Thursday, January 04, 2007

Was this one of your New Years resolutions?

As most of the hits on this blog over the past few days have been on the “lose weight” pages and as the new year brings many people to resolve to lose weight, and as a means to that end many people will join a gym and in order to continue my promised series of articles on the subject, I bring you this next installment of my “lose weight” series.

This time, I’m going to discuss exercising. By means of a reminder, I will switch back and forth between exercise and food as the series goes on.

Why do I need to exercise?

A lot of people will try to lose weight by just dieting. This will only work in the short term. Please see my previous post as to why.

Some people (particularly women) will say they don’t want to lift weights because they don’t want to “get big.” You don’t have to get big from lifting weights; even toning will help to increase your health and your metabolism. And ladies don’t need to worry; without “additional help” (roids) you will not get big. Women simply don’t have the body chemistry to get big. You will get “ripped” but it will be more of a “swimmers body” than a “meat-head” body. Think Madonna, not Arnold.

Gear up!

If you’re just starting out, don’t spend a fortune on work-out gear. A comfortable shirt and pair of shorts should be fine. Women might want to invest in a good sports bra. Clothes should be comfortable and easy to move in, but not loose. Good socks are also a must. For just starting out, a good pair a cross training shoes are important. Make sure they fit! I’ll do another post on gym ware (where I “name names”) later. For now, don’t spend a ton of money.

As you’ll see below, monitoring your heart rate is important. A heart monitor may be a good investment. Get one with a chest strap; the ones that take your heart rate via the finger sensors are useless for working out. Polar makes some great ones that range from a simple model that will only tell you your heart rate to models that have built-in MP3 players and GPS systems.

Don’t bother with the “Nike+iPod” stuff. The only remotely pertinent information it gives you is distance run. In spite of the marketing fluff it can not give you accurate pulse rates or calories burned. Those figures just can’t be computed from a motion sensor in your shoe. If you really want to get the distance retrace your path in your car. If you want “super accurate” numbers, run on a track. Better yet, don’t worry; time and heart rate are more important than distance.

OK, so what do I do?

I work out six days a week. Three cardio days and three strength training days. Here is what I did when I was starting out. I’m not going to give you specific weights, rep counts or “Stair Master” levels. Those things aren’t important. What’s important is your heart rate. More on that later. For the most part, you should spend no more than an hour in the gym each day. But, it should be a good (not wasteful) hour.


Regardless of what kind of work out you are doing, you need to warm up and stretch beforehand. Warming up should be about five to seven minutes. The goal is to not be sweaty or out of breath at the end of the warm up, just a little looser. If you’ve ever tried to run from a “cold start” you’ll know what I mean. It’s just to get the blood moving a bit.

From there, you should spend about ten minutes stretching. Again, this is to loosen up and ensure that you won’t pull any muscles or injure yourself. I will at some point write a more detailed post on stretching, but for now check this site out.


I do cardio Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I do at least 30 minutes. I alternate between the Stair Master (the one that looks like a very short escalator; the other style is a waste of time), the cross trainer and running. If you have access to a pool, swimming is great. Biking is OK, but since you’re sitting your legs don’t support your body weight, and you’re not getting as good a work out as you could be. But anything is better than nothing.

When performing any cardio exercise, do not hang on the machine like you are clinging to it for life. It means you are going too fast. Lower the speed/intensity/whatever and do it with proper form. You will be a better work out and get results faster.

If you are under 220 lbs., running once a week is OK. If you are heavier than that you could run into problems with your legs. Try just walking on the treadmill with a steep incline. If you weight more that 220 and MUST run, try to only do it once every other week. If you start to feel sharp pain in your knees (before, during or after) stop immediately. If you run on a track, or outside or anywhere except a treadmill, be sure to switch directions every time you run. Your legs will thank you.

When doing cardio, you should try to reach and maintain your target heart rate. What is that? It’s the heart rate at which your body is working hard enough to burn fat. There are a couple different ways to figure out what yours is. The easiest way (although not super accurate) is to subtract your age from 220 (226 for the ladies). If you are already pretty fit, that 70% of that number. If you are “so-so” fit, take 65%. If you are a total couch potato, take 60% of it. That’s your target hear rate. If you want a more accurate measurement, and know how to correctly take your own pulse, this site has a calculator that is OK. If you want to be “hyper accurate” contact your gym. There are a couple of different tests they can administer to calculate this that range from cheap and quick to expense of drawn out. Don’t pay too much for this though, your target heart rate will change as you begin to get in shape. And don’t be a slave to this number. If you can do a little more, do it. If your below it but feel like you are about to die, than don’t push yourself. You’ll get there, just give it time.

Weight Training

Weight training does not mean you have to get “big.” It can be as simple as toning and strengthening your existing muscles. Everyone should do it.

The major muscle groups for weight training are;

  • The Chest (bench presses, push ups, flys)

  • The Shoulders (shoulder presses, lateral raises)

  • The Arms (curls, overhead extensions)

  • The Back (rows, reverse flys)

  • The Abdominals (crunches, planks, in and outs)

  • The Legs (lunges, squats, “super-legs”)

This page has a good explanation of most of these.

With the exception of the abs and legs, you do NOT need to work every group every time.

In general, I try to use dumbbells for all of these. You can use machines for some of them, but free weights help keep you honest, and make you work the “stabilizer” muscles which increase your overall strength. Additionally, I use dumbbells as opposed to barbells so that each arm has to work independently. This ensures that everything builds up symmetrically.

When lifting, go slow. Don’t jerk or swing the weights. Besides keeping you from injuring yourself, it will make sure that you are really working the muscle and not letting physics do all the work

Gym etiquette

It’s important to know how to behave in a gym. I’ll do another post on this, in more detail later. For now:

  • Do not drop your weights. If they are too heavy, move down.

  • Put your stuff away when you are done with it. This includes un-racking weight plates from any machine or bars you have used.

  • Don’t monopolize equipment. Let others work in during your break. If the other person was there before you, reset the weight pin to their weight for them, or help them move plates when switching.

  • Wipe off equipment when you are done. Even if there is no visible sweat do it anyway.

  • Socializing is OK, but not everyone is there to talk. Keep that in mind.

  • When socializing, keep conversations from getting too loud and keep the language “PG.”

  • Mind your surroundings and respect others personal space.

  • Don’t leave a mess!

That’s enough to get you started. I’ll post more in depth on some of the topics I’ve covered here later.

Good luck!

No comments: