Setting yourself up for Success Part 2: Exercise Efficiency

succeedExercising is very often the first thing that people think about when they want to get healthy, and with good reason. Exercising is a key piece of the puzzle that not only can help you lose weight and lose weight faster than if you diet alone, but can improve your blood pressure, decrease your risk of many major diseases, and increase your quality of life, among many other things.
So what is exercise efficiency? Well, being efficient means getting the most out of what you choose to do as exercise. One might ask what ask what makes exercise efficient and I have three answers.

  • The exercise you will actually do. In order for exercise to really “work” for you, you have to be doing something that you enjoy. The fact of the matter is that while initial motivation and best laid intentions may get you to the gym, your motivation will eventually decline. The more that you enjoy whatever exercise you are doing, the more likely you are to do it. This doesn’t mean that you don’t try new things, give certain exercise types a real try before you set it off to the side as something you don’t care for. You have to explore the different exercises to see what you enjoy.
  • The exercise you will do Consistently. Beyond just enjoying your exercise, you have to really have a plan and a purpose behind your exercising. Even if you enjoy your exercise, if you only do it every now and then, it isn’t going to make lasting effects on your body. What I have found to be successful in the beginning is to literally schedule your workouts like you would schedule a doctor’s appointment. This can be a challenge if your days are incredibly different from one another, but most of us have an idea day to day when we are most likely to have time to set aside for exercise.
  • The exercise that Challenges You. This is where most people probably fall into a rut. (As a side not, always consider your food intake if you aren’t seeing results.) The body is an amazing thing. It is able to change quickly and accommodate itself for higher amount of movement or higher amounts of stress. What this means is that you will have to change things up a bit as you continue to exercise, to ensure that your body still gets a challenge. For example, a new exerciser may start walking for health and initially see some weight loss and then it stops, even though they are still walking consistently every day. In order to continue to see progress you can do one of four things. A) Speed up your pace – whether that be power walking or running or a combination of the two, B) add some form of resistance of challenge such as wearing a weighted backpack or walking hills, C) Increase the overall distance, or finally, D) introduce new exercise added to the walking such as weight training, yoga, etc. This principle applies to any exercise. Consider your speed, resistance (or intensity), duration (the amount of time spent exercising), and new challenges.

With all of those basic recommendations, there are other things to consider when choosing what exercise to do to get into shape. You can literally lose weight doing any activity, but some exercises are more likely to burn fat (what you really want) instead of burning fat and muscle (what you don’t want). The more muscle a person has on their body, the more calories they burn just while sitting there.
Many times, the first thing that people think about when exercising is running. While running can absolutely be used to lose weight, it actually is not the most efficient choice, as “steady state” running (running the same speed for long distances) has actually been shown to encourage break down of some muscle mass. Sprinting or interval running, on the other hand, can maintain muscle mass while you still get the effects of fat burning.
Weight training is the best options for building muscle, but it again has to follow the above pattern. Increasing in speed, resistance, duration and challenging your muscles in different ways. Women have been made fun of in the past for choosing light weights instead of heavy ones. Despite what many women might be afraid of, no amount of weight lifting will make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Women who fit into the bodybuilding category of training and competing not only lift a MASSIVE amount of weight, they also supplement with hormones and eat a very specific much higher calorie diet.
Yoga is another thing that many women turn to for getting into shape. I myself am a big advocate for yoga and the positive effects it can have on your body. I started doing yoga as an unhealthy, chubby, unflexible 19-year old and within a very short time of consistent practice, it helped me to be much more flexible, more mindful about my food intake and a little slimmer, too.   The ‘problem’ with yoga is that most people may not get the total results that they want with yoga alone. It will most certainly build long, lean muscle, but it’s capability to shave off the layer of fat over it is less than other options of exercise.
Finally, despite what you choose to do as exercise, there are a lot of studies out there advocating a specific WAY to exercise to get the most out of your workout time. Some of you may have heard of interval training. It takes several forms: High Intensity Interval Training, Tabata training, sprint intervals, and many more. But training in bursts of high energy followed by a lower energy recovery time has been shown to have great effects on fat burning specifically.
Try this the next time you workout:

  • Choose four exercises.
  • Perform one exercise for 20 seconds as fast as you can.
  • Rest for 10 seconds.
  • Progress immediately to the next exercise for 20 seconds and so forth.
  • Repeat this round of exercises four times.

While it is a very quick workout, it will jump start your metabolism and help you to burn more calories after you are done exercising. When choosing your exercises, consider ones that work different body parts, such as: squats, crunches, pushups and supermans.
While I could write on and on about the many options out there, this is the most important take away: Do what you love and do a variety of types of exercise to challenge your body.