White Birch Martial Arts

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Larry Vincent's Classes Get You Lean, Strong, Fast, and Focused with "Old School" Training Methods Straight Out of Kung Fu/Tai Chi History!

Planning Your Workouts
Setting Goals

It's that time of year again and if you're like most people, you will be setting up your weight-loss resolutions for next year. On that line, I'd like to take a couple of weeks to talk about how to set up your workouts so that you get the most out of them and are more likely to complete them.

"A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it." --Anon.

The first thing you should do, and the first thing a personal trainer will ask you to do, is determine your goals for exercising. Some people do it as just a way to meet new people, some to lose weight, and some to build strength. Only you know what you're trying to do. Your entire workout should be based on that goal.

So let's take a moment to talk about how to establish that goal. First of all the goal you must choose has to be specific, as in it must be measurable. You can't have a goal that says you want to "lose weight" or you "want to be stronger" or "be fitter". If you can't measure your goal you'll never know if you reach it, you'll never be able to tailor your program to fulfill it and will probably become very discouraged. Instead, select a goal that you can measure against. Things like "I want to lose 10 pounds," or "I want to lose 2 inches off my waist," or "I want to be able to touch my toes" are measureable goals.

Next, your goal has to be realistic. You can't have the measurable goal of "I want to lose 100 pounds in a month" and expect to achieve it. If you want to lose weight (more on that in a moment), think practical as in maybe 2 pounds per week. You might then have a goal to lose 10 pounds in two months or 20 pounds in three months.

Finally, your goal must have a time frame associated with it. Give yourself a specific time to reach that goal so you have a completely fixed target in mind. With a goal like that, you can definitely determine if you're on your way or if you're off track and need a little help.

So, here's the short version. Select a goal that's:

Now you have a goal. What in the heck do you do with it. Well, two things really. First, you need to document your goal and you need to track against it. That means you need to keep a workout noteboook so you can see how you're progressing. But that's not all. You also need a plan for reaching it. That means you need to have specific mini-goals and you need to determine the specific exercises you need to perform to reach the mini-goals.

To help you with your plan, your best bet is to turn to a success coach, such as a personal trainer or even books on the subject, to map out how to get where you're going. "Just doing it" will get you somewhere, but most likely not where you want to go. I'll provide as much information on setting up your plan in the next several installments, but ideally you'll want personal feedback.

So, we have a goal, now we:

This is all like planning a trip to New Mexico. You're goal is to reach it in so many days. How you get there is all part of the plan. You have to have a map (your plan) and possibly help to determine the best route (your success coach). Along the way, you need to know where you are on that map (review and track) and possibly adjust your course to account for unplanned events.

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." --Woody Allen

Ok, now I have two wrenches to throw at you, just to make you think a bit. The first is that your first goal, for the first 6 weeks or so, should simply be exercise consistency. You should plan for a number of workouts per week, workouts that you've developed (your plan) and strive to just maintain that amount. Don't worry so much about miles jogged or walked or pounds lifted, just worry about showing up. This helps to establish a routine. You're more likely to throw in the towel if you set your goal too high right off the bat. So we create a "reasonably" simply goal and achieve success immediately. See where you end up in 6 weeks after doing *something* and see how you can adjust from there.

Most people that begin an exercise program at the beginning of the year give up very quickly because

The second wrench is, and this is important, don't make your goal simply about losing weight. Instead, you might try to reduce to a specific body fat percentage or to try to fit into a particular size dress. The reason is that when you begin to exercise, your body will start changing. While you build muscle and lose fat you may even begin to gain weight (shocking!) simply because muscle weighs more than fat. However, muscle takes up less space than fat so you will still be slimming down and looking better. You can even use your percent body fat to determine your ideal weight instead of relying one some chart or guesswork to tell you. I'm a big fan of tracking your body fat percentage as a means of tracking your goal.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." --Confucius

Here's where I want you to start if you're a first-time exerciser or haven't done a routine in a while. Start with three days per week or strength exercises, three days per week of cardio, and six days per week of flexibility. The flexibility program can take as little as 15 minutes and the strength and cardio can each take as little as 20 minutes. In the upcoming installments I'll talk about how to create the strength, cardio, and flexibility portions of your program.

Home Gym or Commercial Gym?

You generally have two choices when you want to begin working out. You can choose to workout at home using many of the fine products offered or you can go to a commercial gym. My preference for people starting out new or starting over is to go to a commercial gym. Yes it's going to cost you some money. Yes, it takes time to get there and back. Yes, it's a commitment. But that's the point! Commitment! Working out at home is too easy and involves a very low level of commitment. Too easy to get sidetracked when your son wants to play. Too easy to lower the priority because of laundry. How many times have you heard (or maybe you've done it) of someone buying a new, hot piece of exercise equipment only to stop using it after a month? I've done it! It's so easy to think you'll set aside time only to find the time getting away from you as the weeks progress.

So, my solution is to set aside a few days each week to go to a commercial gym. I picked one that has lots of weight and cardio equipment and I can attend on the "off days" when it's fairly slow and have access to just about anything I want. Knowing I won't be interrupted during my workout will allow me to give it my all. I can also set up to have a personal trainer work with me to 1) help setup my workout, 2) help maintain my workout motivation ("you can do it, one more rep!"), or 3) to help me *make* the time to show up (set up appointments). There is also a group exercise class if I want it, or I can use the room when it's empty to do my stretching in peace, meditate, or even work on my Tai Chi or Kung Fu.

Shop around and find a place that fits you. It should have the equipment and service (personal trainers, etc) that you want, along with a good price for you. Also, it needs to be close to where you will travel from. If you plan on going to workout from home, make sure it's close to home. If you're going directly from work, make sure it's close to work. The less you have to drive to get there, the less likely you'll change your mind later on.

Pillars of Fitness

Ok, so lets review. You've set up your goal and now you have a place to work out. Now what in the heck are you going to have to do in your workouts to meet your goal? I'm sure you automatically have something in mind. If you're a woman you're thinking aerobics, bikes, or treadmills. If you're a guy you're thinking heavy weights. Well, you're both right and you're both wrong. There are 4 components to fitness and all must be met for a healthy body.

You can be as strong as an ox, but if you get winded climbing one flight of stairs or can't touch your toes, how healthy are you really? You can run the New York marathon, but if you can't pick up your groceries or hold your child in your arms how healthy are you?

You can focus on one pillar more than another (because of your particular goal), but you can't neglect any of them and still be healthy. We'll talk about each of these segments in the next few weeks. First off, though, I want to talk about the structure of each individual workout to see how these pillars are addressed.

Segments of a Workout

A complete workout has 5 components or segments:

The warm-up gets your body ready for the activities ahead. Strength training builds your muscles (the most metabolically active tissue in your body) so that you burn more energy every minute of every day (about two-thirds of your resting metabolism is based on how much muscle you have!). Cardiovascular training allows to burn more calories now while also working the heart and lungs fully. The cool- down brings your body down from it's hyper state slowly. Finally, the flexibility training will increase your range of motion.

As you move through your fitness program, you'll probably concentrate on one pillar more than another. In general, you'll want to do 3-4 days of a complete workout each week, utilizing all 5 components. A few days a week you might only do 3 or 4 of them.

The Warm-Up

The first component is the warm-up. You should *always* do some form of warm-up for any activity. I personally do a warm-up before I even shovel snow! When I ask most people to warm-up before doing something, the first thing they typically do is sit on the floor and touch their toes. Well, I got news for you... ready for this? Stretching is not really a warm-up! There is a small component of "dynamic" stretching that's done for a warm-up, but there's a lot more you *have* to do.

First things first... the purpose of the warm-up is... well, to warm up your body. A warm up should get your body heated (read as sweating), your heart beating faster, and your breathing faster. You can see why stretching doesn't "warm you up" I hope. A proper warm-up routine will prepare you for the activities ahead by mimicking them. For example, if you're going for a jog, warming up may be jogging slower or even walking. If you're going to kickbox, warming up is practicing punches and kicks at a much slower pace. Warming up introduces your body to the activity and gets it ready for the intensity ahead.

Typical warm-up activities include:

The Ten Long-Life exercises we do before our Tai Chi and Kung Fu classes are terrific warm-ups. The 5-10 minutes we spend in the beginning of the kickboxing class, performing individual punches and kicks are warm-ups. Notice that I put Dynamic Stretching in the list. We'll go into more detail when I talk about flexibility training, but simply put, "dynamic stretching" is moving your body or limb through its range of motion. An example is lifting your leg to the side. It's not done slowly, like a leg lift, and it's not done fast like a kick over your head. It's a deliberate motion being careful to move to the limit of flexibility without slamming into it.

A proper warm up will take typically from 5 to 10 minutes. It should be progressively more intense, going from very light to close to the intensity of the strength or cardio component that follows it.

For my workouts at the gym, I typically hit a stationary bike or a treadmill for 10 minutes. I start out at a easy pace and then every few minutes build up the speed or difficulty level (tension or slope). I watch my heart rate to ensure it's increasing, usually targeting the 60-75% of my calculated max heart rate (220-age) by the end. If I'm practicing my Tai Chi, I'll start with standing Chi Kung (energy building) exercises, progressing to rocking, then to moving. For my Kung Fu practice, I'll start with the 10 Long-Life Exercises. In any case, by the time I'm done, I'm a little sweaty and can feel my body's ready for the main portion of my workout.

But What if I Don't Warm Up?

What if you fail to do a warm-up? You decide you just don't want to take the time and just want to "get into" it. Well, your mileage may vary, but here's what you'll probably face. It's like you just get out of bed and decide to sprint for 400 yards. I think you can see that it's not something you'll do well. Your heart is being called upon suddenly and will likely develop severe heart problems (potentially a heart attack). Your lungs and heart aren't working together to get oxygen to your muscles, so they "starve." That means your muscles will be burning in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic) and you will "hit the wall" very quickly when they run out of their glycogen stores (more about that with the cardio component). Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments will be inflexible, kind of like a cold rubber band, restricting your range of motion and are more likely to tear.

All in all, a bad scenario. Fortunately, I think you probably instinctively know that a warm-up is needed, you just need to know what it really means to warm up.

Putting It All Together ... So Far

Last week I talked about starting off with 3 strength workouts, 3 cardio workouts, and 6 stretching workouts per week. If you combine the strength, cardio workouts, and flexibility 3 days a week, you'll perform all 5 components in one session. Otherwise you'll perform 3 components for each strength workout (warm-up, strength, cool-down) and 3 components for cardio. For the stretching-only workouts, you'll perform a warm-up and then the flexibility exercises. There's no need for a separate cool-down component on those workouts because the flexibility exercises combine with it.

So now we know the importance of warm-up component and have an idea what we have to do in one. We know we want to have 3 strength, cardio, and flexibility workouts (they're usually combined) per week and then 3 flexibility-only workouts. As we'll see next week, we'll want to space out the workouts over the course of the week to keep the body constantly working. So we might have the strength/cardio workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the Stretch-only workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. That leaves Sunday free to do whatever we want. Your available schedule may change this a bit, but the number of workouts is very important with the spacing being a quick second. In other words, it's best not to do all your workouts on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Noted guru Covert Bailey says it best. He says that when you're starting to work out, your muscles call up the fat cells and say "hey, she's starting to move, send up some butter." To which your fat cells respond, "What? No way! She'll stop in a minute, you don't need us." Your body gets so used to you not exercising that it responds appropriately. What you want to do is teach your body that you're really doing it this time, no joking. You want your muscles to call ahead and say "hey, she's thinking about working out, send us some butter" and your fat cells respond "you're right and she always works out for an hour so here it is!" That takes consistency and constant work. Hmmm, you're first goal.

Strength Training

In the first segment we talked about how to properly set your fitness goals. Last week we started talking about the 5 segments of a complete workout and talked about the first segment which was the warm-up. This week we'll talk about the next segment, strength training. Studies have shown that you should perform your strength training before your cardio training for the best workouts. This is more of an intensity issue because you are more tired after cardio and are less likely to push yourself for strength training.

Where Are You Now

Here's a standardized fitness test to determine you're strength level. You can use these tests to measure where you are, in addition to measuring by the amount of weight you're lifting.

Pushup Test

For men, the legs should be extended out. Women perform the pushups on their knees for this test. Perform as many pushups as you can to failure. This test measures your upper body strength including your triceps, shoulders, and chest.



Situp Test

Having your legs anchored by a partner, perform as many situps as you can in 1 minute. Your hands are behind your head, fingers interlaced. This test measures your "core" strength including your abdominals and hip flexors.



Strength training is any activity that builds muscle size, endurance, or strength. Muscles are the most metabolically active tissue in the body, which means they are the major calorie burners. Simply put, the more muscle your body has, the more calories you burn, whether you're doing anything or not. You can simply sit on your but all day and be a major calorie burner if you have enough muscle. It's one of the major factors in what we call our metabolism, and the one factor we have the most control of.

What's In It For Me?

One of the problems with muscle is its "use it or lose it" policy (as opposed to fat's "use it or gain it" policy). The less you use a muscle, the more it deteriorates (atrophies). We typically think our metabolism slows down simply because we're getting older. However, the usual reason is because we're simply not using our muscles as much as we used to and they are deteriorating.

Muscles have an important function in the body in that they are what help us move. You have to have muscles in order to walk, climb stairs, do the dishes... everything. The better muscle structure you have, the more activities you can perform.

I know that men and women view strength training differently. Men want to build size and definition, while women want to "tone". To tell you the truth, these are basically the same thing! You see, women have an extremely difficult time building muscle size because it requires a lot of testosterone that they have little of. So when a woman lifts weights and loses the fat around her muscles (through proper diet, cardio, and general exercise) they appear to be sleek and compact, or "toned." There are training differences that I'll discuss below that build the muscle slightly differently, but in general, strength training builds bigger and stronger muscles, whether you want to call it "toning" or not.

Many martial artists believe that a strength program is counter productive to their arts. However, just about every sport you can think of has a component of strength training in it, simply because it helps in doing just about everything. The message is, no matter if you're a man or woman, you should have a strength program.

Muscles vs. Fat

Your body is made up of all sorts of tissues, but the one's we're interested in are muscles and fat. Muscles are more dense than fat so a pound of muscle is actually a smaller entity than a pound of fat. If you could exchange a pound of fat in your body right now for a pound of muscle, going from a size 16 dress to a size 14, wouldn't that be fantastic? You didn't lose weight, but you lost 2 dress sizes. Well, that's what exercising combined with strength training will do. The compactness of muscles removes the jiggling in your body and gives you a more sleek and defined look. You don't lose weight, but you sure look it!

One of the reasons I said previously not to use weight loss as your goal is because the bathroom scale doesn't know what you're made of. You could be 150 pounds of all fat or you could be 150 pounds of muscle and all you know is you're 150 pounds. Which would you choose? They are very different, aren't they? Why does a confusing number stress us out so much? If all you did was diet, with no exercise, you're more likely to lose as much muscle as you are to lose fat. Therefore the scale would look good, but your metabolism is getting slower. Then when you decide you are going off your diet and start eating like you were before, you suddenly have a bunch more calories coming in that you aren't burning like you were before and you gain a lot of weight back in the form of simply fat (you won't gain muscle unless you exercise).

There are two concepts that you first have to understand when you're trying to change your body image.

The first concept, you can't spot reduce, means that you are unable to select where you want the fat in your body to burn from. No matter what you do, you can't tell your body to get rid of that belly or those thighs. You can do leg raises and crunches all day long but it won't remove the fat there because you're doing it. Only your body will determine where it comes from.

The second concept, you can spot gain, means that you can work specific muscles and see the change in those muscles. You can do a ton of crunches and there will be those 6-pack abs there (possibly hidden beneath the fat!). You can do leg lifts and you will have an ultra strong butt.

Using these two concepts, you can see why you need to diet *and* exercise in order to change your body image. You can weight train to get the six-pack abs, but you need to diet and perform general exercise in order for your body to burn the fat at that location in order to see them.

Strength Programs

Ok, I hope I've convinced you that working your muscles with an appropriate strength program is necessary for everyone, men and women alike. Let's get into more specifics about building strength. First of all, I hope you understand that different strength exercises work different muscles and muscle groups so you have to choose the exercises for your needs. Now, when you do work your muscles appropriately, you are, in fact, breaking them down at that point in time and not building them. It's the rest during the next day or so that actually lets the muscle build back up to be bigger and stronger. Therefore, you shouldn't work any specific muscle or muscle group more than every other day. And that includes your abs. If you do continually work a muscle, it will continually be torn down and will never be allowed to recover and will therefore grow weaker as a result.

In order to continue a week-long exercise program (remember, we want to continually keep the body going), there are a few different programs designed to allow you to work on your strength on back to back days to avoid over-working the muscles. Here are a couple:

The typical strength training segment of your workout should last about 20-30 minutes, depending on your goal. If you're working on the All/Rest program (typically used by beginners), you'll perform fewer exercises but cover a wide variety of muscle groups. The other programs concentrate on fewer muscles and can therefore perform a larger variety of exercises on them.

Weight, Reps, Sets, and Rest

For each exercise you pick, there are 4 variables that you'll play with depending on your goal and depending on how you modify your program. I'll explain below how these variables are determined by your goals. The first variable is obvious, how much weight to lift? The answer differs for each person and also differs whether your using your own body weight or using external weights. As a general rule, you'll need to play with the amount of weight and pick an amount that is difficult to move on the 8-10th repetition. Once you can perform 12 repetitions with a weight without it being very difficult, it's time to add weight. In general, you should add only about 10% of the current weight at a maximum.

A repetition is the number of complete movements that you'll make with the exercise. For example, one repetition of a pushup is moving down to the ground and then coming back up. In general, you want to perform 10-12 repetitions with an exercise to make up one set.

A set is a bundling of repetitions that you perform before you rest. For a typical exercise, you'll want to perform 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions each.

The amount of rest you take between sets is extremely important. When you do strength exercises, you a performing an anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic is a big word simply meaning "without oxygen". Your muscles have two fuels that it uses to do it's work, glycogen (sugar) and fat. Glycogen is stored locally in the muscle and is used as a kindling to start the fire burning. It doesn't require oxygen to burn and is therefore the first fuel used by your muscles. Unfortunately, there is a limited amount in your muscles so as it get depleted, your muscles call up the fat cells. Until your muscle burns with oxygen it is burning anaerobically and only burns the glycogen stores, not fat.

Fat is stored outside the muscles (I bet you know just where yours is stored!). It requires oxygen to burn and can be likened to a big log. It can't be started quickly, like the kindling glycogen, and will stop burning when the oxygen goes away. Your muscles therefore burn fat when you exercise aerobically or with oxygen.

All this to say that when you perform 1 set of strength-building exercises, you're burning your muscle's glycogen supplies. When you rest, you're rebuilding those supplies. The more intense the set, the longer you need to rest. The act of exercising and then resting teaches your muscles to store more glycogen supplies because you'll need them.
Strength4-63-43 minutes
Growth10-123-41 minute
Endurance15-253-41 minute

Lower repetitions builds more strength by recruiting more muscle fibers to perform the work. You therefore build strength and not change muscle size. Medium repetitions cause your muscles to add more muscle fiber thereby increasing in size. High repetitions teach your muscles to radically increase it's glycogen supplies for use and doesn't in general add to muscle size or strength.

Warm-up Sets

One of the reasons you perform multiple sets is to burn the glycogen stores and "tire" the muscle. You'll notice that you aren't as strong in the last set as you were in the first set. Another concept is the performance of a warm-up set. This is one or two sets using half your workout weight performing 15-20 repetitions. It should be an easy lift with the purpose of getting the blood flowing into the muscle and warming it up. Depending on what you did in your warm-up routine, a warm-up set is recommended before performing your main exercise for a muscle group.

Order of Exercises

The last thing you need to arrange in your routine is the order in which you work the exercises. For example, you don't want to work your arms to exhaustion and then try to work your chest (which uses the arms for most exercises). Instead, work the larger muscle first and then the smaller one. So you want to work your back and chest before your arms, your legs before your glutes, your quads/hamstrings before your calves. You'll find there's a similar concept in your flexibility program.

Beginner Strength Routines

If you're just starting on a strength training program, it is imperative that you get help with the exercises you should be performing along with their proper form. In general, machines help you with proper form and the proper layout of machines, called Circuit Training, can help you with the specific exercises and their order. I recommend the All/Rest format of training, using Circuit Training. You should stick with this for at least 10-12 weeks, slowly adding to your weight, sets, and reps.

The muscle groups you should concentrate on are the legs/glutes, abdominals, back, and arms (biceps/triceps). Usually the circuit workout consist of, at a minimum, squats, crunches, pulldowns, bench press, arm curls, and arm kickbacks.

Routines For Stressing Cardio

When you're stressing the cardio component over the strength component, you need to reduce the intensity of the strength routine. I don't recommend you constantly stress the cardio component, but I do recommend you do it every now and then, just as every now and then you should stress the strength portion.

To reduce the intensity of the strength component, I recommend the same weight and number of repetitions, 10-12, but reduce the number of sets per exercise to 2, and the number of exercises per body part to 2.

Intermediate / Advanced Strength Routines

As I mentioned previously, there are different routines used to perform your strength exercises, allowing you to continually train without worrying about the 48-hour rest rule.

Here are a list of the muscle groups that I find important, along with their location and mover direction.

Muscle GroupLocationMover
BicepsFront of top armPull
TricepsBack of top armPush
Latisimus DorsiUpper BackPull
Back ExtensorsLower BackPull
QuadricepsFront of upper legPush
HamstringsBack of upper legPull
CalfBack of lower legPush

Using this information, you can develop you're own Push/Pull, Upper/Lower, or Arm/Core/Leg format.

For example, if you have 4 days to strength train and you want to use the Push/Pull format, you might work out like this:

Note that you're working on a large number of muscle groups each day with these. If you perform 10-12 reps with 3-4 sets, you're going to be spending a lot of time in the gym (at least 30 minutes on strength training alone). You can trim the workout time in several ways:

In my particular case, I'm working out all the muscles over 3 days, with a 1-day optional workout to hit any specific muscle I may want to hit again. I'm using the Arm/Core/Leg format.

I'm working on a general routine, not specifically targeting cardio or strength, so I work out each muscle with 2-3 different exercises, performing 10-12 repetitions, for 3-4 sets, with a 1 minute rest between sets. I work a different muscle during my rest periods to be efficient with my time and to help keep my heart rate up.

I started my routine with a 5-minute warm-up and start each new muscle group with a warm-up set. After completing my strength segment, I've already been at the gym for about 40-45 minutes.

Changing Your Routine

Unfortunately, for everything you do, your body learns to adapt and find the most efficient way to do it. Therefore, to shake things up, you need to have enough variety in your workout to keep the body guessing. For your strength routine, you can:

In general, you should change your strength routine every 10-12 weeks. You can change your entire routine (cardio, strength, stretch) all at once if you wish to keep things fresh or to take advantage of seasonal weather.

In Closing

Your strength program is an important part of your overall health, whether you're a man or woman, whether you want to simply get stronger or lose weight. Your muscles are the workhorses in your body and in working them you'll see results against many different goals. All it takes is 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week to get there. I explained why you should strength train and even got down into how to structure that part of your workout. If you have additional questions, want help in developing a program specific for your goals, or have questions regarding specific exercises, don't hesitate to ask.

Cardiovascular Training

Cardiovascular training is an important part of your fitness routine. It has two specific purposes. The first is to increase the function of the heart and the lungs. This means it helps make your heart stronger and beat more efficiently to provide oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body. We all know how bad off we are when our hearts aren't beating properly. No other training helps your heart.

The second purpose of cardiovascular training is to burn fat stores in the body. Cardio training is generally *the* training used to burn off excess fat through activity. It has the immediate effect of burning calories, whereas weight training provides more calorie burning in the future, having more of an impact on your metabolism.

Cardiovascular Testing

Here's a fitness test to tell how you stack up in your cardiovascular fitness.

3 Minute Step Test

Assemble a 12-inch high step, a metronome or music recorded at 96 bpm and a stopwatch. Begin stepping with right foot up, left foot up, right foot down, left foot down, each step to the beat of the metronome. Continue for 3 minutes. At the end, sit and locate your pulse within 5 seconds and count the number of heartbeats in 1 minute.

The chart shows Beats per Minute (BPM) and is for individuals between 20 and 46 years of age.

Above Average103-112106-109
Below Average123-125122-124

Aerobic vs Anaerobic

Last week I touched on the two sources of energy that your body uses: glycogen (sugar) and fat. I mentioned that in the strength training part of your workout, you're primarily burning the glycogen stores because you're exercising in an anaerobic fashion. Let me get a little more specific about what I mean here. Being anaerobic doesn't mean that you're holding your breath. It simply means that your lungs aren't providing the necessary level of oxygen that your body needs. When you're lifting weights, you'll notice that you're not generally huffing and puffing. That means you're lungs aren't really working to provide additional oxygen to the muscles and thus their work is done anaerobically. When you're exercising with a little heavier breathing, you're exercising aerobically.

Last week we talked about the analogy of a camp fire where kindling is the glycogen and the big logs are the fat. Kindling is used first in order to light the logs on fire. It's darn near impossible to burn the logs without a lot of kindling being used (I wasn't a boyscout, but work with me here). So, when you start exercising, your muscles start with kindling (glycogen) that is stored within them. As your body learns that you're not going to stop, the muscles realize that they'll use up all their glycogen and call up your behind and tell it to release some of its fat. Your behind lets it lose and it travels to the muscles where it starts being burned. Depending on your training and the exercise you're performing, it usually takes from 10-20 minutes before the muscle makes the call and fat starts being the primary source of fuel.

In cardiovascular training, you want to emphasize aerobic as well as anaerobic exercises. Performing anaerobic exercises trains the body to store more glycogen in the muscles. Performing aerobic exercises trains your body to start burning fat sooner.

One of the things you'll notice about aerobic training is that they always have you monitoring your heart rate. They always have a chart on the wall showing you the minimum and maximum band for exercising "aerobically" and always tell you that if you're outside that range you're exercising anaerobically. The usual band is to exercise in the range of 65-85% of your Maximum Heart Rate, MHR, measured as 220 minus your age. So, if you're 20 years old, your MHR is 200 and your band is between 130 and 170 beats per minute.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the population (some believe as much as half) have heart rates that differ from the standard. As Covert Bailey so humorously puts it, some people have "Honda" hearts that work at a higher rate. They will typically measure a higher MHR. Others have "Harley" hearts that work at a slower rate, typically measuring a lower MHR. If you have a "Honda" heart, you'll find that you quickly get into the "aerobic" range without doing much of anything. Conversely, if you have a "Harley" heart, you'll find it difficult to get into and maintain the "aerobic" range.

I find that the heart-rate range works well in the beginning, but once you exercise for a little while, you'll want to abandon it. Instead you should fall back on the definition of "aerobic" and monitor your breathing. If you find yourself gasping, you're in the anaerobic range, whether your heart is beating fast enough or not. Conversely if your breathing isn't more than if you're sitting down, you're not in the aerobic range either. So, "how do I measure it?" you might ask. It's simple, really. While you're exercising simply try to say (or sing) "Oh say can you see" (the first line of the National Anthem in case you didn't recognize it!). If you can sing more than that without taking a breath, you should increase the intensity of your workout. If you find yourself unable to get to the end without taking a breath, you should decrease the intensity.

There are a lot of different activities you can do that are considered aerobic, including:

You can decide for yourself what activities are aerobic or anaerobic by following these guidelines:

Using these guidelines, you'll find that some activities don't fall within the aerobic workout, such as many sports (too much starting and stopping). That is not to say that they aren't good for you, it's just that they don't burn as much fat as you might like.

The Best Aerobic Exercise!

The best aerobic exercise is... well... the one that you'll do. It doesn't matter if one burns a little more fat than another if you won't do it. So, pick an activity that meets the guidelines and then get out there. The more "leisurely" the activity, the longer you're going to have to do it to see good results, so choose according to your constraints and needs. For example, if you walk, you have to do it a lot longer than if you jog.

More is Better, Right?

As soon as someone puts a time limit out there and says, for example, that you'll burn more fat if you exercise for 20 minutes, they jump to the conclusion that if you do it for an hour then it's 3 times better! Well, not exactly. Yes, you'll burn more calories if you went for an hour, but there is a point with everyone's body where your fat is not burned as readily as when it began. Your body knows that it has to keep something in reserve, so it slows down a bit. That means you will burn more calories, but it won't be 3 times more. Also, remember that the longer you exercise, the greater chance your body has of getting an injury. So while exercising for an hour will certainly burn more calories than just the 20-30 minutes, there are downsides to it. Exercise consistency is better for beginners than exercise intensity. I'll talk about Wind Sprints below which are safer and a more time-effective means of increasing intensity.

Changing Things Up

Remember when we talked last week, I mentioned that your body gets used to an activity and finds the most efficient way to perform it? Well, the same is true for cardio training. You'll find that any activity you pick will become easier over time so you'll have to make changes to maximize your results. The first thing you can do is cross-train. Cross-training is the process of performing different activities in order to enhance them both. When you plan out your cardio training, you'll want to pick two different activities each week, such as hiking and bike riding. And then every so often, switch up your activities to keep the body guessing. It'll be a lot harder to plateau then.

You should try to ramp up the training to greater and greater intensity over the course of a several weeks and then return to the easier pace. This helps you work the range of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. The higher the intensity, the less time you have to perform the exercise, but you should typically not go below 10 minutes.

Another way you can change up your cardio training is to perform Wind Sprints. Wind Sprints are a way of adding short-term intensity to your cardio exercise that is fairly safe. To perform a Wind Sprint, simply do the exercise a lot harder for a minute or so and then come back to your normal pace. For example, if you're walking, simply start jogging or walking very fast for 1 minute and then return to your normal pace. You'll hopefully find that you move up to the anaerobic level which is exactly what you want to do. You'll burn more calories on that short burst and teach your body to handle it by providing more fat and more glycogen.

Where are we now?

Ok, so now we know some activities (we'll pick 2) that we can do for our cardio exercise and we know we have to do it 3 or 4 times per week. We'll usually combine it with our strength training that we set up last week in order to save time, but we don't have to. However, we know that we *always* need to perform a warm-up and *always* need to perform a cool-down.

So, we set up a 3-day schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for performing our complete workouts, reserving Saturday and Sunday for our "fun" days. On all three days we'll do our strength training. On Monday, we'll walk on the treadmill for our cardio segment. on Wednesday, we'll bike ride and on Friday we'll walk once again. During our cardio workouts, we'll continually monitor our breathing (or heart rate) to make sure we stay in our zone (closer to huffing and puffing for the anaerobic workout, less for aerobic). On your "fun" days, we'll go out and do some activity that is purely just fun to do. We don't think of it as exercise as much as think of it as getting out, so we might play some tennis, ride a bike around the neighborhood, or go for a hike in the park.

For my workouts, I combine walking, bike riding, and kickboxing as my cardio. My "fun" days generally involve hiking. I rotate the activities constantly and rotate the intensity from fairly high, the upper range of the aerobic band, to moderate. For my anaerobic workouts I practice my martial arts forms, which get you huffing and puffing pretty good. I perform the cardio workouts for a minimum of 20 minutes at a time. I'm working on a more balanced strength/cardio program at the moment and will move into stressing the cardio portion in about 7 weeks. At that point, I will increase the cardio portion duration and intensity to about 30-40 minutes, reducing the strength program appropriately.

In Closing

In this segment, I've discussed more about how your body uses your energy stores and how you can structure your exercise program to use Cardio training to target your fat storage. I've also talked about how the cardio program helps make a systemic change to your body, by helping build heart and lung functions too. Using the definition of aerobic, I've shown how to determine if an activity is aerobic or not and how to determine if you're exercising in the aerobic or anaerobic range, using either your heart rate or your breathing.

We've now discussed two of the pillars of fitness, strength and cardio, and have two more to go. Next week we'll talk about the cool-down and talk about the next pillar, flexibility training.

The Cool-Down

That brings us to the last two segments of our workout, the cool down and flexibility training, and next pillar of fitness, Flexibility. The cool-down is perhaps the easiest part of your workout because you don't have to really do much. In fact your goal is to do less.

The purpose of the cool-down segment of the workout is to bring the heart and breathing rates down and avoid blood pooling. You've just completed the major portion of your workout, either cardiovascular or strength training, and your heart is pumping away and you're breathing has increased. The last thing you want to do is just sit down. While that will help cool you off, your blood will pool in the lower extremities, causing varicose veins and your muscles will probably cramp up. When your heart is working hard, your muscles are typically moving, helping to keep the blood moving through your system. When you stop suddenly all that work is now thrust upon your heart alone.

Instead, move around a little bit to let your heart rate slowly more gently. You should take about the same amount of time in your cool-down as you did in your warm-up. Activity-wise you should perform a lot of the same motions that you did in your exercise segments, only at a much lower intensity. If you were jogging or biking, cut your speed in half and then perhaps move to a walk. If you were kickboxing, perhaps walk around or punch and kick with much less speed and intensity and then walk for a moment, maybe swinging your arms a little. If you were lifting weights, maybe move extend and flex the joints you were working.

Other activities that are beneficial are Dynamic Stretching similar to what did in your warm-up, such as arm circles and leg raises. After your heart rate has reduced, it's the perfect time to enter your third pillar of fitness: Flexibility Training.

Flexibility Training

Flexibility is the range of motion you have across a joint. The motor muscles in your body are located around a joint and the ability of them to move that joint through its full range is your level of flexibility. Your flexibility training allows you to increase or maintain this range. Flexibility training after a workout may also help decrease the soreness you feel 2 days later (called DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Don't be fooled into thinking it will eliminate it, however. So far they haven't found anything that does.

The following is a standardized test used to measure your flexibility. You can use it to determine your current level as well as to gauge your improvement. The more limited your range of movement, the more limited you are in your activities for exercise and for fun.

Flexibility Test

A measuring tape or 36 inch ruler is required for this test. It should be performed after a short warmup for the lower back and hamstring muscles. Sit with shoes removed and with the legs outstretched and feet 10 inches apart. Insure that the legs are flat on the floor and not bent. The measuring tape is positioned with the 15-inch mark at the heels and the zero mark towards the body. With the hands crossed and fingers even, bend forward and hold momentarily while the measurement is taken. Record the highest of 3 attempts. A 15 is basically the ability to touch your toes.



Dynamic and Static Stretching

In general, there are two types of stretching that you will employ, each for a different reason: Dynamic stretching and Static stretching. Dynamic, meaning motion, is the type of stretching that you use generally in the warm-up portion of your workout. With dynamic stretching you move the joint through its full range of motion, gently pressing against the limit without trying to really change the limit. Dynamic stretching is perfect for the warm-up simply because you're moving, keeping the heart rate up. Dynamic stretching is used to improve dynamic flexibility, which is the range of motion your joints move through in motion. By that I mean that if you want to improve your kicking, it's better to perform Dynamic stretches than Static stretches. Dynamic stretching typically involves a level of muscle strength as well to help create the motion. Dynamic stretching is not Ballistic stretching, which is holding the stretched position and bouncing. It is stretching through the full range of motion. An example of a dynamic stretch is a standing leg lift to the side. Your leg lifts up to its limit and is then brought back to the ground.

Static stretching is generally performed after the cool-down segment of your workout. It's performed by holding the stretched position for a period of time, typically 20-40 seconds. It's not very useful during the warm-up segment because it actually reduces your heart rate. Static stretching is best for enhancing static flexibility, or your flexibility in holding a stretched position such as a split. It's best for improving your overall flexibility because you can hold the muscles in the stretched position for a longer period of time, letting them become accustomed to it.

Your muscles are interesting beasts in that they want you to move them through their range of motion, but they have to protect themselves from what you're doing. So they actually will resist being stretched too far, unless they're trained that it's safe. Also, the faster the stretch occurs, the faster and more intensely they resist. Static stretching slowly obtains the stretched position, allowing the muscle to not react to it, and then holds the position to teach the muscle that it's a safe position.

So how can you improve your flexibility with static stretching?

The first thing you need to do for flexibility training is make sure your muscles are warmed up. You should always perform a warm-up segment, even if you're only doing flexibility training. Muscle tissue can be thought of like a rubber band. The colder the rubber band is, the more likely it will break or crack if stretched out. Conversely, when warmed up, the rubber band will allow you to stretch it further and you can actually increase the length of the band. We've already talked about the warm-up segment, but simply put you need to move around. Do some jumping jacks, leg lifts, jump rope, whatever it takes to gently increase your heart rate and breathing rate and get you sweating a bit. Specifically move the joints you intend to stretch, contracting and extending the muscles. If you just perform your warm-up, you don't need to cool-down before beginning to stretch, unless you took your heart rate too high.

You should map out your flexibility program similar to how you mapped out the other segments in your workout. What muscles are you trying to stretch? What muscles did you use in your workout? Then you need to think about the other muscles associated with the joints in question. These are the ancillary muscles. The flexibility of the ancillary muscles will determine the flexibility of the prime muscles (agonists). For example, if your back isn't very flexible, it will be difficult to even attempt to stretch your hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thigh).

So, once you've warmed up, it's important to begin stretching the ancillary muscles first. In general, it's better to stretch the core first and then move to the extremities. And don't forget to stretch the upper and lower body. As an example, let's say we want to specifically stretch our hamstrings. One way to stretch them is to simply sit with your legs outstretched and reach for your toes. You should quickly find the ancillary muscles that will impact this stretch are the back (lower and upper), shoulders, glutes (butt), and calves. These you would stretch first, usually in the order of back, glutes, shoulders, and then calves, *before* you apply the stretch to the hamstring itself. Therefore, by the time you get to the hamstring, everything else is loosened up enough that you shouldn't even feel them in the stretch, just the hamstring.

Before we get to a specific flexibility program, here are the general rules to apply to your stretching:

Static Stretch Routine

These exercises are intended to statically stretch the muscles to their fullest potential. The order of the exercises is essential in order to stretch a muscle's synergists before stretching the intended muscle.

Forearm/Wrist Stretch

Forearm/Wrist Stretch Backwards

Stand or sit with your right arm extended, palm down. Gently point your fingers towards the ceiling, using your left hand to assist in the stretch. Keep your right arm straight. Hold stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds for each arm.

Stand or sit with your right arm extended, palm up. Gently point your fingers towards the floor, using your left hand to assist in the stretch. Keep your right arm straight. Hold stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds for each arm.

Forearm/Wrist Stretch Forwards

Stand or sit with your right palm down. Gently point your fingers towards the floor, using your left hand to assist in the stretch. Bend your right arm to assist in the stretch. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each arm.


Anterior Deltoid Stretch

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your hands at your sides. Gently push your straight arms behind you, stretching your shoulder. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Rhomboid/Rotator Cuff Stretch

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bring your right arm across your chest and use your left arm to cradle the right elbow joint. Pull your arm into your body keeping your shoulders level. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Trapezius/Rotator Cuff Stretch

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bring your right arm across your chest and use your left arm to cradle the right elbow joint. Your right arm over your left shoulder and down your back. Reach down your back keeping your shoulders level. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds for each side.

Tricep Stretch

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bring your bent right arm up by your right ear and gently reach down your back. Use your left hand to gently assist the stretch. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds for each side.

Posterior Hand Clasp Stretch

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bring your bent right arm up by your right ear and gently reach down your back. Bring your bent left arm behind you and reach up your back. Try to touch your hands. To work towards touching your hands, you can hold a towel between then and "walk" the towel with one hand, assisting in the stretch. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Upper Chest Stretch

Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Extend your arms to the side parallel to the floor and gently force them backwards. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds.


Extensor Stretch

Standing or sitting, bow your head forward and gently assist the stretch with both hands pulling on the back of your head. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders down and relaxed. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Neck Flexor Stretch

Standing or sitting, look upwards and gently assist the stretch with both hands pushing on your jaw. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders down and relaxed. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Neck Lateral Flexors Stretch

Standing or sitting, tilt your head to your right, dropping your ear to your shoulder. Gently use your right hand to assist the stretch by pulling your head down. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders down and relaxed. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Tibialis Anterior

Sit on the floor with your left leg extended and flat. Bend your right leg and place it on your left leg with your foot extending over your leg. Use your muscles to extend your toes and gently assist by pulling the top of your foot with your left hand. Hold the stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Lower Back

Cat Arch

Sit on your hands and knees. Arch your back upwards as far as possible. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Single Leg Pelvic Tilt

Lie on your back with your right leg flat against the floor. Raise your left, bent leg to your chest holding behind your knee. Gently apply pressure. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds then switch legs.

Bent Leg Trunk Rotators

Lie on your back and raise your bent knees towards the sky. Lay both arms straight out to your sides. Twist your lower body laying your bent legs to the side. Try to keep your shoulders on the floor. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.


Bent Leg Trunk Rotator with Assist

Lie on your back with your right leg flat on the floor and your left arm out to your side. Twist your lower body and place your left, bent leg across your body onto the floor. Use your right hand to apply gentle pressure on your bent knee. Keep your left arm and shoulder on the floor. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Lying Glute Stretch

Lie on your back and with your right hand grasp your left foot. Use your left arm to gently cradle your left knee. Gently pull your bent left leg as a unit towards your right shoulder. Care should be taken so that there is no pressure on the knee and tension should be felt in the gluteus maximus. If no stretch is felt, raise the foot slightly towards the ceiling and pull again. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Seated Glute Stretch

Sit with your left leg extended. Place your right foot on the left side of your left knee. Curl your left leg underneath you. Gently stretch by lowering your chest as close as possible towards the left side of your right foot. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Calves / Achilles Tendon

Soleus Stretch

Sit on the floor with your right leg straight. Bend your left leg at a 90 degree angle and rest your heel on the floor. Use your muscles to pull your toes back towards your knee and provide gentle assistance at the end of the stretch by grasping your upper foot with both hands. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Achiles Tendon Stretch

Sit on the floor with your right leg straight. Bend your left leg with your foot as close to your butt as possible. Use your muscles to pull your toes back towards your knee and provide gentle assistance at the end of the stretch by grasping your upper foot with both hands. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.

Gastrocnemius Stretch

Sit on the floor with your right leg straight. Slightly bend your left leg. Use your muscles to pull your toes back towards your knee and provide gentle assistance at the end of the stretch by grasping your upper foot with your right hand or wrap a towel around your upper foot and pull. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each side.


Psoas Stretch

Lie on your left side. With your right hand grasp your right ankle. Pull your bent right leg behind you using your hand to gently assist the stretch at the end of the movement. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds for each leg.

Quad Stretch

Lying on your left side, bend both legs. With your left hand grasp your left ankle and pull your bent left leg to your chest. With your right hand reach behind you and grasp your right ankle and pull your bent right leg behind you. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Groin / Adductors

Butterfly Stretch

Seated, bring both feet in towards your groin as close as possible and grasp your feet or your ankles. Use your elbows to help push your knees down. Keep your back straight. After several workouts, once an adequate stretch is achieved and your knees are close to the floor, grasp your feet with both hands and lower your chest forward, keeping your back straight. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Frog Stretch

Sit up on your hands and knees with toes facing backward. Bend your arms and rest your elbows on the floor. Slowly straddle your knees and attempt to lower your chest to the floor. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds.


Leg-in Hurdler's Stretch

Seated, place your left leg straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee and lay your right leg in front of you so that your right foot rests inside your left upper leg. Bend forward from the hips, being careful not to arch your back. Raise your head and look out over your toes. Try to touch your chest to your knee. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds on each side.

Split Leg Stretch

Seated, place both legs out in front of you spreading them as wide as possible. Bend towards the right, being careful not to arch your back. Raise your head and look out over your toes. Try to touch your chest to your knee. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds on each side. Repeat the stretch on the left side and to the front, between your legs. In all cases, be careful not to arch your back.

Cobra Stretch

Lie on your stomach with your hands underneath your shoulders. Rise up as if doing a pushup, but keep your stomach on the ground, arching your back. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Diet and Nutrition

A quick word about these articles. I am not a doctor. I am not a certified personal trainer. I am not a dietition. I am a person undergoing the same fitness trials and tribulations that you probably are. I am lucky enough to have the time and desire to obtain a lot of diet and fitness information that I'm trying to pass on to you. See your doctor before making any major diet or exercise changes.

The final pillar of fitness is diet; what you put into your body. I will tell you that this is the weakest part of my own fitness regimen. I continually read and study all sorts of things about nutrition and dieting, but seem to have little motivation for making the changes I probably should be making. What I say here may make sense and may seem easy, in reality we make having a proper diet harder than it really has to be, but I know it can be hard to put into practice. But I'll pass on the insights that I have come across. Just putting this together has helped me to rethink my diet.

What is a Diet?

One of the first things that trips my trigger is the word "diet". It is commonly referred to as a short-term, strict protocol of what you can and can't eat. If you watch nature shows or read about animals, one of the things you commonly hear talked about is what this or that animal's diet is. They're talking about what the animal eats every day. Using the web site dictionary.com, I found the real definition for the word "diet", it's "the usual food and drink of a person or animal." From Latin, the root of the word "diet" is diaeta, meaning "way of living." If you think about it, then, whatever you're eating is your diet. You're *always* on a diet, whether it's a strict protocol or not. It's just that the diet you're on may or may not be helping you lose weight. Your goal in meeting this part of your fitness plan is to put together a life-long eating plan that will help you be healthy and happy, not deprived and depressed.

Since I'm not a fan of the short-term "definition" of diet, I'm also not a fan of the flashy, short-term solutions to the problem, such as pills or shakes or very strict protocols. Yes I have succumbed to the promise of a quick fix, but as you have probably determined for yourself, they don't match the hype.

Unfortunately, we've made the concept of dieting into a business. We think there is a magic bullet or a single "right" way to diet and get caught up in the commercial hype. This does nothing more than over-complicate the subject and discourage people that try a particular protocol and "fail", usually gaining a lot of weight in the process (and losing a lot of weight in the pocket book). My view of dieting is more simplistic. Anyone can succeed and it won't cost you any more than you're spending now.

Dieting, or eating correctly, is a very important part of fitness. Everything you eat has an impact on your body, from providing it energy, replenishing lost resources, to regulating its functions. Things that aren't needed immediately are either expelled or stored. Storage of extra energy (or calories) is made by creating and storing it as glycogen and fat. Glycogen is stored in the muscles themselves and fat is stored... well all over the body.

Where Are You Going Wrong?

After reading a lot and thinking about it a lot, I have come up with a laundry list of why most people fail at eating correctly. In no particular order:

I'm sure there are a lot more. I encourage you to take a look at your past and see what holds you back. One of the ways to overcome a hurdle is to learn from your mistakes.

Lose Weight with Combined Diet and Exercise

Eating properly alone can allow you to lose weight (notice I didn't say what the weight is from, muscle, water, or fat), but a better way to do it is with the combination of diet and exercise. You can lose 1 pound of fat for every 3500 calories reduced through diet and/or exercise. Reducing your caloric intake or burning an extra 500 calories per day allows you to lose 1 pound per week.

The problem with simply reducing your caloric intake is that it also encourages your metabolism to slow down. Your body knows that it requires energy to survive and will do what it needs to do to ensure that. Your fat cells are designed to save energy for a rainy day. That's their purpose. Your body believes that we live in a time where there is a chance we won't have food for a while and seeks to store energy when it can, so that it can survive when food isn't available for a while. So when your caloric intake drops off, your body says "yep, this is it, the famine is in progress." At that point it redoubles its effort at storing calories in the form of fat. It also attempts to slow down a bit to reduce caloric expenditure. If the reduction is then very short term (which mostly results in water loss more than anything else), when you regain your previous caloric intake, your body is actually at a point where it is saving more and expending less. In essence you are in a mode to quickly and easily gain the weight back, and usually more to boot.

The second main reason reducing caloric intake alone won't help is that eventually you have a very low caloric intake amount. Your body had slowed the metabolism in response to the first reduction until you're breaking even. Then you have to reduce again to see further improvements, reducing your metabolism a little further. Eventually to run into your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). The BMR is the basic amount of calories your body needs for things like running your heart, heating your body, etc.. As you'll see below, the average 130lb woman requires about 1200 calories per day just to keep her body running. You never want to drop below this value because that's the level required for basic functions. So there will come a point where you simply can't eat any less food to lose weight.

On the other side of the coin, simply trying to exercise away the 500 calories a day is difficult. In general, no amount of exercise you do will compensate for a bad diet. You can jog for an hour and burn off calories, but just a couple of candy bars can completely negate the work.

But what about the middle ground? What if you reduced your caloric intake by 250 calories but increased your caloric expenditure (through exercise) by 250 calories? You still have a 500 calorie deficit, but now your body doesn't hit the "famine" threshold as easily *and* you're increasing your muscle use thereby *increasing* your metabolism. You're creating what Covert Bailey calls a "Better Butter Burner".

Eating 250 fewer calories per day isn't too hard and burning 250 more calories per day through exercise isn't too hard either. So you get a terrific benefit with little effort.

Oh, by the way, the 250 calorie deficit means 250 calories less than what your body needs to sustain your current weight, not simply 250 calories less than you're eating now. If you're eating 5000 calories per day and burning only 3000 calories, you're gaining about 4 pounds per week. Changing it up by eating 4750 calories (-250) and burning 3250 calories (+250), you're still gaining 3 pounds per week. However, once you feel you're eating the amount where you don't feel you're gaining weight, that's the starting point.

So now I know you're thinking "wow, if I reduce 500 calories and burn 500 calories per day I can lose 2 pounds per week." And I'd have to agree with you. BUT, don't try to bite off too much too quickly. Your goal is to develop consistent habits. Take 2 months at 1 pound per week, then maybe try for 2. I wouldn't try to go higher than 2, however, simply because it's too drastic a change and isn't likely to succeed.

What Exercise Burns 250 Calories?

Here are a few exercise ideas that burn 250 calories (based on a 150lb person; heavier people burn a little more, lighter a little less)...

ExercseRateCalories Expended
Bicycling5.5mph for 1 hour262 calories
Circuit Trainingweight machines, 40 minutes251 calories
Golf45 minutes260 calories
Rollerblading8mph for 50 minutes260 calories
Running7min mile for 17 minutes264 calories
Skiing35 minutes265 calories
TennisRecreational for 35 minutes260 calories
Tai Chifor 60 minutes280 calories
Walking15min mile for 40 minutes265 calories
Yoga60 minutes250 calories

If you're building up a workout routine as I've explained before, you're doing 3 strength routines per week, 3-4 cardio routines, 6 stretch routines, and 1 fun day of something. The total at the end of the week is 2363 calories. At 250 calories per day, your goal is 1750 calories. The exercise program we've already established will fit the bill quite nicely. All we have to do is cut back 250 calories from our intake!

Goal of 250 calories per day = 1750 calories per week

Actual is 2363 calories per week!

Maybe after your 2 month introductory period you want to burn more calories. Maybe you can then add walking at work several times per day, adding up to about 30 minutes. Maybe you can also add the 4th cardio day. Now your calorie expenditure becomes

New total = 3621 calories per week

What Foods Cost You...

Let's look at some common foods we might be eating to see where we can save 250 calories.

McDonald's Hamburger260 calories
McDonald's Fries, small230 calories
A traditionally sized bagel200-300 calories
Fresh bagel from Starbucks400+ calories
Starbucks large café mocha with whipped cream490 calories
Large Mocha Coconut Frappuccino with whipped cream710 calories
A glass of wine or bottle of beer100-150 calories
20oz sodaabout 300 calories
1 candy barabout 180 calories
1 snack bag of chipsabout 180 calories

Ok, so I know you probably don't munch on this stuff. But my point is that it doesn't take much to add up to serious calories. If you pay attention to the calorie content of the food you eat, don't you think you could find 250 calories per day to cut back?

How Do I Know My Basal Metabolic Rate?

So one of the things I said before is that there is a minimum number of calories that you shouldn't go below. Here's a way to estimate that value, which is your Basal Metabolic Rate.

Women - Multiply your weight in pounds by 9.817.

Example: A 130 lb. woman burns approximately 1,276 calories every 24 hours to keep the body alive and functioning properly (130 X 9.817 = 1,276).

Men - Multiply your weight in pounds by 10.908.

Example: A 190 lb. man burns approximately 1,963 calories during resting metabolism (basal metabolism) every 24 hours (180 X 10.908).

Both men and women should avoid reducing their caloric intake below this minimum level. This represents a safe level of caloric intake to provide enough energy for moderate exercise, adequate nutrition and also prevent a slowing in metabolic rate.

How Many Calories Should I Be Consuming?

Now you're probably asking, how many calories should I be consuming? Well, that number depends on several factors. Here's a way to estimate of the calories you should be consuming for your current activity level. This can give you an estimate for the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight and is a rough starting point for your reduction.

SexAgeSedentaryModerately ActiveActive

Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.

Moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life (an extra 150-300 calories of exercise per day or less than 2100 calories per week).

Active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life (more than 300 calories of exercise per day or more than 2100 calories of exercise per week). Our workout plan will put us into this category.

Since everybody's body is a little different, a better way to determine your caloric starting point is to write down what you eat and determine what your daily caloric intake is right now. Hold off on changing your diet for a few days and take a look at what you're doing now. You want to record what you're eating, the portion size, the number of calories, and how you felt before you ate (i.e., hungry, depressed, bored, whatever). Compare your current calorie count with the estimate above. If you feel you're currently maintaining or only slowly gaining weight, find ways to decrease your current calorie count by 250. There are other diet suggestions below, but this is the most basic. Every few months, then, do it again and see if you're maintaining your deficit intake.

Basic Diet Guidelines

Here are some basic things you can do to move closer towards a better diet. Try the six week plan. Every week try to change just one aspect of your current diet. This will help you make a habit of eating more healthy.

Don't Watch Your Scale!

As I said in the first installment of this series of articles: Don't concentrate on your weight. Don't keep a constant eye on the scale and use it to tell you if you're succeeding or failing. Instead, use the way you look in the mirror, the way you feel (e.g., more energy), and the way your clothes fit. The more you follow a diet *and* exercise plan, the less likely the scale will change, but the more your body *will* change.

Again, the scale only measures your weight, including muscle, bone, and fat. If you reduce the fat and increase the muscle, you'll weigh the same but have a drastically different level of fitness! The fitness tests I presented in the articles are great for measuring your progress and a simple body fat analyzer will tell you you're getting fitter, no matter what a scale says.

©Copyright 2006, Tien Shan Martial Arts