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How, Not How Much

by Fred Hahn on October 23, 2011

When it comes to exercise, how you do it matters more than how much you do. In fact, if exercise is performed at a very low level of intensity, you’re not going to get much benefit out of it no matter how much of it you do do. Walking is a good example of this.

A feather can never cause callouses on your hand no matter how many times you stroke it over your palms. The stimulus is simply not intense enough. You’d need to use sand paper and rub it hard over your skin. If you scrape your hand too hard or too often however, you remove skin. But just the right amount and in a short time you have stronger, thicker skin.

Lifting light weights and never taking yourself to the point where the exercised muscles aren’t pretty taxed won’t do you much good. The stimulus is too weak to cause change. Many ask me, “But Fred, c’mon, isn’t something better than nothing?” Not if the something is nothing!

Your goal when exercising (if you’re human that is), is to spark or ignite a positive tissue remodeling response. And safely of course. Then you let that alteration occur before you do it again. Research is pretty clear that two, fifteen to twenty minute weight lifting sessions a week provides all of the benefits that RT can bestow. And those benefits are vast. Here too.

So don’t think you have to exercise all the time in order to be healthy. That’s an exercise lie the fitness industry wants you to swallow and it’s been swallowed hook, line and sinker by millions!

Now, if your one of those folks that enjoys being very physically active, go for it – with the following caveat: If you get hurt, the damage can be permanent. 25 years of martial arts destroyed my knees. Now I have a partial fake one. It’s not what you want. Trust me.

Now, will everyone get injured? I think we all know the answer to that. And I think we all know that’s not the point.

Exercise correctly, not chronically.

I've been involved in exercise ever since I became a member of The Charles Atlas Club when I was 10 years old. In 1998, I founded and established Serious Strength on the Upper West Side of NYC. My clients include kids, seniors (and everyone in between), top CEOs, celebrities, bestselling authors, journalists and TV personalities.
my book. my Gym.

in Health/Fitness,strength training · 11 comments


Ian October 24, 2011 at 1:07 AM

Are there things aside from stopping your martial arts training that could have minimized damage to your knees? I mean, can one train martial arts safely?

Fred Hahn October 24, 2011 at 7:37 AM

Ian –

Tai Chi would be a “safe” martial art. But the kind of Karate I practiced was very hard and fast. Lots of contact, etc. Being bowlegged hastened the degradation.

I also believe that all the grains I ate (and drank, ahem) over the years caused leaky gut which allowed the lectin proteins to leak into my blood stream and little by little, attack my knee cartilage and eat it away faster so to speak.

Alfie October 25, 2011 at 11:43 AM

I found this snippet interesting:

Research also indicates that virtually all the benefits of resistance training are likely to be obtained in two 15- to 20-min training sessions a week. Sensible resistance training involves precise controlled movements for each major muscle group and does not require the use of very heavy resistance.

If one is saying “virtually all the benefits” and “does not require heavy resistance” it seems they are not giving much weight to strength increase as a benefit.
It also seems to be a little at odds with your training recommendation Fred, about using high intensity resistance, though I’ll admit that I am not always clear what you a promoting.

Fred Hahn October 25, 2011 at 1:08 PM

By virtually all, they mean all. I admit it is an odd way of putting it.

I don’t advocate the use of “high intensity resistance.” And there really is no such thing as such. What I do advocate is a high intensity effort, in order to recruit as many of the available motor units/fibers as possible.

The weight we choose for clients at Serious Strength allows for ~50-90 seconds of effort before complete fatigue occurs. This does not mean you are using a very heavy weight but yes, heavy-ish for the individual.

I hope that clears things up!

Alfie October 26, 2011 at 1:39 PM

I guess there’s -qualifiers in both statements, your’s and the study’s.
“This does not mean you are using a very heavy weight but yes, heavy-ish for the individual. ”
I would use “heavy” as “heavy for the individual” since it would seem to make the most sense to keep the reference to the subject lifting.
But I guess you are right that 50-90sec duration of effort would force the use of a weight below what I normally think of as heavy.
I think I understand better now.

Fred Hahn October 26, 2011 at 4:08 PM

Remember that my machines are cammed in a way that allows for a more even distribution of the load from weak point to strong point back to weak point. Free weights don’t/can’t accommodate like this.

I will sometimes use loads that render complete fatigue in 35-45 seconds.

Alfie October 26, 2011 at 5:08 PM

35 sec is still a long time. Most maximum intensity efforts – lifting, or say sprinting – cannot maintain that long.

John Walker October 31, 2011 at 5:10 AM

But some low-carb advocates (And anti-bread experts too) say there is no need to exercise specifically. Rather just keep on the move whenever possible, with the occasional spurt of higher intensity exercise. Thus mimicking or ancestors, hunter-gatherers who ran only when necessary to escape a predator or to catch prey. Is your weight training program a variant of that?
I have some dumb-bells (Cracked bell castings without a clapper inside), and I can get a barbell too quite easily if necessary.

Fred Hahn October 31, 2011 at 9:42 AM

John –

We really don’t know what our ancient ancestors did for exercise. It’s all speculation. We know today that simply moving around and the occasional sprint or jump is not sufficient for maintaining or increasing lean mass.

As our ancestors aged, if they were not doing some form of resistance training (which they very well might have figured out) they grew weaker and weaker.

Modern technology can be helpful at times. Think of resistance training being as helpful to humans as antibiotics. Just because something wasn’t part of our paleolithic past doesn’t mean that it’s not useful. Some modern inventions are positive (resistance training), some are negative (grains, processed sugars, etc.).

Low Carb Master August 2, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Hey Fred. I have been researching low carb for years now, but haven’t focused very much on exercise. I’m heavily involved in boxing and would like to incorporate the slow burn workout into my regiment. Is there any way this would make me lose speed? Is this appropriate for building stamina for boxing? I figure I can do an extremely intense slow burn once a week and practice boxing specific skills the rest of the days. What are your thoughts?


fred hahn August 2, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Hi Amir –

You can never lose speed if you have more muscle and you’re stronger.

Don’t associate the two – speed in your sport and the tempo you use when lifting weights. Speed comes from skill and strength. The fibers responsible for speed are ALL recruited and made stronger when you take a set to failure – or close to it. You can do that using a fast rep speed and hurt yourself, or by using a slow and controlled rep speed and not.

FE: If I made you 50% weaker in your arms, you wouldn’t punch as fast. Look at the legs of speed skaters and sprinters – heavily muscled – and they motor.

To punch faster you need more skill (can’t help you there) and more muscle.

There is no such thing as “stamina.” But I know what you are referring to. If you really want to have mind-blowing endurance to out box your opponent so you are fresh and they are gassed adopt a low carb/ketogenic diet. Read The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Drs. Volek and Phinney.

This along with high intensity weight training will give you the edge you need.

Also, ditch speed bag work. It’s tradition yes, but it is also a total waste of your training time.

Hope that helps!

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