March 24, 2011

More fitness conference highlights

Another trend that continues to buzz the fitness industry is metabolic training. A type of very high intensity training, this workout increases your excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). (Burn more calories when you are not exercising). Metabolic training is really a marketing phrase since all training is metabolic, but the principles behind it are sound. Most people promoting a type of metabolic training (and that includes CrossFit, P90X, Insanity Training, TABATA, HIIT, and many boot camps) are doing resistance or strength training exercises, but it can also involve interval aerobic training.
What is consistent among the different brands is intensity. Metabolic training is HARD. It is a circuit workout involving simple weight training and/or cardiovascular exercises where you work your muscles to fatigue. This will increase your metabolism causing your body to burn more calories during and after the workout. It is an effective way to train, but there are multiple caveats. Working your muscles to fatigue can lead to poor form, which will result injury. In fact, insurers have refused to cover CrossFit instructors, so they have banded together to form a high-risk retention group; a type of self-insurance.
I worry that the fitness industry has gone too far in our endorsement of these programs. They are certainly effective if you want to lose weight or to be in astounding shape, but if your goal is to improve your health and remain injury free, you may want to steer clear. These workouts are most appropriate for those already in shape. If you have any type of chronic joint pain, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis or osteoporosis you are at risk for injury from such extreme training. You may ask how this is different from interval training (see posts from Feb. 13, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2010): It is mostly in degree: Programs advertising metabolic training have you work in the “extremely hard” zone frequently, and for long periods of time.  Such extreme training should be balanced with rest days and cycled in with less intense exercise.
 I believe the fitness industry needs to reach out more to the inactive, and I fail to see how such intense training will motivate them. I have seen promotions that promise you will workout until you "vomit or cry", and I cannot imagine why they think this is good.  I personally prefer my workouts to be pain free, but if you feel you must hurt to get results, metabolic training can deliver.

March 16, 2011

Fitness conference highlights

Just got back from a three and a half day fitness conference and thought I would share some of the highlights (and lowlights) with you over the next few posts:

“Functional training” continues as a dominant buzzword in the fitness industry. Functional training simply means training to make your body stronger in life, rather than just in the gym.  Traditional strength training can help you excel at bicep curls, but it probably will not help you hit a ball harder or drag your resisting dog into the tub.
Functional training involves working multiple joints in a manner that should translate better into everyday life. The exercises are usually weight-bearing activities, and often include a balance component.  Examples include the wood chop and the one legged dead lift:

There are those in the fitness industry who advocate a functional only approach, but most of us are are not ready to throw away the machines.  Traditional weight training improves body composition, reduces blood pressure, and decreases the severity of diabetes and heart disease, among other benefits.  It is a good place for those new to exercise, as you do not need good balance or core stability to perform a seated hamstring curl.  One groundbreaking study had nursing home residents who were in wheelchairs or walked with a cane perform leg presses, hamstring curls and leg extensions (very traditional “non functional” exercises) for several months.  At the end of the study, several who had been in wheelchairs were walking with canes, and all who walked with canes were able to walk unassisted.  If that is not functional, I do not know what is!

So what is the best way to workout?  As usual, my answer is variety; include a combination of traditional strength training and multiple joint functional exercises.  You will get a body that looks better AND works better.

March 7, 2011

Slow down to speed up results

Not getting results at the gym?  Could be you are thwarting yourself by lifting weights too quickly.  Rushing through a set by fast speed reps can minimize your results and increase your chance of injury.  High speed reps rely more on momentum, and reduce the amount of work your muscles actually do.  In addition, high speed puts more stress on the joints as you are likely to hyperextend or lock them.  A good tempo is to take two seconds to lift a weight, and four seconds to lower.  You may find you need to lower your weight when you slow down, proof that you have been relying on momentum more than your muscles.
You can also try a technique known as super slow training.  With this technique you take about ten seconds to lift a weight, and ten seconds to lower.  This minimizes momentum and ensures your muscles do more work.  Super slow has plenty of advocates, but studies are mixed as to whether results are better than traditional weight training.  The major drawback is super slow training can be mind numbingly boring.   However, you do not have to do an entire workout super slow.  Try mixing up super slow with regular tempo. It will keep your mind and muscles involved.