She was already there when I arrived... huffing and puffing... sporting stretchy black garb while a distressed expression blanketed her face. What was she thinking? Could it be,
“This is wonderful! Who hoo, I love being chained to a treadmill for FIVE hours each week!!” I don’t think so. Her body language spoke more of the desperation displayed by Superman, outstretched arms, tightly clawed hands, scrambling feet, as he crept toward safety when in the proximity of kryptonite. After I had finished my routine at the gym, I was on my way out when I saw her STILL trucking away on the treadmill. Now, sweatier and obviously exhausted, she slapped her feet on the spinning belt to nowhere with a disheartening beat - the rhythm of an army drum calling for retreat. Sound like a familiar scenario?
It has to be painful. Exhausting. Sweaty, frequent and long. You believe you must be handcuffed to a piece of moving equipment for hours each week for any results. “Burn calories, burn calories” is the fat-melting mantra. This is what you have been taught in order to lose weight and be fit. Is it true? It’s not only false, but can CAUSE your body to be FATTER!
Wait a minute! Am I saying that that doing aerobic activity, such as jogging, walking or chugging along on an elliptical machine or stair climber over a 20-60 minute period, five to six times each week, at a low intensity, can make you FATTER? YES, that is exactly what happens! It also exhausts you and wastes your valuable time. This all happens due to your body’s incredible ability to adapt to the demands of its environment... otherwise known as its drive for survival.
Aerobics came into vogue in the 1960’s when Dr. Kenneth Cooper published “Aerobics.” Since then, the continuous movement of large muscle groups for periods of time lasting 20 minutes or longer has been touted as the choice for those seeking weight loss or preventing extra pounds from camping out on all the wrong places. The reality is that aerobic activity does burn calories once a certain point of time is reached, but there is a better way to shed extra pounds and keep them off - by shifting how you think about exercise and weight loss/control.
Alert! If you are reading this at the gym, please tighten you pedal straps or secure your grip on the treadmill bars before reading further... The best exercise strategy is NOT working out to burn a few hundred calories! Okay, I said it. Now, please read on before sending angry emails or canceling your gym memberships! From today on, you will exercise to challenge your body to change its survival objective- and to alter how your body stores calories in the future!
In most workouts that involve walking or aerobics, you will burn an average of 50-300 calories. This quantity is within the available amount of sugar stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. After performing long, low-intensity exercise, many people fail to reach the point or remain there long enough to draw significant fuel from fat. It typically takes about 45 minutes before the fat stores are tapped. Due to the low blood-sugar levels created, most find themselves exhausted, irritable and ravenous following sessions, which leads to loading up on more calories that may have been burned and needed for the rest of your morning activities.
In order to survive long bouts of low-intensity activity, the body depends on fat stores for its extended endurance needs. Performing this type of exercise signals the body to store calories as fat. If your body could talk, it would say each time you eat, “I’d better keep my fat stores full in order to survive the next low-intensity endurance session.”
Ready for the secret to efficiently lose weight and maintain a fit body? In order to do this, you NEED to stimulate your body to burn fat instead of storing it. You also NEED to perform activity that quickly starts using fat for fuel by first rapidly depleting the energy stored in your muscles!
Interval training satisfies all of the above NEEDS. It consists of alternating low and high intensity activity performed in a single session lasting between 9-30 minutes. The high intensity portion quickly uses up the fuel stored in the muscles. This causes your body to pull energy from the blood stream and stimulates the breakdown of fat. Interval training over time causes a useful adaption for survival and increases the ability of your body to store calories in the muscles, instead of as fat. Now, if you could talk to your body it would say, “I’d better keep storing more of my calories in the muscles for the next intense activity requiring quick and available energy.”
One additional benefit found in interval training compared to low-intensity aerobics is that calories are burned continuously for hours following a workout. Once you stop doing low-intensity, long duration exercise, you discontinue burning almost immediately. Other benefits range from an improved cardiovascular system to enhanced immune function.
Tips for performing an interval training routine:
Use our favorite piece of cardio equipment (I prefer to alternate between a stationary bicycle and elliptical machine).Start at a very low intensity setting accomplishing about 50% of your target heart rate for 2-3 minutes.
- Increase the tension enough to achieve about 70-90% of your target heart rate or to the point where you feel like you “run out of gas” after about 10-60 seconds (depending on your fitness level). Changing the tension is superior to just going faster- it wears less on your joints and prevents injury.
- Follow the high intensity with another 2-3-minute period with no or little tension while your heart rate drops back down.
- Repeat about 6 times with high intensity and end with a 3-5 minute cool down.
- Perform on an empty stomach- preferably in the morning before breakfast (this dramatically increases your results).
- Take at least one day off in between work outs for adequate recovery and to avoid the fat-stimulating effects of over-exercising.
Although interval training can be modified and performed safely with most individuals, it is demanding on the heart, lungs and muscles. Please check with your doctor prior to starting a routine. Also, be sure that you are properly trained to use the chosen piece of equipment.
The information in this article is not meant to suggest that you should stop taking walks, bike rides and other activities that reduce stress, aid in digestion or provide leisure time with friends or family. Such a recommendation could be particularly detrimental to the family dog dancing around at the front door with a leash in his mouth!
Stop running on the treadmill to nowhere! Pound for pound, the secret of meaningful and permanent weight loss and maintenance is through interval training. Start today by stimulating your body to store and use calories in a way that puts it in ALL THE RIGHT PLACES!