Exercise is the best way to have a well-toned body, but what is the best kind? The answer is, simply, whichever kind you like to do. I don't care if it's Tae Bo, Kathy Smith, Health Riders, swimming or "sweating to the oldies," as long as you get your heart pumping. The key to burning fat is to get your heart rate in the proper range for 12 minutes or longer. There are different ways to figure that range, but the one I like is 185 minus your age (185-44=141 for me). If you haven't worked out for over a month then you should keep your heart rate about 10 points below that number (130-135 for me). If you have been working out for a few months, increase the range to +/- 5 points (135-145 for me). After you start dropping weight and feeling pretty strong, you can go about 10 points over your number (140-150 for me). This will keep you in the fat burning range and allow you to get the most out of your exercise in the least amount of time. If your heart rate is too high, you are in the anaerobic (sugar burning) range, and if it's too low you really aren't doing anything for your heart or waistline.
The easiest way to measure your heart rate is to invest in a heart rate monitor. Most of us have to make time to exercise so the key is to make your workouts more efficient by getting more done in less time. Spending the $50-$100 for the monitor will end up saving you a lot of time in the gym or on the track. That also goes for buying good shoes. If you run, spend the money for good running shoes. Wear them only when you run and replace them every 6-12 months (depending on your weekly mileage). It will save you a lot of pain in your feet, knees, and back.
I believe the fastest way to get in shape is with interval training. I was part of a physiology experiment in college in the mid 70's that used interval training on our Judo team for 6 weeks to see how much it helped our conditioning. My body fat dropped to 6.9%, and my oxygen utilization rate was in the high 90% range. That is at the level of Olympic and World-Class athletes. Realize that we were in fair shape to start with, but it took us to a whole new level of fitness in a very short time. No training system (or drug) will take you from couch potato to gold medal winner at the Olympics in 6 weeks, but using interval training will help you get fit faster.
Covert Bailey wrote a book about interval training for us common folk called Smart Exercise. He does a great job of explaining it so it makes sense. In a nutshell, you occasionally push your heart rate higher than the range we talked about previously. This helps you get in shape faster and burn fat more efficiently. Losing fat off your body is what helps gives you a flat tummy. When people first start to exercise they often get bigger and heavier due to the tone of the underlying muscles. The muscles get bigger faster than the overlying fat can be burned off. Don't get discouraged if this happens to you. Realize that fat is just accumulated fuel that your body hasn't burned yet. When you workout consistently at the correct heart rate you will burn that fuel more effectively.
A common mistake I encounter with people over 30 is they tend to over-train. If a little is good, more must be better! This mentality tends to push us too far, too fast, and we start to accumulate injuries and soon we have to stop exercising. The other misconception is that exercise can overcome any dietary indiscretions we make. It takes about an hour's worth of running to burn off one Big Mac. Eating whole, natural food, avoiding sugar and alcohol, and consuming fewer calories per day will help you to slim down faster. That smooth look is from nutritional deficiencies and a bad diet--both of which have to be corrected to get in shape.
Now that you're out doing some type of aerobic exercise to burn fat and help your heart, it's time to add strength training. Don't panic. I'm not suggesting you join a gym or start training to compete in the Mr./Ms. Olympia contest! I just want you to start exercising your muscles so that your joints are better stabilized. Muscle balance is key to having less joint pain in your body.
When our mother used to tell us to "stand up straight," it wasn't our laziness that made us slump forward, it was a muscle strength imbalance. Most of us live our lives in forward flexion. We bend over desks, kids, benches, computers, steering wheels, sinks and counters. There is not a lot we do on a daily basis that bends us backwards or puts our body in extension. Even in the gym, most of the machines are designed to work the pecs, biceps, anterior delts, and abdominal muscles. All are flexor muscles on the front of the body and make the imbalance worse. Our front muscles are too strong and our back muscles are too weak. Strengthen the back muscles and the body stands straight without any conscious effort and without any pain.
Muscle strength helps keep your spine aligned, too. From early 1981 to early 1991, I got adjusted at least once a week. If I got a pain somewhere, I got adjusted. That was how I was trained; adjustments fix everything! In February 1991, I herniated two discs in my lower back while adjusting a patient. I felt immediate pain and within a few hours couldn't walk without pain down both legs. The MRI showed lots of degeneration in my spine and in three discs. I ended up being out of work for three months. The general consensus was surgery, but instead, I chose to do lots of exercise to rehabilitate my back. Today, as long as I do my exercises, I have no back pain. I still bend over all day long at work but my back muscles are strong enough to handle it. I now get adjusted every month or two instead of weekly. So the correct exercise will keep you pain-free and save you money! In the gym you can use machines like the hip and back machine and do exercises such as hyper-extensions, rear delt raises, wide grip seated or bent-over rows, and leg curls.
THE WEIGHT ROOM
After spending 30 years in the weight room, I feel safe in saying I've made just about every mistake you can possible make and still live to tell about it. But as I look around the gym each day, I know I'm in good company. I constantly see folks throwing the weights uncontrollably, limiting motion during a repetition, misusing the equipment, applying bad form on the exercise, not to mention doing the exercise just to get to a certain number of reps without feeling the muscles contract and trying to lift too much too soon. Unfortunately, those people are just wasting their precious exercise time and getting little return for their effort. Since most of us are on a time crunch, we want the best workout we can get in the least amount of time. You need to be clear about why you're there and what you want to accomplish. For those of us on the dark side of 30, we want more energy and muscle tone, and it would be nice to look good when we go swimming, too. We also want to keep up with our kids or grand kids. Look at it this way. Which is a higher probability, that we will need our muscles to carry our 40 lb. kid around Elitch's when they get tired or to lift a 300 lb. bar off our chest? Most of us need functional strength that can get us through life not record breaking bench presses. Until a few years ago, I was still training like I did in my 20's, and it was causing me lots of joint pain. Sure I could lift those heavy weights, but why and at what price? I'm going to need my joints for another 40-50 years so I needed to change what I was doing. I stopped the 4 sets of 6-10 reps and stopped worrying about how much weight I could lift. Now I do one set of 50 reps with light weights and try to feel every contraction. Then, without resting, I grab a heavier weight and do 6-12 reps to totally exhaust the muscle. When I can do the reps completely, I increase the weight on my next workout. I do one exercise per body part and train each body part once or twice a week at the most. All my joints have now healed up, my lean body mass has gone up, and I spend less time in the gym. You can alter the exercise you do for each body part to get some variety, and if a joint is sore, you need to find an exercise that doesn't aggravate it. Rest will never heal it; you need to rehab it with the right exercises. Try it for a few months and see how you feel. It has made my workouts fun again.
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