A few weeks ago I wrote an article on Why You're Getting Nowhere at the Gym, and How to Fix it. One of my key points was that most people don't challenge themselves enough with the amount of weight that they lift. People are seemingly happy to go through the motions of simply being at the gym without truly putting in the effort required to make any sort of progress. To many, ignorance is bliss-- so you can stop reading here if you're happy with your waning results. But here is why your workouts will be much more rewarding if you learn to push yourself at the gym.
What does intensity truly mean?
In most cases, intensity can be described as one's perceived effort, but for lifting weights in the gym, intensity refers to the amount of weight lifted. Increase the weight, increase the intensity. It's as simple as that. In regards to aerobic exercise where there are no weights involved to determine the intensity (I'll use running as an example), sprinting is far more intense than jogging. Doing as much as possible, as close to the maximum exertion you can put out, is intense.
Why does intensity matter?
Intensity matters because oxygen consumption correlates directly to calories burned. According to The Essentials of Sports and Exercise Nutrition by John Berardi, humans typically consume about 3.5 mL of oxygen per kg of body weight per minute, and our bodies burn about 4.8 calories per liter of oxygen consumed. This is how we calculate daily caloric requirements for sedentary individuals. When exercise is introduced into the mix, we consume more oxygen and therefore burn more calories. Are you more out of breath after walking, or after sprinting? After lifting a 5 lb weight or a 50 lb weight? This is why intensity is important. The harder you push yourself, the more oxygen you require, the more calories you burn.
The argument could end there, but oh, there's more. When you exercise intensely, not only do you burn excess calories during the activity, but you'll end up burning calories at a higher rate even after the workout is finished. We owe this to the concept of EPOC...
What is EPOC?
Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) refers to the increased rate of oxygen uptake by our bodies after performing an activity (again, see John Berardi). When we exercise, our bodies require more oxygen than when we are at rest. Even at a low intensity, exercise will create an oxygen deficit in our bodies, but it is indeed the level of intensity that determines the magnitude of this oxygen deficit. Since we cannot immediately provide the oxygen needed by our bodies during exercise, we continue to require extra energy post-workout. A low-intensity activity -- walking, jogging lightly, doing a few casual sets on the calf-raise machine at the gym -- will result in a short and unsubstantial EPOC, whereas a highly intense activity -- lifting heavy weights, multiple bouts of sprinting, etc.-- will result in longer and much more significant EPOC, which is when we can truly capitalize on our workouts.
How do we benefit from EPOC?
EPOC can remain elevated for minutes or hours, but it is directly proportional to the intensity of the activities performed. Some research shows that EPOC remains significantly higher within the 3 hours post-workout, but some suggest that intense exercise can lead to an increased metabolic rate for up to 38 hours. Essentially, your body will be scrambling post-workout to do several things: metabolize additional nutrients, replenish energy stores, reload oxygen stores in your muscles and blood, and decrease your elevated body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. Translated more simply: Your body will still be working very hard after an intense workout and will continue to burn calories at an elevated rate. If you don't push yourself, you'll burn fewer calories while at the gym, and fewer after the fact as well.
Take home points
-- Resistance training and high-intensity interval training produces a higher EPOC than steady-state exercise (walking, jogging, long-distance running, etc.)
-- Higher-intensity resistance training (think: heavier weights) disturbs the body's homeostasis to a greater degree and results in a larger energy requirement after exercise in order to restore the body's systems to normal
-- High-intensity exercise requires more energy both during the workout and post-workout (i.e., you burn more calories during your workout and in the hours following the workout)
- Higher-intensity training is superior for fat burning and weight loss, for the reasons explained above
- If you're working out and you're not sweating, not overheating, or not breathing hard, you should seriously consider increasing the weight and/or decreasing your rest time between sets
Although the benefits of high-intensity training are well documented, there are other important considerations. First of all, if you have any sort of pre-existing injury or health problem, make sure to consult a physician before engaging in any intense physical activity. Heavier weights require good form, and it takes time to master multi-articulated exercises like the squat, deadlift and upper body pushes. Prior to implementing high-intensity weightlifting programs, it is important to have mastered these exercises to prevent injury. It is also important to note that you will require more recovery post-workout with these types of programs as well; this entails better nutrition, increased rest, and attention to muscle and joint mobilization.
Push yourself, and you'll be amazed at the results!
While the American College of Sports Medicine has listed certified fitness pros as their number one trend for the past six years, the number of accredited trainers, coaches and others continues to surge. And with so many beloved trainers emerging on Twitter to join the national discourse, it's no surprise that accredited fitness professionals will continue their rise. What's more? Those pros are getting out of the gym and starting their own businesses, reports Well + Good NYC.
About 38 percent of the health apps that smartphone users download are fitness-based. And that number is only going to get bigger -- one estimate from market research company Abiresearch suggests that the fitness apps market will grow to $40 million by 2016 -- up from just $12 million in 2010. That means we'll total nearly a billion downloads over the next three years. And given how effective those apps can be, if used correctly, doctors may start recommending them for increased fitness -- that'll particularly help the baby boomer generation, who are more likely to download a health-related app that has been recommended by their doctor.
Self-monitoring -- formerly the purview of data nerds and navel-gazing techies -- will go mainstream this year, thanks to an increasing number of smartphone apps that help you easily store data on your own behavior -- and a collection of wearable devices, from Nike Fuel to LarkLife, that do all the work for you. What is self-monitoring? It's keeping track on the minute data of your day -- things like what you eat, how well you sleep and how much you move. Download the data and analyze your own behavior on a spreadsheet.
Mobile, portable classes are the wave of the future -- thanks to the rise of beloved celebrity teachers who can't be everywhere at once. Set up your iPad for a yoga class with the simulated feeling of individualized attention. Open up your laptop and decide what kind of class you'll do that day -- on your own time.
Gluten-free foods are necessary for the nearly two percent of the population who suffer from Celiac disease and the estimated 10 percent with a non-specified gluten allergy. But somehow, thanks to highly visible gluten-sensitive celebrities and fashionable, charming gluten-free bakeries like Babycakes, eating without gluten is all the rage. While it may not lead to weight loss, it does have a side benefit of increasing demand for a gluten-free options that make eating easier for those with Celiac and other sensitivies. But you don't have to go to a specialty shop for your pastries sans gluten any longer: now giant, national chains like Domino's Pizza are offering specifically gluten-free fare. They might be the first, but they won't be the last.
The kind of juice that won't stay shelf-stable for a year? That's the stuff that will invade your supermarket, your mall court and your Starbucks, if it hasn't already. With $5 billion in revenue this year and projected growth of four to eight percent, healthful, all-natural and raw fruit and vegetable juices (think Organic Avenue, Cooler Cleanse -- but also Jamba Juice) will explode onto the mainstream market. And that growth projection may even be conservative: Starbucks' CEO Howard Shultz vowed to sell juice "in the same tonality that we have reinvented, over the last 40 years, the basic commodity of coffee," reported Barrons.
While previously on the fringe, mainstream gym goers are now getting hip to the practice. There are many reasons for women to get into heavier weight lifting -- among them, healthier bones, greater muscle definition and cardiovascular health, according to Well + Good NYC. And now the practice is gaining popularity, thanks to CrossFit and boot camp classes that encourage heavier lifting.
Everyone from HuffPost blogger Jeff Halevy to New York Times' resident sports science writer, Gretchen Reynolds are talking about the power of the short, intense workout. Using HIIT -- high intensity interval training, gym rats can reach their fitness goals in less time than it takes to whip up a raw protein smoothie. Even a short workout can have a big impact -- one study found that just 15 minutes of exercise each day can add three years to your life.
While the majority of gym goers have a regular membership and central location, there remains a proliferation of boutique specialty studios -- yes, the traditional yoga and pilates studios, but also CrossFit, FlyWheel, Soul Cycle, Refine Method and Physique 57. What's more, third-party companies are growing to help you manage, purchase and organize your a la carte choices. Want to mix pilates with yoga, CrossFit and FlyWheel? No problem, according to places like FITist.
If you haven't tried this equipment-less form of weight training, you certainly will in 2013. The American College of Sports Medicine listed it in the top three trends they are anticipating for 2013 -- thanks to its effective, no-fuss approach and cheap execution.
Most people will admit that they work out in the hopes of looking good and achieving the vague goal of better health. Functional fitness is a little more specific: as WebMD explains, it employs strength training to "improve balance, coordination, force, power and endurance to perform activities of daily living." That's especially great for seniors, who need a bit of extra training to maintain their daily physical abilities.
Zombie runs, color runs, mudders... if you're paying attention to the amateur race circuit, you have no doubt noticed the proliferation of themed events -- and that will only keep growing in 2013, if the popularity of such events is any indication.
Those who are opposed to genetically-modified organisms in their food -- everything from grains to fish -- aren't known for staying quiet. Just recently, anti-GMO activists hijacked Cheerio's Facebook page. But following the defeat of California's Proposition 37, which would have been the first legislation to require GMO labeling, the community is bound to get louder than ever.
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