Friday, February 27, 2009

Your Long Slow Cardio Event

Fitness Together is closed on Sundays. Every once in a while a client makes a case for opening for a few hours on Sunday. We've given it some serious thought over the years but have always come back to not. Instead, we encourage them to use the day to do something outside, specifically their long, slow cardio event.

Because if you're following our prescribed cardiovascular programming recommendations your weekly cardio efforts will include:
  1. One short duration, high intensity event (SDHI)
  2. Two moderate duration, moderate intensity events (MDMD)
  3. One long duration, low intensity event (LDLI)
And Sunday is a perfect day to get out and complete that Long Duration, Low Intensity (LDLI) event.

Last week I discussed the Fat Burning Zone and where that fits (or, more accurately doesn't fit) into your exercise regimen. And the week before that we went into Zone 5, or the hot zone.

Today, with your LDLI, we are in the middle, and just slightly more active than the Fat Burning Zone. Technically, this (just slightly more active than the Fat Burning Zone) Zone is the Cardio Zone. However, the FT MSP LDLI we recommend is actually Part Cardio Zone, Part Fat Burning Zone.

Reasons for this are many. First, we really want the event to be measured in hours, preferably closer to 2 or 3. And if you're completing the other two or three prescribed cardiovascular events, 2 hours of cardio zone effort would be over training for most of our clients. So we suggest mixing just a bit of cardio effort within a longer, fat burning activity.

Second, this gives you an opportunity to get out and pick up some Vitamin D! As was mentioned a while back, there is significant momentum in the medical universe around Vitamin D deficiency in the US ... particularly during northern state winter months when we're so often cloistered indoors.

Third, this really assists with recovery. Back in my bodybuilding days, we would call exercise like the LDLI active rest. The term still fits too. Your LDLI event should be just enough effort to keep your body moving, but easy enough to not feel like exercise.

But before you start thinking "... hey, I'll just do that daily then ..." , do recognize that this only has practical value within a comprehensive program that includes prescribed resistance training as well as more intense bouts of cardio work. It's part of the puzzle, but a lost puzzle piece by itself.

Physiologically, many things happen during your LDLI. You pick up your heart rate just a bit, but not so much that you're really challenging your circulatory or respiratory systems. The increased blood flow, however, does provide much needed nutrient rich blood to your muscles, bones, and joints. Under the stress of more intense exercise (resistance or cardio), muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments all get damaged a bit.

This is by design, as the rebuilding/recovery that follows makes them stronger, longer, or leaner. We call that adaptation, and it's why we exercise at all ... in order to adapt!

Additionally, conversion of energy sources to energy produces a toxic waste product called lactic acid. The more intense you exercise, the more lactic acid you produce. This waste product is the primary reason why you may feel sore after resistance exercise: your body doesn't like the lactic acid hanging around muscle groups. Stretching can help help eliminate lactic acid buildup, but we mostly depend on the circulatory system to clear it.

The LDLI then, provides an important niche role in assisting with your recovery: upside nutrition for your recovering tissues, and increased blood flow to remove lactic acid waste product.

Additionally, it gets you out of your house, away from the refrigerator, and does, indeed burn a few calories.

Exactly what you do for your Weekly LDLI will depend enormously on your current fitness level, but here are a few suggestions.

Walk. One of the best urban options available is the loop from Franklin (or Lake) to the Stone Arch (and through campus/the River Flats on the East side). Or Franklin/Lake to Ford on the South side. The lakes are fine grounds too, but the river loop will add a couple of smallish hills that will get just a bit further into the cardio zone for a brief time period. I haven't been in Kenwood lately, but if the walks are clean, a trip through Kenwood and Loring Park would work well too.

Snowshoe. No skills are really needed, and this will get you out into the woods! Additionally, you can use the poles to work the upper body a bit. You can stick to the snowshoe trails, or do some boonie chomping in the deep stuff. Warning though: don't get too far off the trail, or too far from a roadway. Snowshoeing through deep snow is a lot of work and you'll need a bailout option. Plus, if you're in a rural area, you could get lost until Spring! There's actually a reasonably active culture of snow shoeing too, with plenty of organized events around bird watching and moonlighting (night hikes). Check out the Minneapolis Park & Recs Snowshoeing page for a few options. The Theodore Wirth Park Chalet rents equipment, as does REI.

Cross Country Ski. There are some skills required to ski (like knowing how to get up after you fall!), so I would strongly recommend a lesson if you're new to this activity. Not only do you add upper body effort to the mix, but there is a significant core/abdominal requirement as well. It is, without question, the best total body workout you can get! Because balance is part of the equation, your neurological system is taxed as well. While terrific exercise, you actually need to work very hard to NOT work too hard cross country skiing if this is your weekly LDLI: add just a couple of hills and you are quickly approaching aerobic zones. Your best LDLI options are the many local golf courses for fairly flat, rolling hill skiing.

Many city recreation programs offer beginner ski lessons, though I would strongly recommend true professionals in this area. Check either Finn Sisu in St. Paul, or Gear West in Long Lake. And when you're ready for the trails, check out for trails, trail reports, maps and more.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Fat Burning Myth

February is Heart Healthy Month!

Last week, as it was Valentine's Day, I touched on the hottest heart rate training zone, Zone 5.

This week, I'd like to slow things way, way down and comment on the coolest of the 5 heart rate training zones, Zone 1, or the Fat Burning Zone. While time spent in the Fat Burning Zone has it's time and place, one of the more common mistakes I see in clubs is the use of the Fat Burning Zone program on cardio equipment. Without knowing anything more, it certainly seems like a reasonable choice in cardio effort for a lot of folks: "I want to loose some fat; therefore, I want the Fat Burning Program. "

Unfortunately, spending a lot of time in the fat burning zone actually isn'tthe best way to reduce body fat! Nor is spending a lot of time in this zone the best route to good heart health. While time in this zone does have value in overall good health and fitness, you already spend most of your life in this zone ... when at rest ... when sedentary ... and when sleeping. Therefore, when exercising, it is critical that you pick it up a bit!

You see, energy for activities and exercise always comes from blend of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Normally 60% to 70% of your Max Heart Rate, energy requirements for exercise in the Fat Burning Zone do indeed allow for energy to come primarily come from fats. But for fats to be used as an energy source f0r exercise (or activities that aren't too rigorous), they must be first converted to a more usable form of energy called glucose. Also oxygen is required to convert the fat to glucose, this level of metabolism is also considered aerobic (with oxygen).

The rub though, is that while the Fat Burning Zone metabolism is in fact slow enough to convert fats to glucose, exercise in this zone doesn't require much total energy, and, therefore doesn't burn all that much fat. Furthermore, and to the point now, is that at some point the utilization of fat as an energy source tops out: Exercise faster and you won't burn any more fat. Exercise harder and you won't burn any more fat. You do, however, burn additional calories as you pick up the pace within the Cardio (3) and Anaerobic (4) zones, as the following graphic illustrates. Here, fat energy consumption is yellow, carbohydrate consumption is blue, and protein consumption is red. The sum of all colors is your total calorie burn.

Note that while the fat utilization tops out beyond the fat burning zone, carbohydrate utilization continues to escalate with increased effort. And this is why spending time in the fat burning zone isn't a practical way to loose fat, because, at the end of the day, it's all about calories. Calories Ingested = Calories Spent + Fat Stored. If you consume more calories than you burn, you add fat. If you burn more calories than you ingest, you loose fat.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Fitness - A Hot Zone Tutorial

February is heart healthy month.

And for good reason: Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the US; Stoke the 3rd leading cause. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that 67M Americans currently have Heart Disease. Another 47M Americans show 3 or more symptoms of Heart Disease, according to Center for Disease Control (CDC). Together, that’s 40% of all Americans!

Today is also Valentine's day! So I thought a few words close the the heart would be appropriate.

Heart rate zones are quite simply ranges of heart beat rates where the heart, lungs, and circulatory system convert energy sources to energy uniquely within each range. Between your Maximum Heart Rate (MaxHR) and Ambient Heart Rate are five (or seven, depending on who you ask) heart rate zones, all based on a percentage of Maximum Heart Rate. Determining your MaxHR can be either very straightforward, or somewhat difficult. A common formula used to find your MaxHR is 220 minus your age. While a reasonable place to start for most people, this method of determining MaxHR can be highly inaccurate. Check with your fitness expert to determine a more accurate number for yourself.

While beyond the scope of this note to provide a complete tutorial of heart rate zones and heart rate zone training (send me an email to request, or check the Fitness Tips Section of Our Website for our Heart Rate Zone Training to Look and Feel Fantastic Report for a more detailed paper), since it's Valentine's Day, a few tips on Zone 5, also known as The Red would seem appropriate.

This zone, sometimes also called The Hot Zone, is where heart rates exceed 90% of MaxHR. At this rate, fuel comes completely and exclusively from the purest form of energy ... a broken down glycogen molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Zone 5 ATP stores are depleted at this pace within just 5 to 35 seconds (depending on fitness level). At that point your body will tell you in no uncertain terms that you must slow down or stop to utilized more moderate energy systems and replenish the depleted ATP levels. Caloric consumption in this zone can be as much as a hundred times what is during a resting state. Like anaerobic exercise in zone 4, zone 5 metabolism also generates a lot of lactic acid.

Even world class aerobic anomalies like Lance Armstrong can only hold the red zone for a few minutes before needing to back off and replenish the ATP debt. Of course, with a 200 BPM MaxHR and an anaerobic threshold near 95% of that, Lance is burning fat while most of us are depleting ATP! As you can imaging, time in this zone must be very carefully managed. Indeed, for the most part only 0.5% to 1% of your total weekly training time should be spent in this zone. Most athletes train this zone with regular interval training. And while most exercisers will train in this zone only sparingly, it is still an effective, beneficial, and necessary part of good heart health.

So what is an interval? Intervals are quite simply carefully prescribed short, but high intensity cardiovascular exercise followed by lengthier 'recovery' periods between. More complete info in intevals is also available in our New Enhanced Cardio program (details below), but in the spirit of Valentine's Day, here's a Great, Easy Hot Zone Interval program for you our your loved one:

  1. Complete a thorough 10 minute warmup
  2. Increase intensity for 2 minutes to a point where you feel 'winded'
  3. Rest for about a minute
  4. Increase intensity for 2 minutes until you feel some pain, but not agony
  5. Rest for about a minute
  6. Sprint for 30 seconds
  7. Rest for about a minute
  8. Sprint for 45 seconds
  9. Rest for about a minute
  10. Sprint for 1 minute
  11. Complete a thorough 10 minute warmdown
And that's it! If you're lucky, and really working hard, all you will spend between 10 and 20 seconds in Zone 5 with this workout.

But if you're looking to significantly step up your Heart Health, do check out our new
Enhanced Cardiovascular Programming Model.

Intended to provide a higher level of service to clients interested in a more focused cardiovascular programming model, as well as a way for potential clients to gain limited exposure to one on one training, three new programs have been developed.

Maroon Program Participants Receive, Monthly:

  • Cardio equipment access 4x/wk
  • An introductory 1:1 cardio workout
  • Individually tailored prescribed cardiovascular program (PreCOP)
  • Weekly Tips Cardio Email
  • $99/mo Non FT Clients
  • $19/mo Current Active FT Clients

Gold Program Participants Receive, Monthly:

  • All Maroon Program benefits
  • A New Heart Rate Monitor
  • Max Heartrate testing
  • A one on one heart rate monitored personal training session
  • A one on one heart rate monitored cardiovascular session
  • FT cardio team membership
  • $229/mo Non FT Clients
  • $139/mo Current Active FT Clients

Platinum Program Participants Receive, Monthly:

  • All Gold Program benefits
  • An additional one one one heart rate monitored personal training session
  • An additional one on one heart rate monitored cardiovascular session Enrollment into the FT MSP Maroon Nutrition Program (Spring 2009)
  • $379/mo Non FT Clients
  • $279/mo Current Active FT Clients