The most important measuring stick of optimal physical fitness and human performance is VO2 Max. VO2 Max is basically the maximum ability or heart rate for someone doing an aerobic activity, i.e. running or riding a bike as fast as possible. It’s a measure of a person’s maximum heart and lung function. The higher heart rate a person can achieve exercising and not pass out or die doing it usually means better cardiovascular health and higher VO2 Max. Recent research has now shown track sprinters can have a greater VO2 Max than marathon runners. This science is supported with recent high intensity interval training (HIIT) results, revealing that short bursts of maximum physical effort for 20 seconds to a few minutes followed by 10-60 seconds rest is healthier than uninterrupted continuous easier efforts for much longer time periods. See June’s NY Times article, 4-Minute Workout. The positive changes from HIIT are not only measurable in the heart and lungs, but also in muscles, blood vessels and even evidenced with improved pancreas function related to glucose regulation for many hours after the exercise event. I’ve always said, “You never see an overweight track sprinter.”
Many of my patients do weekly workouts doing HIIT on a track where, after warming up for 10-20 minutes, they may do 200-400 meter repeats and longer at 90-100% effort with 30 second to 2 minute rests or longer in between. Other HIIT workouts gaining popularity now are circuit-training classes that turn up the VO2 Max a notch with some resistance training as well. Be sure to get the OK from your family doctor before ramping up your exercise regimen with these advanced workouts. Start out 1-3 times a week with 5-10 short sprints of 5-10 seconds at 75-80% effort, gradually increasing over the course of a month or two. You will be amazed how quickly you will be able to get to 30-second sprints. Easy does it!
My favorite VO2 Max workout is a 3 to 4 mile advanced mountain trail run called the “Bump and Grind” in the California desert near Palm Springs. It’s a challenging trail run up and down a barren desert mountain landscape mimicking the moon’s surface. The early part of the trail is only a couple feet wide and passing people involves at least one person turning sideways. The trail is littered with intermediate size rocks, hence the name “Bump,” and for the first half mile a vertical drop of a few hundred feet keeps one focused on every foot strike. The “Grind” part of the run is a steep 1 mile climb that can quickly establish everyone’s VO2 Max within a few seconds, or the heart rate basically when one can no longer run or even walk up the mountain. I try to continue running in this “Grind” phase close to my 90-95% VO2 Max for intervals of 2-4 minutes with 10-20 second rests.
A tool I frequently use to increase my VO2 Max by only 20-25% on this trail run in 100 degree heat is crushed ice in a small ziplock baggie under my hat. The top of the head is like the car’s radiator and ice can last up to 30 minutes in this heat. Another boon for heat running are salt tablets (“Salt Stick Caps”) and energy aids like Powergel and Gu products.
Once at the top of the “Bump and Grind’s” nearly 1000 foot climb, its time for the breathtaking views across the valley floor, the 8,000 foot snow-covered mountains directly above Palm Springs and Big Bear’s snow cap as well to the northwest. One might get lucky as I did the other day and see a Bighorn sheep and its offspring. My descent includes novel challenges to primarily increase propioception and coordination, i.e. skipping from side to side and doing 360’s. It’s difficult to challenge my VO2 Max on the way down, other than a few ‘bumpless’ stretches of 300 yards or so that I can push the pedal on and then later through a rolling bumpy stretch for a few minutes, all the time also checking for rattlers, scorpions, tarantulas and sidewinders. My special preventive ankle sprain taping technique keeps my confidence high running down the “Bump.”
The name of the game in athletics when it comes to exercising and pushing the body to higher physical challenges is, “you have to be able to repair what you tear.” Exercise involves predictable stresses and strains on our skeleton, starting in the feet. I have specialized for the last 35 years in sports medicine on the feet and lower extremities as they relate to the entire skeleton. My most important revelation has been that almost everyone has one leg actually longer than the other by almost ¼” and correcting this abnormality with custom orthotics helps the entire skeleton’s function and performance throughout life, whether you are a Ferrari, Hummer, or a Volkswagen. As the intensity of exercise increases, the workload on the skeleton does as well, magnifying the body’s imbalances. Running down the “Bump and Grind” could be up to 10 times one’s bodyweight. This is when new symptoms may eventually start appearing, or a minor symptom may increase to a point of concern. Getting to a sports specialist health care provider can help identify, correct and even prevent a mechanical problem before it becomes an exercise ending issue. This is why “easy does it” is my mantra to athletes when they challenge their bodies with more exercise intensity, frequency or duration.
Of course, how to choose the right running shoes and how to lace your running shoes are imperative. Other important factors to help the body perform better are compression apparel, along with natural anti-inflammatories like White Willow Bark and Bioflavonoids. Take good care of your body; it’s the only one you have and you want to get 300,000 to 500,000 miles out of it. That’s why I always make time to see my body mechanics, especially the chiropractor and occasionally the massage therapist. Sleeping on a supportive mattress without an alarm clock will also help you recover faster.
Dr. Paul R. Copeskey, D.C.,C.C.F.C.