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One Exercise to Rule Them All

Jade Teta ND, CSCS

As strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers, holistic physicians, and just plain old health and exercise nuts, we here at Metabolic Effect like to debate various health topics and conditioning questions. Some of these can get fairly esoteric, but they usually stay on such ideas as which sport produces the best athletes, or what is the number one fat burning food, or which supplement produces better results than any other? Which brings me to one of my latest queries…if you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be? Think about it for a minute. You had only one single movement/exercise you could do for the rest of your life and that is it. No other options. Just that one single movement. As tough as this question may seem, I knew my choice almost immediately. But before I give it away, Let me tell you how I came to my conclusion.

To me, the best exercise would have to be something that not only kept me looking good (lean physique, abdominal development, athletic appearance), but also was healthy and functional (helped balance, coordination, improved athletic performance, etc). It would have to be something that challenged my cardiovascular and muscular systems. It would need to not only maintain but improve my aerobic capacity.

It would be essential that it provided a stimulus for muscle growth and therefore would have to activate the type II muscle fibers that have been shown to keep us functional in old age and reduce loses in bone mass. It would need to create the right hormonal response (HGH, testosterone) to keep my body fat % low. It should provide an adequate stimulus to both the upper and lower body.

And finally, for me at least, it would need to be convenient and not have to be repeated time and time again just to get a response. I would also prefer it did not involve any fancy equipment or heavy weights to lug around, you know, something I could do if I got stuck on the proverbial desert island.

Only one exercise in my mind can possibly accomplish all of this and it is the sprint. For those of you who have ever done sprint training you may have immediately come to the same conclusion as I did. A single 100 yard dash will generate a huge anaerobic response, which means the aerobic system is also maximally taxed.

Izumi Tabata, in his ground breaking studies on sprint training in 1996 and 1997, showed sprint training improves aerobic capacity better than running and also produced a huge anaerobic stimuls. In addition, the sheer speed and power of muscular contraction required to propel a sprinter down a track provides an amazing stimulus for muscle growth.

Next Olympics take a look at the marathon runners and short sprinters and tell me who is more muscular. What is even more surprising to many is the sprinters usually have less body fat than their long distance counterparts. For those of us who work with athletes, we will tell you it is rare to find a sprinter without a chiseled 6-pack under their sprinting jersey. This is often quoted by conditioning specialists that work with athletes, because they routinely measure the body fat of their athletes and confirm constantly the low body fat of sprinters.

There are few studies on this fact, but the two I have been able to find that confirm sprinters are leaner than long distance runners are out of the Journal of Sports Sciences (2000;18:263-274) AND British Journal of Sports Medicine (1983;17(2):102-109).

Sprinting is short (less than 10 seconds), can be done anywhere, and requires no equipment. It can be done up and down stairs, straight down a track, at the beach in the sand, and up grassy hills in the park. It is also the primary determinant of success in 90% of all sport. Being a faster sprinter will not hurt anyone’s sports performance.

Finally, while I will not go into the research here, sprinting is hugely beneficial to the heart and metabolism. It increases the rate of fat burning in the body for hours and even days after the activity. You can see much of the health benefit, fat loss, and functional effects of sprinting in much of the research Keoni and I have published in more scientific journals (The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients).If you are into our more researched and referenced based writing check out our blog at www.metraineracademy.com.

If you take an honest unbiased look at the research on sprint training including its less effective alternative, high-intensity interval training, I think you will come to many of the same conclusions I have. In my opinion nothing beats the sprint as the best stand alone exercise for full physique development. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and whether you beleive there is any exercise that you would rather have in its place if it were the only exercise you could do for the rest of your life.