Tag Archives: intensity

12 Days of Fitness 2018: Day 6 – 8 Reasons Why Your Workout is Failing You

(This is part 6 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Correction. The appropriate title for this post should be “why you’re failing your workout” and not “why your workout is failing you”. It’s human nature to blame or point the finger at something or someone else when things don’t go according to plan. That same unfortunate mindset exists with exercise as well. People jump from program to program in the hopes that they’ll find the one that works for them. Sometimes that works but in reality all that was ever needed to be done was to take a quick look at one’s self and the approach to exercise. If 10 people follow the same program you will see 10 different results. The exercises are the same for everyone but aside from differences in sex and genetics, they will yield different outcomes. Why?

  • Differences in intensity, or lack thereof. I’ve seen this for many years working in gyms and fitness facilities. There are those who come to “workout” and there are those who are “going through the motions”. If change (improvement, betterment, etc.) is what you seek, just showing up isn’t going to cut it. You have to/want to challenge yourself consistently and progressively. No change begets no change. That’s true in every facet of life. Why people think that rule is different when it comes to exercise escapes me.
  • Overambitious. You’ve just started working out and you’re motivated like never before. All the times you’ve failed to keep a routine before are behind you now and this time you’ll show them all. Suddenly you set the alarm for 5 am to do an hour of cardio and then grab a carrot for breakfast. Before lunch you go for a run, followed by a light salad. For the evening you have a weight training session planned and a meal replacement dinner after that. But it’s not sustainable. This is why dieting will never work. You can easily drop a couple of pounds, grow stronger and improve your aerobic conditioning. But if you then go back to an unhealthy life – say goodbye to your progress. Your body will adjust to the way you live.
  • No direction. If you start walking aimlessly around you’ll probably not end up where you want. It’s simple logic. That’s why it’s frustrating to see people coming in to the gym with no idea what they’re training today. Stop wasting your time. Decide on a goal for the coming three months. More if you can but absolutely no less!
  • Bad form. A squat can seem like such a simple exercise: you sit down and then stand up again. It’s a movement pattern that comes very natural to our bodies. And it’s simple! But when you put an iron barbell with a hundred pounds on your back, it becomes more than just sitting down and standing up. You’re suddenly at risk of some serious injury. And if you want to see that weight go up, you really need to start optimizing your movement. Strength is a skill and to improve you’ll have to train not only your muscles (biological adaptation) but also your technique (neurological adaptation).
  • No progression. Are you lifting the same weights today as you were a year ago? Running the same distances, or managing the same number of max reps? I know many people who do and I can’t for the life of me understand how they can motivate themselves to keep training, when they do not progress. But progress doesn’t just incidentally happen. You need to keep pushing your limits, adding weights, and making it hard for yourself. Over time your training will come to feel easy. Pullups are no longer a problem but it also means you are no longer pushing yourself as hard as you used to, which in turn means you will stop making the same kind of progress as you used to.
  • Cheating yourself. What’s easier – to stay in the sofa researching which vegan protein has the best amino acid profile, or going to the gym and lift some weights? Then guess which will give you the best results. We are all genetically programmed to waste as little energy as possible. (Yes, we’re lazy by nature.) Given two choices that both feel like they take us closer to our goal, we’ll naturally pick the easiest. Getting strong and fit isn’t easy but it’s damn simple! The ones who try to make it complicated are often the ones who also try to sell you a shortcut. But there really are none – you will have to put in the work if you want the result.
  • Missing recovery. What you do when training is only half the story. After stimulating your body with the right amount of intensity, you’ll need to give it time to adjust. This is when the magic really happens. Muscles grow to handle the heavy weights, pathways improves to produce energy faster, and ligaments strengthen so that they can withstand more. But all too often you’ll see people not prioritizing their recovery. Their bodies don’t get enough nutrition, they’re always feeling a bit tired and yet the get back in it – smashing another workout. Continuing in this manner will stump your progress and eventually have you plateau. As for food – eat plenty and make sure it’s nutritious. Limit the crappy fast food, processed junk, and similar worthless calories. Make sure you get enough. Start with what feels like too much and then tweak week by week as you see your body change.
  • Boredom. Too many people go to the gym feeling it’s a chore. Something they would rather not do but have to. This is a terrible way to spend all the time that it takes to make meaningful progress. Plus, one of the absolutely biggest reasons people actually succeed with their ventures is whether they can stick to it and keep grinding. If you’re bored while doing so, that’ll make it so much harder.

See you tomorrow for Day 7 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – Weight Loss Once and For All
Day #2 – 10 Pieces of Equipment Everyone Needs to Work Out at Home
Day #3 – Are You Afraid of Eating Fruit?
Day #4 – Healthy Foods?
Day #5 – 21 Ways to Combat Emotional Eating

 

When To Push, When Not To Push

Exercise is good! There is no doubt to that statement. Can one do too much? Absolutely! In times when one is feeling too good or just being stupid, too much exercise can and will become counterproductive to the original course. But how much is too much and what about all this rhetoric about pushing it to the limits? Do you need to always keep the pedal to the metal so to speak when it comes to exercise or is there a happy medium?

When To Push

In my many years of being a fitness professional, I’m convinced that many have no idea what it means to increase their exercise intensity let alone understand what that means. In simple terms, intensity is simply a term used to describe how hard you’re working. It can be measured subjectively (“Man that kicked my ass!”) to being measured objectively (heart rate, time of rest periods, watts, etc.). What matters most about intensity is that if you’re someone who exercises regularly expecting some sort of result, you need to have an objective measure of intensity. Whether it’s for health reasons, aesthetics, or performance, at some point you have to push beyond the “comfort zone”, a term used to describe where most find solace in their exercise routine. The issue with “comfort zones” is that nothing happens there. The individual who exercises by just going through the motions falls into this category. Some would say something is better than nothing and while that is only mildly true, most who exercise do have a goal or agenda that will yield something. Going through the motions and not pushing a little more effort is going to yield zero to minimal results. So how much do you push and when do you do it? First, establish a goal. Why do you exercise? Next, establish what it is you wish to accomplish through exercise. Be leaner? Decrease blood pressure? Be stronger? Run faster? Third, determine that your exercise needs are met by the exercises you choose to engage. Once you have established all three, then you can look at how to push and increase your intensity. Maybe it’s five more minutes on the treadmill at a slightly higher speed. Or it’s an increase in reps of a strength training exercise. Or it’s a decrease in time with more work being done. There are simply thousands of ways to push it but it has to be objective and measurable. Then you can truly track and see progress.

When Not To Push

Aside from the obvious, exercising through pain is never a good thing. Pain is your body’s signal that something’s not quite right. But I will also warn you that muscle soreness and pain are not one in the same. How do you know? Well, experience will tell you a lot but most times the complete range of motion of a muscle is not completely inhibited. Being sick is also a good sign to not push it as not all sicknesses require a cessation in an exercise program. There are going to be days that are harder than others and that’s to be expected. Listening to your body is a skill that gets perfected over time – knowing when to take it easy or a day off. When you start to think of every little thing to “skip” or “delay” a workout, chances are good that although the intentions were good initially, they quickly became lost and excuse making becomes the norm. Exercise is a stress; a stress that evolves and adapts. If you don’t evolve, the impact, the positive effect of exercise, becomes lost.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

What You Thought You Knew About Fitness is Wrong

Confused Woman Scratching Her Head
Confused Woman Scratching Her Head

In today’s day and age of social media, it seems everyone becomes an expert: political, financial, spiritual, technical, nutritional, and of course, physical. Behind the shroud of computers, tablets, and smart phones, the “experts” offer and voice their views and opinions on everything and anything and sadly have many believing in what they’re saying (selling) without little proof of their claims. Furthermore, what’s reported in the media is usually more attention grabbing than evidence worthy. Through my years as a fitness professional, I’ve seen thousands of gurus and media morsels leaving bits of useless wisdom that many have taken as gospel becoming fitness “experts” themselves. Every time I head to the gym to work out I often struggle and bite my tongue as I witness the result of what sheep following sheep looks like. After a recent visit to the gym, I was inspired to write about what so many are doing or saying wrong, most likely unbeknownst to them in the hopes that it helps you.

Cardio is a very inefficient method of burning fat. Aerobic (cardio) exercise is a great and critical component of fitness. It strengthens and improves the cardiovascular system responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to all working organs and muscles in addition to lowering blood pressure and hundreds more of key physiological processes. Doesn’t sound too exciting, huh? I would guess most people doing “cardio” are of the mindset that they’re working off the pounds (fat) more than the other benefits. The reality is you burn little to no fat at low to medium intensities (most of what I witness people doing); the longer you go doesn’t equate to more fat being burned; the amount of calories burned while exercising equals energy spent during the activity, not the amount of fat burned. To efficiently burn fat requires you to “torch” it – work at higher intensities for shorter bursts of time, a level most have to work up to over time.

You don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. You cannot ignore enough the value of adding strength training to your routine. It’s the only “anti-gravity” exercise we can do. The result: strengthening of muscles and skeletal structures; the ONLY way to change the shape of the body; a much more efficient fat burner as it increases the body’s energy requirements during AND after the work out. The good news is if the weight room still “scares” you, you don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. Balls, bands, bodyweight, etc. are some of the many other tools available to build muscle. The most important concept to understand is that in order to build muscle you need these three components: mechanical tension on the muscle (resistance), muscle damage (stress at the cellular level that spurns new growth), and metabolic stress (intensity).

Stretching before a workout is unnecessary and could be counterproductive. Perhaps that school gym teacher from back in the day left his/her mark with you but we’ve come a long way since then. Number one, stretching a cold, tight muscle could create a bigger problem. Number two, stretching a muscle creates more joint laxity that may not be beneficial to movement. Your best bet? Warm up the muscles and the body with light activity or soft tissue manipulation (i.e. self-myofascial release) in tight spots. Still like to stretch? Be my guest but there’s a better, more effective way.

It’s not necessary to train like a bodybuilder. No disrespect to those who train to be a bodybuilder or figure competitor. It’s very hard, dedicated work that involves more than just the weight room. But for many more than not, bodybuilding is not something they’re training for and no amount of weight training is going to make them look like a body builder without all of the other components. Train for your goal, not your aspiration.

It’s physically impossible to lengthen and/or tone muscles. Two of the biggest buzz words in fitness that I’m sure sell tons of programs and magazines. Here’s a sobering anatomical fact: your muscles are the length they’re always going to be without of course cutting muscle origin and insertion points or lengthening bones! Muscles always have “tone” (tonality) otherwise they wouldn’t work. Muscles can get leaner (translation: stronger, tighter, shapelier) and more defined (translation: less body fat between them and the skin).

There’s no magic to your exercise order. Variety is key with your workouts, particularly when it comes to what and when you do it. Most stick to a pattern that they’ve mirrored for years and wonder why they’re not getting anywhere when it may have worked for them initially. Change it up – the order of the exercises, the type, the sets, the reps, etc. Don’t be married to what you think is the perfect program. The perfect program is one that evolves and progresses over time.

You don’t need to use EVERY piece of exercise equipment in the gym. One of the few advantages I see to belonging to a gym or health club aside from the social aspect is the variety of options. But to the novice or pseudo-expert, that really doesn’t make a difference. It can be overwhelming and intimidating but most of the stuff is duplicates or multiple versions of achieving the same goal. It’s like knowing the difference between two high-end sports cars – if you don’t know the difference in their engine and driving capabilities, your decision might be influenced only by the color of the car.

Sweat/post exercise soreness is not good indicators of workout success. It’s a known physiological fact: some people just sweat more than others. It’s not a badge of honor – it’s a very efficient cooling mechanism that some have. For those that don’t sweat much, it’s not always indicative of workout intensity but a less than efficient cooling mechanism. Regardless, it’s not a score card to even be concerned with. As far as muscle soreness goes, it sometimes happens when a new exercise/muscle pattern is learned, or more mechanical stress/tension was introduced. Some get sore 24-48 hours after a workout, some longer. Again, it depends on the amount and type of stress that was introduced to the body and how YOUR body responds. But comparing it to others is like comparing apples to oranges.

The longer the workout, the less efficient it becomes. More is not necessarily better; it’s just more. Those who claim to be at the gym for an hour or two are physically in the building for that time but I would challenge just how much real work is done during that time. Intensities dwindle; fuel supplies diminish at the muscles, anabolic hormones decrease, etc. as time moves on. Time is never an excuse to get in a quality workout. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to fitness.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Is Walking Great Exercise?

downloadI’ve often been asked in my career, “what’s the best exercise?” to which I reply, “it really depends.” The short and easy answer is the one that you stick with and the much more complicated answer goes along with the “depends”. It depends on a lot of things: the desired goal or outcome; the allotted time commitment; physical limitations, etc. Exercise never was nor will be a “one-size-fits-all” activity. But one exercise that gets a lot of deserved admiration and can be done by just about anyone may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Taking That First Step

For most of the population, walking is almost second nature. You walk to your car; you walk to and from the house; you walk through the store; perhaps you walk a dog or push a stroller. There’s almost countless reasons where and why we could walk to get some exercise. Walking for some becomes the best option to start exercising as it’s just as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, stepping out the front door, and costs nothing more than lacing up a pair of shoes. It can be done anywhere and requires little to no skill. So does that make walking a great exercise or just a good exercise and what’s the difference?

Walking Alone Won’t Cut It for Most

The key to any successful or great exercise is the consistency and a gradual increase in the intensity or pace and/or resistance. Exercise has to be progressive to continually yield a return which is why just “going for a walk” isn’t going to cut it.  A general rule of thumb is if exercise is easy then it probably isn’t doing much to change your body. Period! The problem with using walking as your sole form of exercise is that for most people it simply is just not intense enough to induce a training response. In most cases, even if you’re out of shape to begin with your body will quickly adapt to your walking routine and will require a greater challenge to reap the most benefits. If you are seriously out of shape, overweight, or recovering from some type of illness then it certainly makes a load of sense to start with walking. But if you’re going to devote the time to exercise, you may as well get the most bang for your buck and choose a range of activities that will give you the greatest benefits in addition to walking.

Get Movin’

There’s little evidence to support that walking is not good exercise However, if you’re going to count or rely on walking as your primary mode of exercise, you need to step up the pace, walk farther or up hills to keep your body challenged. When the same mile walk that was once taxing, now feels easy and can be done in less time, then it’s time to make a change to that walking routine. It’s not necessary to jog, run, or sprint but the walking must be varied and become challenging to reap the benefits. Remember that exercise is far less expensive than virtually any other medical intervention, and it will radically reduce your risk of most every disease you can come down with. Walking can and will be a great prescription for that!

If you’re looking for a challenge, the folks at Fitbit are having a challenge this Saturday, May 16th  to see how many steps (walking or whatever) you can take in one day. There’s no better time than now to get started or take your fitness up to another level. Don’t have a Fitbit or similar activity tracker? Stop making excuses and just go farther and longer than you ever have!

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Two Keys to Workout Success

If you ever need a good laugh now and then, run on over to your local grocery store and take at look at the magazines and tabloids that adorn the checkout line. All the answers in life can be found there; how to make more money; how to have a loving relationship; how to dress like the stars; and my favorite, how to lose enormous amounts of weight in as little as five days. WOW!  This also happens to be one of the places where people turn to for their exercise advice or “miracle” panacea.  What is unfortunate is that in any of these publications, all that changes is the month and the cover.  The information inside is just recycled and repackaged to what sells.  When it comes to exercising or working out, there are only two “secrets” you really need to understand.  Even more amazing is that they are not really secrets either.  So whether you like cardiovascular exercise, strength training, core exercise, yoga, Pilates, etc., these two things bar none will get you results.  They are intensity and consistency.

Intensity

The word intensity can send shivers to most people.  Working under extreme exertion or to the point of complete exhaustion is usually what comes to mind.  However, intensity in this context merely describes how hard you are working during exercise.  Intensity can be measured and determined in numerous ways: heart rate; power output (wattage); rating of perceived exertion (RPE); amount of rest between sets; amount of weight used; speed per unit of time; etc. Contrary to popular belief, sweating is not an indicator of how hard you work. The intensity of your exercise is highly correlated with the desired outcome.  If you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories. If you want to gain strength, you have to lift heavy weights.  But in order to keep seeing and getting results, you also need to vary the intensity.  Otherwise, you will be working tirelessly, getting no where as if trying to climb an icy slope, and eventually burn out or stop. Applying the principle of intensity is not enough either; you need to be consistent.

Consistency

The word consistency is just as it says; something that is done repeatedly and with regularity.  Consistent behaviors lead to consistent results.  As the old adage says, “Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” So yes it’s true, stay consistent with your exercise and you will see and more importantly, feel the results.  Conversely, being consistent does not always mean success either.  If you are consistently inconsistent with your exercise, the results speak for themselves.  Without its partner intensity, consistency is good but it just isn’t enough.  The best example of this is the avid exerciser who works out everyday, doing the same things the same way and in months or worse years, they still have not changed.  The focus of your workouts should always center first on being consistent, creating a healthy habit.  No exercise program ever developed works if you are not consistent. Then make sure that you find a way to measure your exercise intensity, or how hard you work, and regularly manipulate that.

There are numerous factors that contribute to success.  The depth and detail of these two subjects can be discussed beyond the scope of this article .However if you grasp these two simple concepts (secrets) and start with that, you are already on your way to success.  Change is difficult, but to change is to embrace and move on, not sit and wonder what you are doing wrong.  It is more likely what you are not doing right!

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

12 Days of Fitness 2012 – Day 7: 3 Surefire Ways to Get the Physique You Desire

www.womenshealthbenefical.blogspot.comToday’s holiday fitness tip is short and to the point, just as it should be when you approach your workout.  Forget about thinking you need to put in an hour at the gym or making the excuse that you just don’t have the time. Get at it and get on with your day.

#1: Use High Intensity Intervals

Contrary to what mainstream fitness has been saying for decades, long slow cardio is not the most direct route to fat loss. It’s true that moderate intensity, steady state exercise uses primarily fat oxidation as fuel, but that isn’t the total picture. Why are high intensity intervals so much more effective? Interval circuits place such an intense demand on the system that it takes your body up to 36 hours to work its way back to homeostasis (a normal state). That means you’ll incinerate calories for hours after you finish training, even if you’re just lying on the sofa. That aftershock of fat burning potential is called EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). Plus, high intensity interval training is fast! You no longer have to spend 30 minutes to an hour jogging your life away on a treadmill. You can spend more time doing other things.

#2. Train With Full-Body Movements

A complex movement is an exercise that involves multiple joints and muscles working in a single movement (i.e. squat) versus an isolation movement which only requires one joint and generally one muscle (i.e. biceps curl). Putting it all together hits the body harder than training a bunch of isolation exercises, and it requires greater resources to recover from, which means you get a greater training effect. If you’re used to conventional gym routines, this will blow you away as you’ll be able to do more total work in less time. A properly programmed full-body routine ensures that your body remains balanced. You won’t waste time dealing with overuse injuries, or overcompensations created by doing the same repetitive movements in the same planes day after day. And you won’t have to mess around with split routines (legs one day, upper body the next, chest and back day, etc). You can hit it and forget it all in one session.

#3. Don’t Get Stuck In Simplicity

If you’re not teaching your nervous system new tricks, you’re losing the body composition battle on two fronts. First, you’re limiting your output. If your nervous system isn’t firing on all cylinders, you won’t be able to lift, push, explode and pull as much or as fast as you should. That means less muscle gain and reduced fat loss. Second, learning a new skill is much more CALORICALLY EXPENSIVE than repeating a skill you’re good at. If you don’t add new skills, you severely limit your fat burning potential. But there’s a fine line to walk. If you just throw random new skills at your body without developing long term motor coordination, you’ll only get random results — and you’ll limit the performance capacity..

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Fitness

My 2012 Fitness Challenge personal update – 35, 000 push ups done as of publishing time

 

 

12 Days of Fitness Truth 2010: Tis Better to Walk or Run? – Day 11

downloadYou can debate on just about anything regarding fitness.  Sometimes it is based on the research; other times, popular opinion or just real world experience.  Whatever stance you take, the plus in all fitness debates is that we’re talking about something positive – physical movement, not wars, politics, or religions. In general, it doesn’t really matter how you get your exercise but that you’re getting it. So as we approach colder weather and many will find their exercise to be taking place on a treadmill (ugh!), why not talk about whether it’s better to walk or run?

What’s the Goal?

This has to be and should be the question asked before beginning any exercise program.  Be specific. Lose weight? By how much and when? Run a race? When and what distance? The point is, one should not assume that while walking is great exercise, it has to support the goal.  Likewise, if you’re going to run, does it match the intended goal and have you weighed all the risks and rewards? Simply doing an exercise because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do rather than what should be done are vastly different.

What Does the Science Tell Us?

For many, many years it was believed that the only way to truly burn bodyfat was by doing low intensity, long duration exercise. The infamous and irrelevant “fat burning zone” showcased on cardio equipment even still today tries to promote that theory.  That theory is wrong.  The body burns more calories the harder it works. Period. If the fat burning zone theory was true, you would burn more fat calories just by sitting on the couch.  I don’t think science is necessary to understand how flawed that line of thinking is. If you walk a mile and then run a mile, you will burn more total calories, no question.

Risk vs. Reward

Walking is easy and doable by a larger percentage of the population. For those of us born with two legs, walking is as easy as stepping up and moving.  It’s simple to do, doesn’t cost anything, and with the exception of speed walking, presents very low to no impact on the joints of the body.  It does burn calories, yes, but for those looking to shed 20 or more pounds, walking for 30-60 minutes at a leisurely or slightly labored pace isn’t going to cut it.  For walking to be most effective for weight loss, it has to be done at a higher than leisurely pace; must be for longer durations; has to be done more consistently than 3 times per week.  For the beginner, walking presents the best option.  But eventually, the pace and/or time will need to be picked up.  And by the way, walking 4 miles on the boardwalk in the summer as you eat your way down results in more of a calorie surplus than deficit.

Running is also great exercise. It’s like walking times ten.  More muscles are used, thus more oxygen is needed, thus more blood flow is created, thus more energy expended. The negative to running however is the impact on the joints of the body.  The human body, while designed to ambulate and run away from a stress, was optimally designed to move in quick, short bursts, not the prolonged effects of running for 3 plus miles. At the end of the day, neither exercise is bad.  It’s just a matter of what you like and what the goal is.  As long as you’re moving, that is the ultimate goal of any exercise program.

See you tomorrow for Day 12 of the 12 Days of Fitness Truth.

Advice For Cardio-holics

article-new-thumbnail-ehow-images-a05-at-1o-warm-up-treadmill-800x800Addiction is a powerful word.  It generally conjures up the thought of a habit that has or is consuming a person’s life.  When we think of an addiction, more times than most we assume that it is a bad habit and that there has to be some level of intervention to break it off.  After all, is it necessarily a bad thing to be addicted to something that is good for you?  The answer is an astounding yes!

Exercise in all of its forms is an absolute positive in our lives.  However, even too much of a good thing can be bad for you.  Compulsive or excessive exercise, otherwise known as “exercise addiction”, is a legitimately researched and treated behavior that can be diagnosed in anyone from the casual exerciser to the professional athlete.  But before you even begin to think that you need to drastically cut back your current exercise regime, understand that most people in our society do not exercise enough!  Exercise addiction is generally associated with those that exercise too excess; believing in the notion that more is certainly better than a little.  All too often, exercise addicts are oblivious to some of the warning signs, such as increased irritability, disrupted sleeping patterns, a depressed immune system, chronic fatigue, and muscle stiffness. Exercise in any form can be performed to the extreme; especially in a society that wants results and fast. The most common type of exercise that is most abused and common in exercise addicts is cardiovascular exercise.

Cardiovascular exercise, or “cardio”, is defined as any activity that involves consistent movement of large muscle groups at low to moderate levels of intensity for extended periods of time, such as walking, jogging, running, bicycling, stair climbing, swimming, and aerobic/group exercise classes.  Cardiovascular exercise is a necessary and important component to any well developed exercise program. These exercises while ultimately designed to improve cardiovascular health (lungs, heart), have enormous benefit to aiding in weight loss, particularly because these activities burn calories and are generally less intimidating to the population than other forms of exercise. In addition, cardiovascular exercise does not require any special equipment or complex movement.  To paraphrase a famous quote, you have to “Just Do It.  It is easy to see then why someone might buy into the “more is better” mentality in regards to doing cardio.  After all, if I want to lose weight, isn’t the idea to burn as many calories as possible?  It is exactly that thought process that drives cardio-holics (those who spend endless, tireless hours doing nothing but cardiovascular exercise) to become exercise addicts.

Burning calories is not limited to time spent sweating in the gym. Our bodies burn calories all day long through daily activities, but the majority of those calories are being burned 24/7/365.  Better known as the BMR (basal metabolic rate), our BMR is dictated by the body’s metabolically active tissues, or lean body mass, which is inclusive of organ systems, bodily processes, and most notably muscle mass.  Lean body mass is essentially where calories are burned.  Think of BMR as a measure of your body’s idle speed, the amount of energy your body requires before you step on the gas. The easiest (and only way for that matter) that an individual can naturally stoke their calorie fire, or BMR, is by increasing the muscle mass in lean body mass. Thus, the more of it we have, the more calories we can potentially burn even at rest. It is impossible to increase the size of your organs and therefore their energy requirements. The bad news for cardio-holics is that cardio exercise does not improve the BMR.  Yes, cardio does burn calories but in the long run, the only thing that guarantees that your body continues to burn calories is being able to keep the fire stoked.  This is where the importance of resistance training can not be ignored

Resistance training (free weights, machines, or bands) works to increase our BMR by stimulating muscle growth, not to be confused with bulky muscles.  Even some of the cardio activities that are weight bearing (those in which you are standing on your feet such as the treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, etc) provide little to no load stimulus to the muscles. Without a sufficient weight bearing stimulus such as you would get from resistance training, muscle growth is blunted.  Furthermore, the combination of insufficient muscle growth coupled with unnecessary amounts of cardio exercise can lead to negligible or poor results.   A vicious cycle then begins where no muscle is added so BMR (calorie demand) drops. As calorie needs drop, nutritional needs decrease (not as much lean body mass to nourish).  As nutritional needs drop, the body begins to catabolize, or breakdown, proteins stored in the body.  The most readily available proteins stored in the body are found in muscle.  As a result, muscle is lost because contrary to belief, muscle, not fat, breaks down more readily and quicker for fuel.  You then have to work harder to achieve the desired goal because you simply burn fewer calories than you did before. This phenomenon is not hard to spot in the gym either.  An example is the exercisers who spend tireless minutes pounding away on the cardio machines and never physically change.  An even better example is the group fitness instructor, despite all of the hours logged in teaching aerobic classes, looks physically exactly the same.  Perhaps even you have experienced this phenomenon yourself.  Understand that cardiovascular exercise is very good for you.  If not correctly understood however, it can be very counterproductive.

The correct amount of cardio work: how much (frequency), how long (time), and how hard (intensity) can become very confusing.  Simply put, the amount you need to do depends on your goal.  Unless you are training for an ultra endurance event (marathon, cycling century, triathlon, etc.), hours and hours of cardio will do nothing more than in essence break you down.  Most people would see far more benefit with moderate cardio work (3-5 days per week), thirty to forty minutes at a time, with varying levels of intensity (low intensity day vs. high intensity day).  Recent government recommendations have dictated that sixty minutes a day is the required amount.  However, the key point left out of that lofty recommendation is that it should be consistent and constantly changing.  The more often that you can vary the training stimulus, the better your results will be. If you repeatedly do the same thing day in and day out, the stimulus is lost and you become a machine that just blows smoke. Any one dimensional training program is doomed to failure.  What can not be lost in this shuffle though is that resistance training must be a part of the exercise program.

Exercise is time and energy well spent. Make the most of your time by varying your routine; educate yourself to train smarter; begin resistance training; don’t be afraid to change and “break” the habit; always be sure to get rest; nourish your body properly; most of all have fun.

Featured in May/June 2005 of Philly Fit Magazine