Do Soleus Push-Ups for Metabolic Health

Do Soleus Push-Ups for Metabolic Health

Follow @slikkfitness on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok for more

An Exercise for Those That Sit a Lot

This simple exercise might be a saving grace for those of us who work out but end up spending much of the rest of the day sitting.

Wait, Push-Ups With WHAT??
A recent study found that doing a workout and then sitting around most of the rest of the day was “almost like not working out at all.” In other words, a single daily brief period of activity wasn’t enough to undue the deleterious effects of long periods of inactivity.
The Late Show host Stephen Colbert was downright delighted to hear this news, but not because he was active throughout the day and took smug satisfaction in the findings.
Nah. Instead, Colbert reasoned that if exercising and then not doing anything the rest of the day was almost like not exercising at all, then the opposite must be true, too: Sitting around all day doing nothing – like he admitted to doing – was almost like exercising.
Nice try, Colbert. However, his comedic belief is the perfect segue to another study, one that found that doing a simple exercise while sitting for long periods could keep your metabolism from shutting down.
This simple exercise is the “soleus push-up” (SPU) and you can do it while watching TV, working on a computer, or watching the squirrels frolic in the tree outside your attic window. It might be hard to fathom, but the results of an initial study make it look like the SPU might be a solution to the variety of health problems caused from long periods of inactivity.
Before we get into the study, here’s what the SPU looks like:

The Study – Elevator Pitch
Let’s disperse with the boring but essential stuff: The study involved 25 human volunteers who were recruited to participate in two sequential experiments using a randomized cross-over design. The subjects pretty much split down the middle, sex-wise, with a diverse range of ages, BMIs, and levels of activity.
Researcher Marc Hamilton, a professor of Health and Human Performance, wired them up, stuck masks on their faces to measure oxygen exchange, and drew multiple blood samples before, during, and after performing the SPU for prolonged periods.
He and his group found that the SPU was more effective at sustaining an elevated oxidative metabolism (how the body uses oxygen to burn blood sugar or fats) than any other commonly used method – more efficient than weight loss, intermittent fasting, and yes, conventional exercise.
Subjects performing the SPU had a 52% improvement on blood glucose and a 60% less insulin requirement over the 3 hours following the ingestion of a glucose drink. Performing the exercise reduced very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and triglycerides while increasing fat and carbohydrate oxidation.
If adopted by the masses, the SPU could presumably lead to a substantial decrease in the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and a slew of other maladies attribute to inactivity.
What’s So Special About the Soleus Muscle?
Just in case you’re foggy as to what or where the soleus is, it’s the ribbon-like muscle that runs from the heel to the back of the knee – the muscle you work when doing seated calf raises.
Most of us largely ignore the damn thing, but it appears now that it might have special qualities. I’ll let Hamilton kick off the explanation:

“All of the 600 muscles combined normally contribute only about 15% of the whole-body oxidative metabolism in the three hours after ingesting carbohydrates. Despite the fact that the soleus is only about 1% of the body weight, it is capable of raising its metabolic rate during SPU contractions to easily double, even sometimes triple, the whole-body carbohydrate oxidation.

“We are unaware of any existing or promising pharmaceuticals that come close to raising and sustaining the whole-body oxidative mechanism at the magnitude.”

There’s something else surprising about the soleus: Hamilton explains that when activated correctly (per the SPU, for example), it uses blood glucose and fats to fuel its movement instead of glycogen, which is mostly what other muscles use. This lack of reliance on glycogen allows the soleus to work for hours. That isn’t the case with other muscles; when glycogen runs out, as it does in a comparatively short time, they “bonk,” they hit a glycogen wall.
This allows you to perform something like the SPU for long periods of time, even hours, with minimal effort and minimal concentration without fatigue.
Why Not Just Get Up and Walk Every So Often?
The SPU activates the soleus differently than walking. When you’re walking (when the knee is straight, not bent), the soleus “turns off” once the heel starts to rise. It’s the opposite with the SPU (when the knee is bent). Walking minimizes the amount of energy used by the soleus but doing SPUs reverses that and makes the soleus use as much energy as possible for long periods.
How to Do the SPU
Doing the SPU is remarkably simple. While sitting at a desk or watching TV, bend your knees at a 45-degree angle and place your feet flat on the floor. From there, just pretend you’re doing a seated calf raise, albeit with no added resistance and no eccentric slowing.
In other words, just lift your heel off the floor (go for maximum range of motion without straining) and then let it passively return to the floor.
You don’t need to do these, in army parlance, double time. This is a casual movement, something you should eventually be able to do without thought, a learned fidget, if you will.
Possible Shortcomings of the SPU
There are a couple of things you need to know about the study that might damper any initial enthusiasm you might have had for these findings. One, participants in the study maintained the contractions, in some cases, for a freakin’ long time: 270 minutes, or 4.5 hours.
Secondly, Hamilton warns us that the SUP is a very specific movement “that right now requires wearable technology and experience to optimize the health benefits.” He adds that additional publications are in the works to teach people how to do the SPU without the sophisticated lab equipment used in the study.
Let me try to deflect these two bummerisms. As far as doing these for the same amount of time it takes to watch the first two LOTR movies, I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s like the basic theory of conventional exercise: more is better (up to a point), but some is better than nothing.
That means doing SPU for a half hour or hour is better than not doing them at all. Doing them for 5 minutes, getting up to go the can, and then resuming them when you get back is probably helpful, too.
And regarding the alleged need for sophisticated equipment (electrodes and such to measure range of motion, etc.), anyone who’s ever done a few sets of seated calf raises is more than capable of doing the SPU correctly.
Oh, one more thing for those that might have unrealistic expectations of the SPU: Doing them isn’t going to hypertrophy your perpetually lagging soleus muscles to any noticeable degree, and neither will the long periods of increased oxidative metabolism burn a lot of calories and shred you up.
The SPU is simply designed to help WALL-E, hover-chair denizens in the making, do some sort of activity virtually subconsciously for long periods of time so that they can maintain metabolic health.
It might also have positive benefits to those of us who work out hard for a scheduled amount of time but otherwise sit on our butts for extended periods of time.
Hamilton MT et al. A potent physiological method to magnify and sustain soleus oxidative metabolism improves glucose and lipid regulation. iScience. 2022 Sep 16;25(9).
University of Houston. Groundbreaking Discovery of “Special” Muscle That Can Promote Fat Burning While Sitting. SciTechDaily. October 17, 2022.

More info here:

(post deleted by author)

Download the Slikk Fitness app for iOS for more exclusive content