Hope everyone’s got a good two days in store! Even when I used to work weekends, they always seemed so much more exciting than the rest of the week :)
This particular Friday is a special one here at The Great Balancing Act. It marks the kick-off of a new series I’m deeming…
Catchy, no? :P
Fridays will now revolve around all things fitness. Whether it be answering your fit questions, sharing workouts, explaining moves, or delving further into the science and mechanics of exercise.
First things first, I must share my workout for today.
You see, I was planning on a hardcore weight lifting workout. Most of the time, I can pump myself up to go to the gym to play around in the weight room. When I can’t, I can at least convince myself to put some good music on my iPod and go for a run or do some stuff on the cardio equipment. But even the thought of that had me groaning.
Then something in the corner of the room caught my eye – my roommie’s bike! Even though my dad brought my road bike from NB, I need to replace the chain on it. However, he also brought my helmet, and my roommate said I was more than welcome to ride her hybrid when she leaves it at home.
Suddenly, I got really excited to exercise :D
I set off on the bike trails, not knowing where I was going to end up. I came across a great location where it felt like I wasn’t even in Toronto anymore!
The beach! There’s a jazz festival happening here this weekend, so they had live Caribbean music playing on the beach. A wonderful area to pedal through.
I’d forgotten how much I love biking, and had a hard time getting myself to turn around back home. Ended up being out for 80 glorious minutes. A fine example that even when exercise is the last thing you want to do, there are always options and different ways to get excited about getting your butt in gear :)
Now! On to this week’s Fitness Friday topic: love handles.
I recently received a reader e-mail asking how one can reduce the presence of love handles – that fleshy bit of fat/skin that sits on your hips.
Unfortunately, I do not have a simple answer for this one. Love handles are simply a store of fat, everyone’s bodies like to store fat in different places. As much as people try to ignore it, fact of the matter is, you cannot spot reduce fat. Not even through diet and exercise. If we could pick and choose where we wanted our bodies to store fat, us women would all have hourglass figures ;)
That means your best chances of getting rid of those pesky love handles is to take on a regime that is targeted at overall fat loss. This is a routine made up of both cardio and strength training, along with a balanced and “clean” diet. Even then, your hips may be the last place your body chooses to shed fat.
But because I don’t want to leave you here with nothing, I’m going to share one of my favourite exercises for fat loss: high intensity interval training.
I’ve written a very in-depth post on this before, but if you’re a newb to HIIT, here is how you can start:
Jump on a cardio machine at the gym. Spin bikes and ellipticals are my favourite for HIIT because they don’t require too much coordination, but you can also do this running outdoors. Start with one minute light intensity followed by two minutes moderate intensity. That is your warm-up. Then sprint for one minute. The sprint should be going as fast and as hard as you possibly can. On cardio machines, I’ll often increase the resistance to make it harder. After your one-minute sprint, recover with two minutes moderate work, and repeat this sequence for a total of 15 minutes.
The above is a very basic HIIT workout. You can make it more difficult by adding minutes (I wouldn’t recommend doing it longer than 30 minutes, it’s an intense workout). You can shorten the recovery time, or lengthen your sprints. Sometimes I play around with the resistance and intensity, either increasing it, decreasing it, or both.
High intensity interval training is not only a great cardio workout, but it stimulates your fast twitch muscle fibres which are great for maintaining muscle mass. Doing a lot of long, moderate-intensity exercise can potentially put you in a catabolic state where you begin to lose muscle. I always draw the picture of a marathon runner compared to an olympic sprinter.
High intensity intervals cause EPOC – Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. This means that even after you finish your workout, your body is trying to get its oxygen levels back to their pre-workout state. This also means you can continue to burn calories for hours after your workout! (although, don’t get too excited, EPOC doesn’t justify a DQ Blizzard :P )
I should also say that you do not need to look like a body builder to get rid of love handles. But putting on muscle, in my opinion, is the best way to blast body fat. If you’re someone who loves their cardio, is scared of strength training, low on time, or just looking for a way to switch it up – high intensity intervals will help you on your quest to be rid of those love handles!!
Honourable mention also goes to your diet. Remember that you can never out-train a bad diet. I’m currently a living example of this people ;)
Soooo…guess what? I forgot my camera at work today. I didn’t have many food pictures to begin with – but I always like including my yummiest eats in my posts! Ah well, you will just have to wait until tomorrow to see the awesome breakfast I had (I know, you’re holding your breath, aren’t you :P)
Anyways I do have a lil’ somethin’ I want to discuss tonight. It’s called interval training. Namely, cardio intervals.
I love interval training. Especially in the wintertime when I’m stuck on boring gym equipment. I especially love doing something people fondly refer to as HIIT – high intensity interval training. This is doing what I like to call “sprints” or just a burst of high intensity cardio, followed by a period of recovery, and repeated several times. Because it’s high intensity, it shouldn’t be drawn out for too long.So it’s a perfect way to get sweaty and breathless in a short period of time. You can do it on things like treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, stair machines, stationary bikes, or basically any machine you can get your hands (or feet) on.
First and foremost, you need some sort of continuous training base before attempting interval training. You should be accustomed to exertion, because well, you’re going to exert yourself!
Interval training is based on a work-to-rest ratio. What ratio this is depends on your fitness level. Some people are fine with 1:1, some require a little more rest in-between like 1:3. I personally like 1:2, particularly one minute of work followed by two minutes of rest. I don’t recommend recommend doing your high intensity intervals longer than two minutes as it’s hard for your body to provide proper fuel after that length.
However, even short bursts of 10 seconds work, followed by 30 seconds rest is perfectly doable. This could be something like jumping jacks, followed by marching in place for recovery. These shorter bursts can also be done in “sets” with an easier recovery in between. (Hmm, sound like weight lifting to anyone else? Hint hint ;) )
Proper relief between intervals is important so your body has time to replenish its ATP stores, otherwise it will rely on lactic acid (ie ow). Relief also clears the lactic acid in your system and helps its ability to handle it.
But what is this ATP I speak of? ATP is a chemical compound which stands for adenosine triphosphate. More importantly, when food is broken down, the energy it releases is captured by this compound to power your body’s cellular needs. Basically, if you want to perform an activity, you need ATP.
The easiest way to monitor your intensity is by heart rate. I have a Polar F11 heart rate monitor to do this. Today for example, I peaked at 183 bpm during my treadmill intervals. This is damn high for me, and I knew I was challenging my cardiovascular system. But I also like to keep an eye on it to make sure it lowers enough during my periods of recovery. A lot of people have the tendency to work too hard during their rest interval. Mine will often dip down to 140 bpm during recovery, but it’s all up to the individual.
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, the RPE scale is a pretty good measure. It stands for rate of perceived exertion. In order to not make this post a novel, go read Janetha’s amazing post on the RPE scale to get an idea of how it works.
Intervals also lead to something called EPOC, aka excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This is when your body continues to take in oxygen after exercise is finished. This doesn’t happen as much in steady-state cardio because there is faster recovery, which means less of an oxygen deficit. But in anaerobic activity (when the body can’t get oxygen to the muscles in time to produce ATP) there are increases in lactic acid, body temperature and hormone levels. Depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, it can take up to 24 hours to return to normal oxygen levels. This is commonly referred to the “after burn” in weight lifting – when your body continues to burn calories at an increased rate for a certain amount of time after you workout is finished.
On top of the sweet after-burn, interval training will also increase your speed and endurance. You will train your heart and muscles to endure high levels of intensity, making it feel easier the next time you do it.
Okay, so let’s recap all the awesome things about high intensity interval training:
- It’s short and efficient. You can challenge your ticker and burn calories in a shorter period of time than with lower intensity cardio.
- It breaks up the monotony. You’re always changing it up so it keeps you interested.
- Mentally, it’s easier to talk yourself into, knowing you’ll get a period of rest between each interval.
- EPOC. Depending on what you do, you can burn calories at a higher rate for a certain period even after you leave the gym.
- It will build your endurance, training your body how to handle higher exercise intensities.
A few things to remember:
- You should only to anaerobic training 2-3 times a week.
- Remember to warm-up and cool-down for at least 5 minutes. An improper warm-up will use up your body’s ATP stores so you don’t have access to adequate stores during your actual workout. It’s also important to get your heart rate back to normal during your cool-down, as well as flush out the lactic acid in your muscles.
Any questions of the day for me to answer? How about you? What’s your favourite interval workout?