Episode 94: Fitness Toolkit – Protocols & Tools To Optimize Physical Health | Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • Seated exercise tip: perform soleus pushups/seated calf raise (start with feet planted and press onto toes, raising heels) for surprisingly dramatic improvements in blood sugar and metabolic boost
  • Huberman’s fitness protocol: Sunday – Endurance; Monday – Legs; Tuesday – Heat/cold cycling; Wednesday – Torso push/pull; Thursday – High effort, short cardio; Friday – High-intensity interval training
    • Tweak the routine and shift to personalize but keep the broad goals – the specific days of each workout aren’t critical but specific spacing is
  • Huberman’s hypertrophy protocol: 3-4 weeks in 5-8 reps at heavyweight x 3-4 sets per exercise with 2-4 minutes rest; then next month, switch to 8-15 reps at lighter weight x 2-3 sets per exercise with 90 sec rest
  • Resistance training best practice: choose 2 exercises per muscle group – one where the muscle is at maximal contraction at the end of the movement (e.g., bent row) and another where there’s a stretch or full range of motion at the beginning of the movement (e.g., pull up)
  • To lower heart rate between sets, practice physiologic sighs: 2 full inhales through nose + 1 full exhale of all air through the mouth
  • Mind-muscle connection: certain muscles will grow bigger and get stronger depending on your ability to contract that muscle in the absence of load
  • Do 3-5 minutes of deliberately slow breathing after each training session to downshift the nervous system and relax your mind and body

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this special “toolkit” episode of the Huberman Lab podcast, Andrew Huberman breaks down a fitness protocol that maximizes a well-rounded physical fitness program including strength, endurance, and flexibility. Learn the ins and outs of resistance training protocols, including repetitions, sets, rest periods periodization, and much more. 

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Principles Of Exercise & Fitness

  • The basic concepts of fitness are few, but the methods are vast
  • The 9 main concepts of training: skill, speed, power (function of speed and strength), strength, hypertrophy (growing muscle mass), muscular endurance, anaerobic power (ability to produce and sustain work in short bursts), VO2 max (max heart rate), long-endurance (30+ minutes with no break)
  • There are a handful of things you have to do in order to make all of the main concepts work, but you will not see changes in any domain without progressive overload
  • Progressive overload: adaptation happens as a byproduct of stress – you have to push the system
  • If you do the same exercises over time, you will plateau – progressive overload could be in the form of adding weights, adding repetitions, increasing frequency, varying complexity of movement

Andrew Huberman’s Foundational Protocol

  • Focus on one aspect of fitness per day
  • Sunday: Endurance – at least 30 minutes or more cardio, ideally 60-75 minutes of zone 2 cardio such as jogging or hiking
    • Tip: use a weight vest for an additional boost in the level of work on shorter bouts
  • Monday: Legs – Quads, Hamstrings, Calves
    • Why legs on Mondays? Legs are the largest muscle group in the body so training with fresher legs to start the week set off metabolic processes that elevate metabolism & amplify hormonal events
    • Get the hardest workout out of the way and move on
  • Tuesday: Heat/cold cycling – ideally, hot sauna (20 minutes) + ice bath (5 minutes) x 5 rounds
    • Check out the notes for a reminder about the rationale, benefits, and best practices in heat or cold
    • Sauna once per week increases growth hormone not observed if you do sauna more frequently
    • Ice baths should not be performed immediately after a resistance training session because it will blunt the benefits of the workout
  • Wednesday: Torso – Push/Pull
    • Working push/pull enhances strength, the integrity of joints enhances hormonal effects
    • Sample exercises: shoulder press, chin-ups
    • Important tip: don’t forget to train your neck! This can help reduce shoulder risk of injury and discomfort and reduce forward jut, but it’s critical to do so safely – check out ATHLEAN-X Neck Training
  • Thursday: Brief Cardio at 75-80% Effort – 35 minutes of running/rowing/cycling/stairs/jump rope, tapping deeper than zone 2 but not all-out effort
  • Friday: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – goal is to get heart rate way up and tap into strength & hypertrophy training for legs without touching weights
    • Sample exercise: intervals on bike 20-30 second all-out sprint + 10 seconds rest x 8-12 rounds
    • For most, max heart rate = 220-age
    • Word of caution: only go all out on movements you can do with perfect form
  • Saturday: Arms, Calves, Neck – Indirect training for torso
    • Sample exercise: triceps dip, chin up, dumbbell curls, incline curls, triceps kickback
  • Tweak the routine and shift to personalize but keep the broad goals the specific days of each workout aren’t critical but the exact spacing is
  • Huberman does – a hack squat, leg extensions, seated calf raises, leg curls, glute hamstring raise, etc.
  • Huberman does not – squat, or deadlift (surprisingly)

Key Principles Of Resistance Training

  • Resistance workout template: 10 minutes warmup, 50-60 minutes hard work where the final reps in each set are hard – there can be diminishing returns if exercising beyond 60 minutes
  • Some people need more days of rest between workouts depending on their body’s ability to recover
  • Train each muscle group twice per week, once directly and once indirectly through a cardio workout or HIIT
  • Exercise selection is important – the most important is that you can perform the exercise safely
  • For each muscle group, find an exercise that gets you into a weighted stretch position (for example, standing calf raise) + another exercise you get the contraction in the shortened position of the muscle (for example, seated calf raise)
  • Sample structure 1: if training lower reps and heavier weights, you actually want more volume (counter to what many have been told)
    • For example, 5 sets of 5 at heavier weight; if training higher repetitions, do fewer sets
  • Huberman’s hypertrophy protocol: 3-4 weeks in 5-8 reps at heavyweight x 3-4 sets per exercise with 2-4 minutes rest; then next month, switch to 8-15 reps at lighter weight x 2-3 sets per exercise with 90-second rest
    • Endurance/zone 2 will feel different depending on which phase you’re in

Deliberate Muscle Contraction

  • Mind-muscle connection: certain muscles will grow bigger and get stronger depending on your ability to contract that muscle in the absence of load
  • If you know the bicep is supposed to be doing the work on a curl, the bicep needs to do the work – squeeze it
  • The level of resting tone (AKA muscularity) in the muscle will improve if you can learn to engage the muscle and connect neurologically
  • When working towards hypertrophy or muscle growth, you need to seek ways to make it uncomfortable
  • Some places are easier to contract through range forcefully than others – for example, most of us can contract our bicep, but fewer can contract their calf

Flexibility

  • Hold static stretches 30-60 seconds 3x per week per muscle group
  • Best practices: short, repeated sessions every day, relaxing into the stretch
  • To relax, use long exhales; to generate force, contract core

Navigating Real World Obstacles

  • Poor sleep: consider skipping your workout if you’ve had a poor or terrible night of sleep – it could set you up for getting ill; focus on recovery and slide the workout one day
    • Double up workouts another day if needed to get on track
  • Training fasted vs fed: controversial topic! Huberman trains fasted but eats soon after
    • Better to train fed than to not train at all
  • Illness/cold: if it’s light sniffle, workout but be gentle as needed – there are immune-boosting benefits of exercise; if you have a full fever/cold, skip training

Huberman Workout Supplement Stack

Resources

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Notes By Maryann

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