There are 4 main biofeedback signals that we can experience during exercise. Dr. Jade Teta calls them the “Bs and Hs”. They are breathless, burning, heavy, and heat. People of all fitness levels can utilize the Bs and Hs to gauge the effectiveness of their workouts from a metabolic and hormonal standpoint. 

In this 2-part series, I’ll be breaking down Dr. Jade Teta’s four main biofeedback sensations starting with the Bs: breathlessness and burning. 

Hormonal biofeedback in exercise

In most cases, people engage in physical activity to achieve a specific endpoint. Namely, to lose fat and/or to gain lean muscle mass. After all, sculpted arms do look great in tanks.

Fat loss is a side effect of exercise. When we challenge the metabolism through exercise, we create metabolic conditions that are favorable to fat loss. One of those conditions is the growth and maintenance of lean muscle. More importantly, exercise and lean muscle mass help to support two other goals, which are absolutely essential for sustainable results.

  • Weight maintenance 
  • Preventing/offsetting weight regain

The metabolic and hormonal adaptations that occur after exercise

Following sufficient periods of rest and recovery, challenging bouts of exercise prime the metabolism to adapt.

Exercise is a stressor that initiates a cascade of metabolic and hormonal responses designed to help the body respond and meet the demands of that particular stressor (in real time). Then, because of the various hormones and chemicals released during exercise, the metabolism adapts in ways that allow us to respond more favorably to the next situation or stressful trigger. In this case, your next workout session. 

Changes like bigger muscles, and/or stronger muscles.

Lucky for us, these changes support our fat loss goals, and reduce our risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dementia. 

Effective training should elicit a response: Enter, the Bs & Hs

Effective training that increases the demand on your muscles, as well as other systems in the body (such as the heart, lungs, capillaries, mitochondria, etc) should elicit a response, which we can gauge with our biofeedback – the Bs and Hs, either during exercise, right after exercise or in the 1-2 days after exercise.

Basically, if you didn’t feel the Bs and Hs during, post, or the 24-48 hours after training, then chances are, you didn’t elicit a response. No Bs and Hs, no gains. (Not as good as “no pain, no gain” but then again, pain is never a good thing).

As Dr. Jade Teta puts it in his newest book Next Level Metabolism:

“Your metabolism has a way to measure the demand placed on it, and the greater that demand, the more it triggers downstream calorie use and adaptation processes. The triggers for muscle adaptation are the time a muscle remains under tension, the metabolic by-products that build up in and around that muscle, and the total volume of work that muscle is forced to do.”

Dr. Jade Teta

tl;dr (“too long, did not read”)

The downstream metabolic and hormonal effects associated with all forms of exercise drive a number of favorable adaptive responses which help to support our body composition goals and long term health goals.

The type of exercise you do, and how you do that exercise, determines the hormonal outcome of the workout, and therefore, the results that you get:

  • Looking slim and trim, yet also toned and strong. Check. 
  • Preventing chronic diseases and improving quality of life. Check.

Call me greedy, but I want it all!

But, how do we manipulate the numerous modifiable variables in exercise to ensure that we’re hitting those 3 triggers: metabolic demand, tension, and volume? And, how do we use the Bs and Hs to gauge the effectiveness of those workouts for specific results?

The Bs. Our exercise biofeedback. 

Breathlessness = Burn Fat

When to focus on this biofeedback: when you want to burn fat primarily. 

What is it? Breathlessness is how the body responds to the increased demand for oxygen by the working muscles. The hormones associated with it include cortisol and adrenaline, which have multiple mechanisms of action. One of which is helping fat cells release stored energy. 

Types of exercises to incorporate: steady state cardio, like jogging; high intensity training, like sprint intervals; or, emphasize full-body movements during heavy weight training sessions (ie. squats). Intensity is key, so you should push yourself hard enough that you will be breathless for a short time after. Talking should be very difficult or impossible.

How to gauge intensity: Can you talk? “The point where these hormones kick in is right where talking in a workout becomes impossible.” – Dr. Jade Teta.

Burning = Burn Fat & Build Muscle

When to focus on this biofeedback: when you want to build muscle and burn fat. 

What is it? Burning is an indicator of high metabolic stress, which is associated with the release of numerous signaling molecules. You’re likely familiar with one of these molecules already because it’s often blamed (wrongly) for causing a “burning” sensation in muscles during exercise. Lactic acid

“Many people believe lactic acid is causing the burning in the muscle, but in reality, it is buffering against it. Lactic acid is a nifty compound for the body because the cell can use it to make energy…” – Dr. Jade Teta.

Given its clear influence in many signaling pathways, lactic acid likely plays an important role in exercise-mediated adaptations. In his book, Dr. Jade Teta points to evidence that lactic acid may trigger the release of human growth hormone (HGH) – a key hormone that works with testosterone to help build muscle. As with most things, further research in this area is needed.

Intense work causes the release of other signaling molecules too, which have numerous positive effects on the metabolism, such as regulating inflammation, appetite, and what becomes of the calories that enter your body in food (also known as fuel partitioning). 

Types of exercises to incorporate: Any exercise that causes a burning sensation and fatigue in the working muscles. In other words, intensity is key. Burning occurs when oxygen can’t get to the muscles fast enough to keep up with energy needs. Sprinting, plyometrics, weight lifting, high intensity training. Whatever you choose, it can’t be sustained for long; therefore, it requires the exerciser (you) to rest briefly and recover so you can achieve the same intensity once again. 

How to gauge intensity: Can you keep working? “Work until you can’t. Rest until you can.” – Dr. Jade Teta

Bringing the Bs together.

Try it today with this protocol: This can be done in most cases, 1-3 times per week, separate from or at the end of other resistance training work. 

  • Beginners: start with 3 sets. Advanced or experienced: 3-12 sets. 
  • Frequency: 1-3 times per week. 
  • Ratio of work to rest is 3:1 or 1:3 (the latter might be better for beginners as it allows for better form/quality of work due to longer rest periods). For example, you could do a movement for 30 seconds on, 10 seconds rest (3:1) or 20 seconds on, 60 seconds rest (1:3) or some variant thereof. 
  • Adjust the frequency, sets etc. according to performance, recovery and personal fitness/ability.

Let us know if you tried this. How did you incorporate this type of exercise into your training regimen? Did you notice any changes to your workout biofeedback? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for the second post in this series on the Hs: Heavy and Heat.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash