Optimizing Your Training With Ben Greenfield

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

Ben Greenfield is voted number 1 out of the top 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness. He is the writer for Ben Greenfield Fitness (a site that gets over 250,000 million views a month) and author of NYT best-selling book “Beyond Training,”

Ben also has 11 years of coaching experience-I was interested to hear how he helps his clients.

The following is a summary of the video if you don’t want to watch it.


In the interview we cover:

  • The difference between intense exercise and low-level movement.
  • Cortisol, testosterone, heart rate variability (HRV) (including ideal numbers), and the role of inflammation.
  • Ben’s blood test regimen, diet, and sleep habits.

Exercise: For Sport or Health

– Ben walked on the treadmill during the interview. He explained this as his low-level physical movement, just as our ancestors used to practice.

– He also has an anti-fatigue mat next to his desk, which he doesn’t consider exercise.

– He enjoys being an athlete mainly for the enjoyment of it. Health-wise it can be hard on the body.

– He has always been hardwired to be a warrior and to conquer. He does this to inspire others; it also makes him happy.

– Hill sprints, weighted vests, carrying sandbags, and high-intensity exercise creates inflammation, which is a stressor, especially on the sympathetic nervous system.

– Ideally, he wouldn’t want to do things like carrying sandbags and create inflammation, but it’s necessary for competition preparation.

– This exercise is necessary for the throws of competition or doing things like hunting, providing, or like Mark Divine of SealFit says, “being a sheepdog,” and displaying the ability to provide at the drop of the hat.

– For someone who wants to live a long time, you just need to have a low level of physical activity throughout the day. However, in some cases more intense exercise is necessary, especially in sport.


– He has had to deal with high cortisol levels from exercise. It is low from stopping high-intensity sports like Ironman and incorporating more rest days.

– He has never completely stopped exercise down to a level that he would program for ultimate health and longevity because it’s necessary for his job.

– Ways to lower high cortisol: sleep, meditation, yoga, journaling, magnolia bark, adaptogenic herbs, limiting EMF and wifi exposure.

(Me): Some people are already doing all of these things; in this case, the easiest way to lower high cortisol may be to exercise less.

Blood tests

– Ben usually does a basic blood panel, but now he does the longevity panel on his website (greenfieldfitnesssystems.com) which tests things like hormones, testosterone, DHA, all the estrogens, heavy metals, liver, kidney, thyroid, inflammation, cholesterols, lipid panel, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, etc.

– Also does a yearly gut panel (for yeast, fungus, parasites) and metal tests every quarter.

– He has found abnormalities in quarterly metal tests. This is partly because Ben’s clean well-water even has some problems, so he has put in an iron and manganese system filtration. He has also done copper detoxes.

Ideal Numbers

– Ideal numbers for resting heart rate (athlete): below 60 (for Ben it’s below 45).

– Lower is not necessarily better.

– A significant drop-off could indicate overtraining or adrenal fatigue.

– Ideal numbers for resting heart rate (not a big athlete): 50-60. You must take body size into account- if a smaller person, they will require a higher heart rate.

– Ideal testosterone levels: Some people are fine on libido, motivation, etc. and are fine at 300-400. Other people feel bad/like have hypogonadism unless up above 500.

– Generally, doesn’t see anyone who feels crappy when over 700.

– When Ben was competing in triathlons he was mid-300s now he is in mid 600s. He notices a difference, but not double the difference in libido, motivation, etc.

– Ideal estrogen: varies in the 10s up to the 50s. Once someone is above 40 it is indicative of a lot of aromatase activity, so they use an aromatase inhibitor on and off throughout the year.

– If a client had estrogen over 30, the decision on whether or not to treat would have to take into account testosterone and estradiol ratio as well as the sex hormone globulin.

(Me): Most people I help have low testosterone (below 500). I don’t think it’s an underlying cause of their problem, but I would think you would want to be above 500. Ben sees people with 350 sometimes who have good libido and motivation in which case he wouldn’t make it a point to treat.

How Ben drove up his testosterone

Primarily through the replacement of long, repetitive exercise with heavy lifting and more calories available. He hasn’t changed much on macronutrient percentages. Higher testosterone=better sex.

– Slow, aerobic exercise decreases testosterone probably because of 2 reasons:

  1. The lower amount of calories. When you are exercising to the extent that you have to exercise for a triathlon you have fewer metabolites available for something like hormonal precursors. You get more vitamin D moved towards cortisol formation, and calories available overall. The low testosterone or hypogonadism in men would be something like the female athletic triad- here it’s not necessarily carb restriction or fasting that is the leading cause for women, it is an overexercising and caloric restriction. Once you start eating more and exercising less your hormones, start to bounce back.
  2. Hypoxia increases erythropoietin, and that increases the red blood cells, the hemoglobin, the hematocrit.

Tips to increase erythropoietin

One study showed 30 minutes of heat exposure post-exercise for increasing blood volume and erythropoietin. This makes sense because blood flow is necessary for cooling. (Probably would still be effective without prior exercise).


– One thing to pay attention to with hypoxia (quantification-wise) has just been blood oxygen saturation.

– Can hop on a bike before an exercise session and use a fingertip pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen.

– The lowest Ben has gotten it to get is 88-disrupts sleep etc. This is one of the stressors that increases erythropoietin production.

– Living at altitude isn’t good, especially for athletes. It takes longer to recover and sleep quality isn’t as good. Living low and training high like using a hypoxic generator is probably the healthy way to go.

White blood cells

(Me): White blood cells: I sometimes look at this because if over six can indicate things like risk for heart disease, even though the range is around 4-11. White blood cells are a snapshot of your total immune system and the way it combats pathogens is by creating free radicles. So the neutrophils create free radicals. You can look at your white blood cells and neutrophils, and if they’re over 6 or 6.5, heart disease starts to go up, but this is also an indicator that oxidative stress is going up. People who are in the higher ranges generally have increased oxidative stress. My job would be to find out why it’s high, try to look at past levels, see if they have an infection, etc.

– But if white blood cell count is low and CRP or homocysteine is high, this is a problem.

BUN-to-creatinine ratio

– Dr. Kruse thinks BUN-to-creatinin should be under 7.

– The problem with BUN-to-creatinine tests is that unless you abstain for exercise for about 72 hours before a lab, a lot of the time the BUN-to-creatinin ratio is out of whack. Usually Ben sees high BUN-to-creatinine ratios if someone has exercised hard before the test, or if they aren’t hydrated enough and drinking a lot of high-quality water.

CRP numbers

– Likes to see it below 0.2, and thinks it’s doable in athletes. Some people will say 1, 0.5 but when people are living a low-inflammation life, including a low-inflammatory diet, this is possible.

– Things that help include curcumin, fish oil, tart cherry.

– You have to wonder how genetics play into this as well, as far as your endogenous antioxidant production.

– Something you can get from genetics testing is your results from DNA fit or Athletigen, two programs that are created for athletes to give you information on how fast you recover, etc. They are just looking at the endogenous production of glutathione and superoxide dismutase. A lot of people create much higher levels of those, which probably contributes to this quite a bit.

– He is one of those people, so this probably allows him to sustain low amounts of inflammation even in the presence of higher amounts of exercise.

SNPs and Athletes

– DNA programs like DNAfit or Athletigen are looking at SNPs responsible for creating those antioxidants (above).

– They will also look at the genetics responsible for fast twitch vs. slow twitch or genetic SNPs responsible for how much of a dopamine release that you get from exercise (whether you are a high dopamine motivator or low dopamine motivator).

(Me): I also do a lot of research on SNPs and oxidative stress. I believe these are useful tools.


– Natural ways to decrease: Eat a lot of broccoli and cruciferous vegetables

– Some women who are estrogen dominant seem to benefit from a DIM supplementation protocol with Calcium Glucarate and magnesium to assist with the liver metabolism of estrogens.

– He has used this for himself just to make sure he doesn’t get over aromatization when using testosterone-boosting herbs like fenugreek and Tribulus and others.

– Aggressive strength is an herbal testosterone booster that will cycle throughout the year (same brand that makes Estrogen Control), that’s like aromatase inhibitors. It’s not DIM though (there may be chrysin or Myomin in that)

Black cumin and turmeric (curcumin) have some effects on estrogens as well.

– He doesn’t use DIM personally.

(Me): I read that chrysin can cause DNA damage at higher levels. Though it wasn’t a clinical trial/could have been in vitro or animal study.

Ways of increasing Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Vagal Tone

– Low stress and sleep are the most effective.

– Discussed breath work with Dr. James Heathers (he does HRV studies)

– During exercise do deep, rhythmic breathing, or even nasal breathing (while doing a set of deadlifts for example).

– Can do alternate nostril breathing or box breathing.

– Top 2 things that affect most dramatically:

  1. sex the night before
  2. alternate nostril breathing for 5 minutes

– Takes about 20-30 seconds to increase it

– Quick coherence technique

– Things that would cause it to dip:

– Antihistamines: don’t know if it has an effect on the vagus nerve or acetylcholine release, but it’s affecting either the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system (so don’t use unless super necessary because it will mess up your nervous system).

– Any really stressful activity like running from a lion. If you measure HRV in real time during exercise, you can see that that will be something that dips it the most, causing the lowest sympathetic nervous system frequency score. But you can use as a measure for high training because fitness response will be the most enhanced. Some of the things that get the heart rate down short-term are cold thermogenesis.

– If you do hard exercise, HRV will decrease in the short term, but measured 12 hours later it will increase.

– Todd Becker showed that cold increases heart rate variability right away (he measured it in the shower).

– This isn’t what Ben would expect. Cool should show it plummeting, but theoretically, I would expect for it to make it go up long-term.

– Heart rate variability is controlled by sympathetic, HPA axis, how active stress response is vs. how active your parasympathetic is- the parasympathetic is controlled by the vagus nerve (vagus nerve works by releasing acetylcholine).

Me: I’m going to measure HRV, testing Alpha GPC (600mg). Ben uses a Bluetooth that measures RR intervals. The one he uses is the time x. and the nature v app (measures heart rate recovery)-this is on iPhone. Doesn’t have any for Android yet.

Ben’s Regimen/Diet

– Macronutrient ranges are based on physical activity. Generally, fall into 50-60% fat, 10-30% carbohydrates, skewing higher on carbs on high-activity days and timing most of that in a post-workout evening scenario, taking advantage of insulin sensitivity based on circadian rhythm and activity combined. Protein is at 20-30%, slightly higher values stealing from fat macronutrients on the harder more intensive days.

– Have experimented doing like 80-90% fat with very low amounts (5-10% protein) 5-10% carbs for ketosis. This is useful for aerobic performance and cognitive functioning. Difficult diet to follow long term socially, and there are problems with glycoprotein formation and mucin production from lack of carbohydrates. Some things take a hit too like thyroid.

– Cycling keto is more sustainable.

– Fats used: Coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, seeds, nuts, nut butter

– 20-25 servings of plants per day, with fat, sprinkled in here and there, and small amounts of protein 20-30 grams of protein in the morning afternoon and evening.

– 3-3.5 liters of water a day (drinks when thirsty)

Tips For Best Rest

– Don’t work for an hour before bed.

– Sleep in a cool, dark room (unplug chargers, etc.)

– He takes out infrared bulbs, lights, and everything.

– Even though most research on melatonin disruption has been done on blue light and white light, he still keeps his room completely dark and doesn’t use infrared bulbs or lights once asleep.

– Experiment with things.

– A good one for travel is melatonin.

– When home, and for an endogenous release of GABA: Passionflower

– For overall nervous system relaxation-CBD or… THC and CBD combined.


  • Ben Greenfield can be found at bengreenfieldfitness.com
  • His book is “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life.”


Increasing EPO:

Elevation Training Mask will mimic high altitudes for those at sea level who want to train in a hypoxic condition.

Limiting EMF:

  • Hoodie, Hat, Hat 2
  • EMF Clothing (EBAY): Silver Laced Pants, Silverell.

Related Tests:

  • Male Hormone Panel – Checks useful hormones: Estrone, Progesterone, DHEA, Androstenedione, Testosterone, DHT, LH, FSH.
  • Female Hormone Panel – Checks useful Hormones: Progesterone, Estradiol/ Estrogen, Testosterone, DHEA & DHEA-S, LH, FSH
  • Circadian Rhythm of Hormones – Estradiol, Testosterone
  • Comprehensive Stool Test – Checks a variety of markers in your stool and importantly for yeasts and Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA).
  • Microbiology Stool Test
  • RBC minerals, heavy metals
  • Heavy Metal and Mineral Hair Test
  • Basic blood tests

Water Filtration

  • Berkey Filtration System – (I don’t like dealing with under the sink filters)


  • Black tape – to block out blue/white light
  • Curtains (Blackout)

Cold Thermogenesis

  • Cold Hat
  • Cold Vest
  • Cryohelmet/Ice Helmet (EBAY) – I use the regular adult size.


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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine…and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission of empowering people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time.


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