Stronger,
Healthier
in Just 30 Minutes
a Week

My Ideas and Insights
on Exercise and Nutrition to
Better Your Life

212 579 9320

Mark Sisson’s Exercise Errors

by Fred Hahn on August 13, 2011

Mark Sisson has become a very popular paleo promoter and I like a lot of what he has to say. His book is pretty good and I hate him for all the hair he has on his head. I wish it were true that going paleo was good for hair re-growth but its not.

As good as his nutritional info is, I came across a blog of his that has some inaccurate exercise information. Since he is so popular (WAY more popular than I am), and can influence many, I thought it was necessary to address these errs as they are both misleading and potentially dangerous.

I am not saying that Mark purposefully puts forth exercise recommendations that he knows are harmful. Nor am I suggesting that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So don’t anyone think this is a Mark Sisson bashing blog. It is not.

In the blog Mark says:

…the idea that muscle significantly boosts resting metabolic rate is pretty much nonsense.

Well, it’s actually not nonsense. I suppose we have to define “significantly.” It seems to me that any increase in resting metabolic rate above 100 calories a day is significant.

Here is an article by Dr. Wayne Westcott that I think is a very good explanation of why and how weight lifting does indeed increase RMR significantly.

From the article:

However, if the strength-training program adds 3 pounds of muscle tissue for a total of 65 pounds of skeletal muscle, and if each pound of trained muscle now uses 7.2 calories per day at rest (a 1.5 calorie increase), then the new contribution to his resting metabolism is about 468 calories (65 pounds of muscle x 7.2 calories per pound = 468 calories).

This represents about 115 additional calories expended each day at rest (353 calories to 468 calories = 115 calories), which increases his resting metabolic rate by approximately 7 % (1,600 calories per day x 7 % = 112 more calories). This metabolic increase is consistent with the research findings by both Campbell, et al., and Pratley, et al.

The key here is not just the added muscle tissue, but the totality of the trained muscle. So in my opinion, it is somewhat misleading to say that an increased RMR attained via resistance training is nonsense.

Even though Mark correctly downplays the role of aerobic activity for fat loss, suggesting that resistance training does nada to help increase fat loss might lead people to believe they do indeed need to add aerobics into the fray to burn more calories and this is almost always a fat loss faux pas.

The other err Mark puts forth and the one I think is the worst offender is the following:

How does one get increased muscle mass? Why, by lifting heavy things.

Well, yes and no. It is one way – so long as you lift heavy things to complete muscle fatigue or “muscular success” as we call it at Serious Strength – or darn near it. But it is a dangerous way to be honest.

Dr. Ralph Carpinelli wrote a very good paper on why the heavier is better idea is nonsense. This does not mean that very light weights will work either. But to suggest to people that you must lift heavy objects to build muscle is, in my opinion, a tad on the side of “uh-uh.”

From the paper:

The size principle states that motor units are recruited in an orderly manner from the smaller (lower threshold) to the larger (higher threshold) motor units, and that the recruitment is dependent on the effort of the activity. Greater recruitment produces higher muscular force. However, the pervasive faulty assumption that maximal or near maximal force (very heavy resistance) is required for recruitment of the higher-threshold motor units and optimal strength gains is not supported by the size principle, motor unit activation studies, or resistance training studies. This flawed premise has resulted in the unsubstantiated heavier-is-better recommendation for resistance training. [ J Exerc Sci Fit • Vol 6 • No 2 • 67–86 • 2008]

What this means is, you don’t need to lift heavy things to gain added muscle and strength. And since you don’t, you shouldn’t as the heavier the weight is, the closer you come to injury.

My suggestion is to choose a weight or resistance that allows for at least 50-60 seconds of effort before muscular success occurs. This ensures that the load is not too heavy. But your behavior matters too of course. Yanking, thrusting or heaving into a light weight can also cause harm. Slow and steady wins the muscle!

As the Hippocratic oath states: “Do no harm.” This is a good oath. Don’t endanger yourself by lifting very heavy things and don’t pound your joints to dust in the attempt to burn the extra calories that resistance training supposedly doesn’t provide.

As Mark would undoubtedly agree, eat fatty, wild caught proteins and some locally grown plant matter only. Drink fresh water.

But lift moderately heavy weights slowly and infrequently. Forget calories entirely but know that your weight training is doing you great metabolic good.

And Mark, keep up the great work!

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,Losing weight/diet,strength training · 38 comments

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Latham August 13, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Thanks for those clarifications, Fred! I had read Mark’s article and was a little confused to hear that more muscle mass does not aid in increasing metabolism. At least, that was my take home message from what he said.

Question: Currently, I am lifting heavy things so that I come to success within 45-90 seconds. Since I am doing it slow motion, that sometimes means I can come to success after only 3 reps. So, is 3 reps enough, as long as I achieve success, and should I cut down my TUL to 50-60 rather than 45-90?

Thanks!

Fred Hahn August 13, 2011 at 11:10 AM

3 reps is the minimum I go ITO weight load Rebecca.

Michael Allen August 13, 2011 at 11:18 AM

Fred — Many thanks for this useful article.

Now aged 72, I have been doing resistance training for a couple of years, mainly based on McGuff’s BBS book plus various blogs such as yours and Mark Sissons’s. I have read the conclusions of Ralph Carpinelli’s paper (I have no scientific training) and find they fit in very neatly with some conclusions I came to after reading about Joe Mullen’s ‘mathematic mass’ formula. (See Dave Durrell’s recent interview with Joe: http://www.highintensitynation.com/.

My suspicion is that Joe’s ‘mathematic mass’ formula might well be found wanting by scientists in a number of disciplines, but it had one very powerful insight for me: namely that in my desire to ‘get strong’ and, in particular, to obtain the metabolic benefits listed at the end of Carpinelli’s paper, I had been trying to increase the weight too fast and too often. Result, stagnation at best. I now realise that by using less weight and more reps I get much better form, less risk of injury, much greater satisfaction from the workout — and, at least by Joe’s formula, I have shifted off the plateau and am improving.

Rebecca Latham August 13, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Thanks, Fred!

Fred Hahn August 13, 2011 at 12:31 PM

Cool Michael. You’re welcome Rebecca!

palo August 13, 2011 at 9:08 PM

According to Taubes in WWGF, exercise has minimal, if any impact on weight and metabolism is governed by insulin sensitivity.

This seems to me to corroborate Sisson’s findings.

Anne August 14, 2011 at 3:14 AM

Hi Fred – I have Mark Sisson’s books because I bought them for my dh who needs encouragement in the dietary department. I like the way Sisson’s writes but I completely ignored his exercise routines !

Dr Mike Eades recommended Slow Burn to me about four years ago and I’ve never looked back. I know that Slow Burn/ superslow makes absolute sense plus it works for me.

I believe in taking what you need from other books and Sissons’ two cookery books are brill !

Fred Hahn August 14, 2011 at 8:09 AM

Hi Anne – Yes Mark has great stuff to say. And indeed you should have an arsenal of info at your disposal. I am now looking more into how one can create the very best gut flora and fauna for super digestion – any ideas?

Fred Hahn August 14, 2011 at 8:39 AM

Palo – Gary isn’t talking about weight lifting. I have mentioned to him that IMHO he needs to clarify this.

chuck August 14, 2011 at 8:49 AM

so trained muscle has a higher rmr? hmmm, that is good to know. how does one calculate muscle tissue? are there formulas that are a percentage of lean tissue??

Anne August 14, 2011 at 9:29 AM

Hi Fred,

You wrote: “I am now looking more into how one can create the very best gut flora and fauna for super digestion – any ideas?”

I watched a very interesting TV programme many years ago about this. One group of people were given pre and probiotics (those yoghurts with stuff added) and another group were given extra, extra green veggies – their gut bacteria were measured before and after two weeks (they tested their poo). The group that increased their gut bacteria over the two weeks were the ones eating the green veggies ! Apparently that is the food the bacteria like the most as it helps them mutilpy. I wonder if that’s to do with vitamin K ? I know that gut bacteria make K2 from the K1 they get from green veggies. I’ve read that not only is it green veggies, like kale, cabbage, dandelions, which are beneficial for gut flora and fauna, but that also you should only eat organically reared meat, eggs and dairy because the antibiotics in ‘factory’ reared animals kills your gut flora and fauna. You should also avoid sugars and carbs. Naturally you should avoid antibiotics too if you can.

palo August 14, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Hey Freddy, if one’s goal is to get more muscle, there are other ways than weight training to achieve it.

I’ve tried just about all systems of weight training, including yours, but I find something unnatural about the movements.

Instead I do body weight exercises, because I like them and the best exercise is the one you like.

Every morning when I wake up, I do 100 pushups followed by 20 pullups and followed by 100 squats. For variation I’ll substitute these exercises with hindu pushups, chins and hindu squats.

With this brief simple routine, I’ve built up myself to 8% body fat at 170 lbs.

I built muscle and I’m very happy with what I have.

Fred Hahn August 14, 2011 at 1:50 PM

Hi Palo –

Pushups, squats and pullups are a form of resistance/weight training. So you are weight training whether you know it or not. But you are limited by doing only these exercises.

And the weight lifting you are doing is not what made you thin – it’s what you are and are not eating!

Sonny August 14, 2011 at 2:53 PM

Hey Fred don’t sell yourself short, you’re far more popular with me! I recommend “Slow Burn” to everyone I talk to; it gives good, clear, concise recommendations on how to perform Slowburn training and why it works. Although I must say I’m not a fan of either so-called paleo or low carb diets in general..for me its all about the calories. Combining Slowburn with an 1800 cal diet thats reasonably well balanced got me down to upper 4′s to lower 5% bodyfat at 5’10″ and 186 lbs. My only supplements are creatine, some kind of pre workout, and fish oil.

Fred Hahn August 14, 2011 at 4:01 PM

Thanks Sonny! Nice to hear this always.

As for calories, the body does not have calorie receptors. When you lower cals, you automatically lower carb intake.

Sonny August 14, 2011 at 5:00 PM

That may be true but I eat pizza, baked potatoes, peanut butter sandwiches, skim milk and as long as I stay at 1800 calories I can keep my bodyfat where it is. I pretty much don’t care what anyone else does, if you like paleo or low carbs or whatever, then I say stay on it and enjoy! Now let me quickly add that I’m convinced, though I can’t prove a thing, that the intense slowburn workout I follow (and I give it 100%) “partitions” the protein and carbs that I take in to muscle repair and glycogen restoration, and whatever fat I take in (along with some of the carbs) are used for energy and I will also tell you that Sisson is TOTALLY wrong about muscle not burning extra calories as my maintenance calorie level is a few hundred calories a day higher than just a few years ago when I weighed 180.

Josef August 14, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Fred, crackpot Colpo struck again insulting you in his website.

This guy has a lot of chutzpa when there is ONLY ONE picture of him showing his torso. And if you look closely, the neck is evidently disproportionally large to the rest of his body. Compare this with his other full body picture in which he pulls up his shirt. Measure both with a ruler and you can notice the disproportion. Either the bare torso pic is a photoshop or his mother is a giraffe.

Josef August 14, 2011 at 7:26 PM

In other words, colpo is a fake!

Fred Hahn August 15, 2011 at 6:23 AM

Hi Josef –

This doesn’t surprise me. Do you have the link?

The truth is he is a smart fellow and in good shape. Why he wastes his time behaving as he does is beyond me. He must be very self-loathing.

Fred Hahn August 15, 2011 at 9:09 AM

Thanks Anne! I do eat veggies but not a lot of them as I really don’t like them. Hmm…

Fred Hahn August 15, 2011 at 9:13 AM

“That may be true but I eat pizza, baked potatoes, peanut butter sandwiches, skim milk and as long as I stay at 1800 calories I can keep my bodyfat where it is.”

Because you eat like this (carb heavy) you’ll need to count calories and keep them restricted.

“I pretty much don’t care what anyone else does, if you like paleo or low carbs or whatever, then I say stay on it and enjoy!”

This is an overly simplistic view. Low fat/high carb diets are highly pro-inflammatory. All food is not created equal.

“Now let me quickly add that I’m convinced, though I can’t prove a thing, that the intense slowburn workout I follow (and I give it 100%) “partitions” the protein and carbs that I take in to muscle repair and glycogen restoration, and whatever fat I take in (along with some of the carbs) are used for energy and I will also tell you that Sisson is TOTALLY wrong about muscle not burning extra calories as my maintenance calorie level is a few hundred calories a day higher than just a few years ago when I weighed 180.”

Building muscle is indeed important and does contribute to leanness via an increased metabolism and greater blood volume which better disperses blood glucose.

Sonny August 15, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Yeah I’m sure you’re right, I just haven’t had a need to change things, I’m very happy with results I’ve gotten. I really think intense weight training such as Slowburn changes things in a BIG way and allows you to do things that other people can’t.

Fred Hahn August 15, 2011 at 11:45 AM

Agreed Sonny! The naysayers are just innocently ignorant.

Josef August 15, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Hey Fred here is the link to the article:

http://anthonycolpo.com/?p=1995

posted by the the most picture shy personal trainer in the history of the world.

If you google any famous personal trainer, Bob Greene, Jillian Michaels, Drew Baye, Clarence Bass, Fred, the late Jack Lalanne, ShawnT, Gilad, etc., you’ll find tons of their pics. Only three for Colpo? Furthermore, where are his successful clients?

David August 15, 2011 at 8:26 PM

Awesome post. I’m a firm believer of the Slow Burn technique (I haven’t gain a single injury while increasing my strength and losing 15lbs in 2 months). I have both you and Mark Sisson in my bookmarks, but I look to his blog for paleo lifestyle advice while viewing your blog as the guru of efficient fitness.

marco August 30, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Hi Fred.

Is there any advantage in doing multiple sets of 60-90 seconds for exercise (instead of just one) using Slow Burn technique?

Fred Hahn August 30, 2011 at 3:30 PM

Thanks Josef and David!

Marco – no advantage whatsoever. Single sets are as beneficial as multiples sets of the SAME exercise.

marco August 31, 2011 at 1:29 PM

No advantage for muscle building in doing 4 or 5 series of bench press (90 seconds each) instead of one set of bench press?

How is it possible?

Fred Hahn August 31, 2011 at 1:40 PM

None.

The question Marco is why should it be better? Would 10 sets be better than 5? 20 better than 10?

Once you have recruited all of the available fibers by obeying the theory of orderly recruitment, you’ve done all you need to do. I am not saying there isn’t a benefit to multiple exercises for the chest, but not multiple sets of the same exercise.

Intensity, not volume is the key to hypertrophy and strength. This is well established. Even Vladimir Zatsiorsky says so in his books.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9777681
http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/OttoV2.pdf
http://www.mikementzer.com/moreisbet.html

marco September 1, 2011 at 8:45 AM

Thank you, Fred.

I’ve always believed in the “more volume = more results” theory.
It had always looked right to me…

Fred Hahn September 1, 2011 at 8:47 AM

You’re welcome Marco. To a degree more volume is better but not at the expense of intensity of effort. If intensity and effort is high, volume can’t be. That is not to say high volume does not produce results of course because you can indeed get results from a typical body builders program. It’s just overkill.

Anne September 7, 2011 at 9:26 AM

Hi Fred,

Don’t know where else to post this message and I seem to have lost your email addie:

I wonder if I can have your advice please. I live in the UK as you know and there are no Super Slow or Slow Burn gyms around here. However, the gym I go to had Lifefitness machines which looked very similar to the kind you use and I was very happy using them. They’ve now had a revamp at the gym and got rid of all their Lifefitness machines and there are now only Hammer Strength machines – those are plate loading machines. I find them very different to use. I’m concerned that they won’t be so good for me – I understand that that kind of plate loading machine is much more similar to free weights (feels like it) but constrained by the machine rather than helped by the machine as in Nautilus or Lifefitness machines. Is my perception correct do you know ? My problem is that if I go back to doing free weights at home then I’m going to lose strength – I was very strong with the Lifefitnes machines and without hurting myself, but with free weights it can hurt my joints….and it feels like the plate Hammer Strength machines might do this too. Do you think this is true ? Or is it that I’ve got to give them a chance because they’re new to me ?

Anne

Fred Hahn September 7, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Hi Anne – well it’s hard to say. Some equipment is good, some bad. Some free weight exercises are good and some are bad. Try to find a trainer who knows her stuff – that’s the best advice I can give you.

Shannon September 12, 2011 at 12:14 PM

This is so true. I am a personal trainer for over 10 years now and I can agree that the heaver you go, the more dangerous it can be. I have lifted moderately and reaped incredible benefits for years now. Thank you for sharing this!

Fred Hahn September 12, 2011 at 2:15 PM

You bet Shannon!

kim November 18, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Even cardio activity(any physical activity) can boost resting metabolic rate. A Scientist(Bentley) from 1918 studied & showed that cardio can raise your MR in the resting phases throughout the week.Hell I dropped 40 lbs in 6 months by walking long distances.Truth is,if its a carb,protein or fat your body can & will convert to fat any excess calories.Insulin not raised,no problem! Acylation Stimulating protein(a hormone) will shove fat into fat cells without carbs present or insulin spiked or present

Fred Hahn November 18, 2011 at 1:17 PM

“Even cardio activity(any physical activity) can boost resting metabolic rate.”

****Only temporarily.

“A Scientist(Bentley) from 1918 studied & showed that cardio can raise your MR in the resting phases throughout the week.”

****Only temporarily.

“Hell I dropped 40 lbs in 6 months by walking long distances.”

*****Did you alter your diet in any way during that time?

“Truth is,if its a carb,protein or fat your body can & will convert to fat any excess calories.”

****This is not correct. The body does not have calorie receptors.

“Insulin not raised,no problem! Acylation Stimulating protein(a hormone) will shove fat into fat cells without carbs present or insulin spiked or present.”

*****Sorry, no. But maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to see the citations your using to support your claim.

Fred Hahn November 18, 2011 at 1:18 PM

You might want to read my blog on ASP:

http://slowburnfitness.com/fat-regulation-insulin-or-asp/

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: