Muscles are stupid
Your muscles don’t know and don’t care what kind of equipment is used to exercise them. They simply respond to exercise stresses placed upon them in terms of intensity throughout a movement range. In simple terms, intensity means how hard the exercise is to perform, especially as measured against a muscle’s maximum ability.
There are several ways of understanding and expressing what “maximum ability” means. To the casual exerciser, the idea of maximum ability is a self-described perception of difficulty. The standard term for this is Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which asks the exerciser to use a numerical scale to describe the intensity.
There are several REP scales in use. The traditional RPE protocol measures intensity on a scale of 6to 20, with 6 meaning a perceived difficulty equating to very, very light and 20 meaning very,very hard. (For an in-depth discussion about RPE, see my blog posting Exercise: Measuring Intensity).
Serious, dedicated exercisers and fitness professionals measure strength-exercise intensity in relation to - and as a percentage of - the heaviest load an exerciser can “lift” one time, using proper form, tempo, and moving through the full movement range. This is called the 1 repetition maximum (1RM). If an exerciser can, say, bench press 100 pounds one time, then they would perform their exercise routine using a percentage of their 1RM for their multiple-repetition set. Example: if 100 lbs is your 1RM, than 80 lbs would be 80% of your 1RM, and is a measurable standard for performing a multiple-repetition set. In this regard, less than 70% of 1RM is considered low intensity, 70-80% is moderate intensity, and 80-100% of 1RM is high intensity. Low intensity training is appropriate for developing muscularendurance; moderate intensity is best for developing muscular strength and size; and high intensity develops maximum strength and power.
Back to your stupid muscles. Because your stupid muscles don’t know if they are bench-pressing an 80 pound barbell, two 40 pound dumbbells, or an equivalent weight on a bench press machine, the load factor is basically the same. (Yes, there are some nuanced differences between different kinds of equipment, but they hardly matter in the context of a single exercise session.)
Muscles are smart
Your muscles quickly figure out the amount of stress placed upon them on a regular basis and adapt by becoming stronger to accommodate those stresses. Indeed, adaptation is the cornerstone of how we survive as a species – whether it’s adapting to a climate, available foods, necessary skills, societal roles, or anything else that allows us to be viable under circumstances that have changed, or that may be different from the circumstances of other people.
Because your muscles are smart and adapt (by becoming stronger) to repeated exercise sessions using the same equipment and the same loads, over time they end up working less hard to perform those exercises. This is what is commonly known as reaching a plateau, or stall, and your progress stalls, as well.
Outsmarting your muscles
There are several strategies for breaking through the dreaded plateau, but all of them involve changing what you’re doing, and none of them involve continuing to do the same thing. Typical changes may include all or some of the following:
- Change the order of exercises. Example: If you’ve doing full-body routines, working your back, chest, and legs in that order, try reversing the order to legs, chest, then back.
- Change the exercises. Yes, you’ll want to continue exercising all the same muscle groups, but try using different exercises. Example: If you’ve been doing leg-presses for your thighs and glutes, try doing dumbbell squats instead. Or, instead of performing leg presses using both legs at the same time (bi-lateral), try reducing the load to 50 percent of the bi-lateral resistance and do your leg presses as a separate set for each leg (unilateral) individually. There are many different exercises that can be used for every muscle group, so there is no need to always do the same exercises, the same way, all the time.
- Change the equipment. This is one of my favorite techniques for breaking through plateaus, as well as avoiding or delaying them altogether. By changing the equipment you not only continue working the same muscle groups, but you will recruit the same muscle fibers in a slightly different way, which will enhance the training effect of your workout and keep your workouts fresh and your progress moving forward.
By the way, making the kinds of periodic changes to your workouts as discussed above can done be with home-based workouts, as well as at the gym. If you are doing home-based training, you probably have some basic equipment – perhaps a pair of dumbbells, a stability ball, and a pair of ankle weights. Add an inexpensive set of resistance tubes and you’re well on your way to being able to perform numerous exercises for every muscle group, and at varying intensity levels.
More to come about great home-based workouts with minimal investment.
No matter how much your waistline or your scale-weight has changed over the years, your number of fat cells has not changed since you finished puberty.* Think of fat cells as balloons - it's not how many you have that makes you look fat, but how full they are. Your body-fat remains constant when the number of calories you consume is the same as the number of calories you burn; it's called energy balance. When you consume more calories than you burn, the extra calories are stored as body-fat in your fat cells, and the fat cells expand to accommodate the increased volume. When you consume fewer calories than you burn, your body calls upon your stored fat content for the energy it needs to make up the difference between the calories you are consuming and the calories that are needed to fuel your activities. When your body calls upon its stored fat, the remaining fat in the fat cells becomes less than before and the size of the fat cells decreases. It's like inflating or deflating balloons.
It's really that simple. It gets complicated when people get bad information from infomercials, or from myriad sources citing "scientific data" revealing "magic secrets" about weight loss.
If you have a weight problem, you have probably had it for a while. Ask yourself a few simple questions:
1. How many diets have I been on?
2. How many pounds have I lost on each diet?
3. Do I weigh the same or more now than I did before those diets?
4. Has my doctor told me that I should lose weight?
5. If the "magic diet" really works, why didn't my doctor tell me about it?
If you're like most people with a weight problem, you have tried many fad diets, lost a lot of weight, and weigh the same or more now as you ever have.
By way of contradiction to what I have just said about your number of fat cells not increasing, it is possible to gain new fat cells. But this only occurs in cases of serious obesity, when very obese people continue gaining weight beyond the capacity of existing fat cells to store new fat. Also, increases in the number of fat cells generally occurs in the lower (femoral) body, whereas gains in abdominal fat is much more likely to be stored in existing fat cells.
But, again, new fat cell creation is not why the vast majority of overweight people are fat. It remains for most of us that we become fat when our existing fat cells store excess fat.
The signifigance of filled-up existing fat cells versus filled-up existing fat cells and new fat cell creation is that the more fat cells you have, the greater your capacity to store fat, and the more filled-up fat cells you have, the greater is the volume of your body-fat , and the harder it becomes to lose it.
Where did those cool looking muscles go?
Ever notice that during and immediately following a strength training workout that your muscles look really good? So, where did they go?
Enlarging the size of muscles is called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is the opposite of atrophy, which is when muscles shrink, either due to disuse or disease.
But, there are two kinds of hypertrophy: transient and chronic.
Transient hypertrophy occurs when muscle tissue swells from increased blood accumulation, also known as vasodialation. It is a temporary condition. Your swollen muscles will revert to their normal size as your body returns to its pre-exercise condition.
Chronic hypertrophy is the result of progressive resistance training. This is the process of regularly stressing your muscles by subjecting them to an overload, which is a resistance greater than what they are accustomed to. Over time, they adapt to the overload by becoming stronger, at which point the resistance is increased to create a new, "heavier," workload. Progressive resistance training is a planned process using overload, adaptation, and progression. Not only will the muscles become stronger, they will become bigger. Your larger muscles will remain larger, and even grow more, so long as you engage in progressive resistance training.
While transient hypertroply is only temporary, it is a reasonably accurate indication of what your muscles could look like if you engage in a program of progressive resistance training.
Those of us who are of an age will recall the utter frustration when reading the instruction manual that came with a new electronic product that had been written by someone using English words but who obviously didn’t speak the language well; you could recognize the words but the instructions were incoherent.
Fitness articles are sometimes like that. If you don’t understand most of what you’re reading, the article was not written for you. Read an article about headaches in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you’re not a doctor, you probably can’t even pronounce some of the words, let alone understand what they mean. But, read an article about the same subject on WebMD or MedlinePlus and you’ll probably learn what you need to know.
But even articles that present clear, concise consumer-use information often inadvertently stymie the reader as well, just by using a term or phrase without explaining what it really means.
Example: You should consume 15 calories per pound of desirable body weight if you regularly do moderate activity. Now, if you regularly consume more than 15 calories per pound of desirable body weight you will end up weighing more than your desirable body weight; makes sense. And if you regularly consume fewer than 15 calories you will not have sufficient energy to fuel your moderate activity. So the unanswered question becomes what is moderate activity?
These are some of the words that need clarification. For the most part, these are simple enough words, but because they are quantitative in nature they are only abstractions without some explanation.
Much of the information which follows is taken from the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. I find NIH information to always be thorough, reliable, and without ties to any commercial agenda.
WEIGHT MANAGEMENT (AND RELATED) TERMS
Your activity level is a major factor in determining how many calories you need each day to fuel your activities. Over-eat your caloric needs and you’ll gain weight. Under-eat your needs and you’ll lose weight.
Activity levels defined:
- Low: No planned, regular physical activity; occasional weekend or weekly activity (such as golf or recreational tennis) is the only type of physical activity. (NIH)
- Moderate: Participating in physical activities such as swimming, jogging, or fast walking for 30–60 minutes at a time. (NIH)
- Strenuous: Participating in vigorous physical activity for 60 minutes or more at least 4–5 days per week. (NIH)
Desirable Body Weight
It is common to reference caloric needs to desirable body-weight. So, how much should you weigh?
- Women: 100 pounds of body weight for the first 5 feet of height plus 5 pounds for each additional inch. (NIH)
- Men: 106 pounds of body weight for the first 5 feet of height plus 6 pounds for each additional inch. (NIH)
- Frame size adjustment: For a small body frame (see), subtract 10%. For a large frame, add 10%. (NIH)
Note: As a volume of muscle weighs 17.7% more than an equal volume of fat, athletes and others with muscular builds will usually weigh more than those with normal builds when all else is the same.
“Desirable Body Weight,” as discussed above, is based on a “normal” frame (bone) size. To determine what frame size you have, measure the diameter of your wrist and match the results as follows:
o S = less than 5.5”
o M = 5.5” to 5.75”
o L = over 5.75”
o S = less than 6”
o M = 6” to 6.25”
o L = over 6.25”
o S = less than 6.25”
o M = 6.25” to 6.5”
o L = over 6.5”
o S = 5.5” to 6.5”
o M = 6.5” to 7.5”
o L = over 7.5”
All of the above: (NIH)
Another popular technique for determining frame size is to wrap your middle finger and thumb around the smallest part of your wrist. If your finger and thumb overlap each other, you have a small frame; if they just touch, you have a medium frame; and if they don’t touch, you have a large frame. This method is less precise than the measurement technique, but is valid for the way most of us use the information.
Calories Needed for Weight Maintenance
Now that you know what your desirable body weight should be, and how to determine your activity level, use the following formula to determine how many daily calories you should consume to maintain your desirable weight. Consume more, and you’ll gain weight; consume less and you’ll lose weight.
Basis: Calories per pound of desirable body-weight (NIH)
- 10 calories if you are sedentary or very obese
- 13 calories if your activity level is low, or if you are over age 55
- 15 calories if you regularly do moderate activity
- 18 calories if you regularly do strenuous activity
Even though we are hard-wired to think about weight in terms of pounds as displayed on a scale, the real criteria for assessing your weight should not be pounds alone, but what percentage of your weight is fat. Many athletes, for example, are “overweight” based on the charts, but are not “over-fat” based on their body composition.
Body composition is the sum of your parts, as they relate to your body-weight. An assessment of your body composition is used to determine, on a percentage basis, how much fat you have versus lean body mass. Lean body mass is all of your weight that is not fat, and principally consists of muscle, bones, organs, and fluids.
As you age, it is normal that your body composition changes. These changes typically involve a gradual loss of muscle mass and an increased amount of body fat. But these changes are significantly influenced by lifestyle changes. Most people become less physically active as they get older, and these changes may be substantially mitigated by diet and exercise.
Most health clubs and gyms, as well as all personal trainers, can perform simple tests to determine your body composition. If you need to lose weight, it is much smarter to know how many pounds you should shed to arrive at a healthy body-fat percentage than simply picking a target number from a height-weight chart.
Following are age-adjusted body-fat recommendations for men and women. These data are especially useful as most body-fat recommendations found on the Internet do not adjust for age.
Source: Gallagher et al. Am J Clin Nut 2000; 72:694-701
Lean vs. Thin
Lean and thin don’t mean the same thing; indeed, it is possible to be “skinny-fat.” Lean has very positive health implications, whereas thin people often have unhealthy levels of body-fat – just less obvious when you see them with their clothes on. While skinny-fat people may not need to lose weight for aesthetic reasons, they do need to bring their body compositions in line with healthy norms, just the same as if they looked overweight, and for the same reasons.
A major concern for skinny-fat people is that because they don’t look fat with their clothes on, and because their scale-weight is not alarming, they feel little need to lose excess body fat. But, if their scale-weight is within a “normal” range and they have a body-fat percentage that classes them out of the healthy range, they almost certainly have too little muscle mass - not vanity muscles, but what they’ll need to avoid frailty in old age and the attendant impact on their ability to perform activities of daily living. In other words, they face a real likelihood of losing their physical independence. Bummer.
Reconciling Body-fat % vs. Desirable Weight
It may seem that the three preceding sections – Desirable Body Weight, Calories Needed for Weight Management, and Body-fat Percentage - are at odds with each other. But they’re not. Taken separately, each component typically leads to desirable outcomes for the rest. If you regularly consume the calories needed for maintaining your desirable body weight, you will arrive at your desirable body weight, if you’re not already there. Because the components of body composition cannot exceed 100%, when your body-fat percentage is within the healthy range, your lean mass is automatically within the healthy range, too. Exercise contributes to calories burned, which eases the burden of calorie restriction using diet alone.
STRENGTH TRAINING TERMS
“Strength training” applies to various modalities, but they all have one thing in common: applying the force of your muscles against a resistance workload that imposes a challenge. Resistance can be in the following forms:
- free-weights (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.)
- resistance machines that mimic the movements and workload of free-weights
- resistance bands or tubes that create resistance by stretching them
- body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups
Weightlifting or “lifting” are terms that apply specifically to free-weights (“weights”), and resistance/weight machines.
Lifting is also a generic term that applies to working with weights and weight machines, regardless of the nature of the movement. In this regard, “lifting” may be equally applied to any movement that involves pushing or pulling movements against resistance. Examples: a biceps curl is a pulling movement, whereas a chest-press is a pushing movement.
Core is too often misunderstood to mean the abdominals; the core is much more than that, and is perhaps the most important group of muscles in the body. The core muscles run through the length of the trunk and torso, and they act to transfer power between the extremities - both side to side, and upper to lower - by stabilizing movement through the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle.
When you think about hitting, swinging and lifting actions, it’s easy to class them as arm movements. Now, picture yourself going through the full range of motions involved in hitting a homerun, or driving a golf ball 300 yards down the fairway, or serving an ace, or bowling a strike. Not an athlete? The same principle applies to lifting a child or placing your carry-on in the overhead bin, or putting away the groceries. None of these activities are possible without engaging the core muscles, and any weakness or impairment in the core will limit your ability to do these things well.
The core muscles include:
- Abdominals, (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis)
- Erector spinae (along the spine, neck through lower back)
- Hip flexors (front of the pelvis and top of the thighs)
- Hip adductors (inner thigh)
- Gluteals (uppermost hamstrings, back and side of the hips, buttocks)
The good news about core training is that because multiple muscles become engaged during many of the core-related exercises, only a few exercises are necessary to exercise the entire core.
With regard to strength training, exercise guidelines usually specify the intensity to be used. A typical strength training guideline for someone with coronary artery disease (CAD) will feature low (light) resistance and high repetitions. Someone working to add muscle size and strength will use a moderate resistance, and when absolute strength and power is the goal, high (heavy) resistance is the mode.
But, what do these intensities really mean and, more importantly, how do you know how much resistance you should use to match a light, moderate, or heavy workload?
There are two ways for measuring resistance training intensity:
1RM is shorthand for how much weight you can lift one time, but not more, or your “one repetition maximum.” Once you have determined your 1RM, you can gauge your exercise intensity by using a percentage of your 1RM as follows:
Workload % of 1RM
Low/light less than 70%
Cautionary note: There is a real risk of injury when attempting to lift an absolute maximum amount of weight, especially without the assistance and supervision of a qualified trainer.
RPE is a subjective way of self-describing your “rating of perceived exertion.” It is less precise than a true 1RM-based resistance workload, but it is unapologetically sufficient for all but the most serious hardcore exercisers seeking maximum results.
For an in-depth discussion about intensity, with special emphasis on RPE, see my earlier article on this blog, Exercise: Measuring Intensity.
Got a question . . .
If there are other fitness terms for which you would like clarification, post a comment and I'll do my best to explain.
This is a 35 page article. It is both the part 2 strength training follow up to my earlier article about calories burned during walking, and a general primer on the subject of strength training as an important component of physical fitness.
I have written this article as a pdf document as it contains various charts and tables which are easier to navigate in that format.
If you are only interested in reading the calories burned portion of the article, skip to page 29. Either way, I hope that you find the article interesting and informative.
During the strength training primer portion I have attempted to demystify much of the misunderstandings about strength training. When discussing or writing about exotic subjects there is a tendency to be overly brief so as to not bore your audience, or to be overly detailed so as to win peer approval. This article was written for you. I hope that it has struck the right balance.
Here's to a stronger, fitter you,
Calories Burned During Exercise
Part 1 of 2: Walking
Once you’ve tried all the diet gimmicks, and all the quick weight loss diets that promise to “incinerate,” “melt,” “blast,” and “annihilate” those unwanted pounds, and you still weigh as much or more now than before (except in the wallet), it’s time to come back to what really works; no fancy power-words that excite you to buy the product – just what works.
And what works is to lose between one and two pounds per week by adjusting your daily calories via a combination of diet and exercise.
- When you consume the same number of calories that you expend, you are in neutral energy balance, and body weight from fat is maintained;
- When you consume more calories than you expend, you are in a positive energy balance, and body weight from fat is increased;
- When you consume fewer calories than you expend, you are in a negative energy balance, and body weight from fat is reduced.
Note: The weight you see on your bathroom scale includes your fat-weight, as well as all weight not from fat. Depending on your diet, especially if you eat a lot of salt, you can see weight gains as a result of water retention. Water, of course, is not fat, but it weighs a lot. This is why weighing yourself every day gives frustratingly inconsistent results. Better to weigh and tape-measure yourself once a week, preferably on the same day, just after you’ve awaken and used the toilet, but before eating or drinking anything. This way, you are much more likely to see the real results of your weight-related lifestyle modifications.
One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. By creating a 500 calorie negative energy balance, you will lose about one pound per week. Losing between one and two pounds per week is considered a safe weight loss, and will be primarily from fat. Weight lost from rapid weight loss diets is mostly from muscle and water (muscle weight is about 75% water), and not from fat.
It is always easier to create a calorie deficit when combining energy expenditure from exercise with caloric restriction in the diet. Indeed, the more calories you burn during exercise, the fewer calories you have to lose from food. This means that not only will you gain the health benefits of exercise, there is less sacrifice to be made at the dining room table; win-win.
Both cardiovascular exercise and strength training can make significant calorie-burning contributions to your weight loss program. This article is about calorie expenditures from walking, and is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 will be about strength training, and will follow soon.
Let’s begin with the obvious: you already know how to do it. And you don’t need to be heavily invested in special equipment – just a good pair of walking or running shoes. Also, you can walk anywhere, so you’re not tied to a particular location, or to any specific equipment. On a business trip or vacation? Walk wherever you are. Like an indoor environment? Walk on a treadmill or an indoor track. Prefer an outdoor environment? Duuuhh! Walking can also be a companionable activity – something that you can do either alone or with someone else.
Walking is the preferred mode of aerobic exercise for anyone with low functional capacity, as well as anyone who has been leading a sedentary lifestyle – especially those over age 60. It is also the preferred aerobic exercise for those who are significantly overweight. In addition, walking is mentioned in health literature as either a recommended or the recommended aerobic exercise mode for those dealing with asthma, coronary artery disease, COPD, diabetes, and hypertension.
Health benefits associated with walking include reduced blood pressure, improved lipid profile, reduction in body fat, reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and an overall improved feeling of well-being.
And finally, if you’ve tried exercise programs before, only to abandon them later, walking has the highest stick-with compliance rate of all exercise modalities.
Walking vs. Running
First, let’s understand the differences between walking and running.
Force impact and injury
Jogging is just a slow form of running, but walking is not a slow form of jogging. The essential difference between the two is that during jogging/running there is always a point during mid-stride when both feet are off the ground, whereas with walking, one foot is always on the ground. This means that there is a huge difference in the force impact between the two modalities.
During walking, one foot or the other supports 100% of the walker’s body weight with each stride, but not more. During running, due to the effect of gravity, each foot strikes the ground approximately 800 times per mile with a force which is roughly the equivalent of one-and-a-half times body weight. In fact, with some runners, force impact can be as much as four times body weight.
This means that assuming dry, cushioned socks and proper fitting shoes, walking is essentially injury free. Absent these precautions, the worst you’re likely to get from walking is a blister on your foot.
Running, on the other hand, too frequently leads to injuries such as runner’s knee, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis, and can also cause problems in the hips and low-back. Imagine repeatedly hitting a telephone pole with a baseball bat for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. Yes, your hands will become sore, but more importantly, you will eventually experience injuries to your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck as a result of force impact being absorbed and distributed along that part of your musculoskeletal system. This is analogous to the force impact created during running being absorbed and distributed along the musculoskeletal system above the feet.
There is a common misconception that walking and running each use the same number of calories. This is not true at the speeds that real people walk, even during aggressive fitness walking.
Generally, walking is considered to include all speeds below 6 miles per hour. Jogging speed is between 6 mph and less than 8 mph, and running speed is 8 mph and faster. Stride length and other factors will determine the actual differences on an individual basis, but these are good typical speeds for each modality.
Back to the same-calories misconception. Two things to know:
First, there is a point during which walking burns jog-like calories. But that requires a walking speed of 5 mph (1 mile in 12 minutes), which is very, very difficult to achieve, and especially difficult to sustain for a productive period of time.
Second, intensity matters with respect to caloric expenditure. Example: a 175 pound person walking at a casual stroll pace of 2 mph for 40 minutes will burn about 106 calories. But if the same person ramps up their speed to 3.5 mph, the caloric expenditure jumps to 201 calories, and further increasing speed to 4 mph will burn 265 calories – all during an identical 40 minute period.
Using the American Council on Exercise (ACE) physical activity calculator, I have created a chart which shows how many calories people of different body-weights - from 175 pounds to 250 pounds - can expect to burn by walking at any of five different speeds, for each of 20, 40, and 60 minutes. These calculator-driven results are subject to variables, so consider the information as a guide only.
Click the following link to open the chart. Also, be sure to scroll down to the second page for additional information.
Another useful approach to gauging your intensity is via a scale known as Ratings of Perceived Exertion, or RPE. There are two main RPE scales. The original version rates exertion on a scale of 6-20. The revised version uses a 0-10 scale. I have created my own version, the Modified RPE, which I believe resolves some of the incongruities of the other versions.
Click the following link to open the Modified RPE chart. Pages 2 and 3 explain the rationale for each of the eight levels of the scale.
For additional information about exercise intensity, see my earlier article “Exercise: Measuring Intensity,” under the Exercise heading in the blog section of this website.
Creating Your Personal Walking Program
Okay, you're going to start walking. Great! That's the easy part. Now, let's focus on outcomes and how to achieve them.
As already mentioned, intensity matters. Intensity and duration are what creates the exercise workload. As you've seen from the chart, walking at 3.5 miles per hour burns more calories than walking for the same amount of time at a slower speed, and fewer calories than walking for the same amount of time at a faster speed. So, if weight loss is your goal, speed matters.
Time matters, too. If you walk at a steady pace for 30 minutes, you will burn more calories than walking at the same pace for 20 minutes, etc.
And let's not forget frequency. If weight loss is your goal, then you should plan on fitness-walking most, if not all, days of the week.
Good so far.
Now comes the tricky part: Over time our body systems adapt to challenging workloads by becoming stronger and more efficient at executing the exercise task. If you stay at the same speed and duration once you've adapted to it, you will stop making progress; it's what's called hitting a plateau.
So while walking in and of itself is good, you need a specific plan to make sure that you're holding aces-over-kings, and not deuces and treys.
What to do?
The best way to avoid plateaus, or to break through them, is by a dynamic technique known as progression. As the name implies, progression is taking your training to the next step, in a logical and orderly fashion.
With regards to walking, an effective progression plan increases walking duration at the present speed before increasing speed. Repeat: increase time before increasing speed.
A beginner-level exercise walker should just start walking, or like Nike says, just do it. Somewhere between week-one and week-six, start following a plan. For instance, use your car's odometer to pre-measure a walking route, noting 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 mile landmarks.
Next, at an RPE of 4 ("Somewhat Hard"), time yourself walking each of your landmarks. If your stamina is limited, be careful not to out-walk your return, meaning don't walk a mile out if you can't walk a mile back. This is why you should pre-measure your route to include the intermediate landmarks, and not just the one-mile mark.
The initial conditioning phase should last between four and six weeks. After about two weeks, gradually begin increasing your time, while staying at the same speed, or the same RPE.
An overall long-term objective might be to walk for 45 minutes at a sustained pace of 4 mph, which is a 15 minute mile. Along the way to achieving this objective you will have progressed through various durations, and will have incrementally increased your speeds.
Advanced Training Techniques
Once you have achieved your long-term goal, you continue to prevent and defeat plateaus - or just add some variety - by introducing hills into your routine, or by engaging in advanced speed drills, such as fartleks and intervals.
And in case you haven't already guessed, any time you increase intensity, you may need to reduce your session time until you become conditioned for the new workload. And just like before, gradually build your time back up to where it was. And the progression scheme continues.
Fartlek is a funny-sounding Swedish word that means "speed play." A fartlek routine uses intermittent work and rest periods throughout the session. A typical fartlek drill would be to walk at a brisk, sustainable, but submaximal pace. Periodically, pick a target up ahead - a signpost, a mailbox, the blue car - and walk as fast as you can until you reach the target, then reduce your speed back down to your brisk walking pace. Note: the submaximal pace in fartlekese is called "rest," but it is only rest in the context of it being a sustainable pace, whereas the "work" segments are maximum efforts. Work segments are of short duration, and there is not a pre-planned work-rest scheme.
Intervals are like fartleks, but you time each phase. A typical interval session would be continuously alternating between, say, 90-seconds rest and 30-seconds work. As you become proficient at intervals, the work period becomes longer and the rest period becomes shorter, such as 60-seconds work, 60-seconds rest.
Because fartleks are more ad hoc, you don't need to time the segments. Intervals, on the other hand, are timed. You can use a stopwatch, or a chronograph wristwatch that has a stopwatch or lap counter feature.
As fartleks, and especially intervals, are more intense than steady-state walking, don't be surprised if you can't last as long as you're accustomed to. This is natural, and like all other training routines, your total times will improve with practice, and your work-rest segments will improve work-wise as well.
Furthermore, interval training offers really great results in shorter times than steady-state programs. Because interval training is harder, the sessions are generally shorter anyway.
Warm-up and Cool-down
As with all exercise programs, the main objective of fitness walking is to create a temporary increase in heart rate and a challenge to body systems (muscles, lungs, etc.), which over time will lead to permanent beneficial changes in metabolism, all of which leads to an overall fit, leaner, better functioning, and more attractive body.
Because of the stresses that you subject your body to during exercise, it is very important to perform a proper warm-up before beginning your routine. A five minute warm-up will warm your muscles, making them more pliable, which allows them to move with greater fluidity, and with less chance of injury. A warm-up also psychologically prepares you for the physical stresses you are about to encounter.
Your pre-exercise warm-up for fitness walking should consist of five or more minutes of walking at a slow, normal pace, followed by a few minutes of gentle stretches for your Achilles tendons, calves, and low-back muscles. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, and remember to stretch after the warm-up, not before.
A proper cool-down is at least as important as the warm-up, and perhaps more so. Following exercise, blood tends to pool in the lower extremities, and blood pressure may also be low. A proper cool-down helps redistribute pooled blood, and assists in reestablishing homeostasis, which is when the body and its systems are in balance. This has implications for post-exercise muscle cramping, blood pressure recovery, and reduction in elevated hormones, such as norepinephrine, which can affect cardiac rhythm.
The post-exercise cool-down is the same as the warm-up: walk at a normal pace for at least five minutes, until your heart rate is close to normal, or at least no higher than 18-20 beats per 10-seconds.
Follow the cool-down with the same gentle stretches you performed during the warm-up. Amongst other things, post-exercise stretching allows muscles to release waste products that have built up during the stress of exercise, helping to prevent or lessen muscle soreness later.
By the way, your warm-up and cool-down does not count as part of your timed exercise routine.
And Finally . .
Good luck with your walking program. It is a great way to exercise, with lots of benefits. It is one of the safest forms of exercise, and one that you can continue to do well past the age that most other forms of exercise are not possible.
And don't let anyone tell you that walking is not for serious exercisers. I used to run 6 miles a day. Now I am a dedicated fitness walker, and my knees are grateful.
Discussing weight loss is like catnip for fitness professionals. And indeed it should be. The health and wellness issues associated with obesity are well known and there is little debate with regards to the importance of maintaining a healthy body-weight.
Similarly, the “you-can-never-be-too-thin” mantra keeps millions of people on diets and treadmills, and sells countless books, gadgets, and eating plans.
But somewhere in-between lays a murky reality that not all overweight people share the same health risks. Now, before you think I am giving license for the kinds of lifestyle behaviors that cause people to have more body-fat than they should, I’m not.
But first, let’s understand what the terms that attach to plus-size people really mean. And let’s also agree that this is an adult discussion, and has noting to do with the wholly unrealistic body-image goals that teenagers (and others) too often fixate on for what they [or who they] think they should look like.
Other than the subjective impression of excess weight that comes from simple observation (“she’s fat,” “I’m fat”), the principle methods for determining weight-related body size are based on calculations. The most common calculations include: waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), body mass index (BMI), bioelectrical impedance (BIA), and skin-fold measurements using calipers. In addition, body composition analysis using underwater weighing and body scanning also may be used, but these are more expensive and less convenient than the other methods, especially for tracking changes over time.
While different calculation methods may use different names for the plus-size results they obtain, the most typical classifications are overweight and obese. Obesity may be additionally defined by severity, i.e., Grade-I, Grade-II, as well as Grade-III, which is also known as morbid obesity.
We generally, if unkindly, refer to plus-size people as fat. And even though it is impolite – indeed, outright rude to call someone fat, it is usually how plus-size people refer to themselves. So at the risk of being impolitic, I will use the word “fat” as a generic term for discussing people with weight issues that go beyond a few vanity pounds.
So, you ask, can fat people be fit? The answer is definitely yes, depending on how precisely you want to define “fitness.” For the purpose of this discussion I would describe fitness as the absence of disease or physical limitations typically associated with a lack of exercise, or an improper diet, or chronic inadequate rest – or, any combination of those things.
Go to any gym and you’ll see lots of people on cardio machines and in the weight room. Some of these people look superbly trim and fit. But others – including some who exercise as frequently and as intensely as the visually fit exercisers - are overweight, and some are even at the lower end of obesity. And very often these fat exercisers have been following a serious, dedicated exercise regimen for months, and even years.
Given the evidence, the verdict must be that it is possible to be both fit and fat - fitness meaning having high levels of strength, endurance, and flexibility, albeit without the “and desirable body composition” compon-ent normally included in a definition of fitness.
To put a finer point on it, if an overweight person can walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes without stopping; can lift heavier objects than another person of like age, gender, and weight who does not exercise; and has an unencumbered range of motion for performing normal physical tasks, I consider them fit. The only caveat that I would add is that any presence of disease or an unfavorable condition, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity-related diabetes, or any other condition that is a result of lifestyle, must also be considered as a negative component of good fitness.
And finally, who's going to tell an NFL lineman that he is not fit?
“You can’t out-train a bad diet, but you can out-eat a good workout.”
I don’t know who said that, but what a powerful statement; and absolutely true!
- Weight gain happens when you consume more calories than you burn.
- Weight loss happens when you burn more calories than you consume.
- Weight maintenance is the result of consuming and burning the same number of calories.
Lean people probably aren’t reading this article, so let me put the diet/exercise concept into the context of overweight people, using jogging at 6 miles per hour as the exercise component.
First, the good news is that the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn while jogging at 6 mph.
And the bad news is that the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn while jogging at 6 mph. That’s because the more you weigh, the harder it is to perform the task, hence, the more calories used. The other bad news is that if you are significantly overweight, you probably can’t run at 6 mph.
A Twinkie has 150 calories.
- A 140-pound woman will need to jog about 14 minutes per Twinkie.
- A 200-pound man will need to jog about 10 minutes per Twinkie.
In other modalities, walking uses about half the calories as jogging, so double the Twinkie : walk burn ratio.
Weightlifting & Twinkies (light to moderate load)
- A 140-pound woman will need to lift weights for 45 minutes per Twinkie.
- A 200-pound man will need to lift weights for 30 minutes per Twinkie.
Question: Twinkies come in 2-packs, would you eat just one?
Exercise intensity is a measure of how hard you are working while performing any exercise task. Intensity applies both to cardiorespiratory ("cardio") exercise and to strength training.
Cardio exercise takes many forms - walking, running, and biking are the most common forms that don't require specialized equipment. Equipment-based cardio includes treadmills, stair-climbers, elliptical trainers, and stationary bikes, such as those found in gyms.
Regardless of how you do your cardio, it is really how much oxygen you consume, and your heart-rate response to the exercise that matters - not the equipment you use. In other words, it's all about the physical stress your body experiences during your exercise session.
Programming for exercise intensity is how you or your trainer should structure your exercise program to meet your personal goals.
There are several ways for measuring intensity. In a clinical setting, you can take a graded exercise test ("GXT"), commonly known as a "stress test." It requires special equipment, and should only be performed by a doctor or a specially trained technician.
But stress tests are expensive, and unless you are an elite athlete or your doctor has ordered a GXT because of a specific concern, there are user-friendly tests which most trainers recommend to their clients which not only measure intensity, but serve to create a baseline against which progress over time can be measured.
Ratings of Perceived Exertion
The most popular of the non-clinical tests is called Rating of Perceived Exertion, or "RPE." RPE is a subjective test, wherein the exerciser self-describes their perceived level of intensity based on a numeric scale.
The original RPE model uses a scale of 6 to 20. Many people have trouble relating to a 15-level scale, especially when the first level is 6, and not 1.
A revised RPE model was developed later, and this uses a 10-level scale. Except the first level is not 1, it is 0, and there is a level greater than 10, which is an asterisk (*).
To compound the difficulty in using these "easy-to-use" models is the fact that a same-degree of difficulty may be used in conjunction with more than one numerical value. For instance, in the revised model, a perceived exertion of "very strong" can be rated as a 7, 8, or 9.
Confused? Me too, and I do this for a living.
My Ratings of Perceived Exertion
I have developed my own RPE, which I think you may find useful. It uses a simple 8-level scale, with straightforward descriptions. It can be used for both cardio work and strength training. (Be sure to scroll down to see the second and third pages, which give appropriate examples.) Click on this link to go to my RPE:
If you are curious about the differences between my Modified RPE and the 6-20 and 0-10(+*) models, click on this link to view a comparison chart.
Using an RPE
Muscles, including the heart muscle, must be worked inefficiently to receive the benefits of exercise. A central theme of exercise is the principle of adaptation. This means that by exercising your muscles at an intensity which is achievable, but which is more than what those muscles are accustomed to, after a while those muscles adapt to the unaccustomed intensity by becoming stronger. Once the muscles have become stronger, they become efficient at exercising at what was once a challenging intensity.
But you don't want your muscles to exercise efficiently. So every time your muscles become stronger by adapting to the present workload, its time to increase the intensity.
If you are self-directing your exercise program, remember this simple rule: increase time before increasing speed (cardio), and increase repetitions before increasing resistance (strength).
Example 1: If you are jogging at an 8-minute-per-mile pace for 20 minutes, increase your time to 30 minutes at the same pace before increasing speed, or before introducing hills, etc. And don't expect to go from 20 minutes directly to 30 minutes. The more likely scenario is that you will be able to increase your time from 20 minutes to 22 minutes, then to 25 minutes, etc.
Example 2: If you are performing, say, a biceps curl, using an 8 to 12 repetition (rep) range, start with a weight that you can correctly curl 8 times, but not nine. Stay with that same weight as you become stronger, and can perform more than 8 reps. Once you can curl that same weight more than 12 times, increase the weight to a resistance that you can only curl 8 times, and begin the process anew.
By practicing this type of overload, adaptation, and progression you will become stronger over time, but you won't actually be working any harder.
That's right, you won't be working any harder. That's because when you increase the workload as part of your progression plan, the new work-
load will stay at the same perceived exertion. For example, on my Modified RPE scale, a productive intensity is between levels 4 ("somewhat hard") and 5 ("hard). So as you get stronger, what had been a level 4 becomes a level 3 ("easy"). At this point, you will just adjust your workload back to an intensity which you perceive as a 4. Get it: more intensity, same effort, stronger you.
Using a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale is an excellent way to make sure that you are exercising in a productive zone. By the way, it doesn't matter which RPE scale you use, so long as you use the same one consistently.
I know, real men don't tweet, and execise warm-ups and cool-downs are just a waste of time. You're a Type-A, and your motto is "do it, get it done, and move on to the next thing." But you're treading on dangerous ground, and here's why:
The warm-up is simply a brief period of slow, rhythmic aerobic activity involving the large muscle groups of the body, like the arms, legs and back, as well as other muscle groups that will be used during the exercise session which follows.
And the warm-up does just that - it raises the temperature of the muscles which, in turn, makes them more pliable and delivers an increased oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood supply to them. The oft-used analogy is to that of a piece of taffy: sit on it for a while, or warm it in your hands for a few minutes, and you can bend it; otherwise, try bending it and it will break.
By taking a few minutes to properly prepare your muscles for the training which follows is the best way to minimize the risk for soft tissue (muscles, tendons) injury, as well as psychologically preparing you for the exercise session to follow.
The cool-down is similar to the warm-up phase in that it is performed the same way - slow, rhythmic movement of the large muscle groups.
As important as the warm-up is, the cool-down is at least as important, and perhaps even more so.
The cool-down prevents post-exercise blood pooling in the lower body. It also prevents a too sudden drop in blood pressure, which could otherwise lead to lightheadedness and even fainting.
Other important reasons for an adequate cool-down are to prevent or reduce muscle cramping and spasms, and reducing the risk of post-exercise disturbances in cardiac rhythm.
What to do
For cardio sessions, the best warm-up and cool-down is to perform the same or similiar activites, but at a much lower intensity. For instance, walking is a great warm-up and cool-down activity for jogging; low-intensity cycling is best before and after cardio-intensive cycling, etc.
For resistance training, spend five minutes before and after your workout doing low-intensity cardio (cycling, walking, etc.).
There are no exceptions for performing warm-ups and cool-downs. However, while five minutes of doing these activities before and after is appropriate for most people, some health and/or physical conditions call for longer warm-up and cool-down periods. This applies especially to pregnant women, and to people with asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and arthritis.
Stretching will be discussed more thoroughly in other articles under the heading of Flexibility. However, it is rightfully mentioned here as well, albeit for different reasons.
Admittedely, there is some debate within the fitness community as to the need for stretching before, after, or before and after cardio or strength training. I am definitely in favor of stretching both before and after.
Stretching the principle muscles that will be used during the exercise session acts to loosen the associated muscle tissue, enhancing the fluidity and range of motion during the exercise activity.
Pre-exercise stretching should always be done after the warm-up and before the exercise component. This way, the muscle tissue is already warm and pliable.
Post-exercise stretching should be done following the cool-down. It helps return exercised muscles to their normal length, and facilitates removal of waste products which have accumulated in the tissue during the exercise session.
On a final note
Not warming-up and cooling-down is the single biggest mistake we trainers see people make. It is an invitation to musculoskeletal injury or worse. It's like driving home drunk; you may not have an accident any one day, but do it every day and chances are good that some day you will.
The sheer volume of articles about weight-loss is staggering. But it has always struck me that even the best articles start out with easy-to-read, understandable information, then morph into something almost useless when it comes time to tell you what to do; either the advice just regurgitates the obvious (fewer calories, more exercise), or gives instructions that you don't understand.
When someone tells you that you should consume . . .
- 50-70 grams of protein (12-20% of daily calories);
- 350-400 grams of carbohydrates (55-65% of daily calories); and
- 30-65 grams of fat (25-30% of daily calories),
. . . they have given you accurate information.
But, do you even know what that means?
Yes, there are people - especially those with a science background - who are not intimidated with grams of this, and percentages of that. But in reality, most of us can't, don't, and don't want to relate to such rigid guidelines which actually have their foundation in controlled labortory protocols where food is precisely weighed, measured, and portioned.
In the real world, where you and I live and eat, there are two kinds of people:
Lab Rats are those aforementioned rare people who are comfortable with metricated weights and measures, and who have no problem following eating guidelines that confuse the rest of us.
Free-range Chickens are the rest of us. We go to restaurants. We go to dinner parties. We get caught up in the social aspects of everyday life, and the huge, inescapable role that eating plays.
All of my articles having to do with weight-management will be written with FRCs in mind, so stay tuned my fine-feathered friends.
Sarcopenia is the steady, gradual loss of muscle mass that begins during the fourth decade of life. Adults can expect to lose between 3% and 5% of their muscle mass per decade, accelerating to 1% to 2% per year after age 50. Sarcopenia is both the name of the condition and its outcome.
To state the obvious, a loss of muscle mass means a loss of strength, which has significant quality of life implications as the process progresses.
The visual aspects of sarcopenia can be deceptive. Because the condition is age-related - and because people tend to become less physically active over time - there is a lifestyle-associated change in body composition. This means that even though you have begun losing muscle mass, your bathroom scale may not show a weight loss. So, even if you weigh the same, it may be due to fat replacing muscle.
Fortunately, this strength- and functionality-limiting phenomenon can be delayed, and often reversed through exercise. And even if reversing the condition is less than 100 percent, everyone - even those in the oldest age groups - can improve their strength and reap the benefits therefrom. In one study, following three months of supervised progressive resistance training, muscle protein synthesis increased by approximately 50% in 17 frail 76 to 92 year old men and women.*
Progressive overload resistance training is the only way to delay, slow down, and reverse sarcopenia.
- Overload means subjecting your muscles to an exercise workload that is greater than what they are accustomed to.
- Progression is the process of increasing workload to the muscles over time, as different muscle groups adapt to the new workloads by becoming stronger.
Overload, adaptation, and progression is a continuing process. Once your muscles become accustomed to a workload they become efficient at exercising at that level and the benefits become less. At this point it will be necessary to increase to a new workload to continue the process.
Your exercise program should consist of:
- 8 to 10 exercises
- 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise
- at least 1 set and preferably 2 to 3 sets of each exrecise
for each of the major muscle groups
- at least 2 times per week, with 48 hours between workouts
- at an intensity that is "somewhat hard"
The major muscle groups are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, latissimus dorsi, pectorals, and deltoids.
Because many seniors have various health issues which may have an impact on exercise, you should check with your physician before starting a progressive overload resistance exercise program.
Also, working with a personal trainer will ensure that your workloads are appropriate for your starting fitness level, and that progressions will be sufficient to elicit a productive response, but conservative enough to avoid injury.
*The Mystery of Muscle Loss, Chantal Vella, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D, citing a 1999 study by Yarasheski and others.