If you've read my book, Primal Cure, then you'll be very aware that high interval training, such as sprinting, should be part of a Primal lifestyle - but only if you're fit enough!
If you are seriously overweight, I don’t personally recommend moving on to interval training until your body weight starts to come off by eating Primally and moving more. But for those who are fit enough to start interval training, then this one's for you...
FIRST SPRINTING EXERCISE
Before we get going on the bike, rowing machine or hitting the tarmac with our new running shoes, we need to start off gently and get our body's prepared for the wonderful benefits it’s about to experience (trust me). If you are already quite fit and athletic, then feel free to jump straight to the next section. Remember, sprinting is all about short bursts of high intensity – full-on Usain Bolt stuff! Eventually, our sprints might be as brief as six or eight seconds, but as strange as it sounds we need to build up to these shorter bursts of highly intense exercises.
Before we can gallop like the fastest of racehorses, we first need to know how to walk or trot. We need to be able to feel the difference. I like to refer this to walking really slowly, without any stress on the heart or lungs, as taking a stroll. In the Move More Primal Cure principle, strolling is what we're really looking for.
So let’s go outside and stroll for a few minutes to warm up the body and the legs. If you have got a heart monitor that’s excellent – we want it to be really slow, just above our normal resting rate. Strolling is not meant to be seen as exercise at all, however, it can still be invigorating and is brilliant for our health. Even 2000 years ago Hippocrates told us, “Walking is man’s best medicine”. But at this point, we want to stroll nice and slow without causing any stress to our muscles, heart or lungs. If it feels like exercise, slow down. If it still feels like exercise, then you need to pay a visit to your doctor.
After you have been strolling for a few minutes, take a look at your watch and try to walk as fast as you can for two minutes. You know the walk I am talking about, it’s the one that makes you look a bit silly. Your feet must not come off the ground because that would be jogging, and right now we just want to walk as fast as we can. After two minutes, slow right back down to a snail’s pace. If you have a heart monitor, take a note of what your rate was at the end of your fast walk. Repeat this three or four times and then head home and have a nice refreshing shower! Keep doing this for a few days or weeks and maybe increase the length of time you are at your flat-out walking speed to say three minutes, but make sure to stroll effortlessly in between your walking sprints.
By alternating between strolling and fast-paced walking, you'll gently introduce your body to the concept of high-intensity intermittent training. Now, as long as you are feeling well and have had a good night’s sleep, let’s jump onto a bike.
SPRINTING ON A BIKE
Ideally, we are better off using an exercise bike for sprinting than an outdoor bike. With a real bike in the open air, there is so much else going on - such as having to watch out for dangers, balance and all sorts of other distractions - that it’s harder to focus all of our effort on all-out sprinting. That said, if you have a bike already and don’t want the expense of purchasing an exercise machine, then find the nearest park and go out and perform your sprints when it’s as quiet as possible.
Whether it is an exercise bike, a real bike or a rowing machine, all of the principles are pretty much the same. The reason I place more focus on exercise bikes is that it’s the safest form of sprinting for all ages. Sure, getting out and sprinting with our running shoes on the tarmac - or barefooted on a beach - is absolutely brilliant for those who are already fairly fit and not carrying too much weight, but running is not necessarily the right exercise for everyone.
So, now that we are in the saddle and ready to go, it's ideal to be wearing a heart rate monitor that's connected to our phone or the bike’s computerised screen. Don’t worry if the measuring device isn’t all that accurate, as what we are looking to measure is the level of improvements over the coming weeks. Start with a minute or two at a very low speed, similar to the gentle stroll we took while getting used to the concept. When we are ready to sprint, we are going to want to go all-out for 10 to 20 seconds – and I do mean all-out. We should be pushing ourselves harder than we have ever pushed before. We should imagine that a huge beast is chasing us and this is a do-or-die situation. This will stimulate our heart and simultaneously pump blood around the body so fast, we will have achieved in just 10 to 20 seconds more than most joggers do in a whole hour, while at the same time not doing any harm to our joints and bones.
We want to measure several things. Firstly, we need to know what our heart rate peaked at (it will probably stop a short while after we finish our sprint), and on the bike’s read-out, we need to measure either the distance we sprinted, the calories we burned, the number of revolutions or the number of watts generated. It doesn’t really matter what the measurement is, as long as it’s a measurement. Remember what I said a little earlier, ‘we can’t manage what we can’t measure’. The bike I use at my local gym measures all sorts of things, but I normally record watts generated.
Once our stopwatch or bike signals that our 10 or 20 seconds of intense work is over, we should slow down the pace to virtually nothing, but ensure we keep the legs rotating slowly. After two minutes idling, once again we should sprint as if our life depended on it. Once the short sprint finishes, we should again slow down to a snail’s pace and when we are ready to repeat the sprint just one more time. When we have finished, we should write down the measurements from all three sprints. Then, believe it or not, we should take a well-deserved rest for a whole week and come back and do the same routine all over again. It’s incredible to think that what we have just achieved in just 30–60 seconds of combined sprinting does so much good for the body. It brilliantly emulates the activities of our Primal ancestors as they stalked and then pounced on their prey, and it is therefore what nature has developed our body to both expect and achieve.
Over the coming weeks, we might increase the resistance on the pedals to make it harder to get up our speed or decrease the time we sprint, or we might leave every setting exactly the same and keep trying to better our scores. Just as no Primal animal chase was ever exactly the same, to prevent our muscles from getting too accustomed to the shock, we should always be looking to try different things. Similar to the saying ‘variety is the spice of life’, once we feel our performance begins to plateau in any particular exercise, it’s time to change some component of it. However, we don’t want to do more than one or two minutes of sprinting per session. If we feel like we want to, you must trust me – we aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough. Our muscles need to feel exhausted, shot, completely blown. If they are really burning, then we will have achieved far more benefit from our few minutes in the saddle than a whole hour of endurance cycling or running.
Now, who's ready?