Some people love exercise, some people do not. But, we all want results and to feel as good as possible when you do exercise. Many common frustrations with regards to exercise I hear are:
- "I am exercising but not noticing the results I want."
- "My workouts are not progressing the way that I want."
- "I am too tired to exercise. "
- "I don't know how much or what type of workout to do. "
These are all great questions! I love talking about exercise. Exercise is an incredibly powerful lever to pull when it comes to health for so many things, only one of which is weight management. While there is no end to the topics on exercise, I have compiled here what I think are the 3 most important things to know for a successful workout experience.
Tip #1: DO: Vary your types of exercise.
Don’t be a “one trick pony” when it comes to your workouts. The best types of exercise are all of them! You will get the most results in optimizing body composition, cardiovascular fitness, and injury and pain prevention. If you always go to the same class or do the same moves, reps, weight, or pace, you are not stimulating change in your body. The three major components of a balanced exercise plan are resistance exercise, cardiovascular exercises (aerobic and anaerobic), and mobility exercise.
Examples of each category of exercise are:
1. Resistance: body weight movements first, then add weight to the movements using weights or resistance bands or cables. Yoga and pilates can be resistance exercise as well as mobility exercise.
2. Cardiovascular exercise: this gets your heart rate up, which has many benefits including anxiety prevention, cardiovascular event prevention, and weight regain prevention. Aerobic exercise is when you can still deliver oxygen to your tissues, or speak while you are working out. Anaerobic exercise is when oxygen demand exceeds the ability of your cardiovascular system to deliver it fast enough, so you feel burning and are not able to talk. Aerobic exercise is great for fat burning, and anaerobic exercise is great to increase your fitness, and get you that “runner’s high” . Be sure to do both aerobic and anaerobic cardiovascular exercise (if it is safe for your to do so). Usually, you will spend longer time with aerobic with spurts of anaerobic mixed in.
3. Mobility: We tend to sit and move forward and back a lot in our lives. Adults don't tend to move laterally, or play, or use their full range of motion in their joints. Musculoskeletal pain, falls, and stiffness are incredible common among Americans. There are many benefits to incorporating mobility exercises so you have less pain and joint issues, are able to recover if you slip without injury, and so you can just move and do cool stuff! Mobility makes it so you can continue to other types of exercise also and challenge yourself. The older you get, the more time you need to spend on mobility.
In short, fitness, strength, and mobility are all important, so you need resistance, cardiovasular, and mobility components to your exercise. If you always do the same workout, you are probably not optimizing all of them. People tend to do what they are already good at. Try identifying the area in which you could use the most growth, and invest more resources into that area. Probably, you will find rapid gains that will spread to your favorite things and surprise you!
Tip #2: DO: Eat before and after you work out.
With a couple of exceptions noted below, typically you will get the most out of your workout if you eat before and after it. If your workout lasts more than 75 minutes, you may even benefit from eating during it. Many people do the opposite: they work out before breakfast or right after work when they haven’t eaten much quality food during the day, and then they are not hungry afterwards so they don’t eat for a couple of hours after. Why is this not ideal? Well, it’s like trying to drive your car when it is out of gas. The benefits of exercise come from the effort you are able to put into it. When you challenge yourself and work hard, you see the most progress. When you have fuel on board, you tend to be able to lift more or go faster. Many people do not feel physically hungry before they work out, but they do rapidly identify that they can do more in their workouts if they eat before and that they recover better if they eat soon after. If you can do more and recover faster, then you can progress your workouts more reliably, and you won’t end up doing the same thing three weeks from now that you are doing today. Workouts are supposed to continue to be challenging, and doing the same thing for months and end is good, but progressing is better. Many people will turn to pre workouts or vitamins when they feel discouraged that their performance is not progressing over time, when they have not first eaten before and after. Eating before your workout is fuel. Eating after your workout is recovery. The rest of your calories for the day is nutrition. Pay a lot of attention to fueling and recovery. The optimal timing is usually eating 60 to 90 minutes before your workout and 60 minutes after. The meal before the workout may contain more carbohydrates for fuel. The meal after the workout may contain more fat for satiety that will last. If you workout for one hour, this puts the two meals 3 to 4 hours apart, which is perfect nutrient timing. Yes, you do need to plan your schedule and meals around your workout:) They both should contain enough protein but not too much.
For women, this may be:
Pre workout fuel: 20 grams of protein with 20-25 grams of carbs (160-180 calories)
Post workout Recovery: 20 grams of protein with 10 grams of fat (170 calories)
For men, just add about 100 calories:
Pre workout fuel: 25 grams of protein with 40-50 grams of carbs (260-300 calories)
Post workout Recovery: 25 grams of protein with 20 grams of fat (280 calories)
The exact numbers depend on your size, workout, and goals, but these are pretty good estimates.
Two exceptions to the idea of eating before you work out are during active weight loss on a protein sparing modified fast and adding fasted cardio to lose some last bit of fat to an already complete exercise regimen. During the active weight loss phase of a protein sparing modified fast, you are always in a “fasted” state, meaning you are in a nutritional ketosis and covering fat tissue to free fatty acids and producing ketones in the meantime for fuel. Your primary source of energy is not the food you eat, it is stored fat. During the first month of this phase, people typically limit exercise to 30 minutes at a time and low to moderate intensity for cardiovascular exercise and the one rep maximum strength typically goes down about 25%, so resistance exercise work is usually reduced some, too. High intensity exercise usually can not be sustained for as long, so intervals of 30 to 60 seconds work best, with enough rest in between to allow your heart rate to come down. This may be double the time you are active, or 60 seconds to 2 minutes. After the first month, some people adapt to nutritional ketosis so well that they see their exercise capacity exceed their baseline, especially in cardiovascular exercise and recovery time. Add to that that people typically lose 10% of their body weight in the first month, and people are usually very pleased with their workouts once they are through that first month. Fasted cardio is typically done for 30 minutes or so to lose fat. The exertion is such that you can speak a full sentence while doing it. It is usually simple to reduce fat. Don’t overuse this tool. Remember, you can’t make up for a bad diet with exercise. Nutrition is the most important thing for weight control and resistance exercise changes your metabolism all day long. The effect of fasted cardio to control fat is brief.
Tip # 3: DO: Target your intensity.
You may be working out too hard or not hard enough. You can gauge your intensity either subjectively, using a perceived rat of exertion, or objectively, using a heart rate monitor. Either one is great and we will go over how to use each.
There are about 3 main categories of intensity and it is important to target your intensity to your goals.
This is not really “exercise”, it is just moving around, or not being sedentary. Physical activity does not raise your heart rate much. You can speak in full sentences comfortably while doing it. This is the steps counted on your watch or phone, or limiting screen time, puttering around the house, etc. Americans typically have very sedentary lifestyles, and no workout done for an hour a day even makes up for being sedentary for the other 15 hours of awake time. In fact, one of the reasons exercise does not really lead to weight loss typically, is that physical activity the rest of the day tends to go down when people exercise (and calorie intake goes up). The thought is that people get tired and hungry sometimes from exercise, and they overestimate the number of calories burned and add calories to their diet because they burned some exercising, when studies show that the body actually adapts and compensates for the calories burned in typical exercise. This may not be the case if your workouts are challenging or long, which is why knowing and planning the intensity and duration are important.
This is baseline cardiovascular exercise, when your heart rate is significantly elevated from baseline, but you can still deliver oxygen to your tissues adequately to meet the demands. This is your baseline fitness and is typically the majority of your cardiovascular exercise. Your heart rate is about 70 to 80% of your max heart rate and you can speak some phrases or a sentence, but not hold an ongoing conversation.
This is the really challenging stuff. This is uncomfortable. You may want to stop this as soon as you get started. You can’t speak comfortably, or may be able to say only a word or to and don’t really like it. The good news is, as little as 20 to 30 seconds of this has many benefits, both physical, mental and psychological. You may do 6 minutes of this at the end of the workout. Be sure to think about safety before you do this. If you have a heart condition or may have a heart condition, think about talking to your doctor or just avoiding this.
Tip #4: DO recognize that nutrition is the most important thing for weight and body composition management.
While exercise of any type, amount or intensity has benefits, for weight and body composition, diet and nutrition makes the most difference with weight and body composition and you can not make up for issues in diet with exercise, although exercising certainly helps compared to no exercise. Be sure you look at nutrition first and continue to do so, or your exercise, health, and body composition will certainly suffer. and you may be frustrate.
In summary, be sure you DO:
1. Eat before and after you workout. Nutrition is crucial to results of an exercise plan.
2. Have a balanced exercise routine, with all three components of resistance, cardiovascular, and mobility types of exercise. Complete workout regimens have some of all the types of exercise.
3. Know the intensity of your exercise and target your plan to your goals.
Try using these three tips. Be sure to listen to your body and track your outcomes with your exercise tolerance, body composition, energy, and pain. If you are not yet exercising, fear not! Any amount of exercise helps, and starting with as little as 7 minutes does matter! Wherever you are on your exercise journey, start there, go slow, and trust your body. As long as you are moving and safe, it is helping!
We are here to help! Ask your questions here and I will respond, or reach out on HealthTrac for private answers to your questions. Want to learn more? Sign up for our next interactive webinar on this topic here and workout smarter and harder!
Take Back Your Workout Results,
Valerie Hope-Slocum Sutherland, MD
Photo of Valerie Sutherland, MD, taken in October of 2014 following contest prep for NPC Ironman Naturally bodybuilding and physique contest.