September 30, 2010

Shorter workouts=Better results

The best way to burn calories, increase your metabolism and fitness level, and keep your workout interesting is interval training.  Interval training means alternating short periods of high intensity exercise with recovery periods of low intensity. There are a variety of ways to do this, and not really a right or wrong way, so you can experiment and find what works best for you. 
Once a physician has cleared you to exercise you can pick any type of aerobics; running, walking, biking, swimming. (You can do this incorporating weights, but right now let’s focus on aerobics.)  I recommend you go by the “perceived exertion scale.” 
  • Level 1: I'm lying in bed, almost asleep.
  • Level 2: I could do this all day.
  • Level 3: Still easy, but not all day.
  • Level 4: I’m getting warm, but I can talk with ease.
  • Level 5: I'm starting to sweat, but can carry on a conversation.
  • Level 6: Sweating more, I can talk but not as easily.
  • Level 7: I can talk, but not for long.  Yes, I am sweating.
  • Level 8: I can barely grunt, can’t keep on much longer.
  • Level 9: Help, I think I may die.
  • Level 10: Am I dead?
So after your warm-up (and no stretching right?), you increase your heart rate until your perceived exertion is about level 5.  Do this for a couple of minutes, then ramp the intensity up to level 7 or 8.  At first aim for 30 seconds, then drop back to level 3 or 4 for a couple of minutes.  And repeat. Try to do this for 8 cycles, then cool down.  The beauty of interval training is you don’t have to exercise for as long. As your body gets stronger try to increase the time of the hard intervals, and decrease the time of the short intervals.  This helps increase your metabolism for hours after your workout, and you will also find in increase in your fitness level.  Aim for at least two interval days a week, you can do your slower steady state training the rest of the week.  Interval training is great, but too much can lead to overtraining or injuries.  Try it, it’s hard work, but the results are well worth it.

Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women

Jason L. Talanian,1 Stuart D. R. Galloway,2 George J. F. Heigenhauser,3 Arend Bonen,1 and Lawrence L. Spriet1
1Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 2Department of Sport Studies, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland; and 3Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

September 26, 2010

Beware the Fat Burning Zone!

  So you’re all warmed up and motivated to burn some fat.  You punch in the “fat burning” button on the treadmill or elliptical, ready to get results.  Well guess what?  If your goal is to lose weight, you are sabotaging yourself. It’s a mystery in the fitness industry why equipment makers label their machines like this; the fat burning zone is basically a myth, and will not help you lose weight.
 There is a tiny bit of science behind the fb zone; but if you are trying to lose weight, the numbers do not add up.  It is true that when you exercise at a lower intensity (the purported fat burning zone) that you use a higher percentage of fat for fuel than at a higher intensity.  However, you are burning fewer calories, and therefore will burn fewer fat calories unless you exercise for a longer time.  For example, say you work out in the fb zone for 30 minutes; depending on your weight and metabolism you may burn about 200 calories.  Assume half the calories come from fat, so you’ve burned 100 fat calories.* Now ramp the intensity up (to a level where you can still talk, but probably can’t sing) and you may burn up to 300 calories.  Now 40% of that fuel may be from fat, so you will have burned 120 fat calories, and 100 more total calories.  Which do you think will help you lose weight?
Now I am not saying it is bad to workout in this zone.  If you are new to exercise or have limitations, this level of intensity may be all you can handle.  However, if you are physically fit and trying to lose weight, you are doing yourself a disservice.  So what is the “right” way?  More on that next time.

*Numbers are examples, but you can find the exact fuel percentages here:
Thompson, D.L., et al. 1998. Substrate use during and following moderate- and low-intensity exercise: Implications for weight control. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 78 (1), 43-49.

September 24, 2010


OK, maybe stretching AFTER you exercise isn't such a great idea either!

September 15, 2010

Warming Up All Wrong

You think you are doing the right thing; stretching before you workout, but guess again. You are actually making the muscle you stretch weaker (albeit temporarily). A stretched muscle is a lengthened muscle, and will not be quite as strong.   True, there are a few individuals with a specific imbalance who may need corrective stretching. Those who practice a sport such as gymnastics may need the extra flexibility. However, for the rest of us, do you really want to play with weaker muscles? Moreover, think about it; does stretching get you warm?
I am not quite sure why this has not gotten out to the general public, but research has made it quite clear that you should stretch AFTER exercise: A good warm-up elevates the body temperature, this helps your muscles contract with more force, and increases the signals from your brain to body so you can react more quickly.
So what is the best way to warm-up?  Try some common sense.  Think of the workout or sport you are about to do, and GRADUALLY warm your body up by doing easier versions of the same moves Walking slowly then briskly is a good way to start almost any activity. If you are going for a run, just walk first. Lifting weights?  Try to mimic the exercises with either no or a very light weight.  You can also try some dynamic stretches. Once your body is warm, try some heel raises, knee lifts, butt kicks, arm circles and cariocas (moving laterally cross one leg in front, then behind).  Try warming up correctly, and you will be able to jump higher, run faster, lift heavier, and save me a lot of aggravation.