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Stu Mittleman on Healthier Living
Stu Mittleman, author of Slow Burn: Burn Fat Faster by Exercising Slower, is a fitness educator and record-setting endurance athlete with degrees in sports psychology and exercise physiology. He has set eight national and international records in long-distance running, including the 1,000-mile world record in 1986. In 2000, he ran across the United States from San Diego to New York—a distance of some 3,000 miles—in 56 days. He’s the current president of WorldUltrafit Inc., his fitness coaching and consulting firm, and a member of motivational speaker and writer Tony Robbins’ Mastery University coaching team. In this interview, Mittleman explains how running can be an invigorating way to improve your health.
What made you take up ultra-distance running?
During college, I was running so much that people suggested I do marathons. I ended up doing surprisingly well in the first one, finishing in about two and half hours. Two weeks later I did a 50-mile race and really enjoyed it. I began to study running from a physiological view. I was a pioneer because there wasn’t a lot of information about how to run for 100 miles or for 24 hours or for six days. I was asking a whole new slew of questions that led me to the conclusions that I teach now, which are to first de-alkalize the body and then focus on the process of running.
How many marathoners have you coached?
I’ve gotten about 5,000 people to run marathons; the youngest was probably 16-years-old, while the oldest were in their early 80s. I can make it accessible for anybody because it’s something we’re designed to do. I look at the stresses and strains that most people are challenged with on a daily basis; I think it’s more amazing how people survive life than how they do a marathon.
Do most people come to you to lose weight or to learn how to run?
Without a doubt, the most important thread has to do with “going the distance” and being productive, effective and energetic over a long period of time. I’ve worked with racecar drivers and Wall Street people who simply want to get by on less sleep, be more active and have less downtime during the day. Of the people who come to me with no intention of doing a marathon, about one in three end up doing one and shattering limiting beliefs about themselves.
How do you start working with people?
The first step is to understand how that person is organized in terms of the physiological and structural components, as well as his or her thought processes. I want to learn what his or her core assumptions are of what it means to be healthy and fit. This process is important to develop and gain trust and rapport.
What does it take for people to stay on your program?
I’m very sensitive to the way people express their experiences through little things, such as using the word “commitment” instead of the word “try.” I do not want people to try anything; I want people to commit to a course of action. If it doesn’t work out, then do something else. I want people to be very precise and authentic.
Why is running a preferred exercise?
Running is the most intensive exercise; it provides the most concentrated fat-calorie burn of all exercises. Bipedalism—putting one foot in front of another—gets at the very essence of how we’re organized as physical beings. Part of why there’s so much illness and disease on the planet in post-industrial society is that we don’t spend enough time in bipedal movement.
What advice would you offer someone who wants to start running?
I start with three areas: One has to do with the overall outcome, which is to get your body to maximize its ability to utilize fat and decrease your dependency on sugar. When you run, you can differentiate fat burning from sugar burning by the way you breathe. Fat-burning breathing is low, slow and quiet. Sugar-burning breathing is high, rapid and noisy. Identify when you’re in a fat-burning state and you will keep running. Second, take a look at your food choices: Hydration, vegetable-based foods to keep the body alkaline and high-quality oils are the three key components if you want to start running or exercising safely. Third, understand what you can focus on to maximize your experience and your mind-set; this is the psychology side.
How much improvement is possible in 30 days?
A tremendous amount is possible. Week one should be used to work on food choices and nutrition. Within two weeks of working out, you’ll understand when you’re burning fat and when you’re burning sugar. By the third and fourth weeks, you’ll start to put it all together by establishing a system where you fit it all in comfortably. At the end of 30 days, you could easily see a 1% to 3% loss of body fat, you can double or triple the comfortable duration you can walk or run and you’ll be excited and full of energy. I can easily get a non-runner to do a marathon in 90 days.
Is running more risky than walking or other forms of exercise?
The body doesn’t know the difference between walking and running—in fact, the only distinction is that when you’re walking, one foot is in contact with the ground at any given time. The key is not to focus on running or walking; the key is putting one foot in front of the other. People need to get rid of the hang-ups between running and walking.
Do runners and walkers need any special equipment?
To make running or walking safer, make sure you’re in shoes that fit. In the past, people generally chose shoes that were too small and didn’t match their feet. You need at least a thumb’s width between the end of your foot and the end of the shoe. Also, your toes need to spread out and slide forward as you move.
Warming up is extremely important. The more intensely you’re going to work out, the longer the warm-up has to be. The more slowly you bring your heart rate up, the more likely your body will be to utilize fat and allow you to run longer. More oxygen will be delivered to your working muscles, reducing the likelihood of stiffness and soreness. Think of a warm-up as preliminary exercise, not just stretching. Move from a slow stroll to a brisk walk to a jog, then begin to increase the pace to your desired workout level. At the end of the workout, reverse the pattern and give your body a chance to reorganize itself.
For more information on Stu Mittleman, visit www.worldultrafit.com.