Low-Level Activity Is the Base of My Ironman Training Plan

As I mentioned in my Core Foundational Principles post, Low-Level Activity (LLA) is different from exercise. Exercise is done with the intent of reaping a specific fitness benefit whereas LLA is staying as active as possible throughout the day. The importance of LLA in a minimalist Ironman training program should not be underestimated. In fact, LLA is going to be the base of my entire training plan. This is in contrast to spending most of my day sitting and then grinding out long slow workouts to build a base level of fitness.

There is a great video called The Truth About Exercise at DailyMotion.com that explains this principle very well (the whole video is worth watching but the specific portion about LLA is from 31 minutes to 42 minutes). To summarize, Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic obesity expert, talks about non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) which is the energy that we expend for everything except sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. NEAT includes things like walking to work, typing, yard work, and fidgeting. In the video, Dr. Levine compares the calories burned from NEAT between a waitress who does no planned exercise and a writer who spends most of his time at a desk but goes to the gym most days to exercise. Essentially, the waitress who moves around all day burns significantly more daily calories through NEAT than the sedentary writer that also exercises.

An Ironman involves being up, on your feet, and active for 10+ hours. Therefore, I try to be on my feet and active as much as possible throughout the day so my body gets used to handling continuous activity for long periods. This will help establish my fitness base and then my workouts can be focused on specific performance enhancements instead of using workout time to establish a base. As a result, my workouts will provide a better performance benefit over time in contrast to my previous routine of sitting all day and then doing long workouts. In my opinion, it is the dynamic of sitting and exercise that makes people believe that an Ironman requires such a significant amount of training time. If I’m getting 7+ hours of LLA a week as part of my normal daily routines, I can get by with less workout time.

Based on this philosophy, I try to find opportunities to incorporate LLA in my routines with minimal incremental time added to my day. Some of the things I have started doing to get more LLA are below:

  • Avoid elevators/escalators and use the stairs unless completely impractical
  • Bike to work
  • Park in the back of parking lots
  • Walk/bike to nearby destinations instead of driving
  • Walk my dogs instead of playing with them while sitting
  • Do yard work
  • Have walking meetings and walk while I’m on conference calls
  • Make phone calls while walking
  • Read emails/articles while walking (yeah….I’m that annoying guy walking around looking at my phone)

By doing the above items, I have been able to add activity to the things I already do everyday so I have been getting a ton more LLA with a minimal time investment. I have been getting 7+ hours of LLA each week without any trouble now.

Additionally, I have been avoiding sitting as much as possible. I have been using a standing desk at work and when I’m at home I try to stay on my feet by cooking and doing house chores. I don’t count this towards my weekly LLA goals but I know every minute I’m active and not sitting helps.

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