.
In another study, scientists measured telomeres in twins to gauge the effect of exercise on aging, hypothesizing that “telomere dynamics might chronicle the cumulative burden of oxidative stress and inflammation and, as such, serve as an index of biological age” and that “physical activity level may have an [independent] effect on telomere attrition.” They studied 2,401 twins (2,152 women and 249 men, aged 18 to 81), used questionnaires on physical activity level, smoking status, disease status, and socioeconomic status, and extracted DNA from blood samples.
So what did they find in this study on twins? Telomere length decreased with age. No surprises there. But both the women and men who were physically active had longer telomeres than those who were sedentary, even after adjusting for the influences of age, weight, disease, socioeconomic status and smoking. Also, the study participants who spent more than three hours each week engaged in vigorous physical activity (such as lifting weights) had longer telomeres than subjects ten years younger, suggesting that individuals who eschew placing a heavy load on their body may wind up biologically older by ten years. Obviously, since they were studying twins, these differences weren't due to genes, but rather due to the lifestyle factor of exercise. When one twin exercised significantly more than the other, they had longer, more durable telomeres.
In yet another study, researchers found that replacing slow-twitch type I muscle fibers with stronger and faster type II muscle fibers produced a significant reduction of both fat mass and insulin resistance. Endurance training develops slow-twitch fibers, but strength training builds fast-twitch fibers. For this study, researchers used genetically engineered mice that contained a muscle-growth regulating gene called Akt1 that could be turned on and off by the researchers. Activating Akt1 caused the mice to grow type II fibers without exercise (important to note, since mice don't lift weights that well, even when commanded to by scientists in white lab coats). When the Akt1 gene was turned on, the mice took on the characteristics of a lean and powerful sprinter or weightlifter, and when the gene was turned off, the mice reverted to a predominance of type I muscle fibers, along with becoming more obese and insulin resistant (notably, this was without an actual change in diet!).
The researchers reported that “remarkably, type II muscle growth was associated with an overall reduction in body mass, due to a large decrease in fat mass. In addition, blood tests showed that these mice became metabolically normal [with no insulin resistance]. This work shows that type II muscle doesn’t just allow you to pick up heavy objects, it is also important in controlling whole-body metabolism. It appears that the increase in type II muscle fiber orchestrates changes in the body through its ability to communicate with other tissues.”
Beyond the age of 30, we lose approximately six pounds of muscle mass per decade, and these findings you’ve just read about indicate that interventions designed to increase skeletal muscle mass (such as weight training) may prove to be critical weapons in the fight against obesity and obesity-related ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension and cancer.
The key point here, of course, is that due to its recruitment of type II muscle fibers, weight training appears to be more effective than cardio, endurance and aerobics for fat loss and weight control, essentially converting your cells into fat-burning machines.
Finally, a study on strength training effects on telomere length in human skeletal muscle looked into reports of a phenomenon of abnormally short telomeres in the skeletal muscle of athletes who had overtraining- and exercise-associated fatigue. This study looked into whether long-term hard exercise might have deleterious effects on muscle telomeres. Using muscle biopsies, the researchers compared telomere lengths of a group of powerlifters who had trained for an average of eight years against that of a group of healthy, active subjects who had no history of strength training. There was absolutely no abnormal shortening of telomeres in the powerlifters. In fact, telomere lengths in the powerlifters were significantly higher than those of the control group, and telomere length was positively correlated to the powerlifters' individual records in the squat and deadlift!
These results show for the first time that long-term weight training is not associated with an abnormal shortening of skeletal muscle telomere length and that the heavier the load you put on your muscles, the longer your telomeres will tend to be. Not only that, but as you learned in my article “Bigger’s Not Better – Your Ultimate Guide To Brain Training For The 1-2-3 Combo Of Power, Speed & Longevity“, from a longevity standpoint, big, bulky bodybuilding-esque muscle could be inferior to compact, wiry, explosive powerlifting muscles. Makes even more sense now, eh?
Is All Endurance Exercise Bad?
A quick rabbit hole here before we delve into “lifting heavy stuff” a bit more, and exactly how to do it.
As you can read in much more detail in my book “Beyond Training“, hefty bouts of chronic cardio and endurance exercise certainly don’t do you many favors in the fat loss department, but can you get any benefit out of long bouts of aerobic exercise at all? Is it “bad for your heart,” as many scientists and weight-training junkies have claimed?
The good news for cardio junkies is that starting in around 2010, a series of studies revealed that endurance exercise actually does a pretty good job preserving telomere length as you get older. For example, one 2013 study of ultrarunners found that their telomeres were 11% longer than those of non-runners, which corresponds to a 16-year decrease in biological age. But how much cardio do you have to do to see telomere benefits? Do you really have to go out and run ultramarathons?
It turns out that researcher Larry Tucker of Brigham Young University has investigated this question and has published three relatively recent studies on telomere length. Tucker analyzed data from nearly 6,000 adults, comparing their telomere lengths and physical activity patterns. Those who exercised did indeed have longer telomeres, but only the group that exercised the most. Even after adjusting for differences in demographics and lifestyle, the high-physical-activity group’s cells were almost nine years younger than the sedentary group’s cells (with no significant difference in telomere length between the sedentary, low-activity and moderate-activity groups). To get the benefits, you need to be in the group that engages in the highest amount of activity. What does that high level of physical activity correspond to? Based on his study, Tucker recommended a threshold of about 30 minutes of cardio five days a week for women and 40 minutes of cardio five days a week for men.
Of course, while these studies didn’t account for any extra time spent weight training and didn’t have a control group who performed HIIT training or heavy lifting, it’s at least evident from this research that not all so-called “chronic cardio” is bad. This seems to make sense when you observe the high levels of low-intensity physical activity performed for several hours during the day in many centenarian populations and healthy hunter-gatherer tribes.
Can Lifting Heavy Stuff Make You Live Longer?
OK, back to lifting heavy. Let's get this out of the petri dish and into the real world. Telomeres and mitochondria are one thing, but can activities like weight training, load bearing and powerlifting actually make you live longer?
Let's take a look. A recent study has shown that older adults who met twice-weekly strength-training guidelines showed lower odds of dying. This study is the first to demonstrate such an association in a large, nationally representative sample over an extended period, particularly in an older population. Other similar studies have found that older adults who are physically active have a better quality of life and a lower risk of mortality. They’ve also found that regular exercise is associated with health benefits including a reduced risk of early death, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.
But up to this point in time, while the health benefits of basic physical activity and aerobic exercise have been well established, less data has been collected on strength training. As mentioned above, researchers have begun to demonstrate the benefits of strength training on strength, muscle mass and physical function and have also shown strength-training-induced improvements in chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, lower back pain and obesity. Smaller studies have also observed that greater amounts of muscle strength are associated with lower risks of death.
However, this most recent study was a bit of a bigger deal. To examine the mortality effects on older adults who met strength-training guidelines, researchers analyzed data from the 1997-2001 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) linked to death certificate data through 2011. The NHIS collects health, disease and disability data of the U.S. population from a nationally representative sampling of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The 1997-2001 survey included more than 30,000 adults aged 65 and older.
During the survey period, more than 9% of older adults reported at least twice-weekly strength training sessions. The researchers followed the participants for 15 years through death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics National Death Index. What did they find? Check this out: older adults who engaged in strength training at least twice a week had 46% lower odds of death for any reason than those who did not. They also had 41% lower odds of cardiac death and 19% lower odds of dying from cancer. Older adults who met strength training guidelines were, on average, slightly younger, and were more likely to be married white males with higher levels of education. They were also more likely to have healthy body weights, to engage in aerobic exercise and to abstain from alcohol and tobacco.
When the researchers adjusted for demographic variables, health behaviors and health conditions, this statistically significant effect on mortality remained. Even after the researchers controlled for physical activity level, people who reported strength exercises appeared to see a greater mortality benefit than those who reported physical activity alone. So this latest groundbreaking study provides solid, statistically significant evidence that strength training in older adults is beneficial for anti-aging, going way above and beyond improving muscle strength and physical function.
Enter Six Of The Fittest Old People On The Planet
Hopefully, you are now convinced that if you aren’t lifting heavy stuff, you should be. But when it comes to defying age and staying as fit as possible as you get older, lab-based science is one thing and personal, in-the-trenches, real-world experience is quite another. So I find it fascinating to study and even exercise with some of the fittest old people on the face of the planet to see exactly what they’re doing.
I’d like to first dive into what got me interested in writing this article in the first place. A few days ago, I was reading an article from Vice entitled: “The Healthiest Old Person on the Planet Explains How to Stay in Shape,” in which the reader meets a man named Charles Eugster, who began lifting weights at 85 and lived to be 97 years old.
Charles became a decorated British sprinter in his late 80s and into his late 90s. He held world records in the 200m (indoor) and 400m (outdoor) sprints, as well as British records in the 60m (indoor), 100m (outdoor), and 200m (outdoor). This is all pretty impressive, considering that most guys his age could barely walk across the street without stumbling over the curb (if they were even still alive!). But that’s not all.
Charles was also a bodybuilder, a public speaker, a writer, a rower, a wakeboarder, an entrepreneur and a fashion designer who planned his own line in elderly couture. He even claimed that he witnessed some of his white and gray hairs turn brown! While I’m skeptical of that last claim, I do know one thing: he certainly seemed to have cracked the code on how to stay fit as you age.
Let’s delve into Charles Eugster’s secrets, and those of five other extremely fit “old people,” shall we?
Anti-Aging Tip From Fit Old Guy #1: Charles Eugster – “Eat Real Food”
Sure, Charles lifted weights, which is crucial for maintaining muscle mass and hormones as you age, and has (as you learned above) even been shown to decrease the rate at which telomeres shorten. But regarding his diet, he said in his interview with Vice:
“Variety is key. I start every day with a protein shake because, as you get older, your protein synthesis no longer functions as well. I avoid sugar and eat lots of meat, especially fat. I've been on a fat trip lately. Fat! Piles of fat. Yet, I was in a supermarket the other day and was perplexed to find yogurt with zero fat. What on earth is that? The idea of the nutrition pyramid where, at the top, is a little fat and meat, and at the bottom a lot of carbohydrates, is, excuse me, bullshit. Humans are so unbelievably stupid that we have begun to tinker with food. Our theories of nutrition have resulted in a pandemic of obesity. Can you imagine a hunter-gatherer enjoying a low-fat yogurt? Let me tell you this, too: I read a report recently which said that a fatty diet also increases your drive.”
So there you have it. It’s highly unlikely that if you come from a Northern European ancestry like Charles that you can eat modern fat-free and low-fat foods, live a long time and look good doing it! Granted, there are certain populations (such as the Okinawans) who, due to genetics, salivary amylase production and hormonal response to carbohydrates, may be able to get by on less fat (more on this coming in a future article). But they're still definitely not eating many modern “frankenfuels.”
Anti-Aging Tip From Fit Old Guy #2: Laird Hamilton – “Learn New Stuff”
The last time I was hanging out in Kauai with 54-year-old big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton, who is still just as spry and quick-moving as the 20-something-year-old surfers he puts to shame on huge waves around the world, Laird highlighted one of his best anti-aging secrets: constantly learn new stuff to “never grow old.”
Laird’s home garage is a personal testament to this philosophy: it is chock full of novel and unique toys that Laird has invented to attack ocean waves and play on the water in a variety of ways. It’s also packed with skis, snowboards, jet skis, foil boards (Google foil boards – one of the most fun “flying” experiences you’ll ever have if you can hunt one down), balance training devices and all manner of different tools to challenge his body as he forces his brain and muscles to keep up by maintaining or building new neurons. People often ask me why I delve into everything from archery to snowboarding to spearfishing to obstacle course racing to kickboxing to ukulele playing and beyond, and this is one of the biggest reasons why!
In fact, brain expert and renowned neuropsychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen has proven that Laird’s idea of constant variety and learning is key to maintaining youthfulness. He’s identified specific areas of the brain that are challenged by different tasks:
–Prefrontal cortex: meditation, language games like crossword puzzles and Scrabble and strategy games like chess.
–Temporal lobes: memory games and learning instruments.
–Parietal lobes: juggling, math games like sudoku and map reading.
–Cerebellum: dancing, yoga, tai chi and coordination games like table tennis.
In his book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”, Dr. Amen also includes breathing techniques to calm inner turmoil, anti-depression tips, anti-anger diet tips, focus-enhancing strategies and problem-solving techniques. I’ve included one of his recommended meditation techniques into my custom yoga routine. Here’s what it looks like:
– Touch your thumbs to your index fingers while chanting “saa.”
– Touch your thumbs to your middle fingers while chanting “taa.”
– Touch your thumbs to your ring fingers while chanting “naa.”
– Touch your thumbs to your pinkies while chanting “maa.”
The first time through, repeat the sounds out loud for two minutes, then whisper them for two minutes, repeat them silently for four minutes, whisper them again for two minutes, and finish by repeating them out loud for another two minutes. Then sit quietly for one to two minutes.
Anti-Aging Tip From Fit Old Guy #3: Mark Sisson – “Lift, Move, Sprint”
My friend 65-year-old Mark Sisson probably possesses the finest set of six-pack abs you’ve ever seen on any guy, much less a guy his age. What’s his secret? First, rather than engaging in long, slow, “chronic cardio” exercise, he instead does short, fast, all-out sprint workouts at least once a week, all year long. He doesn’t overdo these and recommends performing such workouts (e.g., ultimate Frisbee, high-intensity treadmill intervals or hard cycling up hills) once every seven to ten days. Second, he does brief, intense sessions of full-body, heavy weightlifting one to three times each week, for seven to thirty minutes. Finally, he moves frequently at a slow pace, using things like treadmill workstations, long, relaxing paddleboard sessions and low-level physical activity all day long, avoiding any long, unbroken periods of sedentary time.
Lift, move, sprint. Pretty simple concept, eh? You can learn more about Mark’s philosophies and daily habits in this podcast interview I conducted with him.
Anti-Aging Tip From Fit Old Guy #4: Don Wildman – “Do Epic Things”
Ten years ago, I read an Esquire magazine article entitled “The Hardest Workout in the World.” In it, the author outlined then-septuagenarian Don Wildman’s grueling, intense, multi-stage weight-training workout dubbed “The Circuit.” The first time I ventured into Don’s home gym in Malibu to do the “Hardest Workout in the World,” I thought it would be a piece of cake. After all, if a 75-year-old can do it three times a week, I should surely be able to manage it, too! When I crawled out of the gym almost three hours later with lactic acid oozing out my pores, I was thinking a bit differently. My body was feeling the aftereffects of Don’s challenge for the next several days. Don, now 85 years old, not only does this same “epic” workout quite frequently but also goes mountain biking on difficult trails for miles every single day, and enjoys stand-up paddle boarding, big-wave surfing and even helicopter snowboarding. These may seem like epic, scary, daunting tasks, but Don still does them, and he’s certainly living life at a much more exciting level than 99% of his peers and staying incredibly fit doing it. So what “epic” or “scary” event or workout can you add to your calendar this week, this month or this year?
Anti-Aging Tip From Fit Old Guy #5: Art De Vany – “Eccentric Training”
The 80-year-old, ripped Art De Vany, one of the founders of the so-called “ancestral fitness” movement, gets away with extremely short weight-training episodes of just 15 minutes per day by using a strategy of exercise called “eccentric training.” This potent workout method results in not only a significant anti-aging effect but also an increase in youthful compounds such as growth hormone and testosterone. In this fascinating podcast episode with Tim Ferriss, Art explains his eccentric training approach in detail, but it basically goes like this…
…eccentric training is also known as “negative training.” To perform a negative deadlift, for example, you would set the bar at a certain height (maybe on wooden weight-lifting blocks, as if you were already at least part way through the movement) and then grab the bar and lower it. This allows you to load your muscles with weights you wouldn’t be able to lift if you attempted the full movement. In fact, the human body can handle up to 1.75 times more weight eccentrically than concentrically. The benefits of eccentric training include improved injury rehabilitation (including tendon and ligament rehab), reduced risk of injury, increased gains in strength, stronger connective tissue and improved muscle function.
Art uses this style of training for about ten to fifteen minutes every day. Even if he doesn’t have a spotter, he uses different machines and will load up a weight he can handle with both arms or both legs, extend through the first part of the movement, then finish the movement using only one arm or leg to simulate the effects of eccentric training with a spotter. He claims that every muscle group can reap incredible benefits from this style of training, especially muscles related to posture since those muscles need to have the endurance to keep you upright all day.
Another movement for posture that Art recommends involves standing with your back to a wall, slightly arching your lower back, keeping your head and shoulders back against the wall, and then walking away from the wall without collapsing your spine or neck (which means rather than lowering your head to look forward, you just look over your cheekbones while maintaining posture). Art doesn’t work every muscle group every day though. He’ll alternate muscle groups throughout the week, making sure to hit each group a couple of times every seven days. With this training method, he ensures that he is injury-free and that his muscles are lean, quick and not too big.
Anti-Aging Tip From Fit Old Woman #1: Olga Kotelko – “Stay Supple”
In the fascinating book “What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives,” the reader meets Olga Kotelko, a senior track star who has since passed away but at the time held over 23 world records in track and field, 17 of which were in her then-current 90 to 95 category. When I read the book about her life, one of the biggest takeaways for me was that Olga didn’t simply beat up her body every day without going out of her way to keep it recovered and “supple.” She instead woke up every night, grabbed an old, empty wine bottle beside her bed, and gave herself a full-body, foam-roller style massage on all her fascia, muscles and joints. Whether you book a weekly or monthly massage, or do short, daily foam rolling routines such as the “metabolic mobility” routine on my YouTube channel (which I do once or twice a week to keep my own body supple), you’ll find that you can keep muscle soreness, cranky joints, poor movement and other body issues we accept as “normal” in seniors at bay. And yes, you can do this type of deep tissue work even when you travel – with no more equipment than a glass water bottle from Whole Foods and a lacrosse ball.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to note that when studying the habits of the fit old people above, and many others, I’ve discovered that routine often trumps novelty. What exactly do I mean by that? Sure, the SAID principle in exercise does indeed dictate that you must continuously throw your body exercise “curveballs” to keep it guessing and to keep your metabolic rate elevated with your physical activity of choice. But when it comes to remaining injury-free and establishing an exercise routine they can stick with for life without a great deal of decision-making fatigue or cognitive willpower, many of these folks do the same routine day in and day out for much of their lives. Sure, they throw in the occasional gritty adventure, new workout, or unpredictable sport, but there is always some semblance of routine.
For example, Mark Sisson paddleboards and plays ultimate frisbee every week, fitness pioneer Paul Check lifts heavy rocks in his homemade “rock garden” each morning (listen to my podcast with him to hear more), Laird Hamilton performs thrice-weekly underwater pool workouts, and my uber-fit 66-year-old Finnish friend Vessi swims naked each morning and hits the sauna each night. You get the idea: to hit the anti-aging sweet spot for exercise, you need a combination of reliable, consistent routine combined with the occasional “new thing.”
What Kind Of Weight Training Is Best?
Lest you rush to the gym salivating to engage in the ultimate anti-aging, muscle-toning routine and launch into an Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque workout, I do have one reminder for you: bigger muscles aren't always better. When it comes to muscle and anti-aging, compact and explosive muscle beats out pure muscle mass. The healthiest muscles are those found in a wiry physique of modest size, capable of exerting a lot of force over a short period.
Sure, you can certainly get strong and muscular doing Crossfit-esque workouts that require maximum deadlifts in two minutes or ungodly amounts of snatch reps or bodybuilding workouts that have you doing bicep curls until you’re bleeding out the eyeballs – but when it comes to maximizing longevity, those approaches are unlikely to be sustainable. Remember, you want to be able to maintain strength and muscle in an uninjured state when you’re 40, 60 and 80 years old. For this, especially if you're just getting started or want the minimum effective dose of strength, I recommend performing two weight-bearing workouts per week:
1) A super-slow lifting protocol similar to that described by Dr. Doug McGuff in his book “Body By Science” – specifically, 12 to 20 minutes of just a few choice multi-joint exercises with extremely slow, controlled lifts (30 to 60 seconds per rep) at relatively high weights:
-Super-slow upper-body push (e.g., overhead press)
-Super-slow upper-body pull (e.g., pull-up)
-Super-slow lower-body push (e.g., squat)
-Super-slow lower-body pull (e.g., deadlift)
Why is this type of workout so darn effective?
In addition to having low injury-producing potential, a recent study entitled “Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations” (yes, that’s a mouthful!), written in part by Dr. McGuff, highlighted how super-slow resistance training (i.e., weightlifting) to muscular failure resulted in the same type of cardiovascular adaptations you’d get if you were to, say, go out for a long run. These adaptations included a better ability to buffer lactic acid, increased density of the mitochondria and even better blood pressure.
Better blood pressure? Yep, you read right. Here's the surprising truth about super slow training and your blood pressure…
…for decades, personal trainers and medical experts have recommended that people with heart problems not engage in weight training. They believe that weight training will place dangerous levels of stress on the heart by excessively elevating blood pressure. But the fact is that blood pressure (BP) under the effects of weight training is a bit more complicated than that. BP is a measure (usually in millimeters of mercury) of the pressure that circulating blood exerts on the walls of blood vessels as it’s pumped by the heart. The pumping action of the heart has two parts: diastole when the heart relaxes and fills with blood, and systole when it squeezes blood to the rest of the body. Diastole and systole correlate to the two BP numbers. The highest pressure during a BP test is the systolic pressure that occurs when the heart contracts and the lowest pressure is the diastolic pressure. A BP of 120/80 means that your systolic pressure is 120 and your diastolic pressure is 80.
Most research into the relationship between exercise and BP examines the resistance of the blood vessels themselves rather than that of the heart. The pressure in your vessels is the “peripheral” resistance, and the pressure in the heart is the “central” resistance. This is an important distinction because it’s the pressure and stress in your heart that you should be worried about when weight training. The fact is, research has shown that during weight training, even though peripheral resistance goes up, central resistance isn’t even elevated above resting levels. That means that your heart isn’t experiencing any more stress or resistance than if you were to go on a leisurely walk or even stand there. In addition, when you lift weights, you produce adrenaline which causes your blood vessels to change their size and expand through “vasodilation,” which helps to regulate BP and ensure that your heart doesn’t have to work any harder to pump blood. The squeezing action of your muscles also “milks” blood back to your heart, meaning that weight training may actually be less stressful on the heart than aerobic action. Be sure to check out what Dr. McGuff has to say about the benefits of weight training as well in his book “Body by Science” and/or in my podcast episode with him.
So what's the second type of weight bearing workout you should do each week?
2) A high-intensity bodyweight circuit program exactly as described in this study In the study, a pair of researchers designed a 7-minute workout to maintain strength and muscle in as little time as possible (a workout later featured in the New York Times as “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout”). Each exercise below is to be performed for 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between exercises. Aside from the wall sits, you should perform these exercises as explosively as possible.
-Jumping-jacks (or burpees)
-Push-ups (or clapping push-ups)
-Crunches (or knee-ups)
-Step-ups (or lunge jumps)
-Squats (or squat jumps)
-Running in place with high knees (or jump rope or stair sprints)
-Lunges (or lunge jumps)
-Push-ups with rotation (at the top of the push-up, alternately raise your arms and point them straight up)
In summary, when it comes to what kind of weight-training program appears to be best for the ultimate minimum effective dose and the sweet spot between longevity and muscle, you can get away with as little as two strength workouts per week – one with slow, controlled heavy lifting and one with high-intensity, light, explosive bodyweight-esque movements.
Can You Really Build Muscle With Bodyweight Training?
It’s certainly true that an excellent way to build muscle is by lifting heavy weights with big, compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts, or by using the super slow training approach and fast, explosive training approach you’ve already discovered in this article. But that’s not the only way to go. Contrary to popular belief, you can gain muscle using light weights (or your own body weight) and higher reps.
For example, one study compared the effect of high reps and low reps on muscle growth, comparing sets performed with 80% to complete muscle fatigue with sets performed to 30% to complete muscle fatigue. It turns out that the load is not important, but whether or not a muscle is worked to fatigue, and in this study, high reps and light weights stimulated just as much muscle growth as low reps and heavy weights. So yes, this means you can, for example, build chest muscles by skipping three sets of eight reps on a bench press, and instead doing a few sets of high-rep push-ups to complete failure. This is a potent tactic to have if you’re stuck working out in a hotel room or living room, have no access to a bunch of steel, metal and weight plates, and still want to build muscle!
There are plenty of other studies that back up the muscle-building capabilities of high-rep, low-resistance training. In one study, light, super-slow lifting at 55% to 60% of the participants’ one rep max (1RM) increased both muscle thickness and maximal strength just as much as heavy normal-speed training performed at 80% to 90% of the participants’ 1RM. In another study, both heavy weights with 8 to 10 reps and light weights with 18 to 20 reps activated the genes involved in muscle growth.
Another study found that training with lighter weights and higher reps (25 to 35 reps) led to the same gains in muscle size as heavier weights with 8 to 12 reps. Even in seasoned weightlifters, researchers found that the same muscle growth occurs when performing 20 to 25 reps with a light weight as occurs when performing 8 to 12 reps with a heavy weight.
In this study, high reps and light weights (24 reps with 30% of 1RM) increased post-workout protein synthesis, a sign of muscle building and hypertrophy, for 24 hours after exercise and to a far greater extent than performing 5 reps and 90% of 1RM. In yet another study, low weight training, even when not performed to complete muscular fatigue, stimulated protein synthesis in connective tissue (a sign that connective tissue is better capable of repairing) just as much as heavy weight training.
Ultimately, if you want to add muscle mass as fast as possible, lifting heavy weights or using the type of super-slow training you’ve discovered in this article is the way to go. But you can still build muscle with light weight and high reps (incidentally, research has also proven this approach seems to be particularly effective when training the legs vs. the upper body). Here's an even deeper dive into how to build muscle using bodyweight training exercises.
But Won’t Hard Exercise Give Me A Heart Attack?
If you’re concerned that heavy lifting or hard exercise will give you a heart attack, allow me to introduce you to Thomas Cowan, M.D., who is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant minds in modern holistic medicine – a gentleman who expertly blends both ancestral wisdom and modern science to provide meaningful changes in human health.
As you can probably imagine, he's been a three-peat guest on my podcast before, including an episode entitled “Why Your Heart Is Not A Pump (& What Most Doctors Don’t Know About The True Cause Of Heart Disease),” a must-listen podcast that goes hand-in-hand with the snippet that you're about to read. During the episode, we discuss the fact that our current understanding of heart disease – with its origins in the blood vessels – is completely wrong, and that instead heart disease is rooted in issues such as sympathetic nervous system overload, mineral deficiencies and our unwillingness to treat the vessels in our body more like the roots and vessels in a plant.
During that podcast, Dr. Cowan informed me that one clue to understanding why bypass grafting and stent placement have not delivered on their promises to fix cardiovascular problems comes from the work of the Italian pathologist Giorgio Baroldi. In his groundbreaking book “The Etiopathogenesis of Coronary Heart Disease: A Heretical Theory Based on Morphology,” Baroldi concluded that after doing autopsies for 40 years on patients who died of heart attacks, only 41% of these patients had a significant stenosis (plaque build-up) in the artery leading to the area of the heart affected by the heart attack. What's more, 50% of these stenoses came after the heart attack occurred, not before, as one would commonly assume.
Here’s what all of this has to do with whether “heavy lifting” causes a heart attack: these results suggest that approximately 80% of heart attacks have some other cause than a “blocked” or stenosed artery. Given this information, it’s no wonder that, in the majority of cases, unblocking arteries – no matter how thoroughly or carefully done – will never be the solution for the epidemic of heart disease.
In his book “Human Heart, Cosmic Heart: A Doctor's Quest to Understand, Treat, and Prevent Cardiovascular Disease,” Dr. Cowan suggests three causes of heart attacks. He not only asserts that we must address these possible causes if we are to have a thorough approach to the prevention and treatment of angina, unstable angina and heart attacks, but also that we could avoid heart attacks during high amounts of physical exertion – whether that be a heavy weight-training session or an Ironman triathlon – if these three root causes were addressed:
- Autonomic Nervous System Imbalance. With the advent of heart-rate variability testing, which I consider to be a sensitive and accurate way to assess autonomic nervous system activity, we now know that a large percentage of patients who go on to have a myocardial infarction (MI) have decreased parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system activity in the days, weeks and months leading up to the MI. The majority of MIs result from the combination of chronically low parasympathetic activity and a temporary stressful event (e.g., an exercise session), which furthers this imbalance. Decreased parasympathetic activity (or decreased parasympathetic tone) is a consequence of chronic stress, diabetes, hypertension, smoking and a lack of physical activity. In other words, if you have these factors present, then you should think twice about doing hard physical activity until you’ve sorted your life and the other issues below.
- The Heart Is Not A Pump. Typical anatomical drawings of the heart suggest that all of the blood flow to the myocardium goes through the three major coronary arteries. Although these arteries are certainly important, it turns out that, even from a young age, the heart possesses a rich supply of blood vessels that make up its own microcirculation. This means the healthy heart is perfectly well-suited to do its own bypass in the event of chronic disruption of flow through one or more of the coronary arteries. This ability is why thousands, maybe millions, of Americans are walking around with arteries greater than 90% occluded, yet with no symptoms whatsoever. The body, using its robust capillary network, has done its own bypass, and the heart is therefore protected. It is only in the case of chronic disease (in particular, diabetes, with its well-known microcirculatory issues) that MIs start to show up. One of the primary takeaway points that Dr. Cowan highlighted during my interviews with him was that an adequate intake of good, clean water (preferably in the form of “structured water”), along with a high intake of a full spectrum of minerals, supports the heart in its normal activity. So be careful with heavy lifting and hard exercise if you are dehydrated, drink subpar municipal water or don’t have an adequate mineral intake.
- Metabolic Acidosis. This situation is perhaps the most important and most overlooked reason that people suffer from heart issues: the production and build-up of lactic acid in the myocardial tissues. Because of the two issues outlined above (parasympathetic nervous system and microcirculatory problems), the heart finds itself in a stressful situation, one in which it is forced to undergo what is called a “glycolytic shift.” This shift means that the heart is unable to generate energy in the usual manner, which is through mitochondrial-based respiration and instead begins to ferment sugars for fuel. Once this glycolytic shift happens, the cells start to build up lactic acid in the surrounding tissues. The same process happens in your muscles when you exercise hard, but unlike skeletal muscles, the heart muscle can’t relax, so the lactic acid continues to build up. It is at this point that the familiar feeling of angina or chest pain begins to occur. As the process continues, more and more lactic acid accumulates, which then causes a localized metabolic acidosis (lowered pH) to occur. The lowered pH prevents the influx of calcium into the myocardial cells, essentially preventing the contraction of the heart muscle fibers. As this issue progresses and the lactic acid continues to accumulate, eventually there is necrosis of the surrounding tissue, which is called an MI. Along with the destruction of the myocardial tissue, the damaged areas of the heart create shear pressure on the embedded arteries, which results in clots forming after the MI occurs. To address this issue, Dr. Cowan highly recommends a little-known medication called “strophanthus,” or the insulin of the heart. Also known as ouabain, it has been shown to support the parasympathetic nervous system, improve microcirculation and, as you’ve just learned is crucial, convert the lactic acid in the myocardial tissue into pyruvate, which is the heart’s preferred fuel. If you are interested in learning more about the use of strophanthus for heart disease, then read this article that Dr. Cowan wrote on my website about this fascinating plant.
Finally, no discussion of the true causes of heart attacks would be complete without mentioning “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.” According to the Japanese, the phenomenon of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy means that you’re far more likely to die of a poor relationship or constant anxiety than of squatting or deadlifting or running a marathon. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or stress cardiomyopathy, is a type of cardiac event in which there is a sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart, often triggered by emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one, a break-up, rejection from a partner or constant anxiety. This leads to one of the common names for Takotsubo cardiomyopathy: “broken heart syndrome.” This form of cardiomyopathy is a well-recognized cause of acute heart failure, lethal ventricular arrhythmias, and ventricular rupture (the name “Takotsubo syndrome” comes from the Japanese word that means “octopus trap,” because the left ventricle of the heart takes on a shape resembling a fishing pot).
So what’s the final verdict when it comes to heart attacks and exercise? Eliminate chronic stress, keep yourself well-hydrated with adequate minerals, ensure the heart is not constantly utilizing glucose as a fuel and fix any poor or broken relationships in your life. Once you’ve sorted those issues, it’s far more likely that your heart will be able to handle a difficult exercise session. Of course, I am not a doctor, and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this. These are just my personal thoughts and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever.
Two Non-Traditional Ways To Build & Maintain Muscle
So far, this article has addressed the most traditional ways to build or to maintain muscle: lifting weights or using bodyweight exercises. It’s certainly true that the prevailing thought among exercise enthusiasts is that if you lay off training for a certain period, then you will lose muscle and that the only way to maintain strength and size is to load your muscles. But there are other ways you can maintain muscle, even if you’re injured or short on time or resources and can’t make it to the weight room or a home gym. One such method is electrical muscle stimulation.
You’ve no doubt seen it: the “as-seen-on-TV” ad for the special electrodes you attach to your abs to magically get a six-pack. Known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), or electromyostimulation devices, these contraptions elicit a muscle contraction using electrical impulses that directly stimulate motor neurons (as opposed to a TENS unit, which is good for managing pain, especially in the lower back, but stimulates only surface nerve endings, not motor neurons)(9).
The first few times you use an EMS device, it feels as though an invader has somehow taken over your muscles and caused them to contract without the help of your brain. These contractions can be quick and rapid, quick with longer pauses between contractions or even as long as seconds and sometimes minutes at a time.
Normally, your brain sends electrical impulses through your central nervous system (CNS) to fire your muscles. EMS circumvents the brain, allowing for deep, intense and complete muscular contractions without taxing your CNS (or your joints and tendons), which is why it feels strange: your body doesn’t know the difference between a voluntary contraction and an electrically induced one – it just recognizes the stimulus.
To use an EMS device, you place the electrodes on your skin at each end of the target muscle. The device usually has four channels with lead wires, and each wire is connected to two pads. Small amounts of current run from one pad to the next to complete a circuit, using your muscle tissue as a conduit. The current runs at specific frequencies and pulse durations (microseconds) which stimulate the motor neurons within the circuit. The muscle fibers innervated by the motor neurons then contract. And voilà – you start twitching.
Three ranges of EMS frequencies activate three different types of fiber. A slow-twitch muscle fiber will contract when stimulated by one set of frequencies, an intermediate-fast-twitch muscle fiber by a different set of frequencies, and a fast-twitch muscle fiber by the highest frequencies.
I personally own and use a Compex Sport Elite device for portable EMS-based muscle training, a MarcPro for EMS-based recovery sessions and, finally, the “Cadillac” of EMS muscle-stimulation units (this thing can simulate a 600-pound squat): the Neu.fit.
If you want to upgrade to an expensive (and relatively teeth-grittingly intense) form of electrical muscle stimulation that can leave your muscles in a state of maximum contraction for minutes at a time and yield faster results than any other EMS device out there, check out the Neu.fit device. It possesses characteristics not found in any conventional therapeutic neuromuscular electrical stimulator (specifically something called interferential, microcurrent, galvanic, Russian-stim iontophoresis). This wave is supposedly more compatible with the body’s natural electrical wave production, and because it can pass more easily through skin and fatty tissue, the current can penetrate much deeper without nasty side effects like skin burning. It’s like electrical muscle stimulation on steroids. If you can combine this kind of EMS training with heavy lifting, plyometrics or a type of training called “extreme isometrics,” you can get amazing performance and muscle-building results in a short period.
Although for several years I used EMS only for recovery, I now use it for full-body strength- and explosive-strength-training sessions (it’s particularly effective for nervous-system training if you practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing at the same time). I even use EMS in places like a car or an airplane (I’m writing this very sentence on an airplane with a MarcPro attached to my sore calves).
While an EMS device certainly isn’t going to help you burn enough calories or fat to give you a Greek-sculpture six-pack, it can indeed result in a significant boost in cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness. For more tips on how to incorporate EMS into a training session, read my blog post “How to Use Electrical Muscle Stimulation to Enhance Performance, Build Power and VO2 Max”.
Another lesser-known method of maintaining muscle is heat stress, which you can implement by using a dry sauna, wet sauna or infrared sauna. One of the mechanisms by which heat stress prevents muscle loss and protein degradation is by triggering the release of proteins called heat shock proteins (HSPs). HSPs can prevent muscle damage by removing free radicals and supporting cellular antioxidant production. They can also repair misfolded, damaged proteins in muscle tissue. Research has shown that when rats experience heat stress, they express HSP’s to an extent associated with 30% more muscle regrowth compared to a control group. As an added bonus, one particular HSP (the HSP70 gene) has also been linked to increased longevity, which suggests there may be anti-aging benefits to regular heat stress too!
Growth hormone is also crucial for muscle repair and recovery. Research has shown that two 20-minute sauna sessions separated by a 30-minute cooling period can elevate growth hormone levels twofold over baseline. Two 15-minute sauna sessions at an even warmer temperature separated by a 30-minute cooling period resulted in a fivefold increase in growth hormone. It is also important to note that when hyperthermia and exercise are combined, they induce a synergistic increase in growth hormone, which is exactly why I often do isometrics, yoga, push-ups and squats in my infrared sauna, a practice that I outline in detail at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/hackedsauna. For an additional recovery benefit, sauna exposure also increases blood flow to the skeletal muscles, which helps to keep them fueled with glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and oxygen while removing byproducts of metabolic processes such as lactic acid and calcium ions. Sauna exposure can even build new red blood cells at a rate similar to illegal performance-enhancing drugs such as EPO. For more information on how to build and maintain muscle using a sauna and to see the large sauna I use for exercise sessions, visit BenGreenfieldFitness.com/saunascience.
I’ll readily admit that when it comes to fast muscle growth and muscle maintenance, there is no substitute for simply lifting heavy stuff or exposing the muscles to plenty of time under tension, then recovering, rinsing, washing and repeating. However, if you don’t have exercise equipment or have movement or injury limitations, it’s nice to know that you can also build and maintain muscle with strategies such as bodyweight or low-weight training and the use of EMS or a sauna.
Tricks Of The Trade: The Best Portable Muscle-Building Tools
The fittest folks I know possess the knowledge to make training portable and have zero excuses for not staying fit as road-warriors, jet-setters or family-reunion-attendees. One of the secrets of maintaining an effective, functional muscle-maintenance or muscle-building program is to be able to take your workout routine with you any time, any place. Not every hotel you go to is going to have a good gym (can you say “squeaky elliptical trainer and dusty dumbbells”?), and not every friend or relative you visit is going to have equipment (like your Great-Aunt Ruth). Having a few key items on hand that I can pack into my travel bag and pull out at a park, in an airport, in a basement, or in a backyard allows me to stay in professional-athlete shape despite spending up to three weeks of every month on the road.
One of the most versatile tools I use for portable workouts is a suspension trainer. There are a variety of suspension trainers available (the TRX is the most popular), many with pulleys, wheels and bungees, but all you need is a simple model that you can attach to the doorframe of a hotel or house, the bars at a playground or the stairwell of an airport. You can then perform all manner of suspended pull-ups, planking exercises, lunging balance moves and a host of other movements that challenge muscles, balance and coordination. For grip strength, which is heavily correlated with longevity, strength and shoulder health, it’s especially crucial that you can “pull as much as you push” with your upper body workouts and this allows you to do just that, even in the absence of a pull-up bar. Sure, you can perform push-ups on the ground and box jumps onto a bed, but you can’t exactly do pull-ups on most objects without breaking something (I’ll sheepishly admit that I’ve broken a few hotel desks and doorframes attempting to use them as rough pull-up and horizontal rowing devices).
Another item you’ll always find in my travel kit is an elastic band, which I began using over a decade ago cycling through Italy with my wife while simultaneously training for a bodybuilding competition. She would lay in bed laughing at me as I’d bang away at curls, overhead presses, tricep extensions and sideways band walking, but the thing worked to maintain and even build slabs of muscle on my body. I still use one to this day for similar purposes (although I’ve since “upgraded” to a fancy elastic band system called the X3 Bar).
Finally, no portable exercise kit would be complete without Kaatsu bands, also known as “blood flow restriction” and “occlusion training” devices. The story behind these glorified tourniquets, long used as potent training tools by elite athletes, law enforcement, militaries and Japanese martial artists, is quite fascinating. In 1966, at the age of 18, a man named Yoshiaki Sato was attending a Buddhist ceremony in his native Japan when his legs went numb while sitting in the traditional Japanese posture on the floor. He could barely stand the pain any longer with his legs bent underneath him, so out of desperation, he began to massage his calves in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. He realized that his blood circulation was blocked in his calves as he was sitting directly on his feet, and this was when he conceived the original idea of blood flow moderation training.
Over the next seven years, Yoshiaki experimented with a variety of tubes, ropes and bands applied at different pressures on various parts of his body. After years of trial and error, he developed effective protocols to safely modify blood flow in his limbs, even using what he called “Kaatsu” bands to rehabilitate a severe ski injury within six short weeks that physicians told him would take six months to heal. Since then, elite Japanese athletes – from pro baseball players and golfers to sumo wrestlers and martial artists – have adopted Kaatsu training, which is a mashup of the Japanese words for “additional” – ka – and “pressure” – atsu. Much like a tourniquet, a Kaatsu training or blood flow restriction (BFR) band can be used to place pressure around your upper arms and legs, which reduces the amount of blood flowing back from the muscles in your extremities.
This strategy slows the blood flow back to the heart, so your limbs become engorged with blood, filling ordinarily unused capillaries and mobilizing extra muscle fibers, while also raising the concentration of lactic acid in the blood. These effects trick the brain into thinking the body is undergoing a massive workout and even trigger the pituitary gland to pump out additional growth hormone, causing muscles and blood vessels to grow more rapidly.
Here's a sample workout I do while on the go with this setup:
-Wrap BFR bands around arms and legs
-2-minute burpee warm-up
-10 suspension strap pull-ups
-10 suspension strap push-ups
-1 minute of jumping jacks
-10 elastic band sideways shuffles
-10 elastic band squat-to-overhead presses
-1 minute of sitting down on the floor and standing up as many times as possible
-10 elastic band upright rows
-10 suspension strap lunges for each leg
Repeat 3 to 5x through (including the burpee warm-up each round for an added challenge) with minimal rest.
Another favorite workout of mine, if I'm at a hotel or have access to a gym, is to perform back-to-back “supersets” for each body part, with each superset followed by two minutes of cardio performed as hard as possible. For example:
-2 minutes on a cardio machine such as an elliptical trainer, bike, rowing machine, or stairmill.
-Chest press to failure (8 to 15 reps)
-Row to failure (8 to 15 reps)
-2 minutes on a cardio machine
-Squat or leg press to failure (8-15 reps)
-Deadlift or leg curl to failure (8-15 reps)
-2 minutes of cardio
-Shoulder press to failure (8-15 reps)
-Pull-down to failure (8-15 reps)
-2 minutes of cardio
-Core exercise #1 of choice to failure (e.g., side plank rotations)
-Core exercise #2 of choice to failure (e.g., low back extensions)
Repeat 3 to 5x through with minimal rest.
I absolutely dig the idea of being able to play football with my grandkids when I'm 90, go freediving when I'm 95, or hunt an elk when I'm 100. Using the latest research and methods you’ve just discovered on longevity-enhancing protocols for muscle and strength, along with the anti-aging secrets of some of the fittest old people on the face of the planet, you’re now equipped to do the same for yourself. After all, if you’re going to live a long time, I suspect you want to look as good as possible doing it and have a brain and body that work as optimally as possible, even if modern society thinks you should be sitting in a rocking chair at a nursing home watching Seinfeld reruns.
So now that you're armed with all this information, what's a simple way to get started with building sexy muscle for life?
Take an upper-body bodyweight exercise, such as a push-up or a pull-up, and a lower-body bodyweight exercise, such as a lunge or a squat, and do the entire movement as slow as you possibly can – meaning at least 30 to 60 seconds to get to the bottom of one rep, and 30 to 60 seconds to get to the top of one rep. Then repeat to total exhaustion. This technique, known as “eccentric,” negative or super-slow training, is a fast-track to strength and muscle. For an added bonus, do this workout with BFR bands or a Kaatsu training device.
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about muscle building, muscle and longevity or anything else you've discovered in this article? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!
11 thoughts on “Sexy Forever: How To Build Functional, Good-Looking Muscle For Life.”
Ben, this is a great article, and I am ready to give super slow training a try. I am also trying to lose weight (40 pounds or so). I found that the super slow session didn’t have the same heart rate increase or calorie burn as a more traditional approach. Do the benefits of super slow training outweigh that? Should I count on the “power” workout to offset the apparent loss of effort in the slow workout? Can I (should I) do a set of intense exercises (box jump, burpees, jump squats, etc) in between sets of super slow to jack up heart rate? Thanks.
Hi Ben, I just discovered and read you for the first time. WOW!, I’m so glad I did.
Hi Ben, great article! I am a long time reader of yours and like to sporadically jump on and see what you have been up to or the latest research you have found, and also follow some of your workout recommendations weekly. This article was about building and maintaining muscle, my husband is trying to lose muscle mass in his pectoral muscles (he seems to naturally carry mass there) he has tried a lot of things from doing nothing with them to high reps low weights to superslows but none have made a difference, what are your thoughts on this? He is in great physical shape and is mainly a cyclist but also runs hence the want to carry least amount of weight up top as possible. Thanks Ben Nicole, NZ
Great article Ben! Lot’s more information than I could get my head around …but all good.
The title: “Sexy Forever” hooked me. It’s a very high priority for me, and at aged 83 I’m pleased to say I’m doing very well …thank you. That is to say, my wife of 30 years tells me that I’m sexy …all the time. That’s what counts, isn’t it? Especially in the bedroom. We are both very pleased with the frequency and quality of our intimate play.
Your recommendations are “spot on” as far as I’m concerned. I don’t do the heavy lifting like Don Wildman does, but our daily routine follows many of your recommendations as you can see here:
Long reading !
Fantastic reading !!
I listened some podcasts. I’m with low T (and tried many normal alternatives).
One place (article/podcast) that I can decide about the safety of TRT in long term?
I would check out this podcast: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/hormones…
I have been a reader and listener for a while (thanks by the way) and have seen some great articles, but you have really outdone yourself this time. This is fantastic. I am going to send this to my 72 year old father who is a physical specimen himself. He just got his 6-pack back this year after I convinced him to give up his ice cream (Haggen-Daz is kryptonite to the man) and sugar, and go keto. The only thing holding him back is his severe degenerative disk disorder and the fact that he has almost zero disk mass in his lumbar region. Unfortunately I have the same disorder as it is genetic. He just can’t load his spine. Any recommendations/thoughts to supplement the heavy squats and deadlifts? Thanks so much.
I have some tips in this podcast: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/nutritio… If you prefer a more direct, customized approach, I'd be happy to help you via a personal one-on-one consult. Just go to https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/coaching
Check out Bens podcast with Dr. Stu Mcgill, find a clinician well versed in his research