Negative is Normal

By: Kristen Soinski

One thing I wish I could tell everyone is that it’s okay to feel negative emotions. In the past, I used to find myself pushing my struggles to the side because I felt I needed to be positive all of the time. We get so caught up in staying positive, just brushing things off, and thinking that we need to be happy all of the time. How many times has someone told you during a hard time, “Just stay positive”? 

Contrary to popular belief, that isn’t always the best approach and can lead us to running our tires in the mud. 

The term “toxic positivity” is something I hadn’t become aware of until a few years ago. According to Psychology Today, “toxic positivity refers to the concept that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the only right way to live your life. It means only focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions” (Lukin K., 2019)

Now, I am not saying we should constantly be thinking and feeling negatively. However, it is crucial for our health to acknowledge all the things we feel: good and bad. When we avoid our more “unpleasant” emotions, we only make them bigger. Think of avoiding your feelings like avoiding an important deadline. The more we wait, the more we procrastinate, the more we avoid the more overwhelming and unbearable it becomes. Research shows that toxic positivity oversimplifies the human brain and how we process our feelings and emotions, and it harmful to our mental health. When we experience negative emotions, we can use it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, our needs, and build resiliency. 

Here are my tips to get through the more challenging times and move forward in a positive direction:

1. Talk it out. If you have someone who you trust, talk to them! When we talk about our emotions out loud, not only does it give us a chance to reflect, but it may also help gain outside perspective on the current struggle you’re facing. 

2. Embrace how awesome it is to be human. We, as humans, feel a large variety of emotions! If we didn’t feel, life would be a lot more bland. Acknowledge that you may be feeling down at the moment, but it isn’t always that way.

3. Validate others’ emotions. If someone comes to you to talk about a struggle, let them know what they are feeling is normal and totally okay.

4. Journal! When I am trying to process emotions, I like to journal and then reflect on what I wrote a day or two later. This helps me see what I felt in the moment, what I am feeling once I let the feelings marinate, and what I need to do to move forward. 

5. Like always, allow yourself some grace. Don’t be too hard on yourself and avoid comparing to others’ struggles. We often times only see the highlight reel of those around us, and just remind yourself that everyone has bad days sometimes. 

6. Lastly, seek help if you need it. There are many great mental health resources, such as therapy or apps, that can help you through difficult times!


What are your favorite ways to move forward in times of challenge? What are some ways you can improve your approach to reflecting on emotions?

Lukin, K. (2019, August 01). Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from

Thoughts Become Things

By: Kristen Soinski

How often have you reflected on the thoughts you have about yourself and your life? How much of the thoughts you have per day are positive? How often are they negative?

When we take the time to check in on our thoughts, often times we may be surprised. 

If you find that you have plenty of negative self-talk and thoughts, know that you are not alone. We live in a world where comparison is beyond inevitable, and we become our own worst critics. But, we are in control of our lives, thoughts, and actions.

We all have had moments where we may tell ourselves that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not fit enough. The list goes on. Once we begin this habit of negative self-talk, it becomes easier to continue that behavior because it becomes instinct and routine during times of hardship or challenge.  

Lucky for us, it is never too late to shift our self-talk to a positive outlook on ourselves! Positive self-talk can be as simple as reminding yourself, “I am enough”. Research shows that positive self-talk and affirmations boost our self-efficacy and esteem, and help improve quality of life. Research also shows that positive self-talk and daily affirmations lead to a decrease in stress, increase self-awareness, decrease irrational defensive reactions, increased performance at school and work, and overall improve quality of life. We become more resilient when we speak kindly to ourselves. Not only can positive self-talk improve our lives, but research also suggests that it can cause you to have a better outlook on the world around us and life in general!

So if we know that there are so many benefits to thinking positively, why is it so common to have negative thoughts? Well, as I mentioned earlier, our thoughts become habits. If you do something for a long time, it becomes routine and second-nature. Just like fitness, we have to train ourselves to shift our thoughts. 

We challenge you today to start shifting your mindset from “I am not good enough” to “I am and always will be enough. I am doing my best in this moment”. Start small, by combatting one negative thought with a positive thought. As it becomes easier, tackle more thoughts. 

Another favorite activity of mine is the Developing A Self-Compassion Mantra worksheet, which is attached here. This mantra can be said daily, or as often as needed throughout the day, to develop positive self talk and forgiveness. 

Remember, thoughts become things. What we think becomes reality in our lives.

Don’t break the chain

By: Adam Reeder

When it comes to creating a lifestyle change, consistency is everything. The internet is full of “10 day detox” diets and “21 days to abs” style workout routines. The fundamental flaw in this line of thinking is that once that predetermined time frame is over, the individual is left up to their own devices which ultimately leads them to fall back into whatever pattern prompted their Google search in the first place. The reason for this is that they have not created a habit. They’re simply trying something for a period of time.

Let’s take nutrition as an example. We hear things like “I’m going to try going vegetarian for a while,” much more often than we hear phrases like “I eat vegetables with every meal.” Almost without fail, the person who is trying to completely overhaul their nutrition overnight will stumble and end up back in the same spot a week, a month, or 6 months later. The person who eats vegetables with every meal is creating a small change that they are able to do every single day.

The very act of completing a new task every day is important to your belief system. By “not breaking the chain,” you are proving to yourself that you are capable of change, and over time those daily practices turn into unconscious habits that you no longer need to stress or even think about. You (theoretically) brush your teeth every single morning. It’s something that you just unconsciously do as part of your morning routine, and if you forget to do it you feel gross.

Any habit which you do on a consistent basis can turn into an unconscious act if you do it often enough, long enough. I recommend using a habit tracker to get this process starter. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear recommends first making a list of the things you do every day and separate them into categories: good habits, bad habits, and neutral habits. Brushing one’s teeth? Good habit. Scrolling through Facebook while laying in bed trying to sleep? Bad habit. Make the list as exhaustive as possible, and then add any good habits that you’re trying to integrate into your life into the “good” list.

The next step is to list your habits into a daily, weekly or monthly calendar and check them off as you achieve them each day. This process of checking off your good habits on a daily basis is extremely rewarding, and promotes further adherence to the habit.

Tally up the number of check marks for each habit at the end of each week and keep yourself accountable to increasing the score of your good habits and decreasing the score of your bad habits next week. As simple as this process sounds, it can be extremely powerful to elicit long term behavior change!

Habits: Small Parts, Big Changes

On a daily basis, a large number of our clients at Paragon ask questions about weight loss, strength, conditioning, stress relief, diet, and countless other topics. Throughout all of these questions, there is one central subject that tends to be overlooked: habits and their effect on our lives.

Think about it. When you go into the grocery store, are you completely in control of what you purchase, or are you swayed by a particularly enticing quart of ice cream? When deciding on how to spend your spare time, are you reading to better yourself or mindlessly scrolling through various social media?

We are presented with seemingly thousands of decisions to make every day. With immediate satisfaction looming around every corner, long-term achievement is some far-away entity that can be brushed off with ease.

In James Clear’s famed title, Atomic Habits (AH), habits are dissected into how they form, how they affect our lives, and how we can take control of them. It is my personal belief that life is a series of choices that we are entirely in control of. Your daily tasks, responsibilities, and rewards are all within your control. 

In Atomic Habits, there are various factors that influence how we create our daily world. A few of these factors, and how to use them effectively, are listed below:

Environment – one particularly potent point in the book is how individuals with more self-control don’t have any more self-control than those who consider themselves less in-control of their lives… They simply keep themselves out of environments that allow for poor decisions. Next time you make a decision you consider unhealthy, think about the environment you’ve put yourself in, and reflect on how you can improve your future decisions. It is much easier to make better, healthier decisions when your surroundings set you up for those decisions to be preferable.

Satisfaction – in order to maintain a habit, it must be satisfying. This is a staple of your daily choices. Rarely would you tolerate sustaining actions that you consider an uphill battle. Make things satisfying through tracking, or making the long-term results obvious.

Positive or Negative – this may be pretty clear, but I found it worth mentioning. In some steps of establishing or eradicating habits, you must consider how they impact your daily life. Do your current habits set you up for greatness, or are they causing you detrimental stresses?

Identity – habits are greatly tied-in to how you perceive yourself. This can present its own challenges when deciding to start a new habit. You may not consider yourself a soccer player if you only kick a ball around a few times. On the other side, your smoking habit may cause you to label yourself a smoker, which can cause quitting to be more difficult. Your identity becomes tied-in with your choices over time, which can either have positive or negative implication. 

Habit Stacking – It is much easier to start new habits when they are associated with other, more automatic habits. This can be as simple as placing running shoes next to your bed so you take a morning run. Better yet, you could place your yoga mat in space that you have to walk through in the morning – this will allow you to do your daily CARs. 😉

Two Minute Rule – initiating habits may make you feel like you’re standing at the bottom of a massive mountain. If starting a new habit, start performing it for only two minutes per day. Remain consistent with it, and it will start to associate with your identity, causing you to further explore that habit.

Habits are something you can analyze and consistently better yourself with.

Personally, I’ve taken a large step in my habits to make writing a part of my daily and weekly routine. There’s much to be said about the implications of creating new habits, with our ability to do so completely within our control.

Have any questions about habits, or how to establish better daily choices? Ask your trainer or email me at!

I wish you all the best in your choices.

Coach Brad

What is NEAT and why does it matter?

If you’re trying to lose weight, or have been on a weight loss plan in the past, you’ve likely been introduced to the idea of energy balance. At the simplest level, when we consume more energy than we expend, we gain weight. When we expend more energy than we consume, we lose weight. When the two are in balance, we maintain our body weight. This is an incredibly simplified view of a complex process, but it is important to know the two sides of the energy balance equation: calories in vs. calories out. If I want to lose weight, I must make a consistent change to at least one side of this equation.

People often have the misunderstanding that the only way to increase caloric expenditure is by exercising like a maniac- high intensity workout sessions day in and day out. The problem with this line of thinking is that the energy you expend during a workout session makes up a very small percentage of your total energy expenditure. Let’s quickly examine the various components of the “Calories Out” side of the equation:

Important Terms

  • Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE):  net amount of energy utilized to maintain core physiological functions. TDEE is comprised of Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), Exercise-Related Thermogenesis (EAT) and Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
  • BMR is the number of calories the body burns at rest. This number accounts for around 60%-70% of total calories expended per day. This number is dependent on several factors which are outside of our control, however we do know that increasing lean body mass increases BMR. This means that when we challenge our muscular system via strength training, the benefits of each training session extend well beyond the calories burned during the session.
  • TEF amounts to the number of calories the body expends digesting food. This number makes up approximately 8-15% of total energy expenditure.
  • EAT, the amount of calories expended during exercise appears to only account for approximately 1-2% of total energy expenditure in most individuals.
  • NEAT, on the other hand, appears to be the component which is most under our control when it comes to increasing our daily calorie expenditure, as it can account for over 20% of daily expenditure in people who are physically active. NEAT refers to the calories that are expended due to our daily activities outside of the gym.

One reason your coach has probably asked you about how many steps you’re getting in a typical day is that this can give us a proxy of your NEAT score. While step counts are certainly not perfect, they do give us an approximation of how physically active we are overall.

How many steps do I need?

The 10,000 steps per day rule of thumb is the most commonly known threshold for improving overall health, however it is important to note that increasing your NEAT doesn’t need to be an all or nothing scenario.

If you’re consistently averaging 4,000 steps per day, getting to 10,000 may seem impossible and you may feel discouraged before you even get started. Instead, focus on adding 500-1000 steps to your day above your normal baseline. Research has shown that getting 6,000 steps per day improves lower body pain and function while reducing risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who only walked 4,000 steps per day. Taking 8,000 steps per day has shown a 51% reduction in mortality risk when compared to taking 4,000 steps per day. If you’re already hitting 10,000 steps, upping it to 12,000 steps per day has demonstrated a 65% lower risk when compared to 4,000 steps. Bottom line: Get an idea of what your baseline is today, and add 500-1000 steps as your goal for the next week. If you’ve accomplished this feat, bump it up another 500-1000.

One more parting tip in regards to step counts: Most watches and pedometers have the ability to set alarms which alert you when you’ve been sedentary for a long period of time. My favorite feature of these alarms is the ability to set it for a certain number of steps each hour. This takes your goal step count for the day and breaks it up into very manageable goals each hour. For example, let’s say you’ve been getting 4,000 steps per day and your goal for the next week is to up that to 5,000.

This 1,000 step jump can sound intimidating, but when we break it down into an hourly rate, it’s very feasible. Walking 4,000 steps over an average day amounts to around 333 steps per hour. Hitting your goal of 5,000 steps requires about 417 steps per hour. This minuscule difference could easily come in the form of walking a lap around your house, or walking up and down a few flights of stairs.

Remember, all of the great effort we put into our weekly exercise routine is only as good as what we follow it up with outside of the gym!

Thank you for reading, and please reach out to your coach for more tips on increasing your NEAT this week!

Quick Tips for Navigating Nutrition

Nutrition is a crucial part of our wellbeing. When we think about nutrition, our minds usually go straight to “dieting”. However, our goal with nutrition should always be to nourish our bodies with fuel rather than punish our bodies by eating very little. Finding balance in our diets can be tricky, because it is easy to get caught up in  weight loss and dieting. We want you to shift your mindset by asking yourself before each meal “Why am I choosing these foods and what benefits do they bring to my body?”. By asking ourselves this, it takes the focus away from just calories. Our food is more than just calories. If you focus on calories alone, you may not be getting adequate nutrients into your day.

Nutrition should be fun and make us feel our best selves. Here are some tips and tricks that help us make healthy food choices!

  1. Plan ahead! I cannot stress this one enough. Plan your meals and food ahead of time, so you aren’t caught last minute trying to figure out what to eat. At the start of each week, I like to cook a batch of protein (chicken, ground turkey/beef, etc), carbs (potatoes, rice, etc), and roast veggies in bulk. This helps me stay on track because I can just grab whatever I need out of the fridge in the moment!
  2. Eat foods you enjoy, and try out recipe alternatives! Here are a few of my favorite recipes and recipe sites:
  3. Allow yourself some grace. Your diet doesn’t have to be 100% healthy 365 days of the year. When we put extreme restrictions/pressure on ourselves and view foods as “off limit”, we are more likely to fall off track. Practice the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the time you focus on whole, nutrient dense foods and 20% of the time you enjoy treats!
  4. Hydrate and dominate!! Did you know water is an essential nutrient? Drinking water is a very important part of your day, so drink up.
  5. Be sure you are eating enough throughout the day. If you find yourself snacking between meals or getting hungry at night, reflect on what your “meals” look like, because you may need to bulk them up a bit!
  6. Understand that all bodies are different. Never compare your diet and nutrition to anyone else, because we all have unique needs.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up. If you found yourself slipping off track, take a deep breath. It is never too late to start over or start again. Beating yourself up will only run your tires in the mud.

A guide to aerobic training for fitness and sport

A fair warning:  This is a lengthy post.  We dive deep into some nerdy topics related to the aerobic system, macronutrients, and optimal training.  Of course, I highly recommend that you read the entire post, but if you’re here for some quick tips on improving your aerobic fitness, you can skip to section 3 on testing and training.


Part 1: The Fitness Industry Has Failed You

Part 2: Cardiovascular Physiology

Part 3: Aerobic testing & training: Best Practices

Part 4: HIIT misses and wrap up

Part 1: The Fitness Industry Has Failed You

Hero worship.  I’m sure this concept rears its’ ugly head in every industry, but given that I’m a health & fitness nerd, I can say with certainty that we see this phenomenon all the time: young or under-informed, enthusiastic trainers and coaches blindly following the advice of their favorite hero.  It starts out innocently enough.  Young trainer Billy wants to further his education, so he seeks out a well-publicized conference or seminar and listens to one of the “gurus” speak.  He hangs on Mr. Guru’s every word.  Mr. Guru has trained 80 bazillion athletes in his career, has a bunch of DVD sets (available today for only $59.99!) and has a massive social media following.

Guruism Pitfall #1: We stifle skepticism and rational thinking, and instead take the viewpoint of one person or one group of people and accept it as truth.

Everything the guru says must be true and there are no exceptions.  I have nothing against Billy trying to further his education and truth be told I have nothing against Mr. Guru making good money by speaking and selling his shit.  After all, he’s on stage because he does have a boatload of experience.  Where things go wrong, however, is when learning turns into blind acceptance.  When Billy takes Mr. Guru at his word and accepts Guru’s approach as the end all be all.  Billy doesn’t have decades of experience to draw from, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to just listen to what Mr. Guru says and apply that to every client he trains than it is to do your own investigating.  We’re all busy!

If you’re a trainer who’s worth anything, you care about what you’re delivering to your clients.  You care if people are getting better, you care if what you’re telling them is accurate and helpful. And if you care- at some point you must start questioning.  You need to question everything you do, everything you’ve learned because our past experiences and our education guide every decision we make.

Pitfall of Guruism #2: The guru himself is never wrong, and therefore we’re never wrong if we heed their advice. 

Strength coach Eric Cressey made a great point when evaluating his own programming.  To paraphrase:  If you look back at your programming from 1 year ago, 3 years ago, 5 years ago and you’re still doing the same shit- you suck.  As trainers, we’ve all fallen into the trap where we blindly follow a guru or two.  We’re still good people.  What matters is that we realize that we’ve bought into the person who’s selling the goods, rather than the goods themselves.  So, it’s important that we look past who the Guru is, how many people like their Instagram videos, and how many books they’ve sold—and identify if the goods they’re selling are backed up with science and evidence.

Being wrong is okay.  I love being wrong.  In fact, if you’ve read articles I’ve written in the past, or perhaps if you’ve trained with me years ago, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “why is this asshole writing an article about aerobic fitness?  Didn’t he tell me steady state cardio was a waste of time, that sprinting is the only way to burn fat, that if I trained slow, I’d get slow, etc.?”  Yep, I’ve uttered various of these phrases hundreds of times in my career.  I was wrong, and in this article, I’m going to set some things straight.  I don’t think the advice that I share with you in this article is 100% of the “the truth,” because quite frankly there are so many things we just don’t fully understand yet when it comes to human biology, but I do think I am a lot more “right” now than I was 2 years ago or 5 years ago.

That was a long-winded way to introduce a Guru that I’ve been guilty of following in the past, particularly when it comes to performance training: Mike Boyle.  Boyle is a renowned strength coach in the Boston area who’s highly accomplished, owns two private training facilities, has worked with high level athletes across several sports, and regularly speaks for companies such as Perform Better.  Boyle was one of the first people to introduce me to the topic of energy system develop (more on that later) and his methods of aerobic conditioning shaped the way I programmed (and trained myself) for several years of my career.

Let’s first back up and understand that the pendulum of cardiovascular training has swung from one extreme to another and back as it relates to health and fitness.  In the late 60’s Dr. Kenneth Cooper brought the concept of aerobic training to the forefront.  A former surgeon in the U.S. Navy and Air Force, Dr. Cooper coined the term Aerobics and wrote two best sellers on the topic: Aerobics (1968) and the Aerobics Way (1977).  Cooper set many of the standards that exist today within several school systems and branches of the United States armed forces.  His books and lectures inspired a relative craze of jogging in the United States, as people learned of the numerous health benefits associated with improving cardiovascular fitness.

In the 1980’s, Gin Miller and others popularized step aerobics, and this started the High Intensity Interval Training trend for the general fitness population.  These aerobics classes, which also consisted of dancing, cycling, and boxing, brought to light the ability to get a good cardiovascular workout in a fun group atmosphere.  High Intensity Interval Training has certainly existed prior to the 1980’s, of course, we just didn’t always use that name.  Sprint training has been utilized in athletics since the 1930’s and 1940’s and is still heavily utilized today.

And then, one fateful day in 1996, the study that changed it all was published: Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Primary researcher: Dr. Izumi Tabata.

*The next section is a deep dive into physiology. If that’s not your thing, you can skip to testing and training.

Part 2: Cardiovascular Physiology

We’ll get back to Dr. Tabata in a minute but first let’s take a deep dive into the science behind cardiovascular fitness. 

We’re all familiar with these terms, but if we get past the goofy outfits and stupid trainers yelling “no pain no gain!” and we get all the way down to the cellular level- what’s really going on when we exercise?

The most basic molecule we need to understand is called Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP.  ATP is what gives us life.  It is an energy storage molecule that powers every cell in the human body.  When ATP is broken down, energy releases and stuff happens.  Stuff like a heart beat.  Stuff like muscular contraction.  Important stuff.  When we utilize an ATP molecule, it gets resynthesized and recycled for future use, in large part due to what we feed our body.  Think of your energy as a big pool full of ATP molecules.  The fuller your pool is, the more energy sources at your disposal, the more work you can do.  As you drain those energy sources, you fatigue, and need to replenish.  Therefore, the quicker you can refill that pool, the more work you’ll be able to do at a given time.

How do we replenish our available pool of ATP?  Ready to get real nerdy?

Humans have three possible strategies to put ATP back together once it has been used:

1) The Creatine-Phosphate pathway
2) The Glycolytic pathway
3) The Oxidative pathway

There are several long equations involved with the specific molecules of each of these processes, but for our purposes the important pieces to understand are that ATP gets broken down (a process known as hydrolysis) and free energy is released.  This free energy is utilized by whatever tissue we’re referring to, in order to do whatever work for which that tissue is responsible.  For example, a muscle cell uses ATP to create muscular contraction, nerve cells found in the brain utilizes ATP to send signals to the rest of the body to perform vital functions, etc.

Also released at the time of ATP hydrolysis is a hydrogen ion, and heat.  Heat plus that little hydrogen ion are hugely important here.  Heat and hydrogen represent two significant threats within the human body. Your body is constantly striving to keep your body temperature and hydrogen load (the amount of free hydrogen ions floating around at any given time) in check.  Put simply, if heat or hydrogen load gets far too high or far too low for too long—we die.  The three energy management strategies named above are responsible for not only putting ATP back together again, but they also must account for the heat and hydrogen they produce.

1) Creatine-Phosphate pathway- does not COST any ATP but does not help with reduction of hydrogen or heat.

2) Glycolytic pathway- This system creates 4 ATP molecules at a time, but your body uses 2 ATP molecules to power the glycolytic process itself.  This system also removes two hydrogen ions out of circulation.  So for every “turn” of the glycolytic system, we have a net gain of 2 ATP and a net loss of 2 hydrogen ions.

3) Oxidative pathway- Unlike the two processes above, the oxidative process occurs within the mitochondria of our cells.  You might remember from biology class that the mitochondria is known as the power house of the cell.  This is because the oxidative process is by far the most robust mechanism we have both in terms of energy production and threat (heat and hyrdrogen) reduction.  When a cell goes through one cycle of oxidative respiration, it produces up to 30 ATP molecules, 6 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 6 molecules of water (H20).  Notice that these two byproducts, CO2 and H2O have something in common: O.  Oxygen is necessary for this process to function.  When there’s enough oxygen in the cell, hydrogen and oxygen bond to form water, and water is easily synthesized.  This process is not costly from an energy standpoint and is the least threatening/most productive scenario possible for energy production.   As we exercise, our body goes through this system over and over and over in all of our working muscles.  As exercise intensity and duration increase, the rate of hydrogen ion production begins to exceed the amount of oxygen available within the mitochondria needed to produce water.  As this occurs, the body is forced to deal with this excess hydrogen load in a quicker, though less efficient manner: it creates lactate.  Two hydrogen ions can be removed from the system (reducing system threat) by binding to a molecule called pyruvate, forming a molecule called lactate.  Pyruvate is a product of glycolysis (see #2) and is only utilized when our exertion levels have reached a point where the amount of oxygen available cannot keep up with the rate of hydrogen production within the cell.  The human body craves efficiency, and so it will prioritize the oxidative process for as long as possible before moving to the less efficient pathways mentioned above. As we’ll see later in this article, blood lactate levels are a popular mechanism to measure exercise intensity, and they tell us which of the above energy systems are being most utilized during a given training session.

The fact that doing mechanical work produces these threatening byproducts of heat and hydrogen tells us an important fact: Stress has a cost.  Any time we place the body under more stress than it’s used to, the body is forced to adapt to this new stress and the cost associated with this stress, all the way down to the cellular level, is increased production of heat and hydrogen.  When we’re smart about our training stimulus, the body handles this stress almost instantly by increasing our oxidative capacity and heat and hydrogen are dissipated with no ill effect.  When stress levels exceed our current oxidative abilities, and we become overly reliant on anaerobic metabolism, we become worse and worse at mitigating these internal stressors.  Excessive levels of hydrogen and heat in the body lead to hormonal changes, central nervous system fatigue, and other negative adaptions.  When these negative adaptations occur in the body over the course of weeks, months, and years, we see progress stagnate, stress levels increase, and recovery between sessions suffer.

Energy systems and substrate utilization

In the above sections, we can roughly put the first two systems (Creatine-Phosphate and Glycolytic) of energy production into an “anaerobic” bucket, while the third (oxidative) system fits into an “aerobic” bucket.  This distinction helps us qualify our exercise efforts, but it is important to know that almost every effort we make starts out being aerobic in nature, and only starts to become anaerobic when the intensity and/or duration of effort requires this shift.

With a basic understanding of the cellular mechanics at play, we now must consider what drives these systems to function, and this question begins with fuel source.  The body has two primary fuel sources: Fatty acids (fat) and glucose.  This point is hugely important:

The exercise intensity level determines the speed with which your muscles require ATP replacement.  The speed required determines which fuel source your body will prioritize.  If we scroll back up to the previous section comparing glycolysis to oxidative metabolism, we learned that an oxidative process would occur within the mitochondria until the speed of hydrogen production exceeds your body’s ability to pair it up with oxygen to form water.  When the intensity level is low enough, mitochondrial oxidation can fuel ATP production using fat as the primary fuel source.  Fat is like diesel fuel for your car: it’s efficient and gives your body significant miles per gallon.  The draw back to utilizing fat for fuel is that it’s slow to break down compared to glucose.  As exercise goes from low to high intensity, and the need to replenish ATP accelerates, the body has no choice but to prioritize the quicker, albeit less economical fuel source: glucose.  This when the glycolytic system mentioned above begins to be the overwhelming driver of metabolism.  Glucose becomes the primary fuel source and fat stops being utilized.

Energy systems and motor unit recruitment

So how do we as humans determine which energy system we’re using, and which substrate we’re prioritizing as fuel?  Reading the previous paragraph, it’s certainly reasonable to come to the conclusion that spending more time in the “fat burning” aerobic zone could be advantageous from a performance standpoint, and also from a body composition standpoint when compared to the anaerobic/glycolytic zone.  So, does one accomplish this?  While we can make an impact on fuel prioritization through nutrition and strength training, the biggest determining factor appears to be exercise intensity, or more specifically- muscle fiber recruitment. Human skeletal muscle has several different types of muscle fibers.  There are some fancy names for each type, but for sake of simplicity let’s separate muscle fiber types into three main categories:  Slow twitch, fast twitch, and intermediate.

1) Slow twitch muscle fibers are comparatively low motor unit recruitment, meaning they are not capable of producing tons of force, but they are built for endurance.  They are VERY slow to fatigue.  Remember the part of the cell we talked about earlier, the mitochondria?  These slow twitch fibers have tons of them.  Because of the sheer volume of mitochondria found in our slow twitch fibers, these fibers are oxidative in nature.  Fat can only metabolized in the mitochondria.  Therefore, when we are using our slow twitch fibers, we are prioritizing fat as our fuel source.  To utilize these fibers, we have to adhere to their characteristics: low force production, long duration.

2) Fast twitch muscle fibers exist on the other end of the spectrum.  They produce high levels of force but fatigue quickly.  They rely upon those first two energy systems we talked about earlier- Phosphogen and glycolysis.  They are innervated by a greater number of motor units, leading to their increased force production but they quickly follow the glycolytic pathway of: demand for oxygen exceeds oxygen availabilityàpyruvate binds with hydrogen to form lactate.

3) Intermediate fibers or transitional fibers exhibit characteristics of both fast and slow fibers.  They live on the edges of either of these two classifications and it is believed that we can influence, through training, these intermediate fibers to perform either in a slow twitch or a fast twitch manner, depending on the needs of the situation.  For example, when we go from a fast walk to a jog, we might exceed our slow twitch fibers’ capabilities, however before we reach completely for a fast twitch response, we will dive into our available pool of intermediate fibers to get as much aerobic metabolism as we can before switching to a less efficient fuel source.  These fibers have more mitochondria and are more oxidative than the fast twitch group, but less than the slow twitch.  They can produce more force than slow twitch, but less than fast twitch.

To summarize the characteristics of each energy system, refer to this chart:

DurationUp to approximately 12 secondsUp to approximately 2 minutesSeveral hours
Fuel Source priorityATP stored within the muscle fibersGlucoseFat
Muscle fiber recruitmentFast twitchMixture of intermediate and fast twitchSlow twitch
Stress responseHighHighLow
Recovery requiredHighHighLow
ExampleOne explosive jumpIntervals of :30/:30 on the rower5 mile walk at 3.5 mph

This understanding of aerobic/anaerobic metabolism as well as the fuel sources and muscle fibers involved in the process forms the basis of how we program our training.  Put simply, the body gets good at what we make it do all the time.  When we spend a lot of time training our aerobic system, it becomes more robust.  When we spend a lot of time training our glycolytic system, our body adapts and becomes good at glycolysis.  We need to start thinking less in terms of the “thing” we’re doing that day and think much more about the specific adaptations we’re aiming for.  When someone says, “I’m going out to run 5 miles,” the question needs to be: to what end?  What is the adaptation you’re driving towards?  Are you running 5 miles for mental clarity?  Okay, that’s one thing.  Are you running 5 miles because next summer you’re planning on running a marathon?  Are you running 5 miles because you’re trying to lose weight and you heard running is good for burning calories?  Again- we need to think deeper than just the workout of the day and we need to think about the adaptative goal.  If you want to run a marathon next year- doesn’t it make sense to know what substrate you’re utilizing for fuel today, so that you can plan your training accordingly?  If you’re trying to burn calories to lose weight/improve body composition, shouldn’t it matter if those calories are coming from fat or sugar?  This is where planned, monitored programming is key.  We can’t talk about programming without first talking about testing.

Part 3: Aerobic testing & training: Best Practices

Let’s quickly discuss a few key aerobic tests which help inform our decision making as it relates to training:

1) VO2max testing: Long held as the gold standard of aerobic testing, a VO2max test determines the greatest amount of amount of oxygen a person can use at a given time.  The units of measurement here are important.  VO2max is measured in milliliters of oxygen, per kilogram of body weight, per minute (mL/kg/min).  To measure VO2max, the lucky subject is hooked up to a gas exchange analysis machine and begins to walk on the treadmill.  Every so often, the speed and incline of the treadmill increases, and the test administrator is getting readings on the amount of oxygen the individual is consuming.  The longer the test goes, the more intense it gets, the more mL/kg/min the athlete consumes.  Eventually the rate of oxygen consumption plateaus or the athlete is unable to continue and this point in time is deemed the VO2max.  From here, we can make programming decisions based upon VO2max, such as prescribing a 60 minute run at 70% of your VO2max.

There are several drawbacks to VO2max as a gold standard test.  First and foremost- it’s a dreadful test.  Being hooked up to a tube, having blood pressure and heart rate constantly monitored while you try to reach your maximum level of exertion is uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.  It’s also very expensive as it requires specialty lab equipment to do.  Beyond these constraints, VO2max probably isn’t what we should be concerned about anyways:

-VO2max is least trainable component of aerobic capacity, meaning you can work on improving it by working near your maximal levels, but it’s only going to improve to a limited degree.

-VO2max is largely limited by your genetics.

-In order to train your VO2max, you must be working at an incredibly high intensity, somewhere around 90% of your max heart rate or above. This is only possible using high intensity intervals.  As you train at this high intensity, your heart muscle becomes bigger and stronger to eject more blood per stroke.  As your heart increases in size, it begins to run out of space within the pericardium.  When your heart cannot grow any larger in response to training, your ability to increase your VO2max hits a plateau.

-From a practicality standpoint, the desired adaptations of training at or near VO2max do not seem to outweigh the negative adaptations such as increased stress response, decreased recovery, etc.  If we think back to energy systems, you will be consuming oxygen the entire time you’re training.  However, you will stop utilizing your slow twitch muscle fibers, and therefore you’ll stop utilizing fat as your primary fuel source, as soon as the intensity level surpasses aerobic levels.

2) Blood lactate testing

Testing for blood lactate levels during exercise is a much simpler, more practical way to assess aerobic fitness.  It’s the only aerobic test we perform at Paragon.  The test can be done on any piece of cardio equipment and ideally we’d use the piece of equipment the individual is most comfortable using.  Cyclists can use a stationary bike.  Runners can use a treadmill.  Using the treadmill as an example, the subject starts at a very slow walk.  Every 3-minute stage includes: 1 blood sample to tested for blood lactate levels and an increase in speed and incline on the treadmill.  The technician administering the test is looking for two particular “turn points” in blood lactate levels, and once the second turn point has been assessed, the test can stop well short of maximal capacity.

If you recall back to our discussion on energy systems, we saw that your cells will utilize fat for fuel through aerobic metabolism as their primary source of energy when intensity levels are low.  As intensity levels increase, the glycolytic energy system becomes more dominant.  A product of the glycolytic system is lactate, which can be measured in the blood.  Blood lactate is measured in millimoles per Liter of blood (mmol/L).  At rest, humans usually have around .5 to 1.0 mmol/L of lactate in their blood.  In the first stages of a blood lactate test, the aerobic system is efficiently using fat for fuel and blood lactate levels stay close to resting but start to rise in response to increased intensity. As blood lactate levels hit approximately 2.0 mmol/L, we’ve reached our first turn point. This turn point (though it does vary some from individual to individual) represents the point in time when the body has begun to switch fuel sources from fat to glucose, and therefore has begun moving from aerobic to the glycolytic pathway.  When the technician sees this 2.0 mmol/L reading, he notes the subject’s heart rate and the test continues.  We have now determined the highest heart rate this subject can reach before his body begins to switch fuel sources.  This represents the top of the low intensity zone, also known as aerobic threshold.  We know from this point forward, there will be a mixed use of fuel sources between fat and glucose.

As the test intensity continues to increase, blood lactate continues to rise until we reach our second turn point, known as anaerobic threshold.  This turn point typically comes out to 4.0 mmol/L of blood lactate and represents the intensity level at which we’ve completely moved away from aerobic metabolism and are relying completely upon glucose for fuel.  We’re also fully into our faster twitch muscle fibers.  The test can stop at this point, as for practical purposes we’ve identified what we need: The top of our low intensity zone as well as the bottom of our high intensity zone, with heart rate numbers at each turn point.  This gives us three distinct intensity zones: low, moderate, and high.

The obvious question is, what do we do with this data?  By assessing our heart rate correlated to the different energy systems, we now have an answer for the questions from above:

1) Your 5 mile run had you at an average heart rate of 150 beats per minute—what intensity zone does that place you in, meaning what energy system are you utilizing?

2) Your apple watch tells you that your 5 mile run at 150bpm burned 400 calories—what fuel source were those calories coming from?  Fat or glucose?

Based on your lactate testing, we can answer those questions with some certainty.  And more importantly, we can tailor our training program accordingly.

*A few miscellaneous notes on lactate testing:

-Your aerobic fitness level is the biggest driver of lactate measurement scores.

-Your test-day nutrition does make an impact on test results.  We ask our clients to fast for at least 4 hours prior to the test, and an overnight fast will deliver even more accurate results.

-Hydration is another important factor in lactate testing.  The more hydrated you are, the easier it is for your body to buffer hydrogen.  This means that if you come in well-hydrated, you’ll be able to reach a higher intensity level before relying upon glycolysis. 

-Like many other things in health & fitness, the female population has not been studied well enough or long enough to be able to definitively say whether there are major differences between men and women.  The few studies1,2that have been done indicate that gender differences alone do not account for differences in blood lactate response. 

-As you’ll see later in this article, the results of this test inform our decision making when we’re laying out a plan for training.  We’ll ask the individual to train within specific heart rate ranges (called Zones), in order to develop the various energy systems we’ve already discussed.  This follows a foundational principle in biology: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID).  When we do a bunch of bicep curls (imposed demand), the body responds by creating a bigger, stronger bicep muscle (specific adaptation).  Your cardiovascular system responds the same way:  When we spend enough time using our aerobic system, the body adapts by making the aerobic system more effective.  For this reason, we’ll often re-test blood lactate profile every 1-3 months, depending on the individual.  Aerobic and Anaerobic threshold will respond to training and change over time, and so our specific exercise prescription will change accordingly.

Zone training:

Now that we’ve assessed your blood lactate levels, it’s time to plan our training based on the assessment data.  We do this via “zone training.”  There are several different models of zone training. 

This point is really important to avoid confusion:

At Paragon we like to keep things simple and just bucket our training sessions into low, medium, or high intensity.  In this 3 Zone model, Zone 1 is low intensity, zone 2 is medium intensity, zone 3 is high intensity. Simple.

HOWEVER, your watch or tracker may refer to a 5 zone model or 6 zone model, and so the “Zone 2” I reference here might be a completely different system than Zone 2 on your FitBit. In a 6 zone model, for example, zones 1 and 2 are low intensity (correlating to our Zone 1), zones 3 and 4 are medium intensity (correlating to our Zone 2), and zones 5 and 6 are high intensity (correlating to our Zone 3).

Please note: I will refer to zones 1, 2 and 3 in this article based upon our 3 zone model. 

Let’s use an example to put this into practice.  A 30 year old male performs a blood lactate test with the following results:

Aerobic threshold (2 mmol/L): 130 bpm heart rate

Anaerobic threshold (4 mmol/L): 150 bpm heart rate

His aerobic training prescription, depending on goals and exercise experience would look something like this:

Zone 1

Low Intensity

Zone 2

Moderate Intensity

Zone 3

High Intensity

Steady state walking/jogging/biking

Heart rate not to exceed 130bpm

80% of sessions

Moderate intensity intervals/hills/etc.

Heart rate between 131-149 bpm

5% of sessions

High intensity intervals

Heart rate above 150 bpm

15% of sessions

Notice we are spending a TON of time in zone 1.  This is long, slow duration cardio and yes it can be boring if you’re stuck walking on a treadmill.  This is the opportunity to get outside and hike, walk, lightly jog, ride a bike, etc.  It is supposed to be relatively easy.  But in order to train this system and make your body more and more capable of utilizing this robust energy system, you must spend lots of time here.  It’s going to feel too easy at first, and that’s okay.  The goal here is not to work harder, the goal is to work longer.  In the words of Dr. Stephen Seiler we need to stretch ourselves horizontally first, meaning we are racking up hours in Zone 1 to build up our aerobic base.  Only when we’ve built this aerobic base sufficiently does it make any sense to start training at any kind of intensity level by doing things like sprints and intervals.  And even the most aerobically fit athletes on earth generally spend a very small percentage of their training time, sometimes as little as 10% of their total time, doing high intensity work.  This is because the muscle fibers utilized in Zone 1 NEED a ton of volume to become stressed enough to adapt.  The muscle fibers in Zone 3 NEED a ton of intensity to adapt, but not much volume.

When we don’t know our zones, what tends to happen is people overestimate their aerobic threshold (zone 1), and as a result their “low intensity” days end up being way too hard.  They don’t prioritize fat utilization and they stress the system excessively, for the reasons we already talked about when we were discussing energy systems.  Because their easy days are more glycolytic in nature than oxidative, they don’t have enough gas in the tank to really go hard on their hard intensity days.  So their easy days become too hard, their hard days become not hard enough, and they get stuck in that middle “no man’s land” zone 2.  We suggest spending no more than 5% of your training sessions in Zone 2, but unfortunately this is where most people live.  Zone 2 is alluring to the American culture of No Pain No Gain.  It’s hard, it leaves you sweating and you feel beat up at the end of a Zone 2 workout.  For too many people, this translates into “I must have had a great workout.”  However, the workout itself cannot be the goal.  The goal is to drive adaptation.  We want to prioritize fat burning.  We want to prioritize aerobic base development.  And when it comes to our high intensity days we want to drive those anaerobic adaptations to the max as well.  We cannot do this if we live in a constant state of moderate intensity.  Moderate intensity sessions come with far more negative stress responses than Zone 1, but do not provide any additional physiologic benefits.

If you’re completely new to exercise and you’ve just taken your lactate test, you’re going to want to spend all your aerobic time in Zone 1 for quite a while.  Get comfortable there and be patient.  Let it develop into a base that we can build from.  As your aerobic system develops, you’ll notice improvements in energy levels, strength, and likely even pain mitigation.  Your body becomes a more adaptative, oxidative machine.  Let your intensity work come from strength and mobility training for now.

What if I don’t I have a heart rate monitor or access to blood lactate testing?

First and foremost, getting an aerobic assessment and getting yourself a reliable chest strap heart monitor are two relatively inexpensive ways to make a gigantic impact on the effectiveness of your aerobic training. The more aerobically fit you become, the more important it is to be specific with your training dosage.

That said, if you’re a complete beginner, or perhaps your gym doesn’t have a way to test your aerobic capacity, there are a few low-tech ways to ensure you’re staying in the aerobic zone when you train:

  1. You can breathe through your nose the entire workout: When you have to breathe through your mouth, your body is searching for a way to get more oxygen because it’s butting up against the upper limits of your aerobic capabilities.
  2. You can maintain your pace for a long time, preferably 60 minutes or longer, without having to slow down.
  3. The session will send you “straight to the dinner table,” in the words of Dr. Seiler. Remember those suicide sprints your high school coach made you run that left you dripping in sweat and panting on the floor? You would rather throw up than eat anything after one of those sessions, right? That’s because a high intensity sprint workout is extremely taxing on the central nervous system, sending us into fight or flight mode during and after the session. That’s not what we’re looking for here. After a proper aerobic base workout, you should feel like you’ve “emptied the tank” of your energy supplies, but with very little stress to the central nervous system. Afterwards, you’re in rest and digest mode rather than fight or flight.

Part 4: HIIT misses and wrap up

Let’s get back to Interval Training and where the fitness and performance industry has gone wrong:

Back to Dr. Tabata…

Does that name sound familiar?  Has your trainer ever told you you’re about to do some “plank tabatas?”  Yeah, thought so.

Dr. Tabata had been researching the impact of high intensity aerobic training on elite skaters in the early 90’s, and wanted to see how results would transfer to different levels of athletes.  His 1996 experiment3 tested a typical “aerobic protocol” (60 minutes, 5 days per week at 70% VO2 max) versus a training protocol now referred to as the “Tabata method.”  The Tabata method looked like this:

On the cycle ergometer, at 90 rpm:

4 days per week: 20 seconds of maximal sustained effort work, 10 seconds of rest x 8 rounds

1 day per week: 30 min at an intensity of 70% ˙VO2max, then 4 rounds of the same :20 on/:10 off… at 170%˙VO2max.  Remember our discussion on VO2max testing?  How subjects are taken up to their maximum amount of oxygen consumption?  Yeah, this study got them to that intensity level, and then got them up another 70% HIGHER.

The results of this study showed a few things: The aerobic protocol of moderate intensity improved VO2max.  The Tabata protocol improved VO2max AND Anaerobic capacity.

The fact that this 4-minute high intensity protocol could produce similar (or maybe even better?!) results when compared to a boring, 60 minute steady state ride inspired a total change in the industry.  Instead of telling clients to go for an hour hike, now the common advice was to skip all that nonsense, just work super hard for a very short period.  This is America baby, we’re all about efficiency!

The problem we have now, is not the 1996 Tabata study itself.  The problem is how its’ been interpreted by people who a) haven’t read the study or b) don’t understand how to read literature.  Search for “Tabata workouts” in Google and you’ll be greeted by countless articles and videos telling you why this “Burpee Tabata Workout” is “scientifically proven” to be the BEST for fat burning!  Just do :20/:10 x 8 of literally anything, and you’ll be a fat burning machine!  In addition to these odd claims of maximum fat burning, performance coaches cite this literature as evidence as to why their athletes don’t need to do traditional base aerobic training.  Instead, they should be doing all high intensity intervals such as Tabata protocol.  Let’s breakdown why this study should only be considered one data point in a long history of aerobic study, and why the implications of this study might not translate to our goals:

1) When the Tabata protocol has been tested in subsequent studies 4, steady state cardiovascular training has been shown to be equivalent to high intensity interval training in terms of its’ impact on anaerobic capacity and VO2max.

2) You’re not actually doing Tabata protocol.  Think I’m wrong?  Answer these questions:  Are you training on cycle ergometer with speed and power controlled for down to the watt?  Are you training 5 days per week?  Are you reaching 100 to 170% of VO2max?  If you answered no to any of these questions, you’re not performing Tabata protocol.  You’re performing some bastardized version of it.  No, doing a forearm plank for 20 seconds, resting for 10 and repeating for 8 sets is not getting you anywhere close to these levels.

3) The original Tabata study did not mention losing weight, burning fat, or anything of the sort.  These are all convenient conclusions we’ve drawn without data to support them.

4) The original Tabata study did not mention losing weight, burning fat, or anything of the sort.  These are all convenient conclusions we’ve drawn without data to support them.  I’ve found this to be an issue when people rely upon their workout tracking apps to tell them whether they’ve had a good workout.  For example, one of my clients’ recently took a “HIIT Bootcamp” class consisting of several full body movements performed back to back to back with very little rest and some sporadic cardio (ie: running on the treadmill for 60 seconds) thrown in the mix somewhere.  She was excited to show me her Apple Watch, which told her she had burned upwards of 800 calories during this 40-minute class.  The subject of weight loss/fat loss and the role that exercise plays in these processes is a subject for another article, but this question comes up often enough that I want to touch on the major points very quickly:

#1: If your watch is measuring your heart rate, you’re not getting an accurate measurement when you exercise.  The bottom line is that if you want to track heart rate during exercise, get a chest strap.  They’re inexpensive and they pair with any smart phone. 

#2: Of all the data we can gather from tracking your workouts, calories burned might be the least important.  Studies 5  performed on various populations across all walks of life all point to a similar conclusion: calories burned during exercise have a negligible impact on Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and weight loss.  We need to look at this thing in a big picture format and lose our focus on calories burned during one specific workout.

#3: For argument’s sake, let’s say we believe that you burned 800 calories during bootcamp class, and you’re doing it often enough that it matters in terms of TDEE.  Those things are NOT likely to ever be the case, but let’s just assume they are true.  This still does not tell us where those 800 calories are coming from.  What energy system is being trained, and what fuel source is being utilized to burn those 800 calories?  Hint:  It’s not oxidative, and you’re not burning fat.

The reason High Intensity Intervals can be so alluring is because they create the illusion of getting a very high bang for your buck.  Instead of needing to spend hours doing steady state cardio, the HIIT crowd would argue that you can achieve the same results in half the time if you just work harder.  Just like most things in life, there are no short cuts here.  Yes, you can work really hard, be dripping in sweat and be sore for days on end.  However, this feeling of being completely killed by a workout does NOT mean that we have given an appropriate stimulus to provoke the adaptation we desire.

Despite the clear HIIT “misses,” Gurus like Boyle have continued to put aerobic base training into the “bad exercise” group alongside crunches and burpees.  Not long ago Boyle had a “Bad Exercises” post about distance running on his Instagram where he says “The only thing it’s good for is getting injured” In typical Guru fashion, he then claims his point is based on “the statistics” but never actually references the statistics to support his notion that “somewhere between 50 and 75% of people who take up jogging end up injured.”

Instead, his clients/athletes sprint.  They do tempo work.  His mantra, one I used to wholeheartedly believe, is “train slow, get slow.”  Boyle references VO2max testing as pointless, which I agree that testing an athlete’s VO2max is highly over-rated and often unnecessary.  But he goes so far as to argue that sports which are not aerobic in nature (hint: all of them are aerobic, but let’s move past that for now) should never emphasize aerobic training and in fact a high VO2max might indicate that the athlete is ill-suited to play a “power based” sport, because VO2max has “never been correlated to performance.”  This highlights another horrible symptom of Guruism—thinking that anything related to health, wellness, or performance is black and white.  You either sprint, or you do long distance, there’s no middle ground and you can’t possibly do both.  And if your VO2max is high, it’s because you’re meant to be a distance runner.  Luckily for all of us, things are NEVER this black and white.  We’ll talk more about VO2max in the testing section of this article, but let’s finish Boyle off first.  In Boyle’s article about aerobic vs. anaerobic training he says:

“Conventional aerobic training (long slow distance) should never be done for ice hockey players unless it is infrequently used for recovery purposes. Instead, the aerobic system should be developed as a byproduct of anaerobic training. Interval training, (anaerobic intervals) will generally keep the recovery heart rate in the aerobic range (over 120 BPM) if the rest periods are controlled properly. Interval training will develop aerobic capacity but as a byproduct of the anaerobic work. This is obviously a more sport specific method of training the aerobic capabilities of an anaerobic athlete.”

This is where he has gone wrong for many, many years and we’ve developed a whole bunch of athletes with underdeveloped aerobic systems.  At the same time, we have a culture in the fitness industry full of people skipping the long, slow endurance training in favor of what they think is High Intensity Interval Training- and what they’re actually getting is moderate intensity blah training, which is neither long enough for aerobic improvement nor hard enough for anaerobic improvement.

It’s time we set aside the “wisdom” of our heroes and look objectively at our own physiology.  What are your goals?  Are your training methods putting you into a position where your body is forced to adapt in a direction that aligns with those goals?  If you’re not following any kind of program, I’m not sure you can possibly answer these questions, and if you haven’t assessed your current physiologic metrics, I question how accurate or individualized a program can be.  The answers are there for you, and if you’re going to spend hours each week devoted to exercise, you should be looking to maximize your efforts and push yourself towards your desired adaptations.


  1. Davies CT, Thompson MW. Aerobic performance of female marathon and male ultramarathon athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. 1979 Aug;41(4):233-245. DOI: 10.1007/bf00429740.
  2. APA TABATA, IZUMI; NISHIMURA, KOUJI; KOUZAKI, MOTOKI; HIRAI, YUUSUKE; OGITA, FUTOSHI; MIYACHI, MOTOHIKO; YAMAMOTO, KAORU Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ˙VO2max, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 1996 – Volume 28 – Issue 10 – p 1327-1330
  3. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-1330. DOI: 10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018.
  4. Foster C, Farland CV, Guidotti F, et al. The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. J Sports Sci Med. 2015;14(4):747–755. Published 2015 Nov 24.)
  5. Hunter GR, Wetzstein CJ, Fields DA, Brown A, Bamman MM. Resistance training increases total energy expenditure and free-living physical activity in older adults. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985). 2000 Sep;89(3):977-984. DOI: 10.1152/jappl.2000.89.3.977.
  6. San-Millán I1,2, Brooks GA3. Assessment of Metabolic Flexibility by Means of Measuring Blood Lactate, Fat, and Carbohydrate Oxidation Responses to Exercise in Professional Endurance Athletes and Less-Fit Individuals.
  7. The Science and Translation of Lactate Shuttle Theory George A. Brooks1, * 1Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA *Correspondence:

What is Stress?

by: Kristen Soinski
Certified Personal Trainer

Stress is our body’s response to change: physical, emotional, or mental. Often times, we think stress is just a feeling we experience during chaotic times. However, stress is much more complex and impacts our bodies at the cellular level. 

To understand stress, we must first understand that not all stress is bad. Good stress, or Eustress, is essential in our lives to increase brain function, increase immunity, increase motivation levels, builds self esteem and more. Examples of eustress would be a promotion at work, giving a presentation, and working towards a health goal. 

There is also bad stress, which is distress, that has negative implications on our bodies. Distress is stress that is experienced for long periods of time and causes burnout. 

Take a second to reflect on your life: what sources of eustress do you have? Distress?

As mentioned above, we need stress to thrive but it is critical that we are in tune with our stress levels in order to be as healthy as possible.

What happens in the body when you’re stressed? 

Stress triggers what is called the fight or flight response, which was originally intended to keep us safe when we had to outrun predators. However, we typically aren’t outrunning lions these days! The fight or flight response has now become a normal, everyday experience that people endure due to work struggles, health issues, family dynamic, etc. 

The fight or flight response triggers many complex reactions in our bodies. First, we perceive a stress or threat and signals are sent to our brains. This leads to the release of cortisol (stress hormone), epinephrine, and norepinephrine. The hormones released travel through the bloodstream to various areas in order to best use the energy we have. Below is a visual!

The body puts energy into what it views as a “priority” in the moment. For example, stress causes our digestive system to slow down because the engird spent digesting food can be used elsewhere. Think back to a time where you were very stressed and in that moment you had no appetite. Your body was utilizing energy in other areas, making you feel less hungry. However, prolonged stress increases cortisol levels. Cortisol increases appetite, which explains why you may find yourself “stress eating” at times. 

Prolonged stress can cause certain bodily functions to decrease, impacting our quality of life (hello indigestion, decreased immunity, foggy brain function, food cravings and more!).

What can you do about it?

So okay, we just went over all this doom and gloom about stress. But, I have good news! There are many ways to control our stress levels, build resiliency, and make ourselves feel great. Below are a few of my favorite ways to manage my stress:

  • Nourish to flourish! Prolonged stress can leave us feeling fatigued, craving processed foods, and depleted. Making nutrient-dense, whole foods is a great way to fuel your body through stressful times. Foods high in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) replenish our body and bring us back to homeostasis. 
  • Create a daily mantra! It is proven that thoughts become things. I will say this again: Thoughts Become Things. Our thoughts are powerful! We can speak positivity into existence by changing the words we speak to ourselves. Daily mantras have gotten me through the most difficult times. My mantra is “Hold Strong and Weather Your Storm”. Feel free to use this one, or come up with your own and repeat it to yourself throughout the day! Check out the attached document on creating a self-compassion mantra. ***Attached to this email
  • Be a witness to your own behaviors. Keep yourself in check! Are your actions increasing or decreasing your stress levels? Take time to journal and self-reflect during stressful times. 
  • Create a self-care routine. We have mentioned this multiple times: our bodies and brains thrive off of consistent routines. When we have a routine, things start to become habits. Find one self-care technique you enjoy (meditation, journaling, reading, etc) and add it to your daily routine. 
  • Breathe. As simple as this step sounds, a mindful approach to breathing can have a drastic impact on stress levels. Learn how from Coach Brad:
  • Talk it out. Whether that be with your coach, friends, or family, it is important to talk about your feelings. Talking things out can not only help you feel better, but also may help you bring awareness to a new perspective. 
  • Make time for the things you love. Be selfish and set aside non-negotiable time each day for yourself.

Commit to Fit Pillar #1: Sleep

Sleep is a non-negotiable for any goal.
What is sleep hygiene?
By Coach Kristen

Sleep hygiene is training the brain and the body to fall asleep and stay asleep by implementing behaviors that foster healthy sleep.

Sleep is part of the autonomic nervous system, just like our blood pressure, digestion, and breathing. Because sleep is part of the autonomic nervous system, it means that we don’t control it and cannot force ourselves to fall asleep. However, we can train our bodies to fall asleep better just like training our muscles in the gym. So, we asked our coaches their favorite tips + facts about sleep!

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants before bed (4-6 hours before bed).
  • Create an area in your room that fosters good sleep. Make sure the room is cool and get rid of technology. Figure out what a “calm” space looks and feels like to you, and try to implement it in your room! If there is chaos in our room when we try to sleep, it makes it much more difficult to get good quality rest.
  • Avoid working out right before you plan to go to sleep. The hormones produced during exercise can make us feel more alert and awake, making it harder to fall asleep.
  • Coach Ravi explains sleep is the ultimate recovery tool and one of our basics needs other than food, water and air. Most people benefit from 8 hours. Lack of sleep affects your bodies ability to regulate hormones and also affects cognitive performance.
  • Coach Ravi says to limit screen time before bed! Light and activity stimulates our brains, disrupting melatonin production in our brains. Melatonin is the sleep hormone, critical for restful sleep.
  • Our bodies thrive off of routine and schedules! We are meant to be able to fall asleep and wake up at the same time everyday, without an alarm clock. Once you create a routine that works for you, your body becomes accustomed to that routine and understands when it is time to wind down.
  • Implement a morning routine. Wake up earlier and slow down your morning like Coach Brad. Do your CARs, drink your coffee and meditate to set a positive outlook of your day.
  • Make sure you aren’t using your bed for anything but sleep or intimacy. Once our brains begin to associate our sleeping space with a behavior that is not sleep, it becomes more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Sleep isn’t just an aid for recovery, but for our immune system says Coach Braxton. Sometimes sleeping to soft music can aid the process of falling asleep.
  • Avoid eating large, heavy meals before bed. We aren’t saying that eating after a certain time will impact your fitness goals. However, eating a heavy meal can cause distress on the digestive system, keeping us awake longer. Easy to digest foods, such as a banana, are great snacks for before bed.
  • Coach Adam acknowledges what the data shows- there is a direct correlation between sleep quality and weight loss. If you’re going to implement a sleep schedule, you should carry it through on the weekends.

Reopening Strategies

On Thursday, May 14th, 2020, Governor Mike Dewine announced that gyms will be allowed to reopen as of Tuesday, May 26th.  We are prepared to meet and exceed all guidelines set out by the State of Ohio as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure the safety and health of our clients and staff.  The following guidelines may be amended to adhere to any changes to the current guidelines set by the State of Ohio or CDC.

Please direct your questions, comments, and concerns to:

Adam Reeder
Owner, Paragon Health & Fitness
Cell: 440-539-3393

Edited 5/24/20 to include:

  1. Please ENTER only through the front glass door which leads to the reception area. This is where temperature and O2 checks will take place.
  2. Please leave your street shoes on the shoe mat in the reception area.  You are welcome to leave a pair of shoes in the bins in the gym.
  3. Please EXIT through the front door closest to the dock.
  4. Please bring your own water bottle- our water fountain is to be used to refill bottles only.  Please do not drink directly from the fountain.


  • Members and our staff will have body temperatures taken prior to entering Paragon via touchless thermometers. Per CDC guidelines, individuals with a body temperature greater than 100.4 degrees will be not be permitted entry.  Members and our staff will also be required to check their oxygen saturation level prior to entering Paragon using a pulse oximeter.  Individuals with an oxygen saturation reading below 94% will not be permitted entry and are encouraged to contact their doctor.
  • Members will be asked to alert a Paragon staff member if they test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of their last visit to Paragon. We will email notification to all potentially exposed persons if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at Paragon and will keep personal information of all parties confidential.
  • Members and staff who have traveled internationally or who have come in close contact with someone who has traveled internationally to high-risk countries as identified by the CDC  must wait for a period of 14 calendar days before returning to Paragon.  Symptoms of the coronavirus become apparent in 2 to 14 calendar days and Paragon’s goal is to minimize the risk of exposing others to the virus.  A list of high-risk countries can be found here:
  • If an employee has any symptoms of COVID-19, including the above temperature and oxygen saturation readings, they will be required to stay at home until they are able to seek medical care.  Their return to work status will then be determined by their medical professional. They are expected to follow normal practices of getting their sessions covered by another staff member and/or rescheduling.
  • All trainers and members, upon their initial return to Paragon, must fill complete an updated release of liability and waiver.  This form can be completed electronically or in person.   Click here download the updated waiver. Please fill it out, save it to your device, and email to


  • Group fitness classes will remain in virtual format only until further notice. 
  • There will be a limit of three coaches on the training floor at any given time and a limit of 4 members per coach, with a total occupancy limit of 15 people in the gym at any time.  Paragon is a 6300 square foot facility with a ceiling height of 26 feet.  This allows us to exceed all physical distancing requirements per the CDC.
  • We will allow a minimum of 15 minutes between sessions for each coach, to allow for proper sanitation of the equipment as well as to allow the coach time for hand washing.


  • Members will be asked to wash their hands upon entering the premise and use hand sanitizer frequently throughout their visit. The hand sanitizer solution kills up to 99.9% of germs and includes 70% ethyl alcohol, above and beyond the CDC’s guidelines of 60%, with added Aloe vera and essential oils.
  • Members will be provided a spray bottle and terry cloth to be used after use of each piece of equipment before and after use in addition to the club’s cleaning protocols. Our disinfectant, approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19 and proven to kill 99.99% of bacteria, viruses & fungi on equipment while having the safest EPA Toxicity Rating. Disinfectant wipes will be available throughout the gym.
  • Weather permitting, staff members will keep both garage doors open to allow maximum circulation throughout the gym space.


  • Members are expected to use cleaning solution on machines and equipment before and after use.
  • Members are encouraged but not required to wear a mask during training sessions. Employees will be provided with masks and will be required to wear them during training sessions.


  • In addition to existing continuous cleaning protocols, we will add a rigorous, deep-cleaning process three times during the day and once overnight. Designated areas of the club will be sectioned off during the day to facilitate the deep cleaning. We will be increasing the size of our cleaning staff and will also utilize professional cleaning services regularly.
  • Medical-grade, EPA-registered disinfectants which are designated effective against the COVID-19 virus with a kill time of less than one minute will be used for all continuous and deep-cleaning processes.


  • Until further notice, only one person will be allowed in each locker room at any given time.  The individual using the locker room should lock the door as they enter.  Disinfectant wipes will be provided in each locker room. Everyone is expected to wipe down all surfaces before and after use, including the handles of the sink, shower, toilet, stall door, and locker door.
  • Shower towels will be stored in a covered, sanitized container which are clearly marked clean or soiled.
  • Locker rooms will be thoroughly cleaned regularly throughout the day, with showers being cleaned after each use.


  • Fortunately for us at Paragon, we have plenty of space to create physical distancing between members and trainers.  Gym equipment has been relocated within the facility to create separate “pods” for each trainer to work with their clients.  Each pod measures a minimum of 500 square feet to ensure physical distancing between client and trainer and will be equipped with the necessary equipment to conduct the training session.  Members are expected to remain within their given pod whenever possible.  If the session requires equipment from another location in the gym, the coach is responsible to ensure the additional equipment is sanitary and that proper physical distancing standards are being met. Coaches will remain six feet away from clients and all cueing and corrections will be done verbally.

Memberships and scheduling

  • Virtual personal training and group fitness classes will continue to be available.  Commit to Fit will continue to be an online-only program, with all classes, meetings and strategy sessions to occur over the phone or via Zoom.
  • As of Tuesday, May 26th all memberships will be reactivated.  Personal training packages and memberships which were purchased prior to shut down will be eligible for use both virtually and in person.  As of Tuesday, May 26th we will cease sales of virtual training sessions through PayPal and all scheduling and payment will go through ZenPlanner.

We are extremely excited to welcome everyone back to Paragon.  The guidelines mentioned above are our best effort to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all clients and staff. 

More information on COVID-19 can be found here:

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Adam Reeder
Owner, Paragon Health & Fitness
Cell: 440-539-3393