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By Raphael Calzadilla


Wednesday, August 3, 2011.

Over the last year I’ve written several fitness myths and tips columns. In a quest to simplify things for you, I’ve decided to provide my favourite ones. If someone said to me they needed to get in shape and only wanted six tips to carry them through thick and thin, these would be the top six.

In essence, there would be times when this person would get stuck, experience boredom, or question why something isn’t working. In those cases, they could come back to these top six and review them. From a workout perspective, I’d be willing to bet they’ll find the solution to their problem.


1. Exercise does not require a hefty time commitment.

The number of days you work out does not indicate your level of fitness. I see a lot of people in the gym five to six days a week, and they’d be better off playing ping pong. Consistency and level of effort are the keys. I'd rather see someone work out three days a week with enthusiasm and intensity, than five inconsistent days of lackadaisical effort.

In addition, long workouts are counterproductive. Numerous studies prove that more than one hour of an intense workout increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that, among other things, will assist in destroying muscle. Obviously an elite athlete has to work beyond this mark, but I am referring to the average workout enthusiast.


2. Change your workout.

There is no “best and only way” to work out. In reality, anything that works for you is good, but you don’t want to stay with any of it for too long. The body will adapt to any exercise routine in four to six weeks. At that point, you must change the workout to challenge your body. The muscular and cardiovascular systems need to learn new movements when you change a workout. That’s when progress accelerates.


3. “No Pain, No Gain” is a myth.


There is absolutely no reason to cause pain in the gym. Natural progression is a smart method to ensure progress. This refers to slow, systematic increases in weight training, gradual increases in cardiovascular endurance and slow-but-steady flexibility progression.

"No pain, no gain" will only put you at risk for injury and diminish your ability to use precise exercise form. I’m not saying you shouldn’t challenge yourself, only that you should not view your workout as a form of punishment.


4. Weight-training musts.

Vary the volume of sets, time between sets, reps, exercises, etc. Manipulate your routine every three to four weeks, and view change as the key constant. Performing the same workout for months is ineffective. You have to not only challenge your muscles, but also change the adaptation. This takes time to learn, but once you get used to changing your workout every three to four weeks you’ll make great progress.

Beginners should follow a structured programme which provides a full-body workout on three alternate days per week. This will help to provide a foundation for future progress.


5. Cardiovascular tips.

We’ve been taught that performing cardiovascular exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at a target heart rate of 60 to 80 percent is a great way to lose fat. It can be. But what do you do when you know it’s not working anymore?

One of the methods I’ve found successful is interval training. Interval training is best described as incorporating higher-intensity exercise with lower-intensity. This method helps stimulate and speed the metabolism.

Intervals can be applied to any form of cardiovascular exercise, and although it's been a widely used technique for training competitive athletes since the ’50s, the concept grew into mainstream fitness in the ’90s.

The beauty of interval training is that you don’t have to work out for long periods. Unless you’re training for a competitive event, anything longer than 25 to 35 minutes is unnecessary, and that includes warm up and cool down.

Let me show you how it’s done.

The following is a protocol for interval training using the treadmill as an example:

Begin with a warm up of 5 minutes at level-3 intensity (3.0 miles per hour), then:

A. On the 6th minute, increase to 4 mph (light jog)
B. On the 7th minute, increase to 5 mph
C. On the 8th minute, increase to 6.5 or 7 mph
D. For the next 2 minutes (minutes 9 and 10), return to 3 mph
E. Repeat A-D two additional times, but increase the level of intensity 1 mile per hour on each phase.
F. Cool down for 5 minutes at 3 mph

Total workout time (including warm up and cool down): 25 minutes. A-D above represent one cycle. In this example, you perform three cycles of higher-intensity training. If you’re at a more advanced fitness level, then you’ll need to adjust the speeds and times accordingly - make sure the intensity is somewhat demanding at the higher levels.

This workout can be done on the stationary bike, Stairmaster, walking outdoors or using any other form of cardio. For the experienced cardio group, don’t think you can jump right into this type of training. Moderation and natural progression is vital. In the morning, you wouldn’t get in your car, start it up and immediately try to reach 80 miles an hour.

The beauty of this type of training is you continue to burn calories the day after your workout, because you have stimulated your metabolism to such a high degree. Most people are obsessed with how many calories are burned during a workout, but one of the keys to losing fat is making sure your body continues to burn lots of calories 24 to 48 hours after the workout.


Another way to play with your cardio programme is to perform interval training for three weeks, followed by a longer-duration, moderate cardio for three weeks. I like this method because it avoids the adaptation. As you can see, the key is to change after three to six weeks.

6. Mind/Body Exercise. It may not be an exercise tip per se, but we sometimes forget that we should select activities we enjoy. Exercises such as Pilates, Yoga, stretching and martial arts bridge the gap between simple movement and movement that also has a calming effect. Even if you don’t venture into this arena, you still want to make sure that you improve your level of flexibility by using a stretching program.

As always, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.


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