A few days ago I talked about evaluating your goals and how much time you can devote to your exercise routine in part 1. This post discuss how to add components to your exercise routine, what the different training types mean, and a brief discussion about why cardio without strength training leads to short term weight loss.
Step 3: How much cardio and strength do you need in an exercise routine?
Every good exercise routine includes a little of everything: cardio, strength, and stretching. For as many people as there are on this planet, there are just as many opinions about what kind of exercises are necessary for weight loss.
If you are beginner, the only thing you got to do is just start. If you exercise regularly at the right intensity, your body will change. It is not going to happen overnight nor is it going to happen a month from now. With my bad back and torn hip labrum history, I tend to focus on the long term when it comes to my health. When you will see the greatest impact for a lifelong exercise habit is around the same time when you start withdrawing from your retirement account.
However, that is probably not what you are here for. You are trying to figure out how to lose that vanity weight. So let’s get back to our discussion about creating an exercise routine.
If you are trying to lose weight most of your time should be devoted to a form of cardio (approximately 50%-70%). So if I am willing to devote 4 hours a week to exercise, this is the equivalent of 2.4 hours of cardio. This is a minimum of 3 cardio sessions (45 minutes long).
However, I can walk 45 minutes easy. I would not even start sweating until 25 minutes into my walk. And I prefer walking with someone because I can carry on a conversation without even being slightly breathless. This kind of cardio (steady state) is not going to change my weight. My body is too used to this kind of cardio.
Steady walking bad for weight loss
Steady state cardio only works if you have been sedentary and finally decided to starting exercising. Even then, after 1-2 months, your body will become accustom to the exercise. If you have been walking for years without any change to your body weight, you need to increase the intensity (walk faster or wear a weighted vest) or increase the duration of your walk (do you really have time for that?).
Whatever you do, please do not start wearing ankle weights on your walks. Ankle weights, no matter how light, throws off your walking stride so if there is any muscle imbalance, if can manifest into an injury eventually. Your waist and hip area is your center of gravity. The safest way to add weights to your walking to increase your intensity is by adding weights as close to your center of gravity as possible. If you have a fanny pack, strap it on your waist, and put your ankle weights in your fanny pack instead. The goal of exercising is to keep doing it for life, not injuring yourself with a month of starting your healthy lifestyle.
My exercise routine to bust vanity weight
Whenever I want to drop vanity weight, my exercise routine consists mainly of circuit training and interval training. Don’t let these terms intimate you. I will explain what they mean and why they work further in the post. And as an engineer, I can do the math. My exercise routine does not quite add up to 4 hours, but I can explain why with circuits, I do not need to exercise as long to fulfill my cardio requirement for weight loss. My exercise routine looks like this:
Monday – 45 minutes circuit training or aerobic weight training
Tuesday- 45 minutes interval training
Wednesday – 40 minutes heavy strength training
Thursday – 45 minutes interval training
Friday – 45 minutes circuit training or aerobic weight training
Sat – maybe yoga or a walk (or TV watching)
What are circuits and intervals?
In circuit training, you lift weights for a few minutes, and then you do a few minutes of higher intensity cardio. You do this for the full workout session. An example would be 3 minutes of chest and back, then 2 minutes of kicks. Typically you do 2 sets of about 12 reps for each exercise when you are lifting weights in a circuit training. Higher intensity does not always mean high impact. A good example of this would be Gilad’s Total Body Sculpt Plus exercise dvds. By combining strength and cardio into one workout session, you are burning more calories than normally in a strength workout session.
Aerobic weight training is similar to the concept of circuit training, but uses lighter weight and you do 3 sets of about 16 reps. The strength training component almost becomes cardio because of the lighter weights (your rarely lift more than 5 pounds because of how fast you are doing each rep). For example, in circuit training, you might use an 8 pound dumbbell for bicep curls. In aerobic weight training, you end up using 5 pounds for bicep curls. There is a slightly higher calorie burn with aerobic weight training because of the lighter weights and faster repetition. An example of this would Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred or The Firm exercise dvds series (the ones in the “pink” packaging does not require extra equipment and are best for those trying exercise dvds for the first time).
Interval training is basically cardio where you have a series of intense exercise follow by a recovery period. For example, you might walk at your normal pace for a few minutes, then you hit your fast forward button and speed walk/jog for a few minutes, then you go back to your normal pace. You would do this for your entire cardio session. These “intervals” of higher intensity cardio expand and increase your aerobic capacity so that eventually your “normal pace” becomes a higher walking speed over time. In addition, these intervals of higher intensity cardio burns more calories than you stead state cardio.
Why cardio and dieting only gives you short term weight loss?
Cardio burns your excess calories. It is an important component of any weight loss program. But you also lose muscle mass when you just use cardio and dieting for weight loss. Muscle mass shrinks when it is not used regularly (atrophy).
Each pound of muscle burns an extra 50 calories a day. Since the amount of muscle loss is unique to an individual, there is no average amount of muscle loss for each pound of weight loss. But even at 1%, you lose a pound of muscle for each 10 pounds of weight loss.
For example, if you are a sedentary individual at 150 pounds, you need an average of 1500-1700 calories to maintain your weight (add approximately 200 calories more if exercise regularly). When you loss 10 pounds, your calorie requirement becomes 1400-1600. However, if you lose 1 pound of muscle mass in that 10 pounds of weight loss, it changes your calorie requirement to 1350-1550. At first glance 50 calories might not sound like a big deal. But if you are storing an extra 50 calories a day, you gain 5 pounds in a year! Within 2 years, you would be back to square one. For long term weight loss, you need strength training as a regular component of your exercise routine to prevent muscle loss as you lose weight.
What some people forget is that once you lose the vanity weight, you need to eat less because your body requires less food to fuel your smaller body. But with strength training, you can eat about the same amount of food prior to your weight loss or in some cases, more food than before your weight loss to fuel that extra muscle mass.
Women in general, do not have the testosterone to bulk up. And if you are an overweight woman, you have even less reason to fear strength training because excess fat cells produce additional estrogen in your body (so you have even less testosterone circulating in your body than normal weight women).
This is the reason why women tend to gain weight prior to menopause. During menopause, your ovaries are not producing as much estrogen as during your fertile years, so your body is programmed to gain weight to fatten your fat cells. And your fatten fat cells starts producing estrogen to minimize the loss of estrogen from your ovaries. You can’t beat biology! (I am getting off tangent. Time to go back to talking about your exercise routine). In many cases, strength training will make you look leaner because pound for pound muscle will always look smaller than fat on your body (however, do take into consideration where problem areas for your body shape is located).
Why are circuits and intervals effective and should be included in your exercise routine?
You need strength training to round out your exercise routine. Cardio and dieting only gives you short term weight loss gains because you lose muscle mass (did I tell you that muscle mass and sunblock are the keys to the fountain of youth?). Traditional strength training (whether using dumbbells or machines) where you only lift weights to fatigue your muscles in a session are good for long term weight maintenance. But it is not so helpful if you want to lose that vanity weight in a couple of months. Strength training burns a small amount of calories per workout compare to cardio. Baring all other considerations, you still need to burn 3,500 calories in order to lose a pound.
When I lift weights, I burn an average of 150 calories in half an hour (based on the readings from my heart rate monitor). When I am using a circuit training or aerobic strength training exercise dvd, I burn an average of 200 calories in that same half hour. Hence, circuit training and aerobic weight training are effective because there is a cardio component that burns more calories than traditional strength training. So if you are using a 40 minute circuit training exercise dvd, you are doing cardio almost half the time! This means, you don’t really need to spend as much time exercising as the recommended moderate exercise of 60-90 minutes a day for weight loss. Same results with less time exercising? Who wouldn’t like that?
As a ruler body shape, I do not gain or maintain muscle mass as easily as the other body shapes. I like to include more strength training into my exercise routine, hence the heavy strength training in the middle of the week. If you are not a ruler body shape, you probably only need two days of strength of training during this vanity weight loss period. This will change the exercise routine to:
Monday – interval training
Tuesday – circuit training or aerobic weight training
Wednesday – interval training (or steady state cardio)
Thursday – circuit training or aerobic weight training
Friday – interval training
This wraps up Part 2 of How to Create an Exercise Routine. In Part 3, I will talk about mapping your exercise routine, give a brief discussion about intensity/periodization, and give some recommendations on what exercise dvds are considered circuit training, aerobic weight training, and interval training. So stay tune.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.
Photo by: mitry Valberg.
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