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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Don't do thousands of sit ups to get ripped

The 6 pack of myths on ab training
By Joan Price 
Chiseled, rock-hard, washboard, killer abs! Contrast these terms of affection and awe with what we may see in the mirror: pot belly, paunch, sag, gut. Athletes are midsection maniacs, obsessed with the dream of the perfect abs that we all know we can have — if we could just do enough sit-ups.

Visit a gym on any given day, and you’ll find men and women working their abs with intensity and commitment. The problem is, they’re often doing it wrong. Real wrong. Waste-of-time wrong. So we consulted with a bevy of exercise experts, who offered their knowledge to help us debunk the following six myths of abdominal training.

myth 1. Abdominal muscle is different from regular muscle
Muscle is muscle. Period. Ab muscle is just like the muscle in your quads, biceps and lats. “The abdominals are different only in location,” explains Alice Lockridge, MS, an exercise physiologist based in Renton, Wash. “They are not resting on a bony surface, like the biceps or quads. Instead, they span the stomach and intestines like a bridge over a cavern. Look at any anatomy book. But that doesn’t change basic physiology or the laws of science.” There’s no structural difference, no physiological difference and no difference in how the ab muscle contracts and gets stronger.

myth 2You have to train abs at least every other day
Train them at most every other day so you leave time for recovery, just as with any other muscle group, says Ken Alan, BS, a Los Angeles-based instructor of personal trainers and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. “Your abs can get strong and stay strong when you work them twice a week,” he suggests, but you have to train them hard enough.

The key is to choose exercises that fatigue your ab muscles, so that they actually need recovery time. Include some exercises that use the abs functionally — in other words, the way they’re used in real life. For example, abdominals are used to stabilize the body. Feel this function by holding a push-up position without letting your belly sag. Don’t do the push-up — just keep holding the position and feel your abs going crazy trying to isometrically contract enough to stabilize your body. If that’s easy, put your feet up on a weight bench or, even better, a stability ball. Now you’ll really feel your abs!

Another tough ab variation is “pizza feet,” a reverse crunch that Lockridge recommends: Lie on the floor with your legs up in the air (straight or slightly bent) and the soles of your feet aimed at the ceiling. Imagine that you’re balancing a pizza box on your feet. Lift the box straight up until your hips are off the floor.
Don’t swing the feet, or you’ll lose the pizza. Keep your hands by your hips, helping slightly by pushing, if necessary. If you’re strong enough, keep your arms off of the floor.

myth 3Ab exercises melt away abdominal fat
Spot reducing has been disproved over and over again, but some athletes still believe that it works. “You can’t get rid of the fat over a muscle by repeatedly exercising that bodypart,” says Douglas Brooks, MS, an exercise physiologist based in northern California. “Study after study has refuted that. Any physiology textbook will tell you that. Spot reducing is a dead dog.”

Think of it: If you chew gum, you don’t get skinny cheeks. You can do crunches with the best possible form, but it won’t whittle your waistline or belly by itself. You may develop abs of steel, but they’ll still be covered by body fat if you don’t watch your diet and do cardiovascular activity to reduce the fat layer.

“Doing ab exercises to reduce the waistline is a fool’s errand. Reducing the waistline has to do with reducing body fat,” explains Bryant Stamford, PhD, director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and an editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine.

Burning abdominal fat is the same as burning fat anywhere on your body: You have to do aerobic exercise and, of course, not eat so many calories that you put the fat back on again. “Your diet and large-muscle activity will accomplish much more than 1,000 sit-ups a day,” Stamford says.

The Perfect Crunch
Here’s how to do your basic crunch, with help from Bryant Stamford, PhD. Pay careful attention to your technique to get the most benefit from this abdominal workhorse.1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Your hands can be crossed on your chest, relaxed beside your head, relaxed at your side or crossed behind your head. Do not interlace your fingers behind your head — this makes it too easy to pull on your head.
2. Contract your abs as you exhale. Focus on the contraction: Imagine that you are pulling your rib cage toward your hipbone.
3. Let the contraction pull your shoulders, chest and shoulder blades slowly up off the floor. Do not use momentum to lift your body, and never put your hands behind your head.
4. Pause when your upper body is about halfway to an upright position. (Your shoulders should be six to 12 inches off the floor.) Hold the contraction for a moment.
5.Slowly lower your body to the floor, resisting gravity’s pull while you inhale.
6. Don’t relax when your head touches the floor. Maintain the tension in your abs and begin the next contraction. Continue until you are fatigued.

If you can do 20 of these crunches slowly and with good form, make them harder by adding resistance. Hold a weight plate or dumbbell on your chest or behind your head, or keep a couple of light dumbbells by your ears. The farther away the weight is from your abs, the harder the crunch will be. You could also do your crunches on a decline slant board or over a beach ball, so that your shoulders are lower than your hips. And don’t cheat by anchoring your feet. If your feet rise off of the floor or board, you are getting too aggressive with your weight load. Ease up for now until your abs have a chance to grow stronger.

myth 4High repetitions are required to make gains
Let’s say you want to work your biceps. Would you do 100 concentration curls with a 2.5-lb weight or 10 with a 25-lb weight? The key to abdominal gains is the same: overload. The reason we think that we have to do so many reps is because we’re not working them hard enough. “If you find that you have to do 50 to 100 crunches before fatiguing, slow down and work on perfecting your technique,” says Candice Copeland Brooks, a fitness expert who, with her husband, Douglas Brooks, gives abdominal-technique workshops to fitness instructors. Here are some of her tips:
  • Pull your shoulder blades together during crunches so you can’t cheat by pulling your head forward or rounding your upper back.
  • Make your abdominals contract before anything moves. First the rib cage moves, then the rest follows.
  • Slow down. If you go too fast, you use momentum to perform the movement — not your muscle.
Sure, if your aim is abdominal endurance — to see how many crunches you can do — then the more you do each time, the more volume you’ll be able to do later on. But why you would want to spend your time on this is a mystery. It doesn’t strengthen the abs very much, and it can fritter away a big chunk of your day.

myth 5All you need to do is lots of sit-ups
Forget full sit-ups. They may be hard, but they primarily strengthen muscles that are already strong, and these are not even abdominal muscles. “If you come all the way up, you work your hip flexors, which have nothing to do with your six-pack at all,” Alan says. “It’s better to do a variety of exercises to attack the six-pack muscle from different angles and to engage other abdominal muscles.”

That six-pack muscle is the rectus abdominis, today’s glamour bodypart. Although it’s the most prominent muscle, the most important reason to train your abdominal muscles is for back health, and just working the rectus abdominis won’t protect your back as well as doing a variety of exercises that also strengthen the external obliques, internal obliques and the transverse abdominals. So variety is the key.

myth 6Barbell twists are great to trim your abs
Barbell twists are a great way to help your chiropractor send his kid through college at your expense. “You have to rate barbell twists up at the top of the stupid things that people do when they’re in the gym,” Stamford says. “You’re creating momentum with weight on your back. There’s extraordinary stress placed on the lower back area. That’s potentially very damaging to the lower back.”

Besides being risky, they’re ineffective. You may think that you’re working your obliques, but the force of gravity brings the weight toward the floor rather than countering the direction that the muscle fibers are contracting. So this exercise is useless as well as dangerous.

Instead, Lockridge suggests this super-hard exercise for developing your obliques:
1. Kneel beside (not facing) a stability ball, and drape one arm over the ball with your armpit resting on it.
2. Put your feet flat on the floor in a wide stance. Your body will now be draped even farther over the ball.
3. Put your hands behind your head in the international signal for “I’m doing abdominals now.”
4. Do a lateral lift, like a windshield washer action, pivoting up on your hips, not twisting. (As you get more advanced, bring your feet closer together.)
5. Repeat the exercise for the obliques located on the other side of your body.

Don’t Waste Time
You have probably seen people who spend a half-hour or more working on their abs every day. You have to give them credit for perseverance, but they’ll never make it to the top of the class on ab development. Don’t waste time by falling victim to the six main ab myths. Train intelligently in accordance with scientifically based training techniques. In the long run, you’ll make greater gains, and your ripped six-pack will be the envy of those around you.

Having said that, exercises that make your abs stronger will increase their size and definition. So when you melt away the fat covering your abs they will look even more spectacular. Also, ab training can improve posture, stabilize the back so that back pain is prevented and of course having bigger ab muscles means more calories are being burned.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Brown Fat, the Cold, and You: How to Make Your Fat Burn Calories

Cold, and You: How to Make Your Fat Burn Calories
Not all body fat is created equal, at least according to two new studies reported by the New York Times last week. One study found that brown fat burns calories "like a furnace" when you're cold, and another found that regular white fat can be converted into calorie-burning brown fat while you exercise.

The first study found that brown fat burns glucose as well as other stores of fat when its own are depleted in order to keep the study participants warm. The other study found that in mice exercise creates a hormone that may be turning those dangerous white fat stores into fuel-burning brown fat. These studies aren't the first to identify the seemingly magical properties of brown fat. Brown fat has been known for years to be a calorie-torching element found mostly in those who are leaner, younger, or women (compared to older or obese people or men).

More research is necessary to see just how brown fat can help promote weight loss, but even so, by making a few simple changes you can take advantage of the findings. How can you possibly increase your own store of brown fat? Read on for some metabolism-boosting tips.

Turn down the heat: A recent study found that Americans who used their heaters more weighed more than their colder counterparts. The study found that temps in the low 60s are perfect for activating calorie-burning brown fat as a way for your body to keep you warm, but the increase in the use of central heat means many people don't experience cooler temperatures for very long. Before you turn the thermostat dial up on the next chilly day, let your brown fat work for you (if you're still cold, try warming up by doing heartbeat-raising exercises like jumping or push-ups instead of increasing the thermostat temp).

Exercise in the cold: If brown fat is activated both when you're cold as well as when you exercise, why not do both? Shivering burns 200 calories for 30 minutes, and a study found that exercising in the cold can burn 13 percent more calories than exercising in room temperature. But that's not to say that you should be uncomfortably (or dangerously) freezing just for a few extra calories burned. Even when you're bundled up appropriately, you'll still be able to find the effects of brown fat when the temperatures are low. And you'll also be able to use resistance from the wind or snow to up your exercise's effectiveness. So when you can (and if it's safe), take advantage of the outdoor temps and move your workout outdoors.

The dangers of visceral fat and how to get rid of it

Exercise Keeps Dangerous Visceral Fat Away A Year After Weight Loss, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Oct. 29, 2009) — A study conducted by exercise physiologists in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Human Studies finds that as little as 80 minutes a week of aerobic or resistance training helps not only to prevent weight gain, but also to inhibit a regain of harmful visceral fat one year after weight loss.

The study was published online Oct. 8 and will appear in a future print edition of the journal Obesity.

Unlike subcutaneous fat that lies just under the skin and is noticeable, visceral fat lies in the abdominal cavity under the abdominal muscle. Visceral fat is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat because it often surrounds vital organs. The more visceral fat one has, the greater is the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In the study, UAB exercise physiologist Gary Hunter, Ph.D., and his team randomly assigned 45 European-American and 52 African-American women to three groups: aerobic training, resistance training or no exercise. All of the participants were placed on an 800 calorie-a-day diet and lost an average 24 pounds. Researchers then measured total fat, abdominal subcutaneous fat and visceral fat for each participant.

Afterward, participants in the two exercise groups were asked to continue exercising 40 minutes twice a week for one year. After a year, the study's participants were divided into five groups: those who maintained aerobic exercise training, those who stopped aerobic training, those who maintained their resistance training, those who stopped resistance training and those who were never placed on an exercise regimen.

"What we found was that those who continued exercising, despite modest weight regains, regained zero percent visceral fat a year after they lost the weight," Hunter said. "But those who stopped exercising, and those who weren't put on any exercise regimen at all, averaged about a 33 percent increase in visceral fat.

"Because other studies have reported that much longer training durations of 60 minutes a day are necessary to prevent weight regain, it's not too surprising that weight regain was not totally prevented in this study," Hunter said. "It's encouraging, however, that this relatively small amount of exercise was sufficient to prevent visceral fat gain."
The study also found that exercise was equally effective for both races.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Top 10 Fat burning foods

Ask The Ripped Dude: What Are Your Top Fat-Burning Foods?

I've graced more than 20 magazine covers in the past three years. My nickname says it all: 'The World's Most Ripped Fitness Model.'

Obi, I'm ready to rock 'n' roll 2012, but I need to know what foods are best-suited to help me burn fat while also building the muscle I want. Give it up, man - what are your top 10 choices?

Happy New Year! Yes, soaking yourself in champagne and dancing the night away could be a great way to ring in 2012, but I'm glad you're thinking about your New Year's resolution to get fit and stay healthy.
One of the best ways to begin reaching your goals is to learn which foods do good things to your body. These 10 fat-burning foods should be included in the diet plan that will help make 2012 your best year.

1 Oatmeal

Aside from being easy to cook, oatmeal is a great fat burner because it is rich in insoluble and soluble fiber. Read the label on those pre-measured packets though, most of them have lots of sugar.
Oatmeal Macros
1 cup (cooked):
  • Calories: 111
  • Fat: 2g
  • Carbs: 19g
  • Protein: 5g

2 Chicken Breast

Nope, it's not your momma's fried chicken, although I'm sure that was delicious. I'm talking about lean chicken breast without skin or bone. It's one of the best fat-burning foods you can eat.
Chicken Breast Macros
In 1 breast (3 oz):
  • Calories: 142
  • Fat: 3.1g
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Protein: 26.7g

3 Egg Whites

Egg whites are low in calories and high in protein. This equation equals energy for fat burning and building muscles.
Egg Whites Macros
In 3 egg whites:
  • Calories: 34
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Protein: 7g

4 Brown Rice

Packed with fiber and essential nutrients, brown rice slowly absorbs in the bloodstream. You can't go wrong with this fat-burning carbohydrate.
Brown Rice Macros
In 1/2 cup:
  • Calories: 109
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 23g
  • Protein: 2g

5 Fish Oils

Omega 3 fish oils have some incredible qualities. They increase your thermogenesis, making you burn more calories; they have an anti-catabolic effect, which prevents muscle breakdown; and they are anti-lipogenics, which means they reduce fat-storage. What more reason do you need to include them in your diet plan?
Fish Oil Macros
In 1 tablespoon:
  • Calories: 113
  • Fat: 12g
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

6 Asparagus

Asparagus contains the plant chemical asparagine, an alkaloid that directly affects cells and breaks down fat. It also contains a chemical that helps remove waste from the body, which in turn helps reduce fat.
Asparagus Macros
In 4 spears (cooked):
  • Calories: 13
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 2g
  • Protein: 1g

7 Almonds

Loaded with Omega-3 fats, Almonds have been proven to increase fat-burning properties in the human body.
Almonds Macros
In 4 spears (cooked):
  • Calories: 216
  • Fat: 19g
  • Carbs: 8g
  • Protein: 8g

8 Garlic

One of the best components of garlic, besides its flavor, is Allicin. Allicin is a compound that helps flush fat from the body. Garlic has also been known to help maintain healthy blood-pressure levels.
Garlic Macros
In 1 clove:
  • Calories: 4
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

9 Tomatoes

Tomatoes are soldiers in the war to stay healthy! Not only are they great oxidizers and metabolizers of body-fat, but they might also help lower blood pressure and fight certain types of cancers.
Tomato Macros
In 1 tomato:
  • Calories: 15
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 3g
  • Protein: 0g

10 Apples

Apples are a great fat-burning fruit, in part because they are high in fiber. Moreover, the pectin in apples restricts fat absorption and encourages water absorption in your body's cells. Other great fat-burning fruits are oranges, peaches, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits.
Apple Macros
In 1 apple:
  • Calories: 91
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 24g
  • Protein: 0g
Remember, 80 percent of obtaining your fitness goals comes from your diet, so pay close attention to what you put into your body. We've all heard the saying, "You are what you eat." Eat these awesome fat-burning foods and become a fat-burner yourself!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Circuit Training: What is it? Why do it?

What is circuit training?

Circuit training involves performing a series of strength training exercises with less than the normal amount of rest. The rest between sets is purposefully not enough for complete recovery.
There are many ways to design a circuit. You could pick ten exercises and do one set of each with no rest. You could go several times through a circuit with no rest. You could do a series of exercises with work intervals and rest intervals. Circuits can be intense and as short as 12 minutes or they can be as long as an hour. The variable are limitless so it may seem confusing but the main point is to do more work in less time than you would in a “normal” weight training session.

What is circuit training good for?

  • increasing work capacity (the amount of work you can do and recover from)
  • some increase in cardiovascular fitness
  • increasing strength endurance
  • adapting to acid buildup in the muscles
  • mental toughness
  • team building
  • favorable changes in body composition (can lose fat without losing muscle)

Sounds great! Is there anything circuit training can’t do?

  • you will not get much stronger on circuit training unless you are a beginner
  • circuit training will not make you faster
  • nor will it help you jump higher
  • in my opinion, circuit training becomes less useful as athletes accumulate years of training

How does it work?

Circuit training falls under the broad category of metabolic training. Metabolic training responds to the volume of work done. Cardiovascular training is a type of metabolic training for example. In contrast, max strength and max speed training are not metabolic in nature. In general metabolic training and maximum intensity (central nervous system) training are incompatible with one another. This is why circuit work will not make you faster or help with your power production. Circuit training DOES accomplish two goals.
1. Circuit training causes buildup of lactic acid in the body. Circuit training is challenging because accumulating lactic acid is unpleasant and can even make athletes nauseated.  The benefit is that the body learns to better buffer the acidosis and this leads to much better strength endurance.
2. Circuit training causes growth hormone release in the body. It is theorized that the growth hormone released allows fat loss with minimal muscle atrophy and this is why circuit training is effective at creating favorable changes in body composition.

When should I do circuit training?

Circuit training is best used:
  • in the off season to maintain work capacity,
  • in the pre-season to increase work capacity
  • to foster team unity/mental toughness if needed
  • if you are out of shape and looking for gains in general fitness

Two Protocols for Circuit Training

1. The Survivor Circuit

This protocol is based on training that Mike Arthur did with the University of Nebraksa football team in the 80’s. The premise is that performing sets of 10RM intensity with one minute of rest releases the greatest amount of lactic acid and induces growth hormone release.

Nine exercises are chosen. Athletes to three sets of 10 reps with a minute rest in between each set. One minute of rest is allowed between exercises. The Survivor Circuit should take about 36 minutes to complete.

Michael Boyle describes a modification of the Survivor circuit in Advances in Functional Training.  In Boyle’s modification he uses more full body exercises that use large muscles (like squats) rather than single joint exercises (like bicep curls).

In my modification of the Survivor circuit I found it to be difficult to stay on time but it was a challenging full body workout.
Here is my modification of the Survivor Circuit:
1. squat
2. hip thrusts
3. bench press
4. pullups
5. right leg lunge
6. left leg lunge
7. deadlift
8. close grip bench
9. dumbell row

2. 30s work/30s rest

The premise behind this protocol is that a 30s work/30s rest ratio is what invokes the largest release of human growth hormone. This protocol is endorsed by Vern Gambetta in Athletic Development. There are a large variety of example circuits in his book.
I modified one of Gambetta’s power endurance circuits and found it to be very challenging. I chose three exercises (db high pull, db pull to press, and squat and press). The circuit was repeated three times the first week, four times the second week and five times the third week. Doing three rounds of the circuit takes only 9 minutes. The first week I was surprised at how difficult the workout was. In the fourth week, I was surprised by how easy (relatively) it had become.  Overall this protocol feels more difficult and has more of a cardiovascular training effect than the survivor circuit.
(*note. The high pull to press is slightly more technical in nature. Do not do this circuit without proper training and supervision)

Summary and application

Circuit training involves a series of strength training exercises with incomplete recovery. The goal of circuit training is to accumulate lactic acid and release growth hormone in the body. You can expect to see increases in work capacity and muscular endurance but not increases in speed or strength.
In designing a circuit, choose exercises that work the large muscle groups and that do not require much skill or coordination. Form will be difficult to maintain under conditions of fatigue. If you feel nauseated, stop the workout early and increase your rest intervals next time you do the workout.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Low calorie dressing to make any boring salad a pleasure to eat

3 delicious sauces that will make a boring salad a pleasure to eat. Good food flavour in food can often be attributed to an excellent sauce. The problem is most sauces are ladden with fat and sugar which add to calories significantly. So the challenge is to find sauces that are delicious yet low in calories.

Mock salad cream  
1/2 c. low fat cottage cheese 
1/2 tsp. lemon juice 
3/4 tsp. chopped onions or chives, optional

 **Balsamic Dressing**
 3/4 c water
 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
 3 tsp. capers
 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
 1-1/2 tsp. dried basil
 1 Tbl. fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
 Combine the ingredients.  Adjust vinegar to taste, since it has a stong
 flavor.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
 Makes 1 cup

ff dressing from Susan Powter's recipes
 From the New McDougall Cookbook
 CHILI-CILANTRO DRESSING (fantastic!wonderful!use on anything!-ac)
 1 4oz. can chopped green chilis
 1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
 1/4 c water
 1/4 c fresh lime juice
 1-2 cloves garlic
 2 t honey
 freshly ground pepper to taste
 Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Blend until
 smooth.  (one of those Braun hand blenders works really well-ac)
These are only a sample that you should try. The last two have no added fat.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Basics of heart rate to aid with fat loss.

What Is Heart Rate?

Very simply, your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. You can measure your heart rate by feeling your pulse - the rhythmic expansion and contraction (or throbbing) of an artery as blood is forced through it by the regular contractions of the heart. It is a measure of how hard your heart is working.
Your pulse can be felt at the wrist, neck, groin or top of the foot - areas where the artery is close to the skin. Most commonly, people measure their pulse in their wrist. This is called the radial pulse.

How To Measure Your Pulse

Taking your pulse is easy. It requires no special equipment, however, a watch with a second hand or digital second counter is very helpful.
  1. Turn the palm side of your hand facing up.
  2. Place your index and middle fingers of your opposite hand on your wrist, approximately 1 inch below the base of your hand.
  3. Press your fingers down in the grove between your middle tendons and your outside bone. You should feel a throbbing - your pulse.
  4. Count the number of beats for 10 seconds, then multiply this number by 6. This will give you your heat rate for a minute.
If you count 12 beats in the span of 10 seconds, multiply 12 X 6 = 72.
This means your Heart Rate or pulse, is 72 (or 72 beats per minute).
Another popular way to measure pulse rate is by measuring it at the neck (carotid pulse). This is especially convenient during exercise. The formula is the same as above, however, when taking the pulse at the neck, place your fingertips gently on one side of your neck, below your jawbone and halfway between your main neck muscles and windpipe.
Taking your pulse upon rising in the morning, or after sitting without activity for about 10 minutes, is know as your Resting Heart Rate.

What Is A Normal Heart Rate?

A Resting Heart Rate anywhere in the range of 60 - 90 is considered in the normal range. Your Heart Rate will fluctuate a lot depending on such factors as your activity level and stress level. If however, your pulse is consistently above 90, you should consult with your physician. This condition is called tachycardia (increased heart rate).
Many athletes have pulse rates in the 40 - 60 range, depending on how fit they are. In general, a lower pulse rate is good. Sometimes however, one's heart rate can be too low. This is known as bradycardia and can be dangerous, especially when blood pressure gets too low as well. Symptoms include weakness, loss of energy and fainting. If this situation applies, medical attention should be sought immediately.
If the pattern of beats or throbs you count is irregular (i. e. a beat is missed) take your pulse for a full minute. If you experience irregularities in your pulse on a consistent basis, you should consult with your personal physician.
Many factors influence heart rate. These include emotions, temperatures, your position or posture (sitting, standing, laying down), and your body size (if you are overweight for your size, your heart will have to work harder to supply energy to your body).

Reducing your heart rate
A decrease in resting heart rate is one of the benefits of increased fitness due to exercise. Before starting into any exercise regimen, however, be sure to consult with your personal physician.
Your heart is a muscle and will respond just like any skeletal muscle in that it will become stronger through conditioning. If your heart muscles are stronger, then your heart rate will decrease. In other words, your heart will be putting out less effort to pump the same amount of blood.

Target heart rate
When undertaking an exercise program it is important to have a goal and a target range that you are trying to accomplish in each workout. To be of benefit, you want the workout to be neither too hard nor too easy. There is a simple formula to predict your maximum heart rate that is used in the fitness industry:
Take 220 and subtract your age.
This will give you a predicted maximum heart rate.
For example, if you are 42 years old, subtract 42 from 220 (220 - 42 = 178). This means that your maximum physiological limit as to how fast your heart should beat is178 beats per minute.
Most exercise programs suggest that when someone is just getting started that their heart rate during exercise should not exceed 60 - 70% of their maximum heart rate. Therefore, given the example above, 60% of 178 = 107 beats per minute. As you progress in your exercise, the percentage of your maximum heart rate to be set as a goal can be gradually increased.
Calculating a target heart rate zone is often desirable. To do so:
  1. Start with your maximum heart rate as shown above.
  2. Multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.8 to determine the upper limit of your target heart rate zone (divide this product by 6 to get the rate for a ten-second count).
  3. Multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.6 to determine the lower limit of your target heart rate zone (divide this product by 6 to get the rate for a ten-second count).
For a person 42 years old:
220 - 42 = 178 Maximum Heart Rate
178 X 0.8 = 142 Upper Limit of Target Heart Zone (142/6 = 24,10 sec. count)
178 X 0.6 = 107 Lower Limit of Target Heart Zone (107/6 = 18, 10 sec. count)
Note: Your maximum heart rate is the most your heart should reach after a strenuous workout.
Your Heart Rate should be measured during warm-up, halfway into your workout, at the end of your workout and at the end of your cool-down period. If during exercise you exceed your upper limit, decrease the intensity of your workout. Conversely, at the end of your workout if your heart rate is much lower than your target, you need to work harder next time.

Recovery Heart Rate

One way to determine if you are reaping the benefits from exercise is to calculate your Recovery Heart Rate, a measure of how quickly you return to your resting heart rate after a workout. To calculate your recovery heart rate:
  1. Take your pulse ten seconds immediately after you have finished exercising. Write down the number.
  2. One minute later, take your pulse again and write it down.
  3. Subtract the number for the second pulse check from the number for the first pulse check. This number is your Recovery Heart Rate. The greater the number, the better shape you are in!

A Final Word on Exercise Programs

Exercise programs help to increase the strength of the heart. Declines will be seen in resting heart rate, and hopefully, blood pressure, and stress levels as well. Overall body changes will also be experienced including weight loss and increase of lean body mass.
Remember, however, that it is important to check with your doctor and seek out a qualified exercise physiologist before your get started. An exercise stress test may be advised to help ensure the training parameters that are best for you.

How hard is my cardio?

Reference Guide to Exercise Intensity

An In-Depth Look at Heart Rate, RPE and the Talk Test

-- By Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Fitness Experts
One of the most common mistakes new exercisers make is not measuring the intensity of their cardio workouts. Guidelines say that aerobic exercise should be “moderate” or “challenging,” but what does that feel like? You might make the mistake of working too hard (which can lead to injury and burnout), or not working hard enough (which can lead to frustration from a lack of results). 

When following an aerobic exercise program, there are three main ways to measure your exercise intensity: Target Heart Rate (THR), Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and The Talk Test. This guide will examine each of these three measures in detail so you can choose which works best for you. 

Target Heart Rate

Target Heart Rate (THR) is the most commonly used method for measuring exercise intensity—mostly because it’s easy to do and it’s also precise. Your THR is actually a zone or range that your heart rate should fall within to ensure that you are training aerobically. Training below your target zone may not be intense enough to burn sufficient calories or improve your cardiovascular fitness; while training above your zone means you’re working anaerobically (without oxygen) and inefficiently, which is also too intense for many people, especially beginners. 

A Target Heart Rate range is listed in percentages, typically between about 60% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. But how hard you should work depends on your fitness level. In general, beginners should work at a lower range and advanced exercisers should work at a higher range. Keep in mind that some people have exercise restrictions due to injury, health conditions or medications that will affect your recommended intensity level, so always check with your doctor first. 

Use the following as a guide for determining your intensity level:
  • Beginner or low fitness level: 50% to 60%
  • Intermediate or average fitness level: 60% to 70%
  • Advanced or high fitness level: 75% to 85%
When starting an exercise program, aim for the lowest part of your target heart rate zone (50 percent of your maximum) during the first few weeks. Gradually build up to the higher part of your target zone (75 percent). After six months or more of regular exercise, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. However, you don't have to exercise that hard to stay in shape. 

There are two different formulas you can use to calculate your Target Heart Rate: 

1. The Maximal Heart Rate Formula is most commonly used to estimate Target Heart Rate because it’s easy to do and easy to remember. This formula does not take into account fitness level, medical conditions, or other things that might affect your heart rate. It is a good estimate but may be less accurate than other methods. 

How to Use the Maximal Heart Rate Formula
Calculate your Max Heart Rate: (MHR = 220-age)
  • Calculate your Max Heart Rate: (MHR = 220-age)
  • Plug your numbers into the formula, using percentages that reflect your fitness level (i.e. 50% to 60% for beginners and 75% to 85% for advanced), as indicated below:

2. The Karvonen Formula is one of the most effective ways to estimate your target heart rate, because it takes your Resting Heart Rate (a good indicator of your fitness level) into account. Because it’s slightly more involved than other formulas (see #1 above), it isn’t used quite as often.

How to Use the Karvonen Formula: 
  • Calculate your Max Heart Rate: (MHR = 220-age)
  • Find your Resting Heart Rate (RHR). Prior to getting out of bed in the morning, take your pulse on your wrist (radial pulse) or on the side of your neck (carotid pulse) for one full minute. This is your true resting heart rate. Measuring at other times of day, even at rest, does not yield the same results. To help assure accuracy, take your resting heart rate three mornings in a row and average the 3 heart rates together.
  • Plug your numbers into the formula, using percentages that reflect your fitness level (i.e. 50% to 60% for beginners and 75% to 85% for advanced), as indicated below:

How to Use Your Target Heart Rate Information
Once you have used either formula above to calculate your Target Heart Rate range (in beats per minute), you must try to keep your heart rate within your range during your cardio activity. 

Periodically check your heart rate throughout your workout to gauge your intensity level. There are two ways to do this:
  1. Take your pulse after you’ve been exercising for at least five minutes. An easy way to check your pulse without interrupting your workout too much is to take a quick 6-second count and then multiply that number by 10 to get your heart rate in beats per minute. If your pulse is within your training heart rate zone, you’re right on track! If you notice you are lower than the minimum, increase your speed, incline and/or intensity and count again. If you notice you are very high, decrease your intensity in some way.
  2. Wear a heart rate monitor. This is the easiest way to monitor your intensity because it does all the work for you—all you have to do is look at a digital watch to see your current heart rate in beats per minute and/or percentages (i.e. 65%).
Additional Tips for Using Target Heart Rate
  • Your target heart rate (THR) range is an estimate, and it may not be the right exercise intensity for you. It’s based on a formula and not everyone fits into the average. Your THR may change over time as you become more fit too, so consider reevaluating your range every few months.
  • Some medications (such as beta-blockers) can affect your heart rate during exercise. An exerciser taking beta-blockers may be working at a high intensity but might never reach her target heart rate. Therefore, people on this or similar medications should not use the THR method (see RPE and Talk Test methods below).
  • Talk to your doctor to determine the best exercise intensity for you.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) may be the most versatile method to measure exercise intensity for all age groups. Using this method is simple, because all you have to do is estimate how hard you feel like you’re exerting yourself during exercise. RPE is a good measure of intensity because it is individualized—it’s based on your current fitness level and overall perception of exercise. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, allowing you to rate how you feel physically and mentally at a given intensity level. 

10Maximal exertion
9Very hard
8Extremely hard
7Hard (heavy)
5Somewhat hard
4Fairly light
2Very light

An RPE between 5 and 7 is recommended for most adults. This means that at the height of your workout, you should feel you are working “somewhat hard” to “hard.” 

Tips for using RPE:
  • A great way to measure intensity (where appropriate) is by using both the RPE and THR methods. Try to identify where you fall on the RPE scale when your heart rate is between 50 – 70% maximum. This will allow you to accurately use only the RPE scale for measuring intensity when it is not feasible to determine your THR.
  • RPE can be the primary means of measuring exercise intensity for people who do not have typical heart rate responses to graded exercise. These people include those on beta blocker medications, some cardiac and diabetic patients, pregnant women, and others who may have an altered heart rate response.
The Talk Test

The final method for measuring exercise intensity is the Talk Test. Like the RPE, the talk test is subjective and quite useful in determining your aerobic intensity, especially if you are just beginning an exercise program. 

Using this method, the goal is to work at a level where you can answer a question, but not comfortably carry on a conversation. In simple terms, you’re working out too hard if you have to take a breath between every word you say. Conversely, you would be exercising too easily if you could sing the chorus of a song without breathing hard. 

Work at an intensity that allows you to breathe comfortably and rhythmically throughout all phases of your workout. This will ensure a safe and comfortable level of exercise. If you are breathless, or can't talk, you're working too hard! Lower the resistance level and slow down. If you experience dizziness or lightheadedness, you may be overexerting yourself and should stop. 

The Talk Test has been confirmed as a simple and accurate method of gauging intensity that doesn’t require any equipment or special training. Try your own Talk Test during your next workout (and compare it to your Target Heart Rate if you’re skeptical). You may be able to replace your heart rate monitoring with this simple test during all of your workouts, or at least when counting your pulse is inconvenient. 

Moderate Intensity vs. Vigorous Intensity

You may have seen recent talk in the media about the new guidelines for physical activity. The U.S. Government publishes these guidelines which discuss “moderate” and “vigorous” intensity. So what does that mean? Moderate intensity workouts provide health benefits such as reduced risk of high blood pressure, certain cancers, stroke and diabetes. Vigorous intensity workouts provide those benefits, plus aid in weight loss and increased muscle mass. Here is how to distinguish between the two: 

Moderate activity ranges from 40-60% of someone’s max heart rate. For most people, that would be walking a mile in 14 to 23 minutes. Moderate-intensity activity causes a slightly increased rate of breathing, and it feels “light” to “somewhat hard”. Individuals doing this type of activity can easily carry on a conversation. 

Vigorous activity elevates heart rate above 60% of your max heart rate. Walking a mile in less than 14 minutes, jogging, cycling, and playing endurance sports are all considered vigorous activity. These activities result in increased rates of breathing and sweating and feel “somewhat hard” to “very hard.”

Using Cardio Exercise for Weight Loss

Using Cardio Exercise for Weight Loss

In order to lose a pound in one week, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit. The best way to use cardio exercise for weight loss is to create a calorie deficit by burning calories through exercise and cutting calories you eat. For example, over the course of a week, you may cut 250 calories per day by switching from mayo to mustard on your sandwich at lunch and snacking on Yoplait Lite yogurt instead of Columbo Fruit-on-the-Bottom. And, you could burn an extra 250 calories a day by taking a one-hour walk or a half-hour jog.
Keep in mind that losing weight isn't as easy as it sounds on TV diet commercials. It takes a lot more commitment than just drinking that delicious shake for breakfast. And it takes time. Don’t try to lose more than 1/2 pound to 1 pound each week, and don’t eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day (preferably more). On a super-low-calorie diet, you deprive your body of essential nutrients, and you have a tougher time keeping the weight off because your metabolism slows down. Genetics also plays a large role in weight loss. It’s easier for some people to lose weight than it is for others.
Here are some general cardio guidelines for weight loss. You may want to consult a registered dietitian and certified fitness trainer to come up with a plan best suited to your specific goals and schedule.
  • How often you need to do cardio for weight loss: Here’s the cold, hard truth: You probably need to do five or six workouts a week.
  • How long your workouts should last for weight loss: Here’s another dose of reality: You should aim for at least 45 minutes of exercise, a mix of cardio and strength training, six days per week. You don’t need to do all this sweating at once, but for the pounds to come off, the calories you burn need to add up.
  • How hard you need to push for weight loss: To make a serious dent in your fat-loss program, you should work out in your target heart-rate zone most of the time. But keep in mind: If you’re pretty darned “deconditioned,” even exercising at 50 percent of your maximum heart rate can help build up your fitness level.
    You may have heard that exercising at a slow pace is more effective for weight loss than working out more intensely. In fact, many cardio machines have “fat burning” programs that keep you at a slow pace. But this is misleading. During low-intensity aerobic exercise, your body does use fat as its primary fuel source. As you get closer to your breaking point, your body starts using a smaller percentage of fat and a larger percentage of carbohydrates, another fuel source. However, picking up the pace allows you to burn more total calories, as well as more fat calories.
Of course, going faster and harder is not always better. If you’re just starting out, you probably can’t sustain a faster pace long enough to make it worth your while. If you go slower, you may be able to exercise a lot longer, so you’ll end up burning more calories and fat that way.

Why intensity is best for burning fat

Busting the Great Myths of Fat Burning

By Tony Ryan and Martica Heaner
Your body burns either fat or carbs depending on the intensity of your activity. But when it comes to losing weight, calories are calories. You burn fat even when you're in couch-potato mode. Yet, a lot of misunderstanding prevails.
Get ready to break down some of the myths people have about burning fat:
Myth: The body completely shuts off one fuel source when it turns on the other.
The Truth: What has often been misunderstood by both exercisers and exercise instructors alike is that the body relies on both fat and carbs for energy all the time, albeit in different ratios. In fact, as you sit here reading, you may be burning about 50-60 percent fat and 50-40 percent carbohydrates. You're not using much of either, however, because the amount of calories you need probably amounts to about one or two calories a minute. If you were to get up and start jogging in place, your body would need to supply you with some quick energy to do so, so the metabolism ratio might shift to drawing upon more carbohydrates, say 70 percent, and less fat, say 30 percent. If you were to continue jogging, then, in order to preserve the carbs (which can run out since you have limited stores in the body), your body would gradually shift its metabolism ratio again to say, 60 percent fat and 40 percent carbohydrates. From an energy efficiency point of view, it pays to be fit. The endurance athlete would be able to make the shift sooner, and his fat-burning percentage might be 65-75 percent. However, in practical terms this is purely technotalk, and these ratios don't make a big difference when it comes to losing weight and decreasing your body fat. For the most part, athletes are often leaner not because they might rely on slightly more fat for fuel, but because they practice their sport two to three, or more, hours a day — this burns a lot of calories. If you had the time, energy, and fitness level to work out three hours a day, being overweight would probably not be an issue. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than your body consumes and uses everyday. Exercise is one main way to burn a lot of calories. But when it comes to weight loss, what matters is how many calories you burn, not so much whether they are fat or carbohydrate calories.
Myth: Exercise done at a low intensity, such as walking, is better at fat burning than other high-intensity activities, like running or cardio activities where you push yourself very hard.
The Truth: In a strict scientific sense, these claims are true because working at a lower intensity requires less quick energy and a higher percentage of fat is burned. But you'll also burn fewer calories than you would if, for the same amount of time, you work out at a harder intensity (running versus walking). If you're trying to lose weight, even though a higher percentage of fat is being used, a lower total amount of fat is lost.
Whether increased fat burning will result in actual weight loss is dependent upon several variables, including the total calories burned (which include both fat and carbohydrate calories) and the total fat calories burned. If you do work at a low intensity, you need to increase the time spent exercising to burn more calories. What matters most is the total number of calories burned. If you burned 250 calories every day from a short, fast jog, you'd see a bigger difference in weight and fat loss than if you walked everyday for the same amount of time. The number of fat calories you burn isn't that important, because even if you burn a lot of carb calories, these need to be replaced both by the carbs you eat in your diet and also within your body. Your fat stores will be broken down and transformed into carbohydrates when you need fuel. Even if you're burning lots of carb calories and less fat calories through exercise, your fat still inevitably gets used.
It boils — not burns — down to this: During the same amount of time you don't use more calories at lower exercise intensities. If you're trying to lose weight and you have only 30 minutes to work out, you would burn fewer calories walking at a moderate pace compared to walking at a fast pace. Working out at higher intensities may cause you to burn a lower percentage of fat, but since you burn more total calories, you still use more fat calories. Low- to moderate-intensity exercise can burn a significant number of calories over a period of time. If you aren't fit enough to push yourself to work at a high intensity, or you have a physical weakness that prevents you from doing so, you can still burn a lot of calories by doing low-intensity workouts for a longer period of time.
Myth: Running, cycling, or other cardio activities are more fat burning once you've been doing them for more than 15 or 20 minutes.
The Truth: Technically, once you've been exercising for 15 or 20 minutes, your body has made the shift to using a higher percentage of fat for fuel. But again, if you're trying to lose weight, it's about the total number of calories burned, not necessarily the fuel source.
For example, say that at rest you burn up to 60 percent fat. When you enter the initial phases of intense exercise, the ratio changes. You may now burn only 30 percent fat because your body is using quick-energy carbohydrates. Once the exercise is sustained, the body switches back to using a higher percentage of fat to fuel the movement (up to 75 percent fat). In this aerobic phase of exercise, a higher percentage of fat is being used for energy. But if you aren't working out for a very long period, you may still burn more total calories and, therefore, more fat calories working out harder. Put another way, if burning as many calories as you can is the best way to lose weight, even a dummy can figure out which activity of the following is going to give the best results (answer: jogging and sprinting), even though their fat-burning quota is on the low end of the ratio.
Calories Burned
Fat Percentage
Calories from Fat
Watching TV for 20 minutes
40 calories
60 percent
24 calories
Walking for 20 minutes
100 calories
65 percent
65 calories
Jogging & sprinting for 20 minutes
250 calories
40 percent
100 calories