The physiology of cleaning from the inside out

excessive sweating


I’ve written elsewhere (https://secondsixty.substack.com/p/water) about why we don’t need to drink the copious amounts of water the health experts recommend. Here I would like to discuss the benefits of running huge amounts of water through your body, mostly through sweat.

When you drink large amounts of water, it is absorbed into the blood stream, expanding the volume which triggers reflexes to increase diuresis in order to normalize the vascular compartment. Diluting the blood can have serious deleterious consequences from rupture of red blood cells to relative hyponatremia (low sodium) which can cause central demyelination, permanently damaging the central nervous system.

Just drinking water doesn’t get the water to where it does a body good – the extracellular compartment (the water outside the blood surrounding the cells.) Under normal conditions, the water you drink goes right out through the kidneys, bypassing the rest of the body.

To get the water where it needs to go, you have to draw it out of the capillaries. It doesn’t just flow there. Water follows salt, so the concentration of salt and other dissolved solids in the extracellular space has to be higher than in the blood to make that happen.

One of the ways to suck the water out of the space around the cells, concentrating the fluid around the cells, is through sweating. Since this space at 10.5 liters in a 70 kg man is larger than the intercellular space (8 liters) or the plasma (3.5 liters), it is the most significant reservoir for stored water. It’s everybody’s “camel hump.”

In addition, this space which bathes the cells is the medium through which nutrition and wastes must pass. Exchange is enhanced by adequate fluids and diminished when the interstitial space shrinks, which is common in the elderly. (I’ve treated many elderly patients who seemed at death’s door only to completely normalize with nothing more than administering water.)

The amount of water that can be passed through the body is surprising. I’ve measured a whole liter every 15 minutes in the sauna. Athletes like boxers and wrestlers who have to make weight often use the sauna to drastically eliminate water.

The sweat carries toxins, which is good, but it can also waste electrolytes. This is the rationale behind sports drinks like Gatorade. What is not adequately appreciated is that the body adjusts to conserve salt after a few days. Paul Bragg, the influential naturopath and fasting advocate of the last century used to hike Death Valley and invite healthy athletes to accompany him. He fasted on nothing but pure water while the athletes could eat and drink whatever they wanted and drank electrolyte replacement beverages or took salt tablets. (Salt tablets were popular among athletes even into the 1960s and beyond.) The athletes never made the whole 20-mile hike while the elderly, fasting, pure-water-drinking Bragg made it easily every time.

In WWII, the Allies were given salt tablets in North Africa and often suffered from heat exhaustion. Rommel’s German soldiers did not and survived the heat much better than their opponents.

Sir Richard Burton, the famous explorer of the 1800s spend much time with the Bedouins and marveled at how they survived on so little water. He reported that you just get used to feeling thirsty and move about during the coolest hours – at night – and sleep during the day under shade and wearing loose clothing.

Fast forward to the Gulf wars of recent memory. Contrast the US soldier consuming 1 ½ gallons of water a day wearing a modern combat uniform and carrying 43 lbs. of equipment and body armor plus a weapon with the Arab native who carries maybe a quart of water in a bottle and dresses in traditional clothing.

The point I’m making is that the body can adapt to preserve what it needs even while sweating out copious amounts of water. You don’t need electrolyte drinks. The minerals you get in a plant-based, whole foods diet is more than adequate.

But the elimination of toxins from the body is greatly enhanced by sweating, much more than simple urination, which mostly maintains blood volume and pressure.


I’m a huge fan of the traditional Finnish sauna, which is an ancient ritual of sweating alone and with friends. The sauna is as holy as a church to the Finns. So, I was reluctant to accept that an infrared sauna might be superior to the traditional sauna in any way. But a few facts stand out: Infrared heat penetrates deeper than simple convection of the traditional sauna, affecting the deeper tissues under the skin. More toxins are eliminated in the sweat produced by an infrared sauna. Much more, in fact. The infrared sauna is also much cheaper to heat and, being dry without the pouring of water on the hot rocks, is easier to maintain and lasts longer.

How to use the sauna safely and effectively

The purpose of the sauna is to sweat, so you should sip water constantly. Huge glasses at once don’t suffuse to the tissues and the large surges of water will mostly pass through the kidneys, so sip water slowly.

Sip only water, not electrolyte drinks or beer, which will stress your system unnecessarily. Drink beer or juice afterwards if you like, but not during the experience.

Don’t wear anything in the sauna except a towel. Microorganisms need three things to thrive and cause skin problems: heat, dampness and darkness. A swimsuit or other tight clothing supplies all three. The skin needs to be free to release the sweat, dead skin and germs, not trap it against the body.

Stay in as long as comfortable. There is no advantage to making the sauna an ordeal. Your body will adjust to the experience, so be patient and listen to it.

Try the contrast of a hot sauna with a plunge into cold water. The contrast will greatly stimulate circulation and leave you feeling toned and invigorated.

Towel off afterward and even during the experience to remove dead skin and dirt. Don’t use soap, which can have a deleterious effect by eliminating too much oil and drying the skin afterwards. (See my article on the down side of using soap: https://secondsixty.substack.com/p/nope-to-soap)

Don’t sauna every day but give yourself at least a day or two to recover. Once a week works very well.

And finally, don’t use an antiperspirant. Your body needs to sweat to clean itself. Once you cleanse your body, you won’t stink anyway.

How to Train Calves

(No, this isn't about cows.)

(Photo from “All about training the calves” by Vic Goyaram)

Calves among the more neglected muscles, but they are essential to shapely legs and athletic performance. They usually get trained on leg day, if at all, leaving the lower legs of the amateur looking like they belong more on a bird.

The calves, sometimes called the triceps surae, consist of two muscle groups behind the shins, the soleus and the gastrocnemius. The soleus originates from the bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula), engages longer and tends to have more slow-twitch fiber. The power of the sprint and jumping comes from the gastrocnemius, which contracts nearer the end of the step when the leg straightens at the knee, supercharging the movement. The gastrocs take their origin from the femur and don’t engage much when the knee is bent.

It is the gastrocnemius that contributes the most to the shape of the leg as well, if aesthetics are your priority.

The favorite exercise for the soleus is the seated calf raises with weights. To properly work the gastrocnemius, which contributes the most to both power and shape, the knees have to be straight, so standing calf raises or “donkeys” ( calf raises with straight legs but bent at the waist with someone sitting on your low back or butt) are the preferred exercises for them.

Work calves every day

Arnold Schwarzenegger says the calves, like the abs, should be worked every day, not just a couple of times a week like other muscle groups. (A tip he got from Reg Park, his idol when Arnold was a young, new bodybuilder.) I suspect this is because the calves evolved to perform mostly and endurance function in chasing prey for long distances, sprinting only briefly at the end.

Personally, I find a good compromise in doing calf raises with my daily stretching and working the gastrocs, but not the soleus, hard on leg day at the gym.

Because I’m interested in performance, I hit the calves from several angles: straight, splayed and pigeon-toed. This approach also engages the tibialis and even the peroneus longus at the front of the shin which, counterintuitively, play a role in pointing the toes, which is important for gymnasts and martial artists. If I were a sprinter or a distance runner, that would matter less.

I often do single-leg calf raises, which enables a good workout to muscle failure without weights, which would take forever with two-legged raises. For those who are not at the gym every day, there is no reason to neglect the calves, which can be worked thoroughly with just a couple of minutes and no more equipment than a stair step.

Stretch is essential

Calf raises, seated or straight-kneed, should go deep. Doing them on a flat surface doesn’t get the full stretch on the extension phase. You need an elevated surface like a stair or a block. Stretching the calf is important both to engage the most fibers for maximal growth but to maintain ankle range of motion and stability. Stimulating the plantar fascia, the Achilles tendon and the ligaments of the ankle through stretch is important for maintaining their health and resilience. Connective tissue has a poor blood supply and relies on movement and stretch for nutrient and waste exchange. I usually finish up any calf raises with a full stretch for several seconds. There is some evidence that this encourages muscle growth as well.

For the neophyte, just a brief session of 90 seconds is enough to encourage growth in most muscles, but not the calf. It is used to prolonged, uninterrupted use in daily walking. You have to do at least three sets to muscle failure to really get results, in my experience.

The Belly of the Beast

How to train abs

(Image from Northside Sports Medicine)

The muscles of the abdomen are a layered complex of the rectus abdominus, external and internal obliques, and the transversus. They make up part of the all-important core, but only a part and have complex functions.

Whether you are motivated by achieving an impressive “six pack,” improving sports performance, or just losing a few pounds around the middle, you must train the abs properly to get optimal results. Training abs is different from training other muscles:

1. You do not have to build up the abs for them to be visible. Definition comes from low abdominal body fat which lets them show through under thin skin, not their size.

2. Abdominal exercise will not help you spot reduce and get rid of fat around the middle. You cannot spot reduce fat (except by surgical liposuction). Abdominal exercises will not get rid of that spare tire.

Getting rid of abdominal fat requires consideration for diet, cardio and resistance training of other muscle groups, not doing lots of abdominal exercises.

Train abs every day

Abdominal muscles support the core and, significantly, your lower back. Well-toned abdominals can alleviate low back pain. For that reason, the abs should be trained every day. You are not training for size, like biceps or pecs, but for tone.

You don’t need weights to train them effectively. In fact, I recommend against it because of the limited benefits and the significant chance of injury.

Measuring your waist is the only measurement you need when your goal is losing weight. The scale cannot tell the difference between muscle, fat, bone or water. But fat is virtually the only component that makes a difference in your waistline.

Here is the regime I got from Arnold Schwarzenegger:

1. Do 200 crunches every day first thing in the morning.

2. At least once a day, stand with your back to the wall as tall as you can and suck in your belly and hold it.

My personal routine

I do between 100 and 200 crunches every morning before breakfast, but I split them up to work the different components. I’ll do 40 – 50 straight crunches to work the rectus muscles. Then do trunk twisting crunches to work the obliques, 40 – 50. In between sets, I work the transverse muscles by exhaling, sucking in my belly to make it as thin as possible and holding for about 10 seconds, then repeat 4 times.

The neglected transversus

The transverse abdominals are unique and very important. They are also the most neglected. While the rectus and oblique groups squeeze the abdomen down, tightening the transverse group elongates the trunk. It is the muscle most responsible for a narrow waist and flat tummy. Exercising the transverse group also displaces the abdominal organs and fat upward, countering the effect of gravity.

I do this exercise lying down in between crunches, but while walking throughout the day, I constantly remind myself to stand tall. This habit will help keep the belly toned, tummy flat and render a more youthful posture. (Ever notice how old people tend to hunch themselves over compared to young people?)

Try it. Stand up and try to make yourself as tall as possible. Notice how even subconsciously you engage the muscles around your waist to squeeze yourself taller.

What about other abdominal exercises?

A variety of exercises is always good. They work the muscles from different angles and give better results no matter what the goal. But there are a handful of exercises I recommend avoiding:

Sit ups. First, they mostly engage the hip flexors (e.g. the iliopsoas) which can stress the low back and cause or exacerbate injury. Crunches will do everything you want sit ups to do for you without the danger of injury. Sit ups with weights are especially dangerous.

Roman chair with weights also carries an even greater risk of injury. Any abdominal work with an extended body can be done effectively and more safely without weights.

V-sits. Straight leg raises increase the risk of injury by engaging chiefly the hip flexors and stressing the low back. Unless you are a gymnast, you should avoid most abdominal exercises involving straight legs.

Side bends. I honestly don’t know why anyone would recommend this, but you see it all the time. It’s not effective for reducing “love handles,” working any particular abdominal group, or improving mobility. And it puts unnecessary pressure on the lumbar spine.

No exercise is effective unless you do them consistently, so I recommend finding something convenient you can do every day. To train abs, all you need is a floor.

Water for Weight Loss

Why swimming is the coolest way to burn fat

(Photo from blog.myfitnesspal.com)

One of the most reliable ways to lose weight is by limiting calories. Eat fewer calories than you take in and your weight will go down. Guaranteed. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Biological systems are very inefficient. About the best they can manage is 50%. That means for every two calories you burn, at most you get only one calorie of work. The rest is lost through heat and overall heat loss is usually much higher. In other words, your calorie expenditure mostly goes toward keeping you warm enough to metabolize, not to moving your body from point A to B.

When you run on the treadmill and keep track of the calories you expend while exercising, you are looking at the wrong numbers.

(Photo from cuteanimalpicturesandvideos.com)

Warm-blooded animals need to maintain a certain level of body heat to stay alive. There are ways we conserve heat through insulation and controlling peripheral circulation, but we mammals are all built to generate heat and these mechanisms are crucial to understanding how to maximize calorie use while restricting consumption.

Since heat loss rather than work performed during exercise is where most of the energy goes, it stands to reason that anything that increases the need for heat will help us burn more fat. Fat is relatively inefficient – better at producing heat than work – so heat loss also tends to favor fat loss.

One of the problems with simple calorie restriction without thought to quality nutrition is that you risk metabolizing protein and losing muscle. Let’s be clear. When we speak of wanting to lose weight, we mean lose fat. When you lose your muscle mass, you are losing your furnace. Muscles burn energy. Any good weight loss strategy has to consider maintaining, even building, lean body mass. If you don’t understand this, you will be discouraged when initially you gain weight from exercise because muscle grows faster than fat disappears.

Your body has internal mechanisms for metabolizing fat for the specific purpose of maintaining body heat. In our modern world, we are seldom exposed to uncomfortable levels of cold. We heat our homes and put on a sweater. But in the days when humans had less access to central heating and warm clothing, they did quite well through simply adapting internally to changes in the weather. We all still have this innate ability to ramp up our fat burning.

(Photo from www.nbc.com)

Consider this: Michael Phelps was known for eating 12,000 calories a day while training. That’s almost as much as the average man eats in a week. Twelve hours a day of butterfly stroke wouldn’t require that much energy. Phelps loses most of his calories to the water around him in the pool, which isn’t even especially cold.

You can take advantage of the “Phelps Effect” by submersing your body into cool water every day. You don’t need to immediately start with ice water baths or joint the Polar Bears. Just get in a pool or even a bathtub of cool water. Stay until it starts to get uncomfortable. Over time your body will naturally, effortlessly, and without significant discomfort, adapt itself to burning more calories by inducing fat-burning enzymes in your core.

(Author preparing for a morning dip in the lake)

I swim in the lake every morning until it freezes over in the winter. I swam in a snow storm on the Winter Solstice once. As summer turns to fall, the water gets gradually colder and my body adapts. By October, I can feel – literally feel – my core fire up and start to glow inside from the heat the second my big toe touches the water. I swim for a few minutes and come out feeling warm and toasty on the inside. I still feel the cold – it just doesn’t bother me.

Belly fat – the fat around your intestines – is much more readily available for use than fat under your skin. For that reason, as you increase fat burning, the belly fat melts away first and your waistline shrinks. Control your calorie consumption and the fat will disappear while minimizing loss of lean body tissue.

Professional weight loss programs often ask you to measure your neck, chest, waist and upper thigh. This isn’t necessary. The only measurement that matters is your waistline. This makes swimming in cool water one of the simplest and fastest ways of losing weight.

Intelligent exercise is important for many reasons but hours on the treadmill at the deceptively labelled “fat burning” range is not a smart way to lose weight. Your time would be much better spent relaxing in the pool, enjoying cold, low-calorie drinks. Tim Ferriss, in his excellent book “The 4-Hour Body” tells of a man who successfully lost weight just by drinking lots of cold water and taking walks wearing light clothing.


Om Sweet Om

Loading more posts…