Complexity, Scale, Workouts and Antifragility
From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.
I was working on another post about the benefits of short duration intense workouts and long work at very low intensity and staying away from the moderate intensity stuff. Then I got distracted on the faceplace and Nassim Taleb had a great post (linked to below) which was related to my original topic, so I'm going to take the easy way out and use his post as a jumping off point. (Don't worry, I'll still write my original rant later - you won't miss out on that one.)
It turns out that animals of all scales from the tiniest shrew to the largest whale all have one thing in common: they live for about 1 billion heartbeats (humans are special in that we can extend that to 2 billion - but it's still within the order of magnitude). That's pretty cool when you think about it how there is a fundamental constant that arises across all scales.
So if you have a limited number of heartbeats, where do you want to spend them? By going low and very slow, you can build a good base without using up to many of your beats. But that's not enough, you do need to create a stressor for your body to get stronger, so we go high but for such a short time that the extra beats don't really add up.
For example: take the typical boot-camp style workout where you're bringing your heart rate up to the "fat burning zone" for an hour. For me, the "fat burning zone" is somewhere near 165bpm, my resting heart rate is about 65bpm. So the boot-camp workout would have me using up an extra 100bpm for an hour, wasting 6000 of my 1 billion beats.
If we do a quick tabata-style sprint, that's only 4 minutes of work at max effort. For me that's about 180bpm, so I'd be using up an extra 115bpm for 4 minutes or an extra 460 beats.
Essentially, you not only get a more time-effective workout you get more of a training effect for less mortality cost. The same goes for your very slow workouts - if you don't raise your heart rate too much above baseline, you can built your base with little cost too.