A blog post should NEVER replace the advice of your health practitioner. Before considering any of the suggestions below, consult someone who knows about how your body will adjust FIRST!
Ugh. The painful element of exercise…the BURN in the muscles, the struggle to breathe. It’s what’s necessary to get results and that’s such a kicker. It’s one of the aspects of exercise that deters many people. But if you’re seeking results in the form of improved fitness or some weight-loss from your exercise efforts, it is a necessary element.
It’s pretty straight forward- walking faster burns more calories than walking slower- due to simple physics required to move a mass (the body) at a higher velocity/speed means more energy is being generated to propel the body! What also happens if the body registers a “challenge” (ie. the fatigue point you reach when you can’t possibly do another repetition) is that it prompts the build itself up after the activity to prepare for the next bout that might be tougher!
But HOW intense must it be? There was a trend that involved promotion of the “fat-burning” zone to be labeled on cardio equipment a while back, which could be from 50-60% of max heart rate (we’ll get to that in a minute). People LOVED this because the intensity was very very comfortable. One would barely have to breathe hard. This was bliss, except that the “fat burning” would only happen if the exercise lasted for a LONG time (usually longer than the 20 minutes most people would use on cardio equipment but certainly acceptable for those new to exercise or better than NO EXERCISE, of course). It was thought that exercising too hard would only burn up carbohydrates, a fast burning fuel. More recently, we’ve come to learn that burning off fat requires more intensity than the 50-60% of max heart rate because OVERALL calories burnt is muc higher (and that’s great news given that we continue to burn calories AFTER the exercise is over at a more elevated rate too).
Now, I confess, I am not a exercise scientist but consider myself a “translator of the information” for the public (and my patients). What this all means to me is that we need to feel a little uncomfortable during exercise!
If you like to be a bit more technical than that, there are two ways (one electronic and one not) that I think can help you determine if you are working hard enough.
Way #1 (non technical) is to use THE BORG RATE OF PERCEIVED EXERTION SCALE. This is a scale from 6-20 that helps you personally “rate” the level of effort you are expending. It is well linked with heart rate so that adding a zero (so a score of 12 is equivalent to 120 beats per minute in heart rate). More info on heart rates comes a bit later. This link contains more detailed info on the Borg Scale.
Way #2 (technical) is to use a heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor uses a strap around your chest to detect your heart rate and is transmitted wirelessly to a device shaped like a wrist watch for you to read. It’s instantaneous and quite accurate, depending on the model and can we worn during most activity even swimming. If you are “normal” (ha ha), your maximum heart rate can be estimated as 220-your age. This is then multiplied by the percentage you wish to work at (say 70%) and can be even set to beat when you are not exercise hard enough (this feature can be quite annoying). This is a great tool, if you can program a watch, you can use a heart rate monitor. Some are very fancy and can link to your computer, be uploaded to the internet, graphed out etc etc. A basic one can be about $90. Definitely get some advice from shop clerks in a specialty shop when purchasing (like a running or cycling shop) as the options/choice can be quite stunning.
A few caveats about intensity…if you are NEW to exercise or have any cardiovascular conditions or take certain medications, you may not be a good candidate for this kind of training and should stick to a personalized (ie. appropriate for you) program. The best thing to do would be to consult your physician then a qualified exercise specialist such as a kinesiologist (one local Kinesiologist we recommend is Erica Otto) or a physical therapist to help you exercise safely at a level right for you. No need to get injured or worse yet, find yourself in the hospital undergoing stress-tests.
I encourage you to post your own suggestions below. Comments have a short delay before they appear so please be patient. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week’s post on breaking through a plateau in your fitness level.
Clinic Owner of Reach Physio Solutions