May 1, 2011

Posted by in Chip's Corner, Fitness | 0 Comments

The Cardio Question

When building a house having the right tools makes the work a lot more efficient. When inventing your hard earned money you want to get the most return on your investment. The same holds true for your workouts. No matter the goals you want to perform the right exercises to get the best results for your time in the gym.

One of my jobs as fitness and wellness director is to help make your gym investment positive by giving and educating our employees with exercises and movements that will bring results the fastest and safest way possible. With that being said, I received an e-mail not long ago

Chip, just a quick question when you have time. My sister just had a baby this past Dec. and has been going to a personal trainer for around 3 weeks. She has only lost 3.5 pounds so far and is discouraged. The PT is telling her that 4 hours of cardio a week in a low heart rate zone is best to lose fat and then add 3 days of weight training. Do you agree with that low heart rate suggestionThey told her that running would just burn carbs and that walking is better?  She eats 1200-1500 calories per day based on whether or not she works out that day. I told my sister that it took 9 months to gain the weight so it will take months to come off, but She is working out hard with barely any results to show for it. Any thoughts? Thanks, Amy.

Well, I have a lot of thoughts to this e-mail-the question is–where do I begin? Generally one would like to lose around 1-2 pounds a week (unless you’re a BIGGEST LOSER contestant) so she is at the low end of the spectrum which is fine, especially since coming off the birth of a child. I don’t like counting calories but that’s just my opinion. She should stay with the high end of the calorie range no matter what she’s doing that day. She’ll need those calories for recovery. However those are topics that I could write other articles on. As for now I’d like to stick with the subject at hand. As you can see, there is some confusion as to what type of “cardio” to do when wanting to lose weight-low heart rate or a high heart rate zone?

So this is the point of my article-“training in the fat burning zone or low intensity/ steady state work such as walking is better for losing weight is simply a myth” Period.The argument is that: low intensity aerobic training will allow your body to use more fat as an energy source thereby accelerating the loss of body fat. While it is true that a higher proportion of calories burned during low-intensity exercise comes from fat, (around 60% as opposed to around 35% from high intensity work), high intensityexercise still burns more fat in the final analysis.

I like what Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on exercise says about the “fat burning zone”: “if one performs let’s say 30 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise such as (in the e-mail walking on the treadmill), at 50% of their maximal exercise capacity, then they’ll burn approximately 200 calories and 60 % of those calories would be from fat. However, exercising in the same amount of time at high intensity, 75% of one’s maximal exercise capacity, will burn around 400 caloriesand 35% of them or 140 calories coming from stored fat. So by performing low- intensity work all the time, could be simply put, a waste of time. Please remember that you lose weight and body fat by expending more calories than you put in, not because you burn fat or anything else when you exercise”.

I’m not saying that low-intensity forms of exercise don’t have their place and benefits-no, not at all. A general rule that I’ve seen and like to follow is: men with 20% or more body fat and with women it’s 30% or more, should start out walking or an easy pace on the elliptical. A point to remember is that low intensity workouts do promote fat lose, but to get the true benefit one just has to do them for longer periods of time. If you’re under that 20% or 30% body fat then the best return on your investment is “interval cardio” which simply means: alternating periods of sprinting or walking fast up hill on the treadmill or going hard on the elliptical (maximal exertion) followed by a period of recovery. You would go hard for 30-60 seconds, then slow down for 60-120 seconds and then repeat. Perform this for 20 to 40 minutes followed by a 3-5 minute cool down. For your next cardio session change it up to just going hard with max effort for 10 to 20 minutes. Then the next workout, perform the “steady state” cardio for 30-60 minutes just to change it up and stay fresh. You’ll receive a lot of return on your exercise investment if you’ll be consistent with these programs.

I would like to say one more thing about “steady state” cardio. Aside from the fact that it can be time consuming, a big problem is that the more you do, the more you have to do. As you become more aerobically fit, you’ll become a more efficient calorie burner. This sound good doesn’t it? However, how much fuel does a fuel-efficient car burn-very little. It gets a lot of mileage for very little input or fuel. It’s the very same with our bodies. The more efficient we become, whether aerobically or biomechanically, the less energy our bodies have to expend for a given amount of activity.

Walking on the treadmill or an easy steady state pace on the elliptical is however a great way to unwind and to clear your mind from a long day of looking at the computer screen all day. And yes, after sitting all day, getting the blood circulating on the elliptical is great but also perform your movement preparation as well. Unwinding YES, a complete warm-up NO! Take the time to perform your movement preparation that consists of both dynamic and static stretching. A lot of the movement preparation that I sent out in the “Words of Wellness” is perfect for what you need to be doing before your workout and is also a great way to keep you from injury.

So we have to remember that when wanting to reshape the body, choosing the right tools to get the job done and getting the most out of your investment is of the upmost importance. It’s my job to assist you in selecting those tools.

By the way: want to know just how many calories you’re burning during a weight training session? Try this formula:

Body weight x minutes Trained x 0.05

Example: 180 x 45 min. = 8100 x 0.05 = 405 calories burned during that 45 minute session. After the workout or what’s called the AFTER BURN is where you burn even more calories, which I’ll discuss next time.

Finish strong,



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