Q&A with Philip Shepherd and Andrei Yakovenko, authors of Deep Fitness: The Mindful, Science-Based Strength-Training Method to Transform Your Well-Being in Just 30 Minutes a Week

In Deep Fitness you introduce a specialized form of exercise. What do you call it?

It’s called Mindful Strength Training to Failure, or MSTF for short.

How did mindfulness and exercise come together in this fitness program?

While Andrei was training clients in his gym, New Element Training, he became aware of the mindful aspect of his workout, with its very slow movements. To pursue its possibilities he invited Philip, an embodiment specialist, to try it. Philip was immediately hooked, and while Andrei continued to train him, Philip began training Andrei in The Embodied Present Process – the mindfulness-based modality Philip had developed. As they trained each other, MSTF was created.

Why is Mindful Strength Training to Failure so effective?

It is supported by three solid foundations that are all concerned with maximizing effectiveness: rigorous, peer-reviewed research from around the world; Andrei’s experience over 10 years with thousands of clients; and Philip’s experience teaching and writing about embodiment for 40 years. It is the perfect amalgam of science and experience.

What are the two main advantages in bringing mindfulness to strength training?

With a mindful approach you can unite with the body’s deepest resources and become fully present to the work it is doing. The experience of unlocking and releasing those resources enables the workout to be a joyful, present experience, even while you feel your muscles approaching momentary failure. When you truly look forward to your weekly workout, it sustains itself indefinitely.

Secondly, when you remain mindful during an exercise, you can connect with an inner calm that carries you right through to the point where your muscles truly fail. Even when you don’t look calm on the outside, you can remain present to what is happening all the way to your limit. By arriving at your limit, you move your limit.

Why is taking a muscle to ‘momentary failure’ so important?

When a working muscle arrives at failure, the body gets the message that the environment is presenting challenges that the body is not strong enough to meet – so it rallies its resources to remodel the muscle in a way that simply doesn’t happen without reaching failure. 

Is half an hour once a week really enough to get more fit and healthy?

You don’t get stronger while you are exercising, you get weaker. The strengthening of your muscles occurs as you recover from the workout and your muscles rebuild – and that typically takes a few days.  For most people, one MSTF workout a week will enable them to grow continually stronger. 

Can the Deep Fitness exercises easily be done at home?

The book provides a range of exercises that can be done at home using body weight and resistance bands. It also presents exercises that can be done in a gym.

Can reducing aerobic activity and concentrating on muscle fitness be beneficial?

If you enjoy aerobic activities, there’s no reason to reduce them. But without the addition of strength training to your week, your large muscles will grow weaker.

Do you believe strength straining is superior to walking, running, biking, etc.  Why?

Moderate exercise brings positive benefits, but the largest muscle fibers in the body only engage during intense exercise, such as MSTF or sprinting. If those muscle fibers don’t work, they atrophy. The weaker those large muscles become, the more vulnerable we become to aging and the chronic diseases associated with it.

Can muscle strength protect us against diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, or stroke?

Research has clearly demonstrated an association between low muscle strength and many diseases, including these.

Why do you say the war on fat is misguided?

To diet without the inclusion of some strength training can lead to a significant loss of muscle tissue – so a focus on weight loss alone can undermine health. A focus on strength training, together with healthy eating, will improve metabolic health overall.

Can too much exercise be bad for you?  

The benefits of exercise occur in the recovery stage, as the body adapts to the stresses it has experienced. This recovery stage is as important as the exercise itself. To push the body continuously without giving it time to recover can be detrimental.

How does Mindful Strength Training to Failure fight aging and can it be beneficial at any age?

What we perceive as ‘aging’ is failing muscle strength: stooped posture, susceptibility to being cold, feebleness, unsteadiness on your feet, low vitality. These are the outward signs of a compromised metabolism. MSTF is the most direct counteraction to weakening muscles. And because it avoids sudden or explosive movements, it is safe even for the elderly or people with osteoporosis.