By Dr. Mercola
Exercise is like medicine and is sometimes best "taken as prescribed" to optimize your health.
Whether you're a beginner, intermediate or advanced, the workout "prescription" below covers the most important variables to keep in mind when creating and performing your fitness program and to help you reap maximum results.
The Three Pillars of Fitness
Most every fitness program should include the following pillars at their base. These are the foundation that holds your program together:
Peak Fitness High-Intensity Interval Training
Exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising less intensely for longer periods – and it's incredibly time efficient, as you can do it in a fraction of the time as compared to traditional cardio (an entire workout takes just 20 minutes, and only 4 minutes are at high intensity).
Researchers believe this type of exercise works because it produces a unique metabolic response. Intermittent sprinting produces higher levels of chemical compounds called catecholamines, which stimulate more fat to be burned from under your skin and within your muscles. The resulting metabolic shift towards increased fat oxidation is thought to drive the increased weight loss.
Further, high-intensity exercises like my Peak Fitness program engage a specific group of muscle fibers that you cannot engage through aerobic cardio, and engaging these muscle fibers causes a cascade of positive health benefits. These include improved fat burning and boosting your body's natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a vital hormone that is key for physical strength, health and longevity.
The key factor that makes interval training so effective is intensity. To reap maximum results, you need to work out at maximum intensity for short intervals, with rest periods in between these spurts of activity. You can get an idea of what that looks like by watching the videos on this page.
Remember, to perform the Peak Fitness correctly, you'll want to raise your heart rate to your anaerobic threshold (220 minus your age), and to do that, you have to give it your all for those 30-second intervals.
Active Isolated Stretching
With Active Isolated Stretching or AIS, developed by Aaron Mattes, you hold each stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints. This technique also stimulates your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity.
Strength training is an integral part of a well-rounded exercise program, and it offers limitless benefits above and beyond muscle building, including weight loss, improved posture and improvements to back pain.
Strength training can build bone density and reduce and even reverse loss of muscle mass as you age – and the more you strength train, the more muscle you will build, which will actually help you lose weight. A pound of muscle burns 10 times more calories than a pound of fat. Strength training can even help you reduce your risk of heart disease, as it helps you lose visceral fat, the most dangerous type of fat when it comes to cardiovascular health.
The Two Missing Factors in Fitness and Fat Loss
Before we get to the workouts, it's incredibly important to remember that optimal fitness cannot be achieved through exercise alone. There are two additional elements that are critical to both fitness and fat loss – without them you may be sabotaging your efforts.
- Nutrition: Your body needs a healthy diet not only for recovering from your workouts but also to provide the energy needed to perform them in the first place. And this means real energy, not an artificial boost from an energy drink or caffeine high. Your diet accounts for as much as 80 percent of the health benefits reaped from a healthy lifestyle. Much of your exercise will be in vain if you neglect your diet.
- Goals: Short-term, mid-range and long-term goals give you focus and motivation to help you keep moving full steam ahead on your fitness program. Set a deadline for yourself that's six weeks in the future. State that at this date, and at this time, you will "lose 4 inches off your waistline," etc. Take pictures in a swimsuit (from front, side and rear). Take another set in six weeks and compare your results. Once per week, take a measurement of your waist and your weight. Determine your emotional drivers – improving your blood pressure or boosting your self-confidence, for example – and remind yourself of these reasons often.
Take 4 Minutes and Warm Up Properly
The warm-up is a key component of your exercise program and can help you avoid injury – no matter what your fitness level. According to John Catanzaro, a Certified Kinesiologist and Certified Exercise Physiologist who operates a private gym in Richmond Hill, Ontario, one of the most common mistakes people do with their warm-up is to do aerobics prior to weight training.
A proper warm-up should raise your body temperature by one to two degrees Celsius (1.4-2.8 degrees Fahrenheit), and, it only takes 10-15 seconds of muscular contractions to raise your body temperature by 1ºC. So, instead of aerobics, which is non-specific in its target and takes much longer to perform, Catanzaro recommends the following warm-up routine before every workout.
||9. Arms Horizontal
|2. Split Squat
||10. PNF Pattern
|3. Toe Touches
||11. Arm Circles
|4. Waiter's Bow
||12. Wrist Flexion/Extension
|5. Side Bends
||13. Wrist Circles
|6. Trunk Twists
||14. Shoulder Shrugs
|7. Arms Vertical
||15. Head Tilt
|8. Arms Vertical Alternating
||16. Head Rotation
Start slow and shallow and gradually increase speed and range with each repetition. All you need is 5-10 reps per movement. Doing too many repetitions during your warm-up will only increase lactate levels and decrease your strength and performance. Following this recommendation, you could be done with your warm-up in about four minutes.
Using the Super Slow Technique
Download Interview Transcript
Dr. Doug McGuff, M.D., an emergency room physician, is also an expert in high-intensity interval training who is a proponent of high-intensity interval training using weights. In the interview above, he discusses both high-intensity anaerobic-type training, and high-intensity super-slow weight training, which can achieve many of the same results using weights instead of a recumbent bike or elliptical.
Essentially, by aggressively working your muscle to fatigue, you're stimulating the muscular adaptation that will improve the metabolic capability of the muscle and cause it to grow. Dr. McGuff recommends using four or five basic compound movements for your exercise set. These exercises can be done using either free weights or machines. The benefit of using a quality machine is that it will allow you to focus your mind on the effort, as opposed to the movement.
Dr. McGuff recommends the following five movements:
- Pull-down (or alternatively chin-up)
- Chest press
- Compound row (A pulling motion in the horizontal plane)
- Overhead press
- Leg press
Here's a summary of how to perform each exercise:
- Begin by lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. The first inch should take about two seconds. Since you're depriving yourself of all the momentum of snatching the weight upward, it will be very difficult to complete the full movement in less than 7-10 seconds. (When pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your limb is fully straightened; smoothly reverse direction)
- Slowly lower the weight back down
- Repeat until exhaustion (once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or jerk the weight to get one last repetition in. Instead, just keep trying to produce the movement, even if it's not 'going' anywhere, for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform four to eight repetitions)
Immediately switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle group, and repeat the first three steps done in this fashion. Your workout will take no more than 12 or 15 minutes. While this may sound ridiculously short, once you've tried it, you'll likely realize that it's really all you can muster.
This super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle.
The Great Importance of Recovery
The idea that fatigue is an important regulatory function to maintain physical homeostasis makes the advice to make sure you fully recover between workouts even more important.
An important piece of information gleaned from Dr. McGuff is that as long as your intensity is high enough, you can cut back on the frequency of the exercise without diminishing the results. In fact, if the intensity is really high, the frequency may need to be reduced, in order to continue improving.
"For any interval increase in intensity, there has to be a very disproportionate decrease in frequency for it to continue to be productive," he explains.
For example, as a weak beginner, you can exercise three times a week and not put much stress on your system. But once your strength and endurance improves, each exercise session is placing an increasingly greater amount of stress on your body (as long as you keep pushing yourself to the max). At that point, you would be wise to reduce the frequency of your sessions to give your body enough time to recover in between.
According to Dr. McGuff, once you're fit, you don't need the frequent spurts of growth hormone production. At that point, recovery takes precedence as being more important, and your recovery period could be anywhere from three to seven days. In fact, he strongly recommends NOT exercising too frequently once you are in fit condition, in order to avoid over-taxing your adrenals.
Choosing Your Customized Workout Plan
It's time to pick the customized workout plan that best fits your needs. Remember, if you are just starting out or haven't worked out in a while the beginner plan is for you. If you have some recent exercise experience, you can go ahead and start with the intermediate plan. For those who have been working out consistently and are looking to increase the intensity – and results – the advanced plan should be your choice.
Everyone is different so remember to use these workouts as guides and don't be afraid to modify the workout or switch to a different level to fit your needs.
It's time to get started!