Fasted Aerobic Work

Fasted Aerobic Work

24 May

Fasted Aerobic Work


Fasted aerobic work (FAW), a term that I would categorize as a “hot topic.” A tool the social media world sees as the holy grail for the body of their dreams. Let’s not forget FAW is just a tool. And with any tool, we need to ask what’s its utility. In this blog, we are going to discuss FAW and how it applies to the fitness athlete. The three questions I want to answer are:

  • What’s the intent behind FAW?
  • What’s the benefit of FAW?
  • How do I integrate it into my training?

Let’s dive in.

What’s the intent of FAW?

Nearly everyone who’s been around fitness or bodybuilding over the last 2-3+ decades has heard of this concept. The general prescription, which I believe originated in the bodybuilding world, was first thing upon waking 30-60 minutes of easy fasted aerobic work (i.e. incline treadmill walk, elliptical, spin bike, etc.). The general premise was to increase your daily caloric expenditure to promote a deficit needed to further stimulate fat loss, ideally.

Over time, as researchers have investigated FAW further we’ve seen more health benefits associated with FAW along with more clarity around the age old idea of FAW helping promote fat loss. This paper can give you a bit more insight and clarity. The short of it is, fat loss will always come back to energy balance despite doing aerobic work in a fasted state. If you are taking in less than you are burning you will slowly lose body weight which, despite your best efforts, might not be solely fat. The mechanisms behind that are outside the scope of this blog.

Now, before we go any further, it’s important that we make a clear distinction with FAW. I’m going to be discussing FAW from the context of a fitness athlete who is NOT utilizing it for “fat loss” or any other aesthetically driven goal. The intent of FAW for the fitness athlete is solely performance related. FAW is a tool to help promote recovery, improve skill acquisition, and build the aerobic system. We will discuss in further detail the benefits of FAW from a performance perspective in the following sections. As with anything, proper intent is vital to the success of a prescription. If the athlete doesn’t have great intent and purpose behind why they are doing what they are doing, their lack of alignment will eventually lead them to a canyon with no bridge to cross over. So, just to clarify one last time:

The intent of FAW for fitness athletes is to promote recovery, performance, improve skill acquisition, and build the aerobic system.

What’s the benefit of FAW?

In this section, we are going to break down the benefits of FAW for the fitness athlete. I’ve condensed it down to four categories. Each category acts as an overarching idea that includes a host of benefits for the fitness athlete. Those four categories are:

  1. Polarity
  2. Improved Recovery
  3. Improved Physiology
  4. Improved Skill Acquisition

Polarity

The first thing we want to think about is polarity. This idea of polarity transcends time, culture, and sport: fire/water, sun/moon, winter/summer, calm/stress, etc. If we look more closely at this concept through a training lens, we see this idea being integrated in weekly training splits, for example:

Monday

AM – Tough Cyclical Work

PM- Strength Speed + Absolute Strength + Accessory Work

Tuesday

Aerobic work w/ Gymnastic practice and skill development

Wednesday

AM- Mixed Cyclical Work

PM- Strength Speed Based Aerobic Intervals

Thursday

Active Recovery

Friday

AM – Tough Cyclical Work

PM- Strength Speed + Absolute Strength + Accessory Work

Saturday

Upper Gymnastic Based Grinder Session

Monday has 2 sessions, both intense, Tuesday has 1 session, longer but less speed/intensity within the work, Wednesday has 2 sessions, similar to Monday, and Thursday is an Active Rest day. This describes what some might call a “High Low” training split. Which is another way of saying polarity. Why this is important and beneficial to fitness athletes? The answer lies within the inherent nature of the sport. At its true expression, the Sport of Fitness is an extremely metabolically and psychologically demanding sport. To keep with the binary choices listed above, we could place the sport in the “fire, sun, summer, stress” category. When preparing and competing we are constantly challenging one side of the continuum. The more we do that, the quicker we can burn out over time. Just as the sun sets allowing darkness to cool the earth, so does the body need to calm itself to cool the internal flame. This is where FAW comes in. If we were to build a pyramid for sustained aerobic contractions, think of FAW as the base, the very bottom level. And think of the elite in the Sport of Fitness performing work at the highest level at the very top of the pyramid. FAW is the foundational piece from which all things can be built. Slow, sustainable contractions that can be performed for hours if needed. Where things can go awry is when athletes “push” the tempo of FAW too much shifting the perceived effort of the work on the body. Instead of FAW being restorative and polar, you’ve now added more “middle zone” work which is negatively impacting recovery and growth. I will discuss more below on proper prescription and execution of FAW. One of the key pieces we get from this polar method of training is contraction volume. Elite athletes don’t “solely” reach the pinnacle of their sport by being born with the genetic makeup for it. They put in more time with great intent and alignment than anyone else. For further reading, look into Michael Phelps training/time in the pool he spent from when he first started swimming until the 2012 Olympics. It’s nearly a third of his lifetime to that point spent in the pool acquiring contraction volume. For anyone to reach their own physical potential they will need to acquire a robust amount of contraction volume with the tools that reside within their sport. The beautiful thing about competitive fitness is nearly all things reside within it. Thus, we can be creative with how we integrate various elements into FAW. More details on that in the next section.

Improved Recovery

This benefit ties into the point above where periods of intensity need to be met with periods of sustained effort to promote recovery and growth. When performing FAW, the intensity of the work is low and sustainable. Thus, the body can focus on moving blood and lymph to promote recovery and tissue regeneration. When it comes to recovering, blood needs to be re-circulated and lymph needs to be drained. Both of these processes are dependent upon movement. And movement is enabled by muscles. When we move our muscles we promote blood flow and lymph drainage which helps the body clear waste and repair tissue. A prime example of this is how stiff and slow people can feel come Monday’s training session. Why do you think that is? If you laid on your couch all day Sunday or only did minor movement you could be succumbing to stagnate blood and metabolites left over from Saturday’s training. One of the best things anyone can do on a Sunday (assuming that’s a rest day for you) is to get outside, go hike, walk, bike ride, all variations of aerobic work.  

Improved Physiology

Another great benefit of FAW is improved physiology better supporting performance. Some of the internal shifts we see include:

  • Increased aerobic enzymes
  • Increased capillary density
  • Increased mitochondrial biogenesis
  • Improved utilization of free fatty acids as fuel via increased beta oxidation
  • Improved circulation of blood and lymph helping heal tissues quicker

What’s important to note is the intensity of these FAW pieces to elicit the aforementioned physiologic changes (that doesn’t mean more intensive work can’t also elicit similar adaptations physiologically, but that’s another conversation for another time). These efforts must be “sustainable.” Let’s look at some examples of work that would fall into the FAW category

Good examples of FAW:

30-45 min @ EZ pace out of bed:

1 min AB

1 min Bear Crawl

1 min Row

1 min Single Unders

1 min Plank on Elbows

20 min @ EZ pace out of bed:

500m Row @ damper 1

30m FW @ 32kg/hand

20 sec Wall Facing HS Hold

-into-

20 min @ EZ pace

1000m AB

50m Sled Push -empty – constant tempo

2/arm TGU @ 24kg -slow

Bad Examples of FAW:

30 min AMRAP:

400m Run

12 Bar Facing Burpees

6 PC to OH @ 155

36 DU’s

20 min AMRAP:

1 LLRC to 15’

10 S2O @ 135

10 BJO @ 24”

200m Run

*It’s worth noting that for elite level athletes these two “bad” pieces above could be performed and executed at the proper intent to elicit the dose response we want from FAW. But, the focus of this blog’s program design portion is orientated more towards those who would fall in the intermediate/advanced realm of physical development, more on this below.

Notice the difference? While the intent needs to be clear when prescribing FAW, the correct movements must also be utilize to ensure the athlete “can’t go too fast” and the contraction rate is slower. Always remember, we are using FAW to build aerobic volume while promoting recover. Keeping that purpose in mind will help guide you in choosing the right implements to use in the prescription.

Skill Acquisition

The final benefit of FAW I want to discuss is Skill Acquisition. When it comes time to learn a new skill, we must place it in a controlled setting. If you want to learn how to do muscle ups, you don’t throw them into a 10 minute mixed piece of work and hope they get better. You need to go completely polar, which would be in a controlled setting with little to no chaos. FAW can be used as a tool in which to implement “certain” skill work to help develop it and accumulate more touches on it throughout the week. For example:

5 rounds @ EZ pace:

15 Cal AB

4 Alt TGU -slow

20 sec Wall Facing HS Hold

15 cal Row

6 Strict K2E @ 2020 – straight arms

20 sec Top of Ring Dip Hold – externally rotated

In this example we are working on various holds around the shoulder girdle in a controlled setting. As you can tell, they are derivatives of actual movements (HSPU and RMU) but allow us to build volume and tension that is required to express those movements at their fullest potential.

Another example of utilizing FAW for skill acquisition could be as follows:

30 min AMRAP @ EZ pace:

1000m AB

8 Alternating Rolling Pistols

500m Row @ damper 1

8 Alternating Single Arm DB OHS -light load

25 sec Star Plank / Side

In this example, we are targeting more advanced squatting variations. The difficulty of the movements will slow down the athlete keeping the tempo of the session slow and methodical. To reiterate, the above example would be applicable to a more advanced athlete, someone who needs to refine and improve advanced variations of squatting. A derivative of this for a more intermediate athlete who also needs improvement in squatting patterns could be as follows:

30 min AMRAP @ EZ pace:

1000m AB

8 Alt High Box Step Ups w/ controlled lowering

500m Row @ damper 1

8 Single Arm DB OH Walking Lunges (All 8 on weaker arm first; light load; perfect mechanics)

25 sec Star Plank / Side

Similar concept with less demanding movement patterns that are still working similar areas: Single leg knee and hip flexion and single arm overhead stability with perturbations.

Integrating FAW

Now that we more clearly understand the benefits and application of FAW, let’s discuss how to implement it into a training design. As I mentioned earlier, the idea of a “High-Low” training split can be a useful tool for more intermediate to advanced athletes where intensity needs to be waved more frequently. When utilizing this idea, your “Low” days could be FAW sessions with some skill work. Some examples:

Monday

AM- MAP 4 Cyclical Intervals

PM- Sn Complex + Back Squat Waves + Hinge Based Battery Work + Core (dynamic)

Tuesday

AM-

45 min fasted:

1000m AB

10m Bear Crawl

30 sec Top of Ring Dip Hold w/ knee tuck

40 Single Unders

30 sec Wall Sit @ 90 degrees

10m Reverse Bear Crawl

PM- Upper Adv Gymnastic CP + Upper ME Sets

Wednesday

AM- MAP 4 Mixed Intervals (low eccentrics)

PM- TnG Snatch / Clean Work (Light Loads) + Bending w/ Knee Flexion + Lower Grinder

Thursday

AM-

40 min fasted:

Hike w/ 20# vest on

-into-

20 min of:

Press to HS hold Practice for 1 min

200m Jog

L Sit hold work in varied positions 30 sec

400m Row @ damper 1

2/arm TGU @ 24-32kg

600m AB

In this example,

2 tough sessions (Monday AM and PM)

1 FAW session (recovery) (Tuesday AM)

3 tough sessions (Tuesday PM, Wednesday AM and PM)

1 FAW session (recovery) (Thursday AM)

This is a prime example of the polarity in training.  

Let’s look at another example for a less advanced athlete who might be only doing single sessions per day throughout the week.

Monday

Back Squat Mod % + Sn Complex (Vol) + SL Work + Core/Aer (Sustained)

Tuesday

60 min FAW w/ skills

30 min AMRAP EZ:

1 min AB

1 min Bear Crawl

1 min Row

1 min Alt TGU @ 24kg

1 min Single Unders

1 min Ring FLR

-rest-

30 min AMRAP @ skill based effort:

3 RMU Negatives – controlled

10 Cal Row @ damper 1

3 Parallette HSPU Negatives w/ SLOW lowering

10 Cal AB @ 50-55 RPM

3 Dead Hang to Inverted on Rings w/ SLOW lowering

200m Jog

In this example, we see a tough session on Monday followed by a FAW session Tuesday with skills integrated around the shoulder girdle. A great time to implement this concept within the design could be during an off season accumulation phase where building skill and aerobic contraction volume is a priority.

Wrapping it up

In closing, before we ever contemplate the efficacy of a tool, we first need to ask what is the intent of the tool. How is its usage moving you closer to the goal? To reiterate, the intention of FAW for a fitness athlete is to improve recovery and performance through aerobic contraction volume whereby improved circulation of blood and lymph allows the body to heal quicker leading to greater adaptation in the gym. Additionally, the inclusion of polarity in the training, intensive training complemented with FAW type work, allows the athlete to recover and grow at a more consistent rate over time. Lastly, by slowing down the pace and intensity of work we can cultivate an atmosphere for skill acquisition where the athlete can refine and build exposure to positions necessary for skill development. As you begin to integrate FAW into your weekly training, I offer some parting words of wisdom:

    • Keep it easy
    • Focus on holds and carries
    • Less eccentrics at first
    • Keep it LONG and SUSTAINABLE

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21051570

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15705646

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030504919800025X

http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/52/8/1888.short

https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200131010-00001

https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7

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