For Part 1: Metabolism click HERE.
First, a little story.
I am not talented athletically. As a 10 year old playing hockey there was no puck-handling and I wound up on a handful of blooper reels in the early 90’s. Luckily for me those VHS tapes have been lost in yard sales and bungled attempts to convert to DVD yet the fact remains: I suck at sports. A vain attempt to play basketball in middle school and I would give up entirely to pursue Cross Country in High School.
Not being good at any sport, yet wanting (for some reason) to play them, I used the only skill available: Hustle. Can’t dribble? Steal the ball. Can’t touch a puck in hockey? Check the fat kid loping down the ice with it. Until high school all of the sports I played in didn’t have a ‘try-out’ process and accepted whoever paid their dues. Convenient, as I couldn’t see making a single team. Luckily Cross Country had no such process to stop kids from voluntarily running 50 plus miles a week. Who knew it would be so unpopular, yet there I was – one of a handful of twiggy freshmen who had no idea what they were in for.
The school I went to had a great program and though I enjoyed the movement of running quickly over distance it didn’t hold my attention. Being a kid along with the temptations of friends with new drivers licenses quickly took the place of hill sprints and Fartlek’s. I’ll never forget the way it felt to race against the best as a competitor, where guts and training made the champion not their height or small motor skills.
In my late 20’s there is finally some growth in my attempts to re-learn old sports. The dedication it took to learn what little I know about rock climbing meant that my understanding of Basketball and Hockey were off the mark, and now picking up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I am applying truths about body mechanics and leverage that have been reinforced from Bouldering and having some moderate success. I have to keep finding new things to get inspired, because just as endless pavement pounding ended racing for me so over time does a singular activity fade into habit.
Both macro and micro, changing your routine keeps focus on the present rather than stagnate on repetitive process. Whether deciding pectoral flys or the Bench Press as a chest workout or picking between a summer Bouldering in South Africa over running in the high sierra, find a balance and make some changes.
All this brings me to my point for today’s post: Don’t be boring. I am a creature of habit (same sandwich every day kind of guy) yet we are all still animals, and if the cat can turn an adventurous session chasing a laser pointer into disinterest so too can a human get bored on a treadmill. As luck would have it, running in the mountains or bouldering in Yosemite is a lot more fun.
I’ve looked around the Cardio room at the gym while slaving away hours on the treadmill and remember the faces of those in my position. They didn’t look like they are having fun, and most of the time neither was I. Early into my weight loss I told myself to hit an hour mark at the gym, typically 2.5 or 3, and had I known how little I was doing for myself by endlessly trudging ahead on a rubber belt I’d have done something more enjoyable with my time like clean the litter box or go to the dentist.
Easy Cardio just doesn’t do much. Exercise is a way to tell your body “get ready to do more of THIS!” If you walk slowly, you will absolutely burn calories and get more fit – fit enough and efficient enough to walk slowly. Without stress there is little change. Now, that being said, you should NEVER get injured or hurt in the gym, so don’t take this to mean I am asking for some extreme movements. Walking slowly as a warm-up is a great idea (ALWAYS warm up, for at least 10 minutes), but once warmed up consider jumping on a low impact (I like the elliptical, stair masters are OK) machine and doing an INTERVAL program. The majority of the programs on modern fitness machines are bullshit (fat burner?) but the idea of intervals to increase cardiovascular threshold is as old as Jesse Owens. Interval training, or any kind of ‘Cardio’ that brings your heart rate up, letting it drop, and raising it again is SUBSTANTIALLY more efficient at burning fat and building muscle than easy Cardio.
Understanding heart rates can get a bit tricky, but here are some basics: Subtract your age from 220 – that ‘should be’ the highest number of beats your heart can tick in a minute (your beats-per-minute, or BPM). If walking is ‘aerobic,’ or simply ‘something you can do forever and not get tired,’ then running (or hiking hard up hill) might be ‘anaerobic,’ or ‘something I can only do for a little bit before I gas out.’ The goal in any interval training is to get anaerobic, let your heart recover back to aerobic, then go anaerobic again. A couple interval training tips:
-Try to get at least 4-5 sets in per session, at least 30 seconds. Just like lifting weights, work at building a base first. If you don’t get your heart rate much above 70% of your max, you aren’t getting anaerobic. The easier it gets, go faster/harder or increase reps. You are forcing your body to respond to stimuli, building a visceral connection with your physical body (important!) as well as making mental connections to doing work.
-Make sure you are keeping the impact low. If you aren’t a decent runner, DO NOT RUN! You can have very low body fat without running a mile in your life. While I am an avid runner and enjoy it quite a bit, I understand how difficult it is to pick up. Slower strides make it difficult to avoid heel-striking, putting massive impact on already stressed knees and furthering a desire to avoid a treadmill (or the gym) at all costs. Instead, try doing hills. Find a hill, something that takes you between 25 seconds and 2 minutes to hike or run up. Go up it almost as fast as you can (I’ll arbitrarily say go 90%) and walk back. Do that a bunch of times (again, 4-5 to start working up). That is one of the best workouts you can do for yourself, and it’ll take 15 minutes.
-No magic shoe will help you to run with good form. No more than I can sell you the most accurate rifle in the world and you can pick a target off at 100 yards. Know the mechanics, learn how to run, and you can. Don’t expect magic shoes to help.
If nothing else, make changes and keep it fun. In the end the most important part is that there is enjoyment coming out of any activity for it to stick around.
Stay tuned for Part 3 to go from Martyr to Warrior!