EP 99 PETE MCCALL
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As we get older, our cells age right along with us, and that appears to be what creates most of the changes we experience.
Scientists have not been able to identify one specific mechanism that causes aging-related muscle loss.
However, the evidence appears to suggest that a reduction in the efficiency of how mitochondria in muscle cells function, a decrease in the number of satellite cells used to repair damaged tissues, and an accumulation of free radicals all play a role.
Exercise can help control the primary aging process, but to have the greatest effects, exercise programs must alternate between periods of high, low, and moderate intensity to challenge the physiological systems to function at a high level while allowing the proper time for rest so the tissues have a chance to recover, repair, and become more efficient.
I’m excited about today’s new podcast with Pete McCall. He’s the author of Ageless Intensity: High Intensity Workouts to Slow the Aging Process.
You’re going to love this conversation with Pete, because he provides straight-forward, science-backed information, and useful tools to control aging and keep you feeling young.
In this episode, you’ll discover…
⭐️ Busting the myth that with age, exercise should only be at a very low intensity.
⭐️ How explosive movements elicit different responses in your body, and support successful aging
⭐️ Benefits of HIIT training that go way beyond increased fat burn
⭐️ How chronic cardio could be aging you faster
⭐️ Finding the sweet spots for balancing kinder, gentler aerobic base-building with harder, faster bouts of intensity.
⭐️ The science behind how exercise can change the body’s response to the aging process
⭐️ Techniques to remain active, stay in shape, and enjoy your favorite activities for the rest of your life
FOLLOW ALONG WITH THE TRANSCRIPT
[0:00] Kathy Smith: Hi, I’m Kathy Smith, and welcome to On Health: The Art of Living, where I bring you the latest research and information on how to live a healthier, more vibrant, more passion-driven life.
Okay. We’re in the third decade of the 21st century. So, if you’re currently in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or beyond, then you’ve been a part of the modern fitness industry. So, congratulations to all of those who have been exercising most of your adult life.
Now, you’re in the first generation of active adults who have had access to gyms and exercises, and videos throughout your entire lifespan. Remember the original intent of exercise? You remember, it was to sculpt these attractive bodies and get lean, well-defined muscles. But now, scientists have had the opportunity to study how exercise affects the aging process.
What we’re learning is that exercise – especially high-intensity exercise – just may be the key to aging awesomely.
Today’s guest, Pete McCall, is author of Ageless Intensity: High-Intensity Workouts to Slow the Aging Process. Not stop, but to slow down the aging process. The book includes four aspects of fitness that will help turn back the clock. As Pete highlights in his book, focusing on exercise intensity may be the key to reducing the biological effects of time.
So, I’m excited about this conversation. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. Pete is amazing. He always provides straightforward, science-backed information. More importantly, he gives you the useful tools and tactics that you need to control aging and keep you feeling young for a long, long time.
So, Pete, welcome to the show.
[1:53] Pete McCall: Well, thank you, Kathy. That’s a very kind and generous introduction. It’s an honor to be here and to be talking about such an important topic.
Kathy Smith: I know. I mean, it’s great. It is interesting. The intensity aspect of it – so, we all know, I mean, it’s a given. Anybody that’s listened to my podcast, it’s a given exercise is powerful. Yet, one of the things that I… One of the over-arching topics or takeaways from your book is that a lot of times we think of exercise, and we think of it as losing weight, you know, muscle mass. But there are so many other aspects of exercise that help us manage the aging process. That’s what I think your book has done such a good job of doing – of listing all of those. I mean, we’re going to get into it in the show, but it’s the mitochondria, it’s the alertness, it’s what happens really on the cellular level.
But back up for a second, before we go and get more granular. Tell me, why did you decide to write this book?
[2:59] Pete McCall: Well, and I love that because, honestly, I turned 50 this year. So, I know that 50 is not quite as “old” as “old” used to be.
Kathy Smith: You’re a baby!
Pete McCall: I know, right! I mean, I’m still… 50 is still… That’s funny that we think of 50 as being young, but what I realized a number of years ago, Kathy, is number one, I grew up BMX. Right? I’m a GenXer. I grew up. I’m right in the median. GenX goes from about 1964 to 1979, and I was born in 1972. So, I’m right in the median of GenX. That means I grew up mountain biking. I grew up BMX riding, now I mountain bike. I grew up skateboarding. I didn’t snowboard, but I ski. When I was a teenager is when the snowboards were first created.
The point is, those of us that grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we were active because we enjoyed it. Now that we’ve gotten older, we can still maintain our favorite activities.
After college, I got involved in club rugby. Club rugby is a huge sport here in the United States. What I found, when I was 22 years old, Kathy – what blew me away – is I was 22 years old, I was (as you can imagine) probably very full of myself. A lot of ego going on, a 22-year-old guy showing up to play club rugby thinking being a football player I knew what I was doing. But what I saw… I played with men in their late-30s and 40s. So, I was 22 years old, and I was playing with men over the age of 35 and 40 who were extremely fit, and still playing competitive rugby for the love of the sport.
That blew me away. At 22, I was like, I thought 40 was old. That was when I was in my early 20s, I thought 40 was old. I was blown away by the fact that here were these “old guys” running around and tackling guys my age or competing against guys my age. That coincided as I started my fitness career, I was starting to spinning classes (indoor cycling classes). This is the late ‘90s. So, we didn’t have smartphones, we didn’t have apps, we didn’t have any of that. I don’t know if you remember this, Kathy, but in the late ‘90s, I would walk around the room as we were getting set up for class, and I would ask people their age and their resting heart rate if they knew it. I would do the [unknown 5:10] formula to kind of calculate where their heart rate should be for class. I would have people in their late 40s and 50s out giving their estimated heart rate based on that science, and they would look at me and go, “I feel like I’m barely working if I’m 150 beats a minute. I feel like I’m barely working.”
So, combining those two things together, seeing my friends – guys I was playing with 20 years older than me – still be in amazing shape. Then, seeing people in the gym who the textbook didn’t quite line up to what their fitness level was. This was 20-something years ago in the ‘90s. It occurred to me that what we know about aging might not be the same because exercise can have a significant impact on that.
As you mentioned in the open, I mean, you’re in the first generation of people who have had access to health clubs for their entire lifespan, and that has changed! I mean, when you look around… I’m in southern California, you’re in Utah, and you can look at people between our ages – in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond – and they’re still out there doing all the things they love.
So, I wrote the book because I wanted to give people the recipe and the guideline for how to use exercise, not to go back in time. I love being my age; I love being 50. But I still want to be able to do all of the things I love doing when I’m 51, 52, 62, 64, way beyond. So, that’s why I wrote the book because I wanted to kind of collect what we know now about exercise and aging and try to write a guideline for how we might be able to slow down aging or slow down the effects of aging. We can’t slow down aging, but we can slow down the effects of aging through exercise.
[6:45] Kathy Smith: Okay, well, let’s dive in, then. Let’s talk one of my favorite subjects, which is strength training. There’s a lot of sometimes confusion about what to do, what not to do. But just to go through some of the facts. This is something I got out of the Harvard newsletter – it’s also in your book, and also, I’ve written about it in my books. But I think it’s important to point out that it’s around the age of 35 that we start to lose muscle mass at a rate of 1-2% per year. For a typical 60-year-old, it can accelerate to 3%. But honestly, what that means is that you can actually be losing this muscle mass – and then the term sarcopenia comes with it. If you’re not exercising, that will happen.
What I’ve found fascinating in your book is that even if you are exercising… Like, you talked about, you know, these big bodybuilders who are exercising. Even if you are exercising, you will lose some muscle mass. It’ll just be less. But let us talk about this thing of how do we slow down losing muscle mass. I mean, I’m kind of stating the obvious, but why is it important to maintain muscle mass?
[8:05] Pete McCall: Well, that’s a great question because… Look, we’ve had this image of strength training for bodybuilding for years. If you want to compete on a stage, if you want to work on your aesthetics, strength training is probably the most effective way to do that. When we come to health and wellness, we generally don’t think of strength training and providing those important benefits.
But here’s the thing that’s so important, Kathy. We have a couple of different muscle fiber types – and I know you know this. We have type one and type two muscle fibers.
So, when we look at type one muscle fibers, if we’re doing lower intensity exercise – if we’re walking, if we’re doing yoga, if we’re doing just being active every day – we’re using primarily the type one muscle fibers, which use aerobic. Meaning, they use oxygen with fat to create energy for the muscles.
What we’re doing right now – the conversation right now that we’re having – our muscles are primarily metabolizing free fatty acids with oxygen to provide this energy. Now, if you and I start doing… If I said, “Come on, Kathy, let’s go! Let’s do some jumping jacks, let’s do some push-ups, let’s do some squats,” our muscles need energy quicker. So, the type two muscle fibers are going to start using carbohydrates – stored carbohydrates – for energy.
So, when we need energy quick – like we’re strength training, we’re doing high-intensity exercise – our muscle cells need to provide energy immediately. So, they do that anaerobically (without oxygen). That’s where we get carbohydrate metabolism.
Now, that’s one of the reasons why lean muscle mass is so important as we age. It sustains carbohydrate metabolism. Carbohydrates are metabolized in the liver and in type 2 muscle cells, where carbohydrates are converted from glucose (carbs, sugar) into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP (which is the energy for contractions).
So, by maintaining muscle mass as we age, we are helping our body be more efficient at metabolizing carbohydrates, which can help delay. But that can really be of huge impact for onset diabetes. A number of people deal with onset diabetes who are active. They’re walking, they’re active every day, but if they’re not engaging the type two fibers, if you’re not stressing the body, you’re not going to get the strained response. That’s one of the things that we need to accept and recognize about the body: it responds to stress. That’s what we do. When we exercise, we’re imposing stress on the body. The response is it becomes more efficient, it works more efficiently, and it becomes stronger. I mean, that’s a win-win whether you’re 50, 30, or 70. That’s a win for anybody of any age.
[10:36] Kathy Smith: So, the key there is intensity. I want to point out before we go too far in this conversation that you do have another book. What’s your first book called? It lays the basics for how to exercise. Because where we’re going today is about intense exercise. What’s the other book called?
Pete McCall: Yeah, the other one, I mean, come on. I’m good at this. I’ve been doing this for a while. The other book is Smarter Workouts.
Kathy Smith: Smarter Workouts. Okay, Smarter Workouts, yeah.
Pete McCall: I may have it right here.
Kathy Smith: Hold it up!
Smarter Workouts is a really good starting place. We’re talking about, you know, high-intensity today. So, if you have not exercised at all or you’ve been on the couch, you haven’t been doing anything, then you want to maybe pick up Pete’s first book Smarter Workouts, and then gradually work into higher-intensity workouts.
But now, let’s assume that you are. You’ve been walking, you’ve been active, you’ve been part of my Fit Over 40 or my Reshape group or whatever, and you’re doing things. You’re showing up every day doing something.
What we’re going to talk about today is no matter what age you are, this idea of how do we kick it up a notch and get more out of all of our workouts? Our cardio and our strength training workouts?
But let’s get back to strength training. We talked about muscle mass, and then we talked about being able to, you know, process your carbohydrates and glucose metabolism. But in your book, there are probably… I don’t know how long the benefits of strength training – high-intensity strength training… Just give me your top three, pass the ones we just talked about.
[12:19] Pete McCall: I love that, thank you. Well, top one…
First of all, before I go into this, I want to let your listeners and viewers know that one of the reasons…
My background is, I’ve been educating personal trainers for about 20 years. This spring – spring of 2022 – will mark the 20th anniversary that I’ve been teaching workshops for personal trainers. So, that’s kind of what my background is. My background is educating other fitness professionals.
So, what I decided to do with my books was to bring that information straight to the public because people that are interested in exercise should learn how to do this appropriately. That’s really what we’re seeing. When we look at exercise, all it does is allow our body to be more efficient at doing what it’s designed to do.
So, when we look at high-intensity exercise, I know that name is scary, but here’s the thing: we don’t need to do a lot of it. What we’re finding, and what the research is showing, and what I’ve talked about with experts on my podcast is that we only need a little bit of high intensity to have the impact or to have the benefits that we’re looking for. Those benefits include – my favorite benefits, Kathy, are, number one, hormone profiles. You already talked a little bit about that, but men over the age of 35, our testosterone production goes way down. But the research shows that strength training throughout the ages helps maintain testosterone because testosterone is produced to help repair and grow new muscle fibers. So, when we do strength training, we’re basically elevating our testosterone levels.
Now, for women, this is…
[13:50] Kathy Smith: I want to stop you for a second. Did you say men over the age of 35 or did you say men and women over the age of 35?
Pete McCall: Well, men over the age of 35 will experience a reduction in testosterone if they’re not strength training.
I mean, women over the age of 40-45 go through perimenopause and menopause, and that’ll change estrogen levels. That’ll change, I mean… I don’t want to try to explain what menopause is. I can understand it from a textbook; I have no practical experience. So, I just understand that women go through it and it can change them in different ways. But that’s one of the things that exercise both men and women to do: control hormone profiles in their body.
Like, for women, Kathy – for women of any age over the age of 35-40 – who do strength training, they’re going to produce more growth hormone.
Kathy Smith: Growth hormone. Yeah, that’s brilliant.
Pete McCall: Growth hormone really helps the skin look younger, and it helps metabolize fat. So, and look at it. One of the biggest things, if I want a “anti-aging treatment,” I might fly to Boca Raton. I might come down here to La Jolla, California, and I might go to an anti-aging clinic where they’re going to give me growth hormone injections. Right? We don’t need that. If you do two or three high-intensity workouts a week – two or three a week – your body should be producing enough growth hormone to get some important benefits.
Now, the final benefits. We have testosterone, we have growth hormone. The final benefit, Kathy, that I think a lot of people don’t fully recognize and appreciate is the cognitive benefit. Strength training enhances brain power. There’s something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). I’m sure you’ve probably discussed it on your show quite a bit. But the same high-intensity exercise that elevates growth hormone has been shown to elevate levels of BDNF. That’s a protein that helps grow new brain cells. So, if you’re doing high-intensity exercise, you’re burning calories, you’re building muscle cells, and according to the science you’re stimulating production of new proteins to grow cells in the brain.
What the research has shown pretty consistently is that high-intensity exercise is more effective at BDNF production than moderate or low-intensity exercise.
So, again, that’s where we need to look at. The whole point it – let me define “intensity” really quick. If we’re using a scale of one to 10, right now you and I, Kathy, if we’re both standing – and we’re both standing right now, which I love. I’m going to call that out. You and I are having this conversation while standing. But we’re both standing right now, so we’re probably about a one and a half, maybe two out of 10 – with 10 being the highest intensity.
If we went for a walk, a walk might be four or five. You probably walk at a faster pace than I do. So, if I’m trying to keep up with you, I might be at a five, you might be at a four. If our heart rate starts getting up and we start getting slightly out of breath, we might be at a six.
Now, if we lose the ability to talk, there’s something called the “talk test,” which is 100% valid. If we lose the ability to talk, what’s happened is our intensity – exercise intensity – has gone up to the point of where our muscles need energy quicker, so we start metabolizing carbohydrate. When we metabolize carbohydrate for fuel, we expire, we breathe out more carbon dioxide. So, as we start moving to high-intensity exercise, we need oxygen quicker, we need CO2 out quicker, and so we lose the ability to talk.
So, any high-intensity exercise would be exercise where you cannot say complete sentences or you can only speak in one or two words. Because you’re working so hard, it’s very difficult for you to actually take the time to breathe.
Now, if you’re having a conversation – if you and I are walking and we’re having a conversation – we’re working aerobically (meaning we’re burning more fat for fuel). But if you and I are jogging or going for a run or you’re challenging me to do kettlebell swings and keep up with you, now we’re working much harder, and it’s going to take a lot more oxygen for me to keep up with you and get a lot more CO2 out while I’m exercising.
So, I just want to define high-intensity exercise as being any exercise that gets you out of breath and leaves you gasping for air. Low-to-moderate-intensity exercise would be any exercise where you can still maintain a conversation or be able to speak in complete sentences.
So, that, really – it’s important to define that because it’s really what we’re seeing. It’s that high-intensity exercise. Again, it only needs to be two or three times a week. It’s that high-intensity exercise that can really have significant impacts on our health for the aging process.
[18:16] Kathy Smith: I love how you validated the talk test because it is so powerful and it’s so simple. You don’t have to have a watch or a monitor or whatever. Just, using that simple principle. I love it.
Sometimes, I’ll be out with somebody, and we’ll be going for a hike or something, and it starts to get intense. My trick is – unless they trick me – is ask them a question. “So, how did you get started in the fitness business?” as you’re trying to walk up the hill or something if you want to slow somebody down. So, that’s my inside trick if I’m treading with somebody who’s a little bit better than I am. I slow them down by asking them a question. Just don’t use it in reverse.
One thing I was going to say is you talk about high intensity. How much, though? You say three days a week, not too much. But let’s talk. Let’s go to strength training first. How long would it take you to get a high-intensity workout in? Could you do it in 15 minutes? 30? What is an average workout – high-intensity, strength training workout – look like for you?
[19:24] Pete McCall: I love that question because it could be variable, right? We know that in the last couple of years… Hey, look. The last couple of years have been extremely challenging on a number of different fronts. However, I think the one great thing that has come out of out of that is a lot of us who weren’t already comfortable exercising at home have learned how to adapt. Now, we know how to exercise at home more comfortably. Right? So, we might go to the gym two or three days a week, we might exercise from home two or three days a week. So, I just wanted to acknowledge that because it doesn’t matter where you are, you can still get a great high-intensity workout.
The other thing I want to qualify here – I want to make it perfectly clear – for my own fitness level – for my own physique, my fitness level – I don’t personally care about being extremely defined. I don’t personally care. This sounds counter-intuitive coming from somebody who’s had a 20-something year fitness industry career, but I’m really not that concerned about six-pack abs. I’m not that concerned about definition because muscles don’t know what they look like in the mirror. The only thing that knows what we look like in the mirror is here between the ears. If you have the confidence that your muscles can do what you want them to do, if you have the confidence that you can hiking or go skiing or surfing or whatever you want to do when you want to do it, who really cares what the extrinsic appearance looks like? That’s my point of view. That’s the point of view of where I approach fitness. I don’t really care as much about the packaging as I do about what the product, what the inside, can do.
Now, I say that. So, my workouts – what I do for my workouts – are between about 15 and 45 minutes. Because what we know is once you get over 40 or 45 minutes of high-intensity exercise, the body runs out of blood glucose. Blood glucose is what keeps the muscles functioning, and it produces ATP. So, after about 40-45 minutes, something happens where we run out of glucose, and the body will start using protein and amino acids for fuel. Cortisol is a hormone that will be released. If your body needs energy, your cortisol will go after amino acids.
I say this because if anybody has ever smelled their shirt and they go, “Why do I smell like ammonia?” or if you leave your shirt in your bag, and you leave it for a day or two, and you go to throw it in the wash, and it smells like ammonia, that’s in an indication that you’re burning amino acid for fuel. Because nitrogen is a component of both amino acid and ammonia.
So, any time you get that ammonia smell, that means you’re going too intense for too long, or you need some type of carbohydrate supplement for your training session, so you can metabolize carbohydrate for fuel and not protein.
Now, that said, I look at, like, a total-body workout. I don’t have time. I do strength training two maybe three times a week. I don’t have time to split up and do legs on one day and biceps on another and traps on… No. We don’t need to do that. You’re not competing for a stage. Total body workout, one or two moves for the lower body: some type of squat, some type of hinge, some type of lunge or single-leg movement, some type of heavy push. I normally do push-ups. I’m jacked up. My shoulders are jacked from rugby. I’m not a high school football player; I don’t need to bench press a couple of hundred pounds. My ego doesn’t need it. I do push-ups or tier-X push-ups. Boom, done. Rows or pull-ups. I do some type of medicine ball rotational work, and that’s it. To go high-intense, I go heavier and take shorter rest periods. But the workout program is basically the same. It’s a hinge, it’s a single-leg action, it’s a push, it’s the pull, it’s some type of dynamic rotational movement, and it’s trying to do it at a higher intensity with minimal rest periods. I lay it out in the book. That’s the recipe I lay out in the book. I provide workouts for barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and even a couple of recovery workouts using body weight with the TRX. That way, there’s a full… I schedule everything out for a year so you kind of understand how to ebb and flow, and sometimes you want to be more intense, and other times you want to take it a little bit easier on your body.
[23:18] Kathy Smith: I love it. Let’s back up for a second because you said a lot. I wanted to just comment on a few different things. I thought it was beautiful the way you described why you work out, and I’m in that exact same place. Which is nice muscles, the nice body is sort of the added bonus. But the fun part with high-intensity training is that you develop the strength, the confidence to go out and do all of these wonderful things that keep you feeling young, keep you out, participating in life, being with your grandkids, with your kids, being with your loved ones, and just doing things and being with your friends. That’s the way that I approach my fitness, also.
The other thing is, my strength training sessions are very compact also. They’re 20-30 minutes. I do want to point out for our listeners – since they’re mainly going to be women, even though Pete described a lot of moves… It might sound like a very masculine – although I don’t like to put these in categories because there are ways that we train the same way. But it might sound masculine to certain people.
It’s the exact same way that I train, with some variations. I do like to split my upper body and lower body up during the course of the week. But I honestly can go in, and if I’m doing an upper body workout, in 15 minutes I can get a high-intensity upper body workout that works my bis [sic], tris [sic], shoulders, lats [sic], and core. It is pretty remarkable because it also lights up my brain when I do high-intensity workouts. They’re short; they’re 15-20 minutes. Then, you’re not depleting – you’re not depleting yourself. You’re actually just building up, tapping into your reserves – your carbohydrates that Pete mentioned that are stored in your muscles, in your liver. But you’re not depleting yourself. So, when you leave, you feel alert, you feel sharp, and you feel strong.
So, I wanted to just bridge that gap between the approach that we have to work out. You can use these principles and use them in different ways. I personally like to do a few more high-intensity workouts throughout the course of the week. I do four: two upper and two lower, but they’re 15 to 20 minutes.
So, on that note, master, do I have your seal of approval on that?
[25:55] Pete McCall: No, but that’s the thing! The thing is, number one, Kathy, you know what you’re doing and you’re thoughtful about it. Right? You know what you’re doing, and so you’re being smart. You’re right. 15 to 25 minutes, if we do it right, that’s all we need. That really is. You’re putting a stimulus on the muscles, you’re putting a little stress on the muscles. I really think… If you ask me my opinion, I would recommend that it’s better to do workouts a little bit shorter than workouts that are a little bit longer. Right? Then it feels like you get more done throughout the day. Because there’s nothing that feels… I don’t know. As much as I love going to the gym, sometimes I feel like if I’m at the gym for more than an hour – if I’m at the gym an hour and a half – that’s just not an efficient use of time. I’m doing something there where I’m not getting the best bang for the buck.
So, if we think about just trying to be efficient between 30 and 50, maybe 60 minutes, including a warm-up and cool-down, that’s all we really need to be able to use exercise. Again, this is the function to manage the aging process.
Now, obviously, if you want different results, you’re going to have to train differently. But when you look at how we use exercise to manage aging, 15 to 30-minute workouts, the way you described splitting upper and lower bodies, you’re doing that four times a week – that’s perfect because you’re not overusing the same muscles too many times.
The other thing is – look, high-intensity exercise is beneficial, but the opposite is recovery. Because exercise causes stress, and it’s adapting to that stress that really changes the body. So, recovery is key. I do talk about recovery a little bit in the book, and why we should be looking at giving ourselves at least one day off per week.
[27:35] Kathy Smith: Yeah, I know. Before we jumped on, I mentioned to Pete that I wanted to delve into the subject of recovery.
Where is the sweet spot with all of this high-intensity? So, I’m kind of… Because you brought it up about the recovery, I want to bounce back before I let you go, and talk a little bit about the aerobic component. We talked strength. I’d like to just touch on aerobic.
Since you dove into the recovery, mobility, balance… This other pillar that you talk about in your book that I think so many people ignore, which is when are you doing your foam roller? When are you doing your stretching, your full-body mobility exercises? Because that is one of the… I mean, you talk about it in your book, but it’s the thing for myself. If I don’t do that – I almost have to double up on that now, where I am doing my, you know, stretches, my posterior chain, opening up my chest. But that’s an everyday occurrence. I do it, once again, throughout the day.
So, I can be taking a desk like this. I’ll be standing, but then I can go back and just go into a… People that are listening can’t hear this, but, you know, you just tip your hips back, stretch your hamstrings, stretch a glut muscle. That, throughout the day, is the other thing that keeps me feeling, you know, vibrant and young.
So, let’s talk a little bit about the recovery and mobility.
[29:12] Pete McCall: Well, that really is… I mean, look, as we get older…
Look, I don’t need to go any further than Mr. Tom Brady. Right? Whether or not you’re a fan of Tom Brady, whether or not you like football – American football…
Kathy Smith: I love Tom Brady!
Pete McCall: What’s that?
Kathy Smith: The Zen master! I love him for everything, but he is such a Zen master. I know where you’re going with Tom, and I use him as an example all the time. But go ahead, sorry to interrupt.
Pete McCall: But when you look at that… I mean, he… This is mind-blowing.
The fact that somebody that age is playing in the NFL blows my mind. Now, Mike Fabling was one of my favorite teammates. I’m going to give Mike a shoutout because Mike was still playing competitive, high-level elite rugby at 43, 44 years old. So, I’ve seen it done before. Now, Mike was a Kiwi – he was a New Zealander – so his recovery was a couple of pints of beer after a rugby match. But Mike still played elite rugby until his late-40s.
But what Tom does – and this is important for everybody because we can look to Tom for what he does. But he focuses on nutrition – fuels the body. He puts good, high-octane, clean nutrition in his body. He focuses on sleep. Right? Those two things – proper nutrition and sleep – are essential to recovery because they support the immune system. That’s what’s so critical as we age, Kathy.
As we age, if we don’t strengthen the body, it just falls apart. It’s like leaving a car in the backyard. It just rusts and falls apart. But if you have a beautiful old ’62 Corvette that you change the oil, you change the tires, you maintain it, that ’62 Corvette is still running like a dream. But if you leave it in the backyard, it will fall apart. Your body does the same thing.
So, when you look at recovery, recovery is the maintenance we need to do on our body. That means my favorite workouts, Kathy, are “recovery workouts” where all I’m doing is bodyweight mobility exercises. I mean that. I mean, as much as I love swinging a kettlebell or lifting a barbell – love that stuff – but, in all honesty, it’s the recovery. It’s working on hip mobility. It’s working on thoracic mobility. If we don’t move it, we lose it. I mean, and that’s so critical.
I look back at my younger self. When I’ve coached high school rugby, and I worked with younger kids or high school athletes, the one recommendation… They went, “Coach, what should I do? How should I get stronger?” It’s like, “Look, don’t worry about that. Start doing yoga. Start doing yoga. Learn how to move your body. Learn how to control your body because there’s no sense in getting strong if you can’t control and move your body through multiple planes of motion.” That’s what recovery workouts allow us to do. Recovery workouts just mean you might do a really hard workout, you might get out of breath, you might sweat a lot on a Monday. Tuesday, you might be a little sore and a little bit out of it. Don’t take the day off. A recovery workout could be a long walk. You’re getting the circulation going; you’re getting rid of metabolic byproduct. Because that fatigue – that soreness that we feel in our muscle cells – is basically… I call it leaves in the gutter. It’s stuff like lactate. It’s inorganic phosphates. It’s myoglobin. It’s creatin kenosis. All of these things, these are byproducts of anaerobic metabolism. If they get stuck in the muscle cells, that’s what creates muscle soreness the next day.
So, being able to go for a walk or do some low-intensity exercise helps remove those metabolize and those byproducts, and get new oxygen, and new nutrients, into the tissue so you feel better. That is the key. I mean it. That’s what Tom Brady does. He’ll do a hard workout, but then he wears compression pants, he sleeps at night. I’m 100% serious about this. He sleeps in infrared sheets that allow his body to store energy slightly differently. The research on infrared – whether it’s infrared sauna or the infrared spectrum – is pretty interesting on how it supports cellular health and cellular kind of regeneration (autophagy), where you get ready of old cells and you build new cells. That really is one of the biggest benefits about a recovery workout. You’re doing lower-intensity exercise, which is basically focused on cell regeneration. You’re trying to get rid of the cellular waste that was created the day before from high-intensity exercise. You’re trying to remove that, and you’re trying to cycle in new oxygen and new nutrients into the tissue.
So, that’s why I say two or three high-intensity workouts a week – or your schedule, four, is perfect because you’re alternating muscle parts or body parts. But, that way, if you do high-intensity one day, low-to-moderate intensity the next day (like a long walk or a yoga class or a good swim), then high-intensity again, you’re getting a good cycle of hard one day, relatively easy the next day. Then, take one day a week off where you just relatively relax and maybe catch up on some chores around the house. You’ve got three good days of hard exercise, three good days of exercise that will keep you moving, and then one day of just letting your body just “ahh” and enjoy it all. That’s when you go out and do the stuff you really like doing.
[34:06] Kathy Smith: Having fun! The fun factor.
Yes, everything you’ve mentioned – including autophagy, we’ve talked about on the show. I think it’s important to point out that the mitochondria – which is the powerhouses of the cell. They’re involved with this process of cellular… Taking away damaged cells, etcetera. One of the things that this type of exercise does is exercise helps maintain high-functioning mitochondria. Just to make sure that I stated that correctly, is that correct or not?
[34:48] Pete McCall: Kathy, that really is. I mean, you nailed it because the mitochondria biogenesis, when you look at aging, one of the things that, really, they’re looking at aging – and what accelerates aging – is cellular death. We lose telomeres, which is part of the cell structure, and we lose mitochondria. I mean, high and low-intensity exercise both generate new mitochondria, but that’s really where alternating this is so, so important.
It starts at the cells. If we can help improve our cellular health, and we can do that with nutrition, with exercise, with sleep, with hydration. If we can improve our cellular health, we’re building a new body literally from the cells up. That’s something called mechanotransduction. Mechanotransduction is one of those long words, and it sounds like a mouthful. If you want to sound smart, you can drop it in a conversation. But what mechanotransduction really is, it means… Mechanical force creates cellular change.
So, what I mean by that is if I’m using force – if I’m contracting my muscle, if I’m generating force here in the chest muscle – the response is going to be these cells are going to have to produce new satellite cells to repair the damaged muscle tissue. That’s what mechanotransduction means. Mechanotransduction means your body is taking the force. It’s going to create new satellite cells. Those satellite cells are going to become new myofibrils or become part of the fascial matrix. That’s going to make the tissue stronger.
So, exercise, really, as we age… One of the reasons why you look so great, Kathy – why people look so great, people who exercise throughout the aging process look so wonderful – is because they’re constantly reproducing and regenerating new cells in their body. If you exercise for no other reason… Don’t worry about calories. Don’t worry about what you look like. Think about, “I’m producing new cells.” Every day you go out and you exercise, you’re generating and building new cells in your body. That’s one of the things that really allows us to maintain just our energy and our appearance.
[36:43] Kathy Smith: Love new cells. We all want new cells, that’s for sure!
Okay. I know we’re going. I need to let you go here, but I have just one or two more questions. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think we have to delve too much into the cardiorespiratory because it’s really the same principle. I mean, we talked about anaerobic, we talked about strength training. Cardiorespiratory or aerobic exercise – aerobic and anaerobic for cardiorespiratory. But the idea is – and my audience has heard this over and over again – is that get out. Instead of doing long, slow all the time, get some HIIT training in.
Would you like to just elaborate on that a bit?
[37:32] Pete McCall: Yes. The one thing I want to mention about HIIT, Kathy – and I know you’re a big proponent of HIIT. From what I’ve seen with some of the programs, you understand how to apply it appropriately. High-Intensity Interval Training was designed to work with athletes.
Say you’re running. You’re preparing for a 10,000-meter run. You’re preparing for a 10k race. You don’t need to run 10k, 10 kilometers, every day. Instead, what exercise scientists realized a number of years ago: say you run 10 100-meter sprints. That’s only 1,000 meters. But even though you’re training for a 10,000-meter race, if you run those 10 100-meter sprints faster and harder than you do at your normal race pace, you’re going to develop a different adaptation.
So, that’s a little convoluted way to say that high-intensity interval training has been around for almost a century now. It goes back to the early 1920s or the 1910s. So, it’s a relatively old concept that was kind of reintroduced about 15 years ago. True high-intensity interval training – true HIIT – is only, like, four to eight minutes. You only need to do four to eight minutes of it.
There was a great study released about three or four years ago that compared three different groups of people. You had one group of people doing a 30-minute treadmill run three times a week. So, treadmill group A did 90 minutes of running a week. Treadmill group B did three four-minute Tabata workouts a week. So, treadmill group B did a total of 12 minutes of running a week. So, you have treadmill group A: 90 minutes a week. Treadmill group B: 12 minutes a week. Then, you had group C which did a bodyweight workout: jumping jacks, burpees, a couple of other exercises. They did that three times a week – that was a four-minute Tabata. So, groups B and C only did 12 minutes of exercise a week. Group A did 90 minutes a week.
Over the course of 16 weeks, groups B and C – the four-minute Tabata work groups, the groups that only did 12 minutes a week – got better results. They burned more calories, they lost more weight, and they had better aerobic conditioning over the course of 16 weeks.
There’s been a couple of other studies out there like that, and I reference that study in my book specifically. There have been a couple of other studies out there like that that demonstrate with HIIT, it’s the intensity. Meaning, if you go hard. If you do 30 seconds on – meaning as hard as you can for 30 seconds – and then you take 30 seconds easy, if you do that for five or six minutes in a row, according to the research, that’s all you really need. You don’t need to do it for 20 or 30 minutes in a row. You don’t need to do five Tabatas. If you do one Tabata where you’re out of breath in that four minutes… The Tabata cycle is 20 seconds as hard as you can, 10 seconds of [breathing heavy]. Repeat that eight times in four minutes, and that’s a Tabata.
So, really, what we’ve seen with HIIT – what the research shows over and over again – is that it’s a little bit of HIIT with the highest intensity possible is all we need. So, I mean that. So, five to eight minutes of HIIT. You can do a strength-training workout, your upper-body strength workout. You can hop on a rowing machine, do your four-minute Tabata – boom. You can be in and out of the gym in less than 30 minutes. Which I think is a great way to use it, and there are so many benefits of it.
What goes wrong – where it gets off the rails – is people hear “HIIT” and they think, “Oh, there are benefits,” so they do HIIT with every workout. But HIIT is so much stress on the body that your muscles need at least 24 to 48 hours to recover. So, if you do HIIT on Monday, you probably shouldn’t do it again until about a Wednesday. Unless, maybe you do a lower-body hit on Monday, and then on Tuesday maybe you do an upper-body heavy rope or boxing HIIT workout, so you’re using different muscles. If you’re alternating muscles and movement patterns, you can do it almost every day, but you only need to do a little bit of it. Because too much of it will definitely thrash your system and definitely get you into overtraining, and we want to avoid that.
[41:16] Kathy Smith: Which, we want to talk about.
Pete McCall: A little bit of HIIT good, a lot not necessary.
Kathy Smith: Yeah, I want to get into the downside of high-intensity training and the inflammation it causes, plus the recovery that’s necessary. You know, how you can… Did you say “trash” or “thrash?” Whatever word you used.
[41:38] Pete McCall: But here’s the thing. Inflammation – that’s a great callout because high-intensity exercise creates acute (short-term) inflammation in the body. Because when you look at it, when you’re stressing your muscle cells like that, you’re damaging the muscle cells. Right? You’re damaging the muscle fibers. The response to that is if you’re ever a little swollen, a little sore immediately after exercise, you’re looking a little bit of red, a little puffiness, what’s happening is your immune system is kicking in. It’s sending macrophages and neutrophils there to clean up the metabolic byproduct.
So, if you work at a really high intensity, what you’re doing is carbohydrate metabolism/glycogen metabolism will produce high-regen ions and produce lactate and produce inorganic phosphates. The macrophages and the neutrophils go in there and clean all that up. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to wait at least 24 hours before another high-intensity workout for the same muscles or the same body part. It’s because your immune system is working to repair the body. That acute inflammation is good. That acute inflammation, according to the research, should go away within 24 to 48 hours.
However, if people are doing HIIT every day of the week and not giving their body any rest, that acute inflammation becomes chronic inflammation.
Now, we’re going to talk about other issues. Now we want to talk about autoimmune issues. Now we’re going to talk about where women – younger women – can lose their period if they do too much high-intensity exercise without the recovery. It can really trash or thrash the immune system and the endocrine system if you put too much stress on the body.
So, that’s really where the acute inflammation is good because it’s an indication that your muscles are being repaired – and that’s what we want. That’s why it’s so important to stack a high-intensity exercise, a high-intensity day followed by a lower-intensity day. That lower-intensity day, your muscle cells are taking in new glycogen, new carbohydrate. You’re generating new tissue, you’re generating new cells, and your immune system is doing its job of cleaning up all the product – waste product. So, that way, two days later, you do a hard workout on Monday, easy workout on Tuesday. Wednesday, you’re ready to rock and roll and fire on all cylinders again. You just have to give your body time to work and function and do what it’s able to do.
[43:46] Kathy Smith: Well, Pete, I love your book. I love everything that we’ve talked about today. I will make sure… We’re going to promote it again in just a second here, but we’re also going to have it in the liner notes where you can get it, etcetera.
But the one thing in my closing, I would like to point out to everybody listening, that our discussion today – and Pete mentioned this – has to do with the aging process. How do we age awesomely, which is a term he uses – and I love that term. But, so, there are certain things like we talked about HIIT training, and we talked about certain of these modalities. If you’re going to go out and you want to run a 10k, or you want to run a marathon, or you’re training for your scuba diving certification, or you’re cross-country skiing – getting in shape for cross-country skiing. All of these different goals that you have require slightly different protocols. So, just bear that in mind as we’re talking about high-intensity training.
But it is mind blowing. I will tell you that it really changed… I mean, I’ve been fortunate in that I love working out, and I love experimenting with new things, and I love working with trainers, and I love this process. But if you can get in just a little bit… You don’t even have to start even the three days a week. Honestly, we talk about it. We do it, again, in Reshape and Fit Over 40. Those days where you’re going out for your HIIT training, go a little harder in the push section. When you’re doing your weight training, pick up a slightly heavier weight and a few less repetitions. Just experiment. Start experimenting with that and take it slowly. This isn’t something that has to happen overnight. Build it up because as you go over a course of a month, two months, six months a year, you come out kind of a changed person. As we learned today, you are changed on a cellular level.
But, anyway, any parting thoughts, Pete?
[45:55] Pete McCall: No. The thing is, and we’ve got to look at this as a long game, right? I mean, this is…
Right now, in the United States, the average lifespan is somewhere between 76 and 78 years old. You have writers out there. You have David Sinclair out of Harvard. You have a couple of other researchers and writers out there who are looking at the human genome and ways that we can manipulate it.
The two ways that they are looking at how we extend the lifespan are through exercise and through caloric restriction. Their hypothesis – and this blows me away because this is a huge rethinking of the human lifespan. Their hypothesis is that we should be able to live to about 140 or 150 years, which blows me away.
My goal is – and I’ll share this with everybody. My goal is when I’m in my 70s… I have never run track before. I have never been a sprinter. I mean, I sprinted for rugby and I do try to sprint a couple of times a month to try to stay in shape for it, but my goal, Kathy – the reason why I’m staying in shape – is when I turn 70 (which is in 20 years), I’m going to start doing senior Olympics. I plan on starting entering the sprints in senior Olympics. I’ve never been fast, but I’ve got 20 years of training to be able to do that. I mean that 100%, that that’s my goal as I get older. I want to find new activities. I want to be able to get out there and enjoy life. I want to be able to use my body the way it was designed, and we can do that through exercise. Because I enjoy this topic, because I love it, that’s why I wrote the book. I wanted to share the information with everybody else who loves exercise and wants to know, “How can I use exercise to allow me to get the most out of life?” That’s really my goal is to help you and help your listeners to understand how can I use exercise to allow me what I want to do in life? Because it can. It can allow you to do anything you want to do. You just have to know how to apply it properly.
[47:37] Kathy Smith: That is so funny. I love the story about the masters.
My friend, we think alike. So, I will recommend that you go and check those times because I’m thinking, “I want to join these masters races!” I went, and I think because you mentioned… I’m in the age group of the women who have been training and competing for the last… Since Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon in 1972 or 1973. So, that is that 50-year thing. You have some studs running right now! I’m looking at those times and going, “Wait a second.” I go, “800-meter. Okay, maybe the 400. Maybe the mile.” I’m looking at the times, and I figure, “I think I could fit in right around…”
The funny thing is, the times are really high in the 70s until about late-70s, then there’s a big dip in the time. Which is what I find interesting. And in the 80s.
So, anyway, we’ll have to talk about that later.
[48:41] Pete McCall: That’s what I’m training for! I’m going to peak at 78 years old. My athletic career is going to peak at 78, Kathy. That’s 28 years away, but, hey, you know what? I’ve got to have something to shoot for, and I figure why not that. You know what I mean?
If I make it, great. If I don’t, you know what? I’m glad I at least have it as a goal.
[48:58] Kathy Smith: No, I’ll be with you. I’ll be cheering for you! By that time, I’ll be 98, and I’ll be your cheerleader on the sidelines. “Come on, Pete!”
But here’s the last thing.
Pete McCall: Kathy, you’ll be out there running! I’ll be pacing – I’ll have to be keeping up with you! Cheerleader. Don’t “cheerleader” nonsense. You’ll be out there running!
Kathy Smith: No, I know, but it is quite a thrill to think… Oh, this idea of about 140 years, though. I’ve heard that. I’ve heard Sinclair. I’ve heard all of that stuff. My only thing is start saving now because you’re going to need a bank account. I mean, this whole idea… I might as well go, “Oh, man! That could be a little scary prospect.”
But, anyway, I’ve got to let you go. We’ve got to wrap up. It’s always a pleasure. Big kiss to you.
Pete McCall: Thank you.
Kathy Smith: We’ll talk soon!
Pete McCall: We’ll talk soon. Thank you so much! To all of your listeners, thank you. It’s an honor to spend some time with you. I appreciate it. Thank you.
[49:48] Kathy Smith: It was such a pleasure having Pete on the show.
Now, to wrap it up, here’s what he says in his book about ageless intensity. Here’s a quote: “As we get older, our cells age right along with the rest of us. That appears to be what creates most of the changes that we experience with aging. Scientists have not been able to identify one specific mechanism that causes aging-related muscle loss. However, the evidence appears to suggest that a reduction in the efficiency of how the mitochondria and our muscle cells function. A decrease in the number of satellite cells used to repair the damaged tissues, and an accumulation of free radicals all play a role. So, exercise can really help control the primary aging process. But, to get the greatest effects, exercise programs must alternate between periods of high-intensity training, low-intensity training, and recovery to challenge our physiological systems to function at a high level while allowing proper time for rest so the tissues have a chance to recover and repair and become more efficient.”
So, I love the fact – another thing about Pete – that he dedicated his book to his daughters. Here’s what he said. He said, “This book is dedicated to the loves of my life: Parker and Ryan, my daughters. They inspire me to be active every single day so that we can spend longer time together. We can be together for many, many years to come.”
So, we all have this desire to live long, healthy lives. I know my desire, also, is to be active so I can be with my loved ones, so I can be with my kids, and my grandkids. That’s one of the reasons why I love staying active.
You can find Pete’s book Ageless Intensity as well as his other books and his certification programs on his website: petemccallfitness.com. Check out his podcast. It’s called All About Fitness. You’ll even see and hear me in episode number 31.
Okay. I want to give a shoutout to all of the folks listening who are members of the Reshape program. If you don’t know about Reshape, Reshape is an all-in-one app that was developed with you in mind. It has daily workouts, daily meal plans, daily inspiration, and it has it all in one single app.
Now, Reshape will take you on a journey to a better, fitter, more healthy you. So, check it out! As a reminder, you get daily videos and audios. You get daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes – both plant-based and regular proteins. You get daily meditations to get refreshed and to sleep better than ever before. Who wants better sleep? I do!
So, one of the things that you can do is go to reshape.com. I’m sorry, go to kathysmith.com/reshape, and you’ll see all of the information.
Also, a quick reminder to those people who are listening to the podcast. You can listen to them while you’re walking. I call it “walk and talk.” You walk, I talk. You walk, I talk. You get to burn calories while listening to something new – and share it with your friends. It’s a real fun way to have discussions about health and fitness. There are over 100 episodes. So, if you want to go back in the files, you can find all kinds of interesting topics like how to strengthen your microbiome – which is arguably the center of the human health. You can check out Dr. Will Bulsiewicz’s episode, which is number 96, where he talks about a step-by-step approach to better gut health.
You can also check out all kinds of different podcasts. I love Dr. Felice Gersh’s on menopause (that’s number 95). Or you might want to learn how to become more metabolically flexible, and you can check out Mark Sisson’s podcast. Mark Sisson is a friend of mine. I’ve had him on the show a couple of times now, but number 94 is all about metabolic flexibility.
While you’re there, don’t forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts.
Now, for those of us who create shows, it’s our life blood and the way I can stay connected with you guys. I love each of you individually. I love to hear what you’re thinking. So, thank all of you have left a review already. I read them. I take them to heart. Leave your recommendations for what you want to hear.
But until then – until our next episode – bye-bye. It’s great to see you all. Here’s to your health.