Ultra-High Performance Training
Phil Campbell, the author of Sprint 8 Cardio Protocol, is an exercise physiologist who specializes in speed training. Three decades ago he started experimenting with his own personal training regimen on a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program in order to improve upon anything else then available. Phil had been a successful athlete who engaged in seasonal training in endurance running. But during the off-season he reverted back to the ‘wind sprints’ which many of us remember from high school sports. Phil noticed that he was getting much more benefit from short sessions of sprinting in the off season than he would get from grueling hours of aerobics during the training season. He lost more fat with the sprints and gained more muscle. Paradoxically he found that he and others increased even their aerobic capacity when they decreased aerobic training in favor of anaerobic training. He concluded that intense sprinting was more powerful in achieving both health and athletic goals.
Phil’s findings were out of step with most of the standard American exercise discussion at the time. Standard advice was focused on aerobics, but Phil found himself focused on the anaerobic. Standard fitness advice tells you to exercise for a long period of time at a rate which leaves you breathing more deeply, but not panting, not ‘out of breath’. In order to do this, you are told to aim at a heart rate which is approximately 70-80% of your maximum rate. Maximum rate is defined as 220 minus your age. At age 54, my maximum rate is 166. My target rate then would top out at about 133. If I go much higher than that I’m not able to breathe quickly enough to aerobically support my metabolic output, so I start burning fuel in a different way using different metabolic processes. Thus, I go from aerobic to anaerobic. We have both modes, aerobic and anaerobic, available to us.
When you are anaerobic you feel like you can’t possibly breathe quickly enough to keep up with your aerobic oxygen needs, and that’s because you can’t. And once you’ve stopped exercising it takes you a while to ‘catch your breath’—to return to some normal type of breathing rhythm. But the state of being ‘out of breath’ is actually the point. The oxygen deficit is the crisis which signals the body that significant change is needed.
Campbell found that both he and the athletes he was training were getting much greater gains with sprints. Sprinting takes the athlete through an aerobic phase at the beginning of the sprint and then pushes them beyond that into the anaerobic zone. Campbell, a former hospital administrator, was eventually able to create a testing program administered in a hospital environment with rigorous quantitative testing.
What the tests found was that the experimental group, the sprinters, lost an average of 27% of their fat mass during the 8 week program. In addition, LDL (the ‘bad cholesterol’) dropped markedly – though not quite as much as it did in response to statins. Triglycerides (suspended droplets of fat which float in the blood stream) also dropped markedly and HDL (the ‘good cholesterol’) increased significantly.
But the most dramatic finding of all was an octupling of naturally occurring Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH is a hot topic right now in longevity and anti-aging studies. Artificial injections of HGH have been used for weight loss and for de-aging purposes. One can see why: HGH is associated with greater ability to metabolize fat stores; it is associated with muscle growth and retention; it presents numerous cognitive and neuroprotective effects (more on that topic in a future column). It’s great stuff to have coursing through your arteries when you are middle-aged or older… if it’s come by naturally.
But on the other hand, it can be a risky thing if it’s come by unnaturally. Artificially injected HGH has many serious side effects. One of them outlined in Campbell’s book, Sprint 8 Cardio Protocol, is that over time someone who is taking this hormone via artificial injections loses the ability to synthesize it through their own endocrine system. For this reason and many others there has been a crack-down in the medical community on widespread over-prescription by doctors of artificial HGH. The new guidelines are based on the idea that the artificial hormone should only be used to treat actual deficiencies from a faulty endocrine system, not as a simple weight loss or de-aging drug.
But exercise-induced HGH has not shown the same negative side effects as injected forms of the hormone. Speaking of doping, interestingly, Campbell’s hospital-based trials found such large surges of HGH after the sprint protocols (something on the order of 800%) that a clean athlete who does no doping at all could actually set off a false positive if they were to get the test within 2-3 hours after the training session!
Similarly, large gains were found in mitochondrial biogenesis, which is the creation of new mitochondria, the energy production centers of the cells. Some studies found a doubling of mitochondria with high intensity training, but recent research has suggested that this may be understating gains by perhaps a factor of two. Ever watch children play and wonder where all that energy comes from? Mostly it comes from the fact that they have proportionately more mitochondria than you do — and even the smaller set of mitochondria that you do have does not function as well.
Many of you, my readers, are high achievers both in business leadership and in personal fitness training. In this article, I have focused on the physical health aspects of the Sprint 8 Cardio Protocol as outlined in Phil Campbell’s book of the same name. In a future article, I plan to focus on the career impact of high intensity training.
Don’t do this without talking to your doctor first. Also, don’t jump into the entire grueling program all at once. Campbell has trained many elite athletes and found that almost none of them, no matter how fit they thought they were before, were able to complete the total workout the first time around. You probably can’t, and even if you can, don’t try. Campbell’s book outlines ways to ease into it.
I sat down across a Skype line with Campbell recently and we spoke at length about his new book, Sprint 8 Cardio Protocol, about what he has learned, and about what he is still learning. You can listen to the interview here and read a partial transcript below. Both have been edited for clarity.
Jerry Bowyer: Your book mentions the hormonal response quite alot. Is that kind of the secret sauce to going with a Sprint 8 cardio protocol — by the way, that’s the title of the book: “Sprint 8 Cardio Protocol” — that you go beyond just exercising; you push your body to the point where it just doesn’t just do your normal recovery, but it changes the hormonal balances in some way to get you to a place where you couldn’t have gotten otherwise?
Phil Campbell: That point is exactly what we try to do with Sprint 8. If I thought Sprint 9 was better, I’d switch to it. If I thought 7 was better I would switch to it. But I feel like 8 is the exact right number for everybody I’ve seen in all ages to shoot for. And it’s really predicated not by “Body by Phil” or body by anybody else. It’s really trying to look at the body, to the new research, and say what is the body telling us about how we should exercise.
Let’s not take this celebrity or that celebrity or this philosophy. Let’s look at what the real research is saying to us. And it’s really screaming at us today: if you exercise like this I release this wonderful hormone, growth hormone, the same substance that determines how tall we grow. And once we’ve reached our full height, some researchers argue that it should be called your fitness hormone, and exercise should be targeted at how growth hormone is related to it, rather than how many calories you burn. Basically you’re stepping out of a calorie-count world with this, and you’re stepping into a steroid growth hormone enhancing world, except you’re doing it naturally.
But the key is what is the research saying to us. And clearly it’s saying when you do this, you at least replicate what the benefits are of growth hormone. And the two hospital-based studies that we conducted a couple of years ago ‑‑ what we thought we would see is this is what you get from growth hormone injections, a 14.4 percent drop in body fat, put on eight percent lean muscle mass, and thicken skin about 7.1 percent so if fills in the wrinkles, it makes everybody look a lot younger.
And we looked at cholesterol, we looked at growth hormone, we looked at body fat. And actually in two hospital-based studies, what we thought we would see is about a fourteen or fifteen percent drop in body fat. In the first day it came back twenty-seven percent, and I was really shocked that it would be that much more without dieting. We didn’t track people down — they were hospital volunteers, nurses, and that sort of thing — we didn’t track them down and watch what they ate, but we told everybody, for this study live your life exactly the way you’re doing it right now, but let this be the only variable. Don’t change anything except this: Add Sprint 8 three days a week for eight weeks, starting with two reps, slowly building up to eight. And the average loss of the first thirty was twenty-seven percent. We did another study; it came back with twenty-seven percent. And I see that over and over again. And that’s for people that want to lose more than ten pounds.
Bowyer: Over what time period? Twenty-seven percent loss in body fat over what time period?
Campbell: In eight weeks without changing your diet. Now, I’m not saying don’t change your diet for health reasons, because most people need to cut back on all portions anyway.
But when you make Sprint 8 the only variable, we would anticipate that somebody who needs to lose more than ten pounds, that they would drop approximately twenty-seven percent in eight weeks without changing your diet.
Bowyer: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the other things you measured. So you put people on this program and you did blood tests. And what did you test? I think you mentioned cholesterol, human growth hormone. Anything else?
Campbell: We looked at cholesterol; we had significant drops there. I mean almost near unbelievable drops. And definitely body fat. We had a DEXA scan there which uses an X-ray, so we actually did the impedance method. And we validated that with a DEXA scan. So it was a very analytical study all the way through with physicians on the committee.
We also compared it with taking statin drugs, because it’s estimated that one male out of four is taking statin drugs. We’re seeing new research today that shows that that could be very negative. And obviously, it’s a great drug for those who have a huge genetic problem that can’t get it under control, but there’s some side effects to it as well.
Bowyer: Yeah, muscle breakdown.
Campbell: There may be some other negatives that we’re seeing as well. But we compare it with statin drugs. And when it comes to improving the bad cholesterol, Sprint 8 is pretty close to the statin drugs. Actually the good cholesterol, the HDL ‑‑
Bowyer: Goes up.
Campbell: ‑‑ the statin drugs were a little bit more effective than Sprint 8, which surprised me. I really thought it would be the other way.
But what was really surprising and what’s very, very positive about it is triglycerides, because there’s a big debate today if you’re reading about HDLs, LDLs, but everybody agrees pretty much that triglycerides, the amount of circulating fat in your blood, is causing the problem, or one of the main roles of the problem.
And so in that respect, Sprint 8 is actually more effective than the two leading stat drugs, two leading selling stat drugs at the time the study was done.
And I’ve had numerous people come off of statins that would tell me, yeah, I used to take statin. My joints hurt. I had no idea how much my joints really hurt until I came off of statin drugs. And my doctor told me I don’t need them anymore. I’ve had numerous diabetics come in and say my doctor told me I’m not a diabetic anymore. And so we see that constantly.
So it’s a great tool to use. I mean, you also are to watch what you eat as well, but it’s a great tool to do things, to totally reverse the health that’s headed maybe in the wrong direction. But even for people that are fit ‑‑ we see people that are very fit, that don’t really ‑‑ weight loss is not their main goal — they typically drop thirteen percent body fat; they put on two pounds of muscle at eight weeks without changing their diets.
Bowyer: All right. So what I’m hearing is that in the hospital-based studies you did, the Sprint 8 protocol decreased LDL about as much as a statin a little bit less than statins, but it decreased triglycerides more.
Campbell: Yep, it was more effective in reducing triglycerides.
Bowyer: And Sprint 8 also increased HDL, what’s called the good cholesterol, but not quite as much as a statin. Do I have that right?
So from what I’m reading, the latest research is that if you’re looking at one key number; it used to be HDL to total cholesterol ratio. Now the one I’m seeing more focus on is HDL to triglycerides ratio. You lower your triglycerides a lot, you raise your HDL a lot, and you’re shifting that ratio away from the risk category towards the low risk category by doing this exercise, with or without statins.
Originally published on Forbes.