Simplify Your Workouts With Science

by Sheila Kalas, personal trainer and owner of Fitness Plus

Sheila Kalas, owner of Fitness Plus in Lexington KYBring up the word “science” in a conversation and often people get a funny look on their face. It is one of those subjects that people often fear. They think that is too difficult to grasp and often avoid it. This fear causes people to veer away from the “scientific” explanation and choose instead the “simple” one.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fitness, this concept is incorrect. In the world of exercise, it is science that makes it simple. If you familiarize yourself with the science behind the exercise (which is exactly what an exercise physiologist does), you can clearly see through all the hype and confusing choices that flood the commercial fitness marketplace. Science is the best way to answer some of the most commonly asked fitness questions. Here are just a few examples:

Question 1: What type of aerobic exercise is best?

The hype says that someone is always inventing THE aerobic workout machine, THE aerobic class. One day it’s kickboxing; the next, step aerobics; the next, the elliptical trainer; then the recumbent bicycle, and on and on. So what do you do? What choice is best?

Science clears this right up. Science has a clear definition of what constitutes aerobic exercise. There are very clear requirements for an exercise to be considered aerobic and give you the cardiovascular training and fat-burning results you want. Any exercise that meets these criteria is a good choice for your aerobic exercise. Forget the hype and pick the exercise that meets the requirements and is one that you can see yourself participating in.

In order for an exercise to be considered aerobic, it must:

1. Use large muscle masses, e.g., legs, back or chest muscles.
2. Be rhythmical (not a start-and-stop activity).
3. Elevate your heart rate above 60% of your resting heart rate.
4. Sustain that elevated heart rate for at least 20 minutes.

Question 2: How hard should I work out?

The hype most often says “no pain, no gain.” The marketplace makes it clear that the harder you work the leaner and prettier you are going to get. The commercials of young lean bodies working hard are often so discouraging to the average person that they don’t even try to start exercising. The impression is that you have to be in shape just to get in shape.

Science eases some of this pressure. While it is true that exercise is more difficult for those who are just beginning to exercise, science tells us that, to get the health benefits of exercise, the “no pain, no gain” attitude is not needed. The best scientific information supporting this came from a study that was released in 2000 (Blair, et al.). This study followed thousands of people for many years and analyzed their exercise habits and how they related to early mortality. The study found that people who were “highly” fit and worked at a very high intensity did have a lower incidence of early mortality than their “unfit” counterparts. However, the early mortality rate of the “highly” fit individuals was statistically insignificant from the “moderately” fit individuals (those who walked 30 minutes 5 times a week). This means that moderate exercise is all you need to provide excellent health benefits. So, relax and enjoy a nice walk in the neighborhood.

Question 3: What type of strength training routine is best?

The hype on this subject changes with the wind. Just when you think that light weights and many repetitions is it, they change and start touting “super slow” reps with massive weight. It changes about every 5 years. If you don’t like what they’re saying now, just wait a few years and it will change. Or you could follow science.

Science reminds us that your muscles don’t care how much weight you lift, how many times you lift it, if you lift pretty chrome dumbbells or ugly bags of sand. All your muscles know is when they get tired. When your muscles are pushed to the point of fatigue on a regular basis, your body will respond by making that muscle stronger. This is called the “principle of overload.” If you consistently overload the muscle it will respond. How you want to get the muscle tired is up to you; it is just the means to the end (fatigue). Science actually can save you some time and prevent you from injury, if you listen. Science recommends that you lift a weight between 8-15 times. These numbers are not the only means, but it makes sense that if you can’t lift a weight at least 8 times, it’s probably too heavy for you and could hurt you. Consequently, if you lift a weight 15 times and you are not fatigued yet, you are spending too much time on one exercise! Keep it simple and you’ll do fine.

Question 4: What diet is best to lose weight?

Now that’s an interesting question. So many choices; where do I begin? The hype goes on and on. Every day there is a new “can’t miss” diet. You know them all. You’ve seen them come and go over the years, so what’s the answer?

Science, again, cuts through the hype and simplifies the answer. The best diet is the one that results in a negative caloric balance, or burning more calories than you eat. You can eat anything and lose weight as long as the calories you are putting in your body are less than the calories you are burning. That’s it! There is no further explanation needed. Forget your blood type and no fruit before noon, or no potatoes, extra bacon, green tea with lemon, and so on. JUST MOVE MORE AND EAT LESS.

Now, when it comes to nutrition and health what you eat does make a difference. Although you could lose weight eating only french fries, it would not be healthy. But the point is, keep it simple and rely on scientific facts.

I could continue to shoot down hype with science and keep making exercise and fitness easier and easier for you, but I think you get the point. Most of these examples are common sense. Most of us know when we are hearing hype, but fall victim to it sometimes out of desperation, hope and laziness. I encourage you to be honest with yourself and realize that there is no substitute for “just doing it.” Remember, science can make the seemingly daunting task of regular exercise easier, not harder. Forget the hype, and stick with science.

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