Heart Rate Training

On aerobic equipment, heart rate charts, or in fitness magazines, you may see what is labelled as “The Fat Burning Zone”. This is an area around 60% to 70% of your max heart rate that, when maintained during aerobic activity, is supposed to be more beneficial for burning body fat and improving heart health.

We now know that this heart rate range, common for many during steady state cardio, will produce the least amount of reduction in body fat, and the most loss of lean muscle mass, than almost any other activity. In addition, the formula for estimating max heart rate, referred to as the Karvonen formula, acquired by subtracting the individuals age from the number 220, is extremely inaccurate.
A more accurate formula for predicting max heart rate, based on studies in the last few years, would be 211 minus 64% of age. But, even this formula will not account for specific differences between individuals.

Once you have your predicted max heart rate, work at 40-60% of your max if you are warming up, cooling down, recovering on rest days, or attempting to improve your body’s ability to burn fat.
If you want to compete in aerobic events, spend most of your cardio workouts around 70-80%. Keep in mind, this won’t be the most efficient at improving heart and lung health, or burning fat while maintaining lean muscle mass, but it will prepare you for events you plan to compete in.

Finally, if you want to get the best benefit from your time exercising, start doing those high-intensity intervals I mentioned a few posts ago. Warm up for a few minutes and then alternate 30 seconds of intense work, heart rate around 80-95% of your max (based on fitness level), with 30 seconds of easy rest. Alternate these intervals until you feel you could only compete 1 or 2 more, but would rather not, and then cool down.

The interval training should take around 10-20 minutes and will improve your heart and lung health to a greater extent than 2 hours of steady state cardio.

Also, there is the factor of “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption”, or EPOC. For a couple hours following intense exercise, the body’s oxygen intake is increased, aiding in improved hormone function, nutrient partitioning, and cell repair. During this time, the body will access its own body fat stores to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used as fuel.

The numerous benefits of EPOC are significantly lowered with less intense, continuous exercise (such as steady state cardio), or if there are major insulin spikes during the first 2 hours of recovery (so keep carbs to a minimum following high-intensity intervals).

As my experience as a trainer grows, I tend to rely less and less upon a single number such as heart rate, calories, and even bodyweight. There are just too many factors to justify basing a fitness or nutrition program upon numbers predetermined by distant agencies or studies that are reversed every few years.

Plus, I have seen too many people start off with simple calorie counting or bodyweight tracking, and end up becoming obsessed, basing their whole existence upon a single number.

There are endless examples and specific situations I could reference but, simply put, no two people’s bodies are the same and therefore, bodies will behave differently in regard to calories, bodyweight, macronutrients, heart rate, etc.

My favorite method of determining intensity is rating of perceived exertion. I’ll use a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 5, or simply say “would you classify this as easy, medium, or hard?”

If a person already has a heart rate monitor on, or has very specific endurance goals, I love having one more number to track. I also like to measure how much time a client’s heart rate takes to return to resting levels, as a way of determining their hearts performance.

However, at the end of the day, it’s just one tool in what is an almost limitless toolbox to track intensity level and progress.

So, if you’re used to tracking heart rate, and know what your optimal ranges are to achieve your goals, stick with it! Conversely, if you are considering spending a hundred dollars and hours of your time on a heart rate monitor and watch, it may not be necessary.

But, as always, determine what will work best for you! And if you need any motivation or professional guidance along the way, feel free to contact me!

High Intensity Interval Training

Hill SprintsIf you read any fitness magazines or websites than you may have seen the phrase “high intensity interval training”, sometimes abbreviated as “HIIT”.

This is a method of aerobic conditioning, alternating short periods of high-intensity work with low-intensity recoveries.

An example would be sprinting up a hill as fast as you, then walking back down and catching your breath, before running up again. You would alternate this for as many intervals as you can.

The science behind HIIT is still in its infancy but, thus far, we know that 15 minutes of HIIT provides more benefits to the body than 2 hours of “steady state cardio”. Also, one high-intensity burst of power during regular cardio is not as effective as alternating high-intensity efforts with periods of recovery for the entire workout. Finally, studies have shown that HIIT increases the release of human growth hormone within the body by about 500% for two hours after the workout!
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Remember, it’s these benefits to our hormone levels that make it possible to reduce body fat while improving lean muscle mass, strength, and bone density.

My favorite thing about HIIT is the efficiency. I always tell my clients, they can take a Spinning class, for an hour, twice a week, and end up famished, ultimately overeating later in the day, or perform one HIIT session for less than 30 minutes counting a warm up and cool down.

In addition, high intensity interval training can be modified based upon the individual’s capability and equipment available.

For example, in the summer I prefer hill sprints or sprinting on a grass field. In the winter, I move indoors and perform intervals on a rowing machine or stairmaster.

A safe and effective way to start a HIIT routine is to warm up for a few minutes on a rowing machine or stationary bike, and then alternate 30 seconds as fast as you can with 30 second recoveries. Continue this until you feel like you could only complete one or two more intervals. Finally, cool down for another few minutes and do some stretching or foam rolling.

Even though this protocol is referred to as high intensity, it is entirely dependent upon the effort you put forth. For this to be effective, you want to move at a speed that you could not sustain comfortably for much more than 30 seconds…but the key word is “comfortably”. You don’t have to push beyond your comfort zone to experience the amazing results of HIIT. All you have to do is be willing to work very hard for some short intervals once or twice a week.

It’s actually important you don’t push too hard as it can cause adrenal fatigue or burnout. For this reason, I recommend clients limit HIIT sessions to once or twice a week in the beginning and always stop when they feel like they could only complete one or two more intervals at their “high-intensity” pace.

So, give it a try, play with the variables, and reap the amazing benefits of high intensity interval training!

How To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

As promised, this week I’ll give you a few easy tips to improve your cholesterol levels. Before I start though, I want to remind everyone that “improving” cholesterol levels does not necessarily mean lowering them.

If you remember my post about cholesterol, you’ll remember that the body creates and uses LDL as a temporary bandage that, once the threat to the body is resolved, HDL will transport back to the liver to be excreted. It is only when inflammation persists in the body that LDL becomes oxidized, hardening and risking blockages in the arteries.

In fact, low total cholesterol levels in the body have been linked to shorter lifespan! Therefore, for this post, we’ll talk about how to adjust your cholesterol levels to the optimal zone…as opposed to the range statin companies usually promote.

First off, the easiest number to alter is your HDL. This is what carries cholesterol back to the liver after it has served its purpose.

The best way to boost your HDL is to consume more monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado. Consuming these in a raw form, as opposed to cooking them, will be more beneficial. Also, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found almost exclusively in grass-fed beef and dairy, will help raise HDL.

In addition, weight training and moderate aerobic activity are shown to increase HDL.

Now, on to LDL. To reiterate, high LDL is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing. However, LDL can become oxidized in the blood so I understand why people may want to lower their LDL numbers.

To lower LDL, be careful when consuming other saturated fats. Saturated fat is actually the safest to consume, and most stable source of energy for the body, but make sure you’re consuming it from natural sources. This would include coconut products (again, with minimal processing), grass-fed beef, and other humanely raised animals fed a natural diet, with plenty of space to roam and forage.

Exercise may also help control LDL levels since low-level aerobics will improve the body’s ability to metabolize fats for energy.

Finally, the only truly problematic form of cholesterol found in the body is triglycerides. Anytime you see claims that cholesterol in the blood is dangerous, I will guarantee the samples were people with extremely elevated levels of triglycerides and low HDL.

The best way to decrease your triglyceride count would be to avoid processed or heated polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and prone to oxidization.

I’m not saying to fear nuts and seeds and every food containing high amounts of omega-6 (the primary inflammatory constituent of poly-fats). Just avoid foods that are high in this AND have been processed or altered. Examples of foods to avoid would be corn oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils.

Finally, limit your sugar and refined carb intake. Again, no need to fear fruits, sweet potatoes or other whole foods; instead, skip the center aisles of the market made up of processed and packaged food.

Please keep in mind that all my suggestions of what to eat more or less of are based on the assumption that we already know things like candy, chips, ice cream, and soda are unhealthy. Fortunately, our health and nutrition systems have not yet become so infiltrated by major corporations that McDonalds and pizza is labeled as healthy.

Nonetheless, as exemplified by my own past food choices, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what is optimal for our bodies. Just last month Mazola ran a massive marketing campaign (and must have spent billions of dollars) to convince researchers and doctors to claim that corn oil is “safer for the heart” than extra virgin olive oil!

And with that, we should all have a decent level of knowledge regarding what to consume and not consume to maintain the most beneficial cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Hope it helps!