Guide to finding exercise that’s right for you

Over the past decade or so, many studies have come out validating the many benefits of exercise, almost regardless of method, i.e. endurance training, high intensity or volume training.. Exercise is important not only for fitness and appearance, but for healthy aging, preservation of brain function and even resisting disease. Exercise, in general and in any amount, has some health benefit.

Yet  more than 60 percent of American adults don’t exercise regularly and 25 percent aren’t active at all, according to the Surgeon General.

There is a great article that goes into some of the psychology of being a couch potato that you can read here, but this article is going to address those spuds who wish to uproot and start training.

The area of misconception that I most often have to address with new clients regards conflicting and confusing information about how to exercise.  The ACSM recommends “most adults to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.” There are health and fitness experts who disagree and 12 minutes of all out biking a MONTH is all it takes.  And then there are those who say the best path to fitness is steady-state aerobic exercise.

To navigate some of the confusion, here’s a brief guide that I hope helps:

Exercise can only stimulate a change in your body..  Your body responds (adapts) to that stimulus by getting stronger, leaner, and/or better conditioned.  The process of these changes is what generates many of the benefits of exercise.  This is important to understand about exercise in any event, and I do not believe this is a controversial statement.

Exercise, whether weight resistance, yoga or “aerobic,” is defined by 3 elements, INTENSITY, DURATION and FREQUENCY, which are inversely proportional, meaning as one increases, the other two decrease.  Again, this is not controversial.

Higher intensity training (whether interval training on a bike, or using weight resistance exercises) is very muscularly challenging, and it is done only briefly.  That makes sense because if something is intense, you can’t endure it for very long.  If you think in terms of running, if you run as fast as you can (i.e., intensely) you can’t maintain that pace for long before you collapse.  That’s what is meant by high intensity:  unendurable.

In weight training, you might hear that it has to do with recruitment of muscle fiber, but it pretty much goes along with intensity.  And as suggested, the work is hard and muscle tissue actually breaks down in the exercise process. It’s in the rebuilding of muscle tissue that gives us better developed muscles and strength from HIT. That downtime where repair is happening is called “recovery,” and it is necessary in degrees for all exercise.  In all exercise, it’s the adaptation that produces the benefit.

With higher intensity work, more muscle is affected, and so recovery will last longer.  When well-trained individuals exercise in very high intensities, the recovery time can take a week or in some rare cases even longer.

Running a marathon is high endurance.  Why isn’t that high intensity?  Most of us would not be racing a marathon, we’d endure it.  The whole point is to go at a manageable pace so that you can continue doing it for longer periods.  The longer the endurance, the more the muscles are affected.  The longer the endurance exercise — you guessed it, the longer therecovery.  So you may run 20 miles, but you probably won’t repeat it frequently.

Things like, yoga or jogging, are usually thought of as volume training.  The frequency is high because the overall intensity and duration are fairly low.  You can have a daily yoga practice, or run 3 miles a day.

Most exercises are a mix.  bootcamps, boxing, 10 mile runs, things of that nature are a mix of endurance with a little intensity, but not so much that they can’t be done 3-4 times a week. I am not saying that these activities are easy.  They are, after all, exercise, so are inherently difficult.  But in terms of muscle recruitment, they won’t be so high on the endurance and intensity side, that it will effect the frequency.

What’s Right For You

Benefits of HIT are many, but the best one is that it’s easy to fit in a busy schedule.  As the name implies, though, it is high intensity which means that it is muscularly challenging.  So it’s not for everyone.  Medium intensity weight training (traditional, sets, about an hour in the gym 3-4 days a week), might be a better fit for some whose schedules can accommodate.

The benefits from higher frequency exercise seem to be a little less than endurance or HIT, but because it’s volume training, you end up with similar cumulative benefits at the end of the week.  Also, it is usually pretty easy to endure and not that intense, and if you have the time and like a routine, it’s going to fit well in your life and so you’ll stick to it.

High endurance activities are usually for more sports-minded people who respond well to personal goals. Most benefits of exercise can be derived from this training method.

I am a high intensity trainer.  There are many reasons why this training works for me, and why I continue to use it, including  getting stronger and leaner and even things like improving intellect and staving autoimmune diseases.  Those benefits are NOT limited to HIT, but I know when I train my clients, they are getting those benefits.  That’s really why I do what I do.

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