7 Habits Of Highly Effective Endurance Athletes, Part 1
In part one of this two-part show, I cover a key takeaway from Primal Endurance: the seven habits of highly effective endurance athletes.
What are the seven habits? In part one, we’re focusing on the first three: 1) Sleep, 2) Stress/Rest/Balance, and 3) Following An Intuitive and Personalized Schedule. You’ll learn why sleep is number one and the next frontier of performance breakthroughs in all sports, especially endurance sports, as well as how to wake up each morning without an alarm, but still feeling completely refreshed and energized. You’ll also hear why I recommend sleeping more if you are training more and the importance of observing “lower lows” (meaning implementing more rest with shorter, easier recovery workouts, and staying below aerobic maximum heart rate for most of your workouts) as you reach for higher “highs” like breakthrough workouts. We also get into the importance of keeping your training schedule sensible, intuitive, flexible, and even spontaneous. Instead of keeping things super regimented and pre-planned, give some respect to your daily life circumstances, motivation levels, stress and energy levels, immune function, even your mood—you’ll thank yourself for this later. I also reveal why artificial light is so harmful, how to effectively achieve balance between rest and stress, and share how you can make your schedule intuitive and personalized!
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Welcome to the return of the Primal Endurance podcast. This is your host, Brad Kearns, and we are going on a journey to a kinder, gentler, smarter, more fun, more effective way to train for ambitious endurance goals. Visit Primalendurance.fit to join the community and enroll in our free video course. Okay. Some quick takeaways from the grand primal endurance comprehensive approach. I describe these seven habits of highly effective primal endurance athletes in two parts show. And part one, we’re gonna hit the first three with sleeping number one on the list. Number two, I title stress, rest, balance, and the importance of downtime, not just easy workouts and taking a day off training but managing all areas of stress in your life. And number three such a broad concept it’s so important, and that is to follow an intuitive and personalized schedule in contrast to a robotic and regimented schedule.
So we’re gonna get the first three on this show and the final four on the second show, which are, uh, number four, aerobic emphasis, number five, structured intensity, doing it the right way, the smart way. Number six, integrating complimentary movement and lifestyle practices and number seven, following a periodized schedule. So enjoy the first three sections of the primal endurance book. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Primal Endurance Athletes. So there’s some written content and I’ll riff on each one to buffer it up a little. But if you can remember these and honor these, oh boy, you’ll be on your way to success and enjoyment. And, first on the list I think is sleep. The book structured with the chapters, starting out with slowing down the importance of aerobic base and then, uh, periodization and then the diet. But if you’re waking up too early for those early morning workouts before your busy day at work, or you’re staying up too late, particularly with the influence of artificial light and digital stimulation after dark, you’re going to mess up the, uh, desired gains that you’re trying to get from training.
And even from diet, from trying to drop excess body fat, it’s known that poor sleep habits will disregulate your appetite and fat storage hormones. To the extent that you develop sugar cravings at night, when you’re staying up those extra hours and those extra calories that you eat will more likely be stored as fat that’s due to, uh, the disturbance of healthy lectin signaling lectins, the hormone that influences, uh, fat storage and satiety, and also the influence of the primary stress hormone cortisol causing that, uh, craving for sugar. So bad news. Here’s what the book says. Your athletic pursuits require you to sleep significantly more than if you weren’t training reject conventional wisdom’s eight hours recommendation and individualize your approach. Honoring these two maximums. Number one, minimize artificial light and digital stimulation after dark. And number two awaken each morning without an alarm feeling refreshed and energized.
If you can’t honor the aforementioned maxim stop training until you can, if you fall short of optimal sleep one day, take a nap the following day instead of doing your workout. Okay. So the first one minimize artificial light and digital stimulation after dark. This is where we really screw things up, uh, in comparison with our genetic expectations to govern our sleep and wake cycles, according to our circadian rhythm. So the human body is strongly calibrated to get sleepy and wind things down soon after it gets dark in our environment. So today it’s not when the sun sets, it’s when we decide to make it dark by switching off the screen, turning off the light in the room. So we artificially extend our days longer than our genetic expectations, which have been for two and a half million years governed by the rising and setting of the sun.
And when we do this, that’s when the hormones get dysregulated, um, we start eating more. We produce too much cortisol in the evening because that’s the attempt to stay awake from the influence of artificial light, uh, going through our retina and stimulating our central nervous system. And if you didn’t have that light, such as let’s say, when you’re on a camping trip and it gets dark and you sit by the fire and pretty soon someone’s yawning and someone else is yawning, and you all feel like going to sleep at nine o’clock at night instead of 11:30, as you are in your well lit artificial home environment with screens and entertainment and, uh, work obligations keeping you up long after the time when your hormones might have kicked in to make you sleepy. So, in other words, we don’t feel sleepy due to the influence of artificial light on our hormonal central nervous system.
So the idea here is to observe excellent sleeping hygiene, sleeping habits, and the main one being just try to facilitate dark and mellow evenings. So especially the last couple hours before bed, I know that, you know, we’re getting into winter season and you live at high latitude. And so it gets dark at 4:15 in Seattle, and you’re gonna have to continue your game, your A game. So that’s fine. But as you get toward the desired sleeping hour, if it’s 10 o’clock or whatever, you know, make those last two hours a time where you can, uh, enjoy quiet socialization walking the dog around the block, doing restorative things like a little yoga session, or if you insist on, uh, digital entertainment, you know, make it in as dark, a room as possible, maybe wear those yellow or orange lenses to, block out the harmful effects of, uh, indoor light, uh, that cause suppression of melatonin.
And to try to facilitate that dim light melatonin onset, which is the way that we feel sleepy and transition into a peaceful night of sleep. So the second part besides making a dark mellow evening is to create an ideal sleeping environment. So your bedrooms should be very simple and spartan free from clutter and stacks of bills or chores, or, you know, leftover home projects that haven’t been completely done, piles of dirty clothing or clean clothing, just a nice tight, simple operation. That’s absolutely as dark as possible. So get your blackout curtains or blinds. Uh, the home supply stores have great things and forget about those little night lights or emissions from L E D screens. We wanna have it completely dark because the body is extremely sensitive to even tiny amounts of light. They’ve been studies they’re referenced in the fantastic book, Lights Out, Sleep, Sugar and Survival, that even a small beam of light flashed on the back of the knee is enough to disrupt melatonin release because not only do we have the very sensitive light sensors in the retina, the super cosmetic nucleus S SCN, that’s where the light goes and tells your body to crave sugar, store fat, stay awake, produce stress hormones, but we’re also, uh, we also have light sensors on all of our skin cells.
So a blindfolds great, like for napping, we talk about that and stuff, but this is the reason why when the sun comes up, even if you’ve been out super late and you’re hoping you can sleep in, you sometimes are often sense when it’s light outside. Even when you think your room’s almost totally dark like your hotel room, but a little bit of light’s pouring in through the curtains and your body knows that it’s sunrise. So a super dark room, it should be cool. There’s some statistics showing that 68 Fahrenheit or below is the best way to facilitate and, uh, a good long night’s sleep. It’s also extremely important to have it quiet. So if you live in a urban environment where there’s outdoor, sounds like the buses going by all night under your apartment window, whatever, um, get one of those, um, white noise machines or use a fan.
I like to use a fan. I travel with a little portable fan that cranks out a pretty nice hum in the background, or they have wonderful iPhone apps, smartphone apps, uh, that simulate rainfall or other natural sounds. Um, Rainmaker pro is what I use. And it’s got like literally a hundred different types of rainfall and I’ve trained my body, my brain to when I launch that app, I can get into napping mode very quickly. And speaking of napping mode, if things happen that compromise your beautiful, perfect night’s sleep, take a nap the next day. And if you claim that you’re not good at napping, the starting point here that I would suggest is to create a napping environment that’s free from stimulation, because if you’re at your busy workplace and you’re realizing that you’re a little sleepy, but oh, I don’t think I could take a nap cuz I’m I got all these things on my mind and people are stopping by get out of that high stimulation environment and try to turn things off and unplug in your brain.
So put the raindrop app into your earbuds. And if there’s no other place, you can go out to your car in the parking lot or a park bench outdoors and just close your eyes. And if you don’t fall asleep right away, um, you know, continue the commitment to napping or just having a brief downtime, even if you only have 10 minutes to spare, which I know everyone has 10 minutes to spare. So I don’t want to hear any backlash about that. <laugh> um, even if you just unplug from your high stimulation environment, you don’t even sleep. You just sit there and stare at the birds in the park. Um, it will do wonders for rejuvenating that very highly strained and stimulated brain that goes goes, goes throughout the day for most of us. Okay. So that’s number one in the seven habits, sleep.
Number two is stress/rest balance, primal style endurance training allows you to reach for higher highs. Those are breakthrough workouts and observe lower lows, more rest, shorter, easier recovery workouts and staying below aerobic maximum heart rate at the vast majority of your workouts. Consider backing off on both your mileage and your intensity and adding more sleep recovery and complimentary practices. This is an interesting one because we’ve been at this, uh, very popular endurance and ultra endurance sports for what, 30, 40, 50 years, you know, the early running boom in the seventies and the masses of people that came out and attempted the marathon. And then the sport of triathlon got big in the eighties and continues to escalate in popularity. Now we have all the alternatives like the adventure racers, Spartan racers, mud racers, and there’s so many people that are trying to get the best outta their body and aspire to complete these highly ambitious endurance athletic events.
And we still suffer from this extremely flawed mainstream mentality that it requires day after day after day of consistent hard work and high volume training. And it’s simply not true. And I think anyone who’s listening has proven this to themselves by taking a break from training and coming back and performing better than ever. Even when you spun out of your consistent weekly, hourly routine for a month’s vacation, or you got sick for a couple weeks, came back and all of a sudden you were throwing down PRs. Again, the body really, really likes to have a stress rest balance on all levels in all forms. That’s why we like to go to sleep at night after, uh, pushing ourselves during a busy day. But for some reason they’re remains this this connection or the mindset that’s wedded to consistency as if you took a day off or two days off or three days off that you’re gonna get outta shape, or you’re gonna lose your feel for the water.
You’re gonna lose your touch on the pedals or whatever it is. And I’m gonna come out and argue that this is a heavily psychological influence mindset. It doesn’t really have a lot to do with what your body needs, but maybe your obsessive compulsive type A, highly motivated goal oriented driven mind wants to accomplish something every day and put in that work and get that immediate gratification sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a workout. So not to discount that obviously we’re all wanting to get stuff done and we feel a lot better being productive rather than lazing around and, uh, being a dilettante at the local Starbucks holding court on the upcoming election or whatever. But there’s a point where you have to honor the dynamic nature of your body striving to become fit and build fitness. And so you can’t predict you can’t predict exactly what you’re gonna get from your body every single day or what your body’s gonna be ready to do.
And you have to let that govern your training decisions more so than a predetermined, you know, tightly defined schedule of training. So what this could come out to, uh, to deliver incredible performance breakthroughs, and honor, the primal endurance philosophy is to be more intuitive and spontaneous with your training decisions. So when you feel great and your overall life stress levels are low or in balance, that’s a good time to go out there and explore your boundaries as an athlete and push yourself to greater heights, like maybe go on the longest bike ride that you’ve done extend by 20 miles from the last one, you know, go a little faster, push yourself a little harder in the gym, whatever it is that you’ve been aspiring to, and you’re feeling good, you go for it. Uh, but on other times when that voice inside is saying, oh man, do you really have to go train today?
And your strong-willed mindset says, yes, of course, you know, suck it up. The alarm just went off. I gotta get to the pool. I haven’t swum in two days. I, this is my third day. I gotta get in there. And that’s all your mind, your, your chatter in your mind, your insecurities coming out and manifesting in this compulsion to train. Um, I sat with Kelly Starrett, one of the great minds of the whole endurance training scene and mobility and all the things that he’s into. And he said that, even in consultation with the greatest science, the Olympic training center with their blood machines and all the biomarkers that they’re doing now, he favors, desire to train as the number one marker of an athlete’s readiness and recovery state when they’re deciding what to do. So that in other words, you wake up, maybe look at yourself in the mirror, if you’re good at tricking yourself and being compulsive and say, what’s my desire to train like today?
Is it a four out of 10? Is it a two out of 10? Cause I have a sore throat or I’m tired, or I’m stressed about other things in life, then honor markers like that rather than just plowing ahead. So what that will come out to effectively is a greater fluctuation in your stress/rest balance. So higher highs because you’re resting and recovering and treating your body well for once and nurturing your energy. And so that you can have those great days and you’ll have lower lows, which is more rest days. And on the days where you’re, you know, just trying to maintain fitness or, or get a little work done, you can slow down, you can go for shorter duration. There’s no such thing that says an hour ride is the minimum limit to do something productive. And as we’ve talked about in such great length with, uh, Dr.
Maffetone and talking about Dr. Maffetone ‘s assertion, that all that low end stuff develops the aerobic system. So walking around the block or taking a short, simple hike as your workout that day, it might not be as impressive as your tempo run that’s coming up or the intervals you did the previous week, but it has a very profound aerobic training effect to stimulate those low level energy producing aerobic, enzymes, and muscle fibers. So even the easy stuff, as easy as a walk where your heart rate’s only getting up to a hundred or something it’s still vastly higher than a resting level. And you’re kicking into gear the low level energy systems. That’s building your skills and endurance athletes. So of course the need to walk around, more, move around more. It actually speeds recovery, and you can, uh, emphasize those low end things a little more than constantly having to push yourself and get a sweat to feel like the workout’s valid. Okay. So stress/rest balance. That’s number two,
And kind of going hand in hand, number three is to make your schedule intuitive and personalized, the book says your training schedule is sensible, intuitive, flexible, and even spontaneous instead of regimented and pre-ordained respect your daily life circumstances, motivation levels, stress levels, energy levels, immune function, and moods. This means backing off when you’re tired, but also pursuing breakthrough workouts when you feel great. That’s just what I talked about. The Primal Blueprint 90 day journal is a great, publication that has these daily charts, where you’re asked to give a score, one through 10 score on your level of energy, motivation, and health, and then align your degree of difficulty on your workout that day with those scores. So if your energy, motivation and health are low, for whatever reason, and you’re tuning into that, you’re asking yourself the honest question, you know, Hey, it just started to get cold and rainy here in Sacramento.
I’m looking out the window. Do I want to go do a workout as much as I would when it’s perfect sunny weather? No, and that’s okay because the off season, the winter season’s when the weather’s worse, the days are shorter. That’s a great time to slow down your body. Your body’s begging for it. And your mind’s telling you hinting at that, but you think you’re being a wimp or something rather than just respecting the ebbs and flows. So another one liner to summarize this that I’ll use is take what your body gives you every day and nothing more. Okay. So your body will tell you what you’re capable of. What’s the ideal workout for that day based on those other, um, intuitive factors. And you can honor and respect that, even if it’s frustrating. And even if, gosh, my injury still bothers me.
I’d love to go out and run, but I can’t because I’m injured. You know, you can’t ignore that suffering. It’s gonna come back to bite you. Same with being tired. It looks like I’m still recovering from my previous workout. I’m stiff and sore, which is a good indication that you can’t push yourself anything beyond just a simple recovery workout. So if you wake up in the morning and you’re stiff and sore, that means recovery day, period. I don’t care what your schedule says. I don’t care what your enthusiastic coach says. It’s a recovery day. Get it? Okay. Strong point sent home. Okay. So those are the first three on the list of seven, and we’re gonna do these nice tight shows. So I’ll get to the other four, uh, on the second part of this podcast right now, you’re gonna focus on sleep, stress/rest balance, and an intuitive and personalized schedule. Thanks for listening to this different format podcast from Primal Endurance. This is your host, Brad Kearns definitely check out the second part of this. So we’ll get to the, the other four of the seven habits of highly successful primal endurance athletes.
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I hope you enjoy this episode and encourage you to check out the primal endurance mastery course at primalendurance.fit. This is the ultimate online educational experience where you can learn from the world’s great coaches and trainers, diet peak performance, and recovery experts, as well as lengthy one on one interviews from several of the greatest endurance athletes of all time, not published anywhere else. It’s a major educational experience with hundreds of videos, but you can get free access to a mini-course with an ebook summary of the primal endurance approach and nine step by step videos on how to become a primal endurance athlete. This mini course will help you develop a strong, basic understanding of this all encompassing approach to endurance training. That includes primal aligned, eating to escape carbohydrate dependency, and enhanced fat metabolism. Building an aerobic base with comfortably paced workouts, strategically, introducing high intensity strength and sprint workouts, emphasizing rest recovery and annual periodization, and finally cultivating an intuitive approach to training instead of the usual robotic approach of fixed weekly workout schedules, just head over to primal endurance.fit and learn all about the course and how we can help you go faster and preserve your health while you’re at it.