Ok. You’ve been told that in order to lose weight you need to “get in shape”. Great! Now what? The amount of exercise information “out there” can be overwhelming. You don’t want to return to school for four years before you start on your fitness program. That’s fair, so let’s talk about some basic features that you need to incorporate into your program to achieve your goals. Did I say goals? Oh, yeah! Before you can accomplish anything in life you will need to establish goals: reasonable, measureable goals. I won’t go into a complete lecture on goal setting. Let me just say that you need to know where you want to go: lose ten pounds, fit into the next smallest size dress (ok you guys may not care some much about dress size), play with you kids (or grandkids) for more than 5 minutes without feeling the need for an oxygen mask. Got the idea? Goals don’t need to be complicated.
Another issue most of us face is that we simply do not seem to have enough time to do everything we need to do. So how in the world will we find time to exercise? You’ve all heard the exercise pundits talk about parking further from the door and taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Good suggestions but you know that won’t be enough. Well, you will need to find some time for your new exercise program but it need not take a lot of time. So relax, bear with me.
The most common “prescription” for weight loss has been slow, steady aerobic exercise. You know, jogging, walking, swimming, aerobics class. That is exercise that puts your body in the “fat burning zone” (usually considered to be somewhere around 50-60% of your estimated maximum heart rate). This is based upon the concept that the body will burn a greater amount of fat at lower intensity exercise than at higher intensity exercise. What is missing here is that the body burns a greater percentage of fat at lower intensity but that this is a greater percentage of a smaller number. That is you are burning a higher percentage of calories but you are burning less total calories. An additional problem with training this way is that your body gets more efficient so that to keep up your calorie “burn” you need to go longer, or go faster. Going longer defeats your purposes as your body simply gets more and more efficient and burns less and less “fat per minute”. Of course if you are training for a marathon that’s fine but here we are addressing fitness and weight loss training. Sports specific training is a whole different animal. Going faster only works in the short run since you soon get into anaerobic training. The dilemma is that you need muscle to burn additional calories and low intensity aerobic work does not build muscle. This type of training does require that the muscles work but not as much as other types of activity. You will need to raise your metabolism at rest. To do this you need to build muscle. Note: this does not mean that you need to “bulk up”; only that you need more muscle and less fat to continue to have a body with “more muscle and less fat”. The converse is true: if you burn lots and lots of calories with “aerobic training” your body will adapt by slowing your metabolism and storing more fat.
Another problem with traditional “aerobic training” is that is requires huge amounts of repetitions. An hour of jogging or swimming, or whatever, increases the stress on your joints with thousands of repetitions. As we have seen: you are doing exercise that encourages your body to store fat, that requires commitment of more and more time, and tends to cause overuse injuries through too many repetitions for your body to handle. There simply has to be a better way!
The better way is through what I like to refer to as “Metabolic Training”. This style of training is efficient and effective and safe. But it is not easy! As they old saying goes: “if it was easy then everybody would do it.” We have already established that in order to lose fat you need to boost your metabolic rate. In simple terms: increase your calories burned per hour. We have also established that traditional aerobic training does not accomplish that end and that to raise your metabolic rate you need more muscle and, ultimately, less fat. This is where we run into lots of variables. As you go along on a program like this you may find you need some additional knowledge and should seek out an experienced trainer or do more research. Of course, before you embark on any new exercise program you should clear it with your doctor.
So here we are, on the threshold of the new you! With this training program you will be able to manipulate the intensity of the work out safely. You don’t need to keep adding distance or speed to your program. You simply need to manipulate the load, sets, repetitions, speed of the exercises (or tempo if you prefer) and rest periods between exercises. It should be obvious how to manipulate the load and reps. when the movement starts to get easier than you will either add resistance or add weight. As far as speed goes, you should be working rapidly so that your heart rate is elevated and you are breathing very hard during each set (heart rate in the 80 to 85% of estimated max would be a good guideline). Rest periods are the key to an efficient and effective program. A rest period does not need to involve doing nothing for, say 2 minutes, it could involve alternating exercises. For example: if you were to perform a set of bench press followed after a brief rest by a set of rows you would, in effect, be extending your rest period to the second set of bench press during your set of rows. In this way you can increase the efficiency of your work out. You will also be able to use more resistance for each exercise over the alternative of doing all your bench presses prior to starting your rows. This type of training, while similar to circuit training, requires that you manipulate your variables frequently so that your body does not accommodate to the program.
Your goals will dictate how you manipulate your program. I will outline a few examples here and save a more detailed discussion for another time. As you can see, this program is based upon a muscle training model. We have already established that you want to look and feel better i.e. be in “better shape”. Still, within that overall goal there is room for variation. You may want to increase strength, or size, or endurance. Your goals will dictate your choices. There are some basic guidelines you should follow. You should balance the “pushing” exercise volume with “pulling” exercise volume. For example bench press and rowing, overhead pressing and pull downs. You can use body weight exercises, barbells, dumb bells, kettle bells, medicine balls, elastic tubing, old tractor tires or whatever you have available. The important thing is that you work hard (by your own body’s standards). You will also want to lean toward compound movement pattern exercises. Examples are: horizontal push and pull (see above), vertical push and pull (see above), posterior chain lower body, quadriceps dominant chain lower body, core movements in straight and diagonal patterns. You should consider doing your program 2 to 4 times per week. In addition, you will want to stretch and on other days of the week you should stay active walk, take the stairs, go to your Yoga class, swim; whatever you enjoy.
I know, I know, by now you are starting to think this is too complicated! It need not be complicated. Just remember that you should work hard, manipulate your variables so that you continue to challenge your body within your own limits, and think in terms of movement patterns that balance the opposing muscle forces around your joints (e.g. push/pull). I have includes some sample workouts. You should feel free to make substitutions to accommodate your abilities, equipment and fitness level. In future articles I will discuss details of manipulating your variables: load, sets, repetitions, speed, and rest periods.
Program design Bible: Alwyn Cosgrave, 2005
Functional Training: Breaking the Bonds of Traditionalism: Juan Carlos Santana. Optimum Performance Systems, Boca Raton, FL 2000
© Dave Mansfield MA, MSPT, HFS, CSCS
We have been hearing for years that exercise is good for us. This is not news to most of you reading this but have you considered the broader and long range relationships between a long healthy life and the exercise you do now and in the future? In the past a lot of the conversation seemed to be about the need for aerobic exercise with various recommendations regarding time and intensity. As a result, confusion has reigned in the minds of many well intentioned citizens. Times they are a changing’!
In the face of an ageing population and a childhood obesity “epidemic” more and more research has been done about exercise and its relationship to health and longevity, and healthy longevity. Recently the government has published research based guidelines on exercise. You can find the details atwww.health.gov/paguidelines . My purpose is to simplify things for you with a summary of the guidelines. For those of you who are hard core strength training enthusiasts, you may want to take note of the aerobic training recommendations. I know, you may not want to do much “cardio” if you compete in strength sports but you may want to consider your longer term plans for a healthy lifestyle. OK, so what are these guidelines?
As you exercise types already know, consistency of training toward established goals is the road to success. First, you need to be convinced that exercise in important to you, really important . If you need motivation, do some research on how significant your health is affected by exercise. Next, set “reasonable” goals. Think one week at a time and make the plan doable in your schedule. Having a training partner, or partners, can have a huge effect on your ability to stay with your plan. There is nothing like having the pressure of making the commitment to meet someone at the appointed time and place to keep you focused, if you don’t show you let down your self (bad enough) but also someone else (a major societal faux pas). The veterans out there will recognize that treating your exercise time as a non-negotiable part of your day works wonders. You eat every day, brush your teeth daily, shower regularly (if you don’t, you should).
Yeah! I know, you don’t want to “lose strength” by doing too much cardio! Well, you are not entirely out to lunch on that thought. There is research that at certain relatively high levels of “cardio” training you may find a mildly adverse effect on your ability to lift maximum weight. The degree is relatively small however. It seems that a lot of power lifters have decided that this means no cardio is the way to go. Wrong! Of course the guidelines we are discussing here are not specific to high level competitive strength athletes but the principles apply. We should all be doing at least moderate intensity aerobic exercise on most days of the week (about 2 ½ hours per week), or about 1 ¼ hours of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week.. Bouts need to be in increments of at least 10 minutes each. Don’t panic, Big Guy! You can take the stairs instead of the elevator, mow the lawn with a push mower, rake leaves, play with the kids…you don’t need to join the treadmill crowd at the gym. Aerobics at this level will not cause your strength levels to go down but will make your significant other happier if properly applied.
So, what is “moderate”?
The talk test…if you are exercise at a moderate level you should be able to carry on a conversation but not easily. Your heart rate should be elevated. You do not need to get it up to 70 – 85% of your maximum heart rate. 60%, or so, will do just fine.Of course if running is your chosen obsession, you will want to work harder than that and get into the higher heart rate ranges, the exercise then becomes “vigorous” and you need less total time at that level to reach and maintain fitness and health benefits.
Now the “bad news” for the competitive runners out there. You guys need to do strength training. That’s strength training, 30 minutes of circuit training with 2# dumbbells just won’t do it! To gain and maintain strength you need to be lifting weight that is at least 60-70% of your max. Multi joint exercises are best. Ladies, you can do dumbbell triceps extensions by the thousands of reps with 1# dumbbells but you will not spot reduce those flabby upper arms, you will not get stronger, you will burn some calories in a very time consuming way but that’s it. Likewise for you 500 sit ups a day people. Just a boring, time consuming way to burn very few calories. So train with multi joint exercises at 30 minutes and at least 2 – 3 times per week and keep the weight heavy for 8- 10 different exercises with 8-15 reps per set. Again, these are general health and fitness guidelines and not designed to get your dead lift up to 3 times body weight. Set your routine up so that it incorporates a balance between pushing and pulling exercises. I have addressed that program design strategy in other articles.
Similar guidelines but moderate to vigorous exercise for at least one hour per day is suitable for children. Current literature highly recommends strength training for children as young as 6-8 years old under well supervised conditions. Young children should not use maximum single lifts in training. Immature children can get excellent benefit from body weight strength training routines. More mature or experienced children can benefit from weight training (again under well supervised conditions).
It seems that most folks just do not seem to have time for stretching. Nevertheless, you should incorporate some stretching into your routine. Static stretches are best done after you are warmed up such after your work out or between sets, or distances. Active stretching can be used as part of your warm ups. This is stretching in which you use full range of motion (no ballistic, bouncing) with little or no weight to prepare for the upcoming training movement. Ballistic stretching is never a good idea, stretching into a painful range is also not a good idea. If you have identified particular movements in which you have restricted range then you may want to develop a specific stretching program to address those deficits. Otherwise a general stretching routine after you work out should do just fine. You only need to be as flexible as your sport, or job, or life style requires. Being too flexible is not necessarily to your advantage. On the other hand imbalance in flexibility, just as imbalance in strength between opposing muscles can set you up for an injury. For example, if you have very tight hamstrings and fairly flexible quadriceps you may be setting yourself up for a hamstring injury.
The bottom line
The most important thing for you to do if you are a “non exerciser” is to just start doing it. Anything will be better than the nothing that you have been accustomed to. For those of you who do exercise, take an assessment of your program. Is it balanced? Does it promote over all health. Those who are competitive athletes, either strength or endurance, take a look at your training and incorporate areas of exercise that you tend to overlook. After all you want a long career and a healthy life after you retire from competition. We can all benefit from taking a critical look at our lifestyle and training (or lack of) programs. Sometimes, just taking a break to try something different can be beneficial and help promote overall health and prevent over training or injury.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at www.bigironpowerlfitng.com
© Dave Mansfield MSPT, CSCS, HFS