Getting Fit and Strong

 “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of my body” - Mark Twain

The world of our ancient ancestors was much harder than the comfortable lives many of us lead today. And while most of us would choose a day working in an air conditioned office versus a day of hunting wild buffalo, plowing a field, or even a day in the steel mill, hard work is exactly what our bodies have evolved to do. We not only adapted for hard physical labor, we thrive under it.

When we break down muscle tissue through extreme exertion, instead of breaking down, our bodies actually get better from it. We get stronger from it, and we get fitter. As long as it doesn’t kill us.

When we push our muscles to fatigue and even failure, we actually tear some of the minute muscle fibers that make up an entire muscle or even a muscle group. We feel these tears as the pain or soreness after a strenuous workout or just pulling a muscle in everyday life. Our bodies have mastered the art of repair and rejuvenation to the point that the “injured” muscle will actually come back better than before the injury, assuming the tear is not too extreme.

The human body has incredible healing mechanisms in place to make sure that when we push ourselves to the very limits of strength or cardio training, we will come back stronger and fitter after a couple days of recovery.

Conversely, if we fail to push our bodies to their limits, there will be no signals for growth and over time, as we age, our muscle fibers will decay and our cardiovascular capacity will decline, eventually sending another signal that we absolutely do not want to send to our bodies. We are telling our bodies that we are past our prime, past our usefulness, and that we are actually a liability to our family and our tribe. We are telling our bodies that we are expendable.

If you were given a car at the age of 18, and it was the only one you could ever have, you would take such good care of it. Treat your body like you would that car” - Warren Buffet

Strength Training

Short of hunting wild game on the Serengeti, or preparing for a clash with a neighboring tribe, strength training is really the only way to mimic the physical demands that our ancient ancestors faced on a regular basis. Our bodies were designed to undergo regular physical stress and we must push our bodies to do what they were designed to do.

Why Strength Training

While the main goal of strength training may be to improve muscle strength and endurance, there are a multitude of benefits that will improve our lives in the short-term, but more importantly down the road as we enter middle and “old” age.

Balance and improved movement
The muscles that we are developing for our current physical endeavors are the very same muscles that will keep us doing the things we like to do every day like - walking, running, lifting stuff, climbing stuff, jumping off stuff, - and will ultimately help prevent the fall which is waiting to take down the frail version of ourselves that we aim to avoid becoming.

Note - increased muscle mass in the legs will make running much easier, or at least it will feel easier. So, if you are in a situation where running would be very difficult to start, strengthening the legs would be a great preliminary exercise.

Increased Bone Density
Strength training can improve bone density through a process known as bone remodeling. When you perform strength training exercises, the stress placed on your bones triggers a response from your body to increase bone density and strength. This is because bone is a living tissue that constantly remodels itself in response to stress and mechanical load.

During strength training, the force exerted on the bones stimulates the osteoblasts, which are bone-forming cells, to lay down new bone tissue. This process increases the bone mineral density and can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

Hormone release
Strength training can trigger the release of several hormones in the body, including testosterone, growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Testosterone is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, and strength training can increase testosterone levels. Growth hormone and IGF-1 are important for muscle growth and repair, and strength training can stimulate their release. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can increase temporarily during strength training, but regular strength training can actually reduce cortisol levels over time. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are hormones that are released during exercise and can improve energy, focus, heart rate, and blood flow to the muscles, which can enhance performance during strength training. Overall, the release of these hormones through strength training can lead to improvements in muscle growth, strength, and performance.

Fat burning and Weight Control 
Strength training can help with fat burning in several ways. One of the most significant ways is by increasing muscle mass. Muscles are metabolically active tissues, meaning they burn calories even when you are at rest. So, by increasing muscle mass through strength training, you can increase your resting metabolic rate, which can help you burn more calories throughout the day.

Additionally, strength training can also help to deplete glycogen stores in the muscles. Glycogen is a stored form of glucose that the body uses as fuel during exercise. When glycogen stores are depleted, the body needs to turn to fat stores to provide energy for exercise. This means that strength training can help shift the body's fuel source from carbohydrates to fat, leading to increased fat burning.

Strength training can also help to create an "afterburn" effect known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This refers to the increased oxygen consumption and energy expenditure that occurs after exercise. EPOC is greater following strength training than it is following aerobic exercise. This means that strength training can help to increase the number of calories you burn even after you finish exercising.

Insulin Sensitivity
Muscle tissue is a primary storage location for glycogen (the usable form of glucose) and it accepts glycogen immediately. By helping relocate glucose in the bloodstream, this will dampen the release of insulin and the resulting conversion of glucose to fat for storage. When fully adapted, this has been shown to lessen the spike in insulin (keeping the insulin system running properly) and reduce the occurrence of diabetes.

More Reasons Why We Need to Be Fit and Strong
  • Preventing Bone and Muscle Loss as We Age
  • Avoiding Frailty
  • Preventing The Fall
  • For Temporary Bouts of Stress

How to Do It

Proper strength training involves more than just going to the gym and pumping some iron. To achieve the greatest effects from training, we need to consider which muscle groups we need to target and why, how intense the training needs to be, and how often we need to train.

Intensity and Reps
For strength training, the target level of intensity is generally 7 to 10 reps for a given muscle group. This means that we are pushing a muscle group to failure (the point where we cannot perform another repetition). If we don’t reach failure after 10 reps, we need to increase the resistance to be effective. If we are reaching failure before 7 reps, we are risking injury and should reduce the amount of resistance.

If we are just starting out, performing at higher reps is preferable until we get comfortable with the movements we are engaging in.

Intensity = 7 to 10 reps to muscle failure.

With the goal of reaching muscle fatigue and even failure, while protecting the muscle group we are working from injury, the number of sets can help us reach these goals. With each successive set we perform (consisting of 7 to 10 reps), the muscle group we are working will become more and more fatigued, resulting in fewer reps with each of these sets. The amount of rest we allow ourselves between each of these sets will have an effect on the level of fatigue as well. The more time of rest between each set allows that muscle group to recover more, allowing more reps within the next set.

These factors all play a part in the results we can expect from our strength training routine. More muscle mass and strength gains should come pushing each set to failure, with fewer reps (more weight) used to reach failure, and more rest time between each set.

Achieving a more balanced approach to strength and muscle gains can be acquired by reducing the weight (allowing for a couple more reps), reducing the rest time between sets (allowing fatigue to set in faster), and maybe reducing the number of sets (although three sets should be considered the minimum).

Strength training using high reps and low weight when just starting out is a great way to introduce yourself to strength training, but the ultimate goal should be to achieve real growth, and this can only happen when we are pushing our muscles to fatigue.

Duration = 3 to 4 sets per muscle group.

We have performed our workout properly, we worked a given muscle group to fatigue with 7 to 10 reps per set and 3 to 4 sets per group. We feel great afterward. The muscles we worked feel tired and maybe even exhausted, but not in pain. This is what we are looking for. The next question we may have is when do we do this again? Tomorrow or two weeks from now?

Like everything we are attempting, we need to find balance. The muscle group we just worked needs some time to recover. Since the muscles we just trained have undergone stress and even “damage”, they now need some time to rebuild themselves. Tomorrow you will understand why, when the feeling in those muscles goes from tired to sore. This is called delayed muscle soreness syndrome (DOMS), and it is a good thing. Training those muscles in this state would not be productive.

The time needed for this rebuilding can vary depending on the level of “damage” done. If you are starting out (hopefully you didn’t overdo it), giving them a few days or more to recover should be the minimum. If you have been training for a while a couple days could be enough. Too little rest is counter productive, but too much rest can wipe out the gains you just set yourself up for.

The gains from strength training can only be considered long-term (there really is no short-term gain from a single workout). We are training our muscles to make real adjustments in their physiology, and these changes take time. The muscles we just worked will repair themselves back to the state they were in before the workout plus a little bit more (just a little bit). This gain will disappear if we let it.

The total amount of stress we put each muscle group under over time (the volume) will be a little different for each person. This volume of training incorporates the amount of rest time between workouts for each muscle group, but no more than a week should be allowed. After a period of time you will notice a drop off in strength after a week to ten days.

Volume = amount of workouts per a given amount of time.

Circuit Training vs. Muscle Group Training
Circuit training can be considered to consist of a series of exercises, each usually working a different muscle group, which allows each group to rest while the next is being trained. Generally, this kind of training involves more body weight or light weight exercises since using heavy weights in a circuit in a gym could be a challenge.

Specific muscle group training would consist of focusing on one group of muscles for a given workout, usually allowing for heavier weights and more rest between sets. This would require multiple days (ideally three to four) to work our body’s entire range of muscles. These workouts would need to be completed within a week's time so we can start the cycle over again without losing our gains.

Comparing the two is almost like comparing apples to oranges. Circuit training sessions, generally, last about 45 minutes to an hour, can be done in a group, and usually involve quite a bit of variety. They can be highly desirable and even considered fun. Unfortunately, they produce very few, if any, real gains. This kind of workout is great if you are just starting out. It is light years better than sitting on the couch. But eventually the participants get frustrated by the lack of results and conclude that the gains they desire (and require) are not attainable.

Focusing on training a specific muscle group with multiple sets at multiple variations for 45 minutes to an hour can be tedious, but it is the only way to get the gains we need for long-term health and longevity.

Strength training, real strength training, is work (literally) and if we can think of it as a job that has to be done, maybe we can find a way to push through it. Finding the right music, podcast, or even a movie, can help us get through the monotony of lifting chunks of weight up and down over and over. But thinking this should be fun is a sure fire way to failure over the long haul.

Training The Large Muscle Groups
Developing the large muscle groups such as the chest, back, and legs (especially the legs) along with the abdominals in addition to the targeted areas not only maximizes the general benefits of strength development but can add a residual benefit as well. When we break down muscle tissue and start the rebuilding process in a targeted muscle group, a release of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone occurs over the next couple days, flooding the stressed area. 

If we follow up that workout the next day with a workout targeting a large muscle group, like the legs, an even bigger release of the same hormones is triggered for the larger muscle group. But, since the area we worked the previous day is still demanding those same hormones, they will gain the benefit of the following day's release as well.

The benefits of developing all of the body’s muscles, especially the largest, will pay dividends beyond just developing the muscles that we deem the most necessary. 

Training Functional Muscles
The first question we may ask ourselves is - if I want to build up the muscles that I use during a particular exercise, why not just do more of that exercise? This would seem to be the most logical solution. The problem is that in most of the activities that we do, the muscles that are doing most of the work are most likely being influenced by other factors that are completely unrelated to those muscles.

If we are trail running and we feel like our legs are holding us back on a short but steep climb, it could be our cardiovascular systems inability to provide our legs with the needed oxygen, or it could be a lack of strength. If it's a lack of strength, strength-training those muscles can provide gains beyond what could be attained by just doing more steep climbs. Pushing our leg muscles through a high-intensity strength training regimen can produce gains that cannot be obtained from running alone. This has to do with the physiological phenomenon of muscle recruitment (for more on this subject, read - Muscle Recruitment).

As well as building strength in these functional muscle groups, strength training also allows for a diversification of training that can help get through plateaus and can also help avoid overuse and injury of the muscles in that muscle group (when done properly).

Supplements and Strength Training
When strength training, our bodies will require an elevated level of energy and nutrition to aid in our performance and, more importantly, our recovery. If we are adhering to a quality well-balanced diet, we should be getting most of the necessary nutrients. But there are a few key supplements that may provide added benefits such as:
  • Protein: Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, making it a vital supplement for strength training. Whey protein powder is a popular choice for its high protein content and easy absorption.
  • Creatine: Creatine is a naturally occurring substance that can help increase muscle mass and strength. It works by increasing the amount of energy available to muscles during exercise.
  • Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is an amino acid that can help improve muscle endurance by reducing muscle fatigue during high-intensity exercise.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can help improve focus and energy during workouts. It can also help reduce perceived exertion, making it easier to push through tough workouts.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are important for overall health and can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can help speed up recovery after workouts.
It is important to note that while supplements can be beneficial, they should not be relied upon as a substitute for a balanced diet and proper exercise routine.

Cardio Training

Our ancient ancestors not only needed the strength to hunt and gather and defend what they had hunted and gathered, they needed the required endurance as well. Since humans lacked the size and strength to hunt larger, slower game, they were forced to hunt game that was smaller and less deadly. Unfortunately, humans were not endowed with the required speed to hunt this kind of prey (antelope, dear, etc…). But we were given a few traits that allowed us to survive and even thrive (abstract thought, social cohesiveness, and superior cardio capacity). 

While we couldn’t outrun what we were hunting, we could track it over vast distances, wearing it down in the process, making it much easier to kill. Our ancestors had the capacity to walk and jog for over 30 miles on a given day, and the bodies that we inhabit today we inherited from them.

Why We Need Cardio Training Today

We may not need the cardio capacity to hunt wild game, but many, if not most, of the other systems in our bodies rely on a healthy cardiovascular system for their proper function. We can only be as healthy as that of our heart and lungs. 

Improved Cardiovascular Health
Cardio training helps to improve heart health by strengthening the heart muscle, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Increased Lung Capacity
Cardio training can help to increase lung capacity and oxygen uptake, which can improve endurance and overall fitness.

Reduced Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is associated with a number of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Cardio training has been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body, which can help to reduce the risk of these diseases and improve overall health.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Cardio training can help to reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting hormones.

Improve Immune Function
Cardio training can help to strengthen the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which can help to fight off infections and disease. The immune system receives a boost from the reduction in chronic inflammation resulting from cardio training as well,
Improved Insulin Sensitivity
One way that cardio training improves insulin sensitivity is by increasing glucose uptake by the muscles. During cardio exercise, such as running or cycling, the muscles require more energy and glucose from the bloodstream. As a result, the body becomes more efficient at transporting glucose into the muscles, which can improve insulin sensitivity.

Cardio training can also help to reduce body fat, particularly around the abdomen, which is a risk factor for insulin resistance. Excess body fat can lead to chronic inflammation and the release of hormones that interfere with insulin signaling. By reducing body fat through cardio training, you can help to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Increased Bone Density
Cardiovascular training can help increase bone density through various mechanisms. Firstly, it increases muscle strength, which in turn helps strengthen bones as muscles contract during exercise and pull on the bones. Secondly, many types of cardio involve weight-bearing activity such as running and jumping, which puts stress on the bones and stimulates them to become denser. Thirdly, regular aerobic exercise stimulates the formation of new bone tissue by increasing the production of bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. Lastly, cardiovascular exercise increases blood flow to the bones, delivering essential nutrients and minerals necessary for bone health.

How to Do It

There are many activities that would qualify as cardiorespiratory training, and whichever we choose will depend upon our current level of fitness and overall ability. If we are just beginning from a sedentary lifestyle, we will want to start out with something very simple like walking, steadily graduating to activities that will require our heart and lungs to perform at ever increasing levels of intensity.

Most humans are capable of intense cardio activities like running, even though many feel they aren’t. Most of those who feel they can’t run have just not started out on the right foot. They go out on day one, overdo what their bodies are capable of at that moment, suffer through the entire process, injure something, and determine that they are not built for running. They are fighting against the process that their bodies were built for, but has been neglected for too long. 

When we start out, our legs are out of shape, our heart is out of shape, our lungs are out of shape, in fact, our entire system of converting energy and oxygen into physiological motion is out of shape. Each of these processes has to be brought back on line, each having their own timeline of reintroduction.

If we start out slowly, but progressively increase the intensity of our training sessions (when our systems are ready for it), each of these systems will improve their efficiency, and eventually we will feel them all sync up. This is when, and only when, running will start to feel like something we can push ourselves through. And one day we will come to appreciate the process, and possibly even enjoy it.

For cardio training, our level of intensity would be determined by our heart rate. Generally, training at a heart rate of 50 to 70 percent of our max heart rate (roughly 220 minus our age) is what is needed to initiate improved cardio capacity. The trick here is that as we train at this intensity, we will find that our improved cardio capacity will require us to increase our pace or resistance (i.e. hills).

Just as with strength training, don’t go out too fast or too far if we are just starting out. Start at 30 or 40 percent, or less. Begin with a walk, then a jog, then a run at some point.

Volume is the total amount of distance or time for a given cardio training session. The number of training sessions, or total mileage, over a given period of time, say a week or a month can also be a measure of the volume of work we are doing.

While increasing the volume of our workout can provide physiological gains for the cardiorespiratory system, it is important to not sacrifice intensity in the process. Higher intensity training can improve cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity, and caloric burn (via glucose as its main energy source), while higher volume training can help improve endurance, increased fat burning (via anaerobic energy usage), and reduction of potential injuries.

The important thing is to find the balance between high intensity and high volume to get the benefits of both.

A Few More Thoughts on Strength and Fitness

We have covered quite a few benefits of strength and fitness training, but just in case you need a little more incentive to get out there and get started, here are a few more reasons.

Improving Flexibility
Stretching and flexibility are important components of any strength and fitness training program. Incorporating regular stretching exercises can improve your range of motion, allowing you to move more freely and perform exercises with proper form. Stretching can also increase muscle flexibility, reduce the risk of injury during exercise, and enhance muscle recovery. Additionally, stretching can help balance the muscles on both sides of a joint, improve posture, and promote relaxation and reduce stress.

Exercise - The Good Stress
Strength and fitness training can be an effective way to reduce stress and improve mental well-being. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals that help to reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness and well-being. In addition, exercise can provide a sense of accomplishment and confidence, which can help to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. Strength training, in particular, has been shown to have stress-relieving benefits by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Regular exercise can also help to improve sleep quality, which is important for overall mental and physical health.

Getting More Active
While gym workouts can provide a range of benefits for overall health and fitness, incorporating outdoor activities and movement into your routine can provide additional benefits that may not be achieved through gym workouts alone. Whether it's taking a walk around the block, going for a hike in the woods, or playing a game of frisbee in the park, finding ways to get out and move every day can be an effective way to improve overall health and well-being.

We were meant to move… a lot. While establishing a lifelong strength and cardio routine is a must if we are to live a stronger, fitter, healthier, and longer life, getting out and moving around in our “free” time cannot be ignored either. Keeping our body moving as much as possible, is the icing on the cake that our bodies require to reach an even higher level of health for the long haul.

"The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not." - Mark Twain


Through health and fitness, we can convince our bodies that the comfortable (easy) world in which we exist today is still hard, requiring growth as well as repair and recovery. Finding the time and energy to properly train for strength and fitness may seem daunting at first, but when you start to dial in the training regimen that works best for you (while meeting the physiological requirements), you will realize that it doesn’t take as much time as you originally thought, it’s not as painful, and you may even start to enjoy the process (or at least the feeling post-workout).

But if you cannot reach that level of satisfaction from the required training, then at least understand that this is an integral part of the new life, the new path you wish to be on. If you can see it as a job that must be done, then maybe you can find a way to fight through the discomfort, boredom, and time restraint. This can be your struggle that you have to overcome.

Read more - The Obstacle is the Way.