Monday, August 31, 2009

Fitness for lazy and frugal. Part 3. General rules.

31 August, 2009

Hi there,

It's me Svetlana.

In my last post I promised to talk about how to make sure your new status of a habitual exerciser sticks with you for life, in other words, once you became one, you never ever be a couch potato again. Here were come to rules of thumb #5 (never drop below your basic minimum), #6 (start low and go slow), and #7 (change your routine frequently).

Rule of thumb #5: never drop below your basic absolute minimum.
Once you became a habitual exerciser, take pride in staying one. The only way to do it is this: keep the basic absolute minimum of exercise you chose once for yourself going. If you decided at the very beginning (before starting your exercise program) that you can afford to borrowing from your laziness 10 minutes three times a week for walking as a starting point, never go below this level. Period. The end of discussion. LOCOMOTION IS THE KEY FOR WEIGHT LOSS AND MAINTENENCE!!!!! What about weeks when you don't feel well, super busy at home, overwhelmed with work?

This is the main reason that you have to follow the rule of thumb #6: start low and go slow. Choosing very easy, very affordable, very feasible routine as a baseline absolute minimum will pay back huge dividends. Imagine odds of sticking with a routine (especially early on in the course of your exercise routine development) which costs a fortune, requires trip to a special facility, and is too physically intense (like personal boxing sessions with a trainer)? And now imagine sticking with a routine of a brisk 10 minutes walk three times a week. Which one sound better? Do not worry; you can always work it up from the baseline. In fact, do not force it, your body will tell you exactly when the time comes to take it up a notch. Now, it's still not enough to stick with your exercise for life.

Here were come to golden rule of thumb #7: change your routine frequently, even if this is a 5-10 minutes routine. Period. End of discussion. There are two reasons for it. First, your body is smart and will eventually adjust to the same routine by performing it more efficiently. What it meant to you is that you will start burning fewer calories with the same workout you do day from day, week to week. You weight loss will stop, and weight gain may actually happen, if you eat the same way. To prevent this, create what exercise scientists and enthusiasts call muscle confusion. Developers of a super-intense home full body workout P90X, which by the way is a total killer, swear by muscle confusion. By constantly changing routine you do not leave your body a chance to adjust and make it burn maximum calories all the time.

The other obvious reason is to avoid boredom. Boredom is a single most powerful killer of our exercise attempts. When your brain abandons your exercise routine, your body is soon to follow.

My personal goal is to burn fat. If you want to do it scientifically, you have to follow two rules: do regular aerobic exercises of low-to moderate intensity for prolonged period of time (at least 45 minutes a stretch) and do strength exercises twice-three times a week to build lean muscle. Low-moderate intensity aerobic exercise (for instance power walking) will start burning calories after 30 minus of continuous effort, not earlier. That’s why it is important to sustain the effort for at least 45 minutes at a time (better 60 minutes). This creates maximum oxygen consumption and the most efficient fat burn. How fast do you have to go? There is no number set in stone. It depends on your age, physical shape, body mass, and gender. Look at treadmill charts for fat burn pulse range. When you find a treadmill speed which sustains the pulse in the fat burning range for your age, body weight, and gender maintain it for 45-60 minutes for maximal benefit. For me personally the ideal treadmill speed for weight loss is 4.0-4.1 mph for power walking and 5.0-5.5 mph for jogging.

Too intense aerobic exercises may shut metabolism into anaerobic mode, preventing fat burn. The positive side: it trains cardiovascular system and increases endurance. Use intense cardio if you are already in good physical shape (fat loss is not a goal) and want to build up cardiovascular endurance (for instance, run a marathon).

Building lean muscle mass helps to increase metabolism and burn more calories, even at rest.

This is what I do. I work out early mornings. I do not have any specific plan from the night before what workout to do; I just wake up and ask my body what it feels like doing. If this is jogging or just power walking in the neighborhood, it’s fine. I just make sure I do almost full hour and alternate my pace, including faster intervals to boost up the heart rate. I have a mandatory habit of doing my abs, pushups, and squats on a daily basis, no matter what. So I do them in rapid sequence after I come home from a jog.

Sometimes, I feel like driving to a local college five minutes away and jogging around the track at their stadium. For those days I keep a yoga mat, resistance bands, and a medicine ball (you can also keep wrist weights or dumbbells) in the trunk of my car. I do several laps around the track, then in rapid sequence abdominal crunches, pushups, calf raises, squats, and biceps curls. Then I repeat both cycles of jogging and the strength exercises circuit. I usually don’t stop to rest for the whole duration of exercise which is 50-60 minutes. If this seems too strenuous, especially in the beginning, you may rest up to 30 seconds between strength exercises. The trick here is not to let your heart rate drop too much so you lose benefit of fat burning.

The rule of thumb: to burn fat one has to maintain heart rate in the range of 50-65% of maximum predicted heart rate (MPHR) for person’s age as long as possible, at least 30 minutes at a time (the longer, the more fat you burn). The rule of thumb: to achieve cardiovascular endurance, one has to maintain heart rate in the range of 70-85% of MPHR for age for…well, as long as you can. Maximum predicted heart rate for age is determined by this formula: MPHR= 220 - age. For example, if you are 40 years old, you MPHR is 220-40=180 bpm. To achieve fat burning you have to work at 50-65% of this number (which is approximately 90-115 bpm) for at least 30 min continuously, but the longer the more fat you burn. In general, if you are not in a great physical shape (and I mean great) and not training for a serious athletic event, exercising with HR above 80% of MPHR will turn your body into anaerobic metabolism and would increase endurance, but would not burn fat.

Actually, fat burning issue is much more complicated than I just described. If you are really curious about how it works, read this link:
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/busting-the-great-myths-of-fat-burning.html

The next time I go to the stadium I include a set of different muscle group exercises and perform them in rapid sequence between laps around the track. On the days I do different set of strength exercises, I do my “mandatory” set in the evening.

The college stadium also has many tennis courts, and more importantly, a wall that I can use on my own whenever I wish. So some days I just bounce a tennis ball against the wall for about an hour, periodically sending high balls aver the fence into dense bushes on the other side.

Sometimes my body tells me to take out a bicycle. I ride it for 45-50 minutes, and do my “mandatory” set after. Sometimes I just jump rope on my driveway or work with hula-hoop. Sometimes I dance. Pop music like Michael Jackson and Abba work great for me.

In winter my options are limited to a treadmill or a dual action exercise bike (I have both in the basement, thanks to my dear boyfriend George who bought them for me) and strength exercises. I also have a set of dumbbells, resistance bands, a medicine ball, a primitive step master, a weight bench, an inflatable exercise ball, a hula-hoop, a balance platform, a jumping rope, and a set of wrist and ankle weights. This provides me with enough equipment for a full body workout. I alternate several minutes of treadmill (during which I alternate faster and slower speed) with rapid sequences of strength exercises to boost calorie burn and build muscles. I make sure that the whole routine lasts at least 45 minutes. The goal is to exercise for as little money as possible, of course, so I probably would spend money on a treadmill or a stationary myself. In case I did not have them I would still take a power walk or a jog even in winter (remember to dress for the weather and to protect you face, lips, and hands with a moisturizing lotion) for 45-50 minutes, and do my strength sequence for 15-20 minutes immediately after coming back home.

Even if you do not own any exercise equipment at all, and have no desire to spend money buying it (yes, our ultimate goal!), you are okay. As my ex-trainer Hannah once said, a person who wants to get fit does not need any expensive equipment at all. Aerobic exercise can be simple walking or jogging, and all strength/toning exercises can be done with one’s own body weight. Hannah used to say that push-ups, lounges, squats, and abdominal crunches (all use large muscle groups) it’s all one need for full body toning. I tend to agree. Honestly, if George did not give me a treadmill and a bike, I would hardly have bought them myself. I might have gotten cheaper small stuff I have mentioned, but that would be it. So don’t ever get discouraged.

I have to confess: I HATE WINTERS!!! I may even have a touch of seasonal mood disorder with an element of depressive moods and lack of energy. Plenty of the sunlight was always important for me and gloomy winter days just don’t coincide with me. Having said that, I don’t let long winter months to suck me into complete deconditioning. While I am definitely more fit in a warmer season, I maintain my basic minimum of exercise during winter months to prevent excessive weight gain and deconditioning. Remember rule of thumb #5: never drop below your absolute basic minimum no matter what.

There is nothing better, however, than a warm weather walk – except a warm weather walk that lets you enjoy the great outdoors AND hike your calorie burn. The secret, of course, is adding intervals of short bursts of high intensity exercise. Try this:

- walk 10 minutes,

- do these intervals in quick succession: 10-20 squats, 10-20 push-ups from the ground or a bench (does not matter), 20-30 crunches on the ground (yes, you have to sit on your butt), 20-30 stationary lounges (10-15 on each leg),

- walk 5 minutes,

- repeat intervals,

- walk 3 minutes,

- repeat intervals,

- walk 2 minutes,

- repeat intervals,

- walk 10 minutes.

The whole workout takes about 50 minutes and it is fun!

There are multiple other little tricks you can play with your routine to “spice it up” a bit. I learned them from various health magazines which once I subscribed to incessantly. Play nice rhythmic music during your exercise. I love Michael Jackson! Spice up your treadmill routine by changing speed and incline frequently. Intersperse treadmill intervals with strength exercises on the floor. Keep all your exercise equipment close to the treadmill, so your heart rate stays up while you transition from the treadmill to the strength set.

Invite your friends or maybe neighbors to join you. Talk to them and you may be surprised how easy people agree to exercise together. After all, everybody knows that working out with a partner is much easier. First of all, one does not have an excuse not to show up in the morning knowing somebody is there waiting. You feel responsible for another person. Second, comraderie and human interaction makes any routine seem easier and makes time pass faster. If you are shy to ask around, put up flyers in your neighborhood indicating you are looking for an exercise partner. Make it clear what exercise you are talking about, tentatively at what time and how many times a week you are planning to meet. For instance, “A reasonably fit female in her 40s is looking for a female jogging partner. Would like to meet at 6AM on M-W-F for an hour-long jog around the neighborhood. If you are interested please meet me at 6AM Monday June 28th at the corner of Sunset and Bucks (Somerville). Lisa”.

Make sure you schedule your first meeting with a potential exercise partner at a neutral place, well lit and populated enough to feel safe. After all you don’t know who is going to show up and you want to make sure you are comfortable with the person and can safely make her or him your exercise buddy. Sadly enough some people have bad intentions, so consider bringing a friend or a family member to your first meeting. Do not put your address, home or cell phone number on a flyer for safety reasons.

You may try to find a local walking group at ava.org, a local running group at rrca.org, and a local swimming group (I am not even sure if one can swim with a group!) at clubswim.com.

Going back to little tricks to avoid boredom and stagnation with your routine. If you use an elliptical machine, change the direction of you strokes alternating 6-10 forward strokes with 6-10 backward strokes, and vary the intensity at will. Every time you change direction you work your core to maintain balance.

If you lift weights, create new exercises, use machines or free weights you never used before. I clearly remember the look on the faces of Arnold-like looking huge guys when I walked into a free weight room of our local gym many years ago and introduced myself. All the talks suddenly ended, and all the growls, screams, and sounds of suffering only big men can produce, stopped. Boy, they gave me that look… I had to physically force myself not to flee immediately, not to run away and never cross the doorstep of that room again. But guess what? After 10 minutes of dead silence and all eyes on me the normal routine resumed, and the guys went on lifting and pumping whatever hundreds of pounds of iron they were pumping just as I was not there. The second time around the silence lasted for 5 minutes (“Is she REALLY back?”), the third time – 1 minute, and after all I was treated as an equal member of the pack (with a bonus of 10 gorgeous guys competing for the turn to adjust a weight bench for you).

In my next post I will talk more about specific types of exercises (both aerobic and strength) that do not require much stamina (so it cooperates well with laziness) and need a minimum amount of cheap equipment, or no equipment at all. They are great for both beginners (even the most out-of-shape) and intermediate levels.

Good night.

Svetlana

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