Thursday, October 15, 2009

Exercise Intensity: Are you working hard enough?

Other than underestimating the impact of diet on your overall health, fitness and weight loss goals, workout intensity is the biggest mistake people are making. As I walk around the gym it is disappointingly clear that most people are not working out hard enough. Here are some guidelines to make sure you are getting the workout results you deserve for the time you invest.

When you are doing cardio make sure that you are in your target heart rate range. You should be working out between 60% and 80% of maximum. Maximum is 220 - [your age]. You can evaluate this with a heart rate monitor or the RPE scale. RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. You can find a version of the scale at . The original Borg RPE scale goes from 6 to 20. I prefer the 0 to model just because it's easier to remember. Whichever you prefer is fine as long as you get an understanding of how it feels to be at each level of exertion. If you are just starting out or if you are engaging in a new program you may still want to get a heart rate monitor. It's always important to listen to how your body feels but sometimes subjective evaluation is too prone to things like a stressful day or being in a bad mood. Just remember that when you are doing cardio you should warm up for a few minutes, then start to push it for at least 20 minutes. You may do steady state cardio or intervals (intervals are great for boosting calorie burn and weight loss often referred to as HIIT). Then cool down for a few minutes at the end. During that "push it" phase, do just that. You should be breathing hard, but not gasping for breathe, and sweating! If you are coasting along just trying to get your time in then you are cheating yourself. If you can read a book or magazine, you're probably not working hard enough. You will be wasting your time and you will not get results. If you need entertainment when you do cardio listen to your iPod. If you're at home put on a movie, comedies and action movies work great! Your workout will be over before you know it.

When you are strength training the last two or three reps of each set should be very challenging. If you are coasting through your set, even if you are working but still feel like you could do more reps when the set is done, then you are not working hard enough. Use a heavier weight. Ladies, you have heard this a thousand times yet, I am still asked about it, you will not bulk up. You are not capable of bulking up from three one hour strength training sessions a week. By the way, three full body strength training sessions a week is what you need for weight loss and real body sculpting results.

What about stretching? Pushing hard enough but not over doing is super important here. First of all, when you stretch, know what muscle you are trying to stretch. Second, make sure you feel the stretch in that muscle. If not, you need to adjust your position until you feel it! Third, stretch to the point of discomfort but not pain. Do not bounce when you stretch. Settle into the stretch, then on each exhale see if you can go a little deeper. On the inhale just be still and pay attention to how the muscle feels.

Working out at a high enough intensity is simple but, you have to be conscious and purposeful about it. Please note that I did not talk here about working at too high an intensity level. This can happen as well. The best advice I can give is to always listen to your body when you workout. Be present, be conscious and listen to what your body is telling you. Again, the problem I see most commonly is not working out hard enough and that's why I decided to focus on that issue here. Increase your workout intensity and you will not have to work out longer or more often but, you will get results. One of my favorite sayings is that I torture people for an hour (my personal training clients during our sessions that is) so that they rest of their lives can be better. When you workout at the right intensity level your workouts will be harder, they'll probably hurt a little more but, one hour and the rest of your life benefits. It's worth it!

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