By Darin L. Steen and Dr. Mercola
Ok, so you are fed up with the extra pounds you're carrying around and you are on a mission to lose weight. Perhaps you're working out with weights, jogging, and you're even cutting out desserts. You're drinking less soda and more water. You have totally dedicated yourself to a more fit, better "you".
And yet, when you get on the scale three weeks into your new lifestyle, the scale has barely budged. You get discouraged and stop exercising consistently. Before you know it, you've reverted back to your old habits again.
This is an all too common story...
What I have witnessed from over 18,000 personal training sessions over the last 8 years, is that most people are wasting their time when they work out. They're simply not exercising effectively to reap optimal results.
The four most common mistakes I see people make are:
- Using the least effective type of exercise: regular cardio
- Too much cardio and not enough resistance training
- Doing too many sets per exercise
- Lifting a weight too fast
Mistake # 1 – Using the Least Effective Type of Regular Cardio
It's not easy to leave old habits behind and start doing things differently, like eating according to your Nutritional Type and exercising multiple times per week.
Exercising is one of the best things that you can do for your health. Sadly, more than half of American adults don't get the recommended amount of exercise. One out of four people in the U.S. don't even exercise at all.
Lack of time is the most common reason why people say they don't exercise. But I have great news for you – you might never use this excuse again!
If you walk into any gym, you'll see most people crowding the aerobics equipment and using the treadmill or elliptical machine for an hour or so. But a growing body of research suggests that you can perform a significantly SHORTER workout, at a greater intensity, and get BETTER results than the usual, time-consuming training routines.
So let me introduce you to Dr. Mercola's comprehensive exercise program, Peak Fitness Technique, and its key component, Sprint 8 exercises.
How to Perform Sprint 8 Exercises
The term Sprint 8 exercises refer to exercises that are done one to three times a week in which you raise your heart rate up to, or beyond, your calculated maximum heart rate (220-your age) for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period.
Dr. Mercola recommends using a recumbent bicycle for the Sprint 8 exercise, but you can also use an elliptical machine, a treadmill, or run outdoors. However, unless you're an athlete, we advise against sprinting outdoors the first time you try the Sprint 8 exercise due to the potential risk of injury.
Here's a summary of how to do it:
- Like any other exercise, warm up for three to five minutes.
- After warming up, go all out, as hard as you can, for 30 seconds.
- Recover for 90 seconds.
- Start with two or three repetitions but work your way up to seven more times for a total of eight repetitions.
- Cool down for a few minutes afterwards by cutting down your intensity by 50 to 80 percent.
The key element is to reach maximum intensity. To properly perform the exercise, you need to get very close to, if not exceed, your calculated maximum heart rate (MHR) by the last interval.
Everyone's MHR is different and is determined by age, physical activity level, as well as any medical conditions which may be present. Your maximum heart rate is a measure of the upper limit of work that your cardiovascular system can handle. A simple and quick way to estimate your MHR is to take 220 minus your age.
When executing Sprint 8, which is a very vigorous exercise, you will want to strive to work out to at least 70 to 80% of that MHR, and hopefully reach your MHR for the last few repetitions.
Keep in mind you'll need a heart rate monitor because it is nearly impossible to accurately measure your heart rate manually when it is above 150. And there's a huge difference between a heart rate of 170 and 174, or 160 and 164 if you are over 50.
Once you reach your maximum heart rate, you may feel a bit nauseous and light headed and, of course, VERY short of breath. But your body will recover quite rapidly and in about 30-60 seconds, you will start to feel much better.
The first repetition is usually pretty easy as your starting heart rate is low and you can do the entire 30 seconds without much physical stress.
Unless you work out regularly, you will likely need to work your way up to eight cycles, hence the term Sprint 8. You can start with two to four and gradually increase the number of repetitions.
Ideally, you should get to eight cycles because the benefits really start to kick in around repetitions seven and eight.
Since the recovery time is only 90 seconds, your heart rate gradually continues to climb after every repetition. Hopefully, by the time you finish your last repetition, it is at or above your MHR.
Remember to cool down for a few minutes after your 8th repetition. When you're done, you will feel tired, but more than likely you will feel great!
If you have a history of heart disease or other health concerns, please get clearance from your health care professional before starting a Sprint 8 exercise session. Most people of average fitness will be able to do the Sprint 8 exercise, however; it is only a matter of how long it will take you to build up to the full eight reps.
The Outstanding Health Benefits of Sprint 8 Exercises
Sprint 8 exercises will save you a tremendous amount of time because you'll be able to cut your hour- or longer cardio workout down to a total of 20 minutes or so, and that's including your warm-up, recovery time, and cool down.
The actual sprinting portion of the exercises only takes four minutes!
Once you regularly do Sprint 8 exercises about twice a week and are following well-rounded workout routine, incorporating stretching, core work and strength training, along with consuming the right fuel for your body, you'll notice that you have:
- Lower body fat
- Improved muscle tone
- Firmer skin and less wrinkles
- Have more energy and sexual desire
- Enhanced athletic speed and performance
- Achieved your fitness goals much faster
Sprint 8 exercises may also help fight the signs of aging by naturally stimulating the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which is KEY for strength, health, and longevity. The higher your levels of HGH, the healthier and stronger you're going to be.
However, as you reach your 30s, you enter a phase called somatopause, wherein your HGH levels start decreasing dramatically. This is part of what drives the aging process. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle and don't exercise, your HGH levels will drop even further.
Thankfully, Peak Fitness exercises can naturally raise your growth hormone levels.
How does this type of exercise achieve this?
Well, you have three different types of muscle fibers: slow, fast, and super-fast. Most people, including many athletes such as marathon runners, only train using their slow muscle fibers, which is what you do when you do traditional aerobic cardio and strength training. This has the unfortunate effect of causing the super-fast fibers to decrease.
Performing high-intensity burst cardio like Sprint 8 exercises, however, engages your super-fast or white muscle fibers, which are 10 times faster than slow fibers.
Engaging your super-fast muscle fibers is the key to producing HGH!
The longer your body produces high levels of HGH, the longer you can preserve robust health and strength.
If you do Peak Fitness workouts twice a week and eat according to your nutritional type (Dr. Mercola now offers the entire online nutritional typing test for free!), then you will naturally increase your production of growth hormone.
Mistake # 2 -- Too Much Cardio and Not Enough Resistance Training
The second mistake that the majority of people make with their workout is again related to their choice of conventional, hour-long cardio. About 70 percent of gym members typically use cardio machines while 30 percent (or less) lift weights.
This is understandable, considering that it is easier to walk on a treadmill than pick to up dumbbells and barbells, and do the exercises correctly. Many people are intimidated by lifting weights, so they stick to what is most comfortable and familiar: cardio.
It's important to realize that cardio can help you lose fat – especially the high intensity Sprint 8 type cardio -- but cannot change your body shape.
For example, if you start out with a pear shaped body, you will still be pear shaped after losing weight through cardio.
On the other hand, when your fitness / fat loss program is well-rounded with Sprint 8, resistance training, conventional cardio, and core exercises along with a sound nutrition program, you have the ability to actually sculpt your physique.
You can increase the size of smaller body parts, and reduce larger body parts.
Plus, when you build muscle with weight lifting, you become stronger, burn more calories 24 hours per day, build bone density, and give yourself a much better chance at aging gracefully.
Mistake #3 – Too Many Sets per Exercise
Most people believe that they need to do 4 or 5 sets of weight lifting per exercise. This is simply not true. All you need is 2 or 3 sets at most.
One of the main keys to stimulating your body to lose fat and gain muscle through lifting is "intensity". It is very important that the last three repetitions of your sets are very intense. They should be the ones you never thought you could do.
These last few intense reps, done safely, are the only ones that will cause enough micro tears in your muscles to force your body to repair them, now slightly bigger and stronger.
When you know that you only are going to do two sets, it is easier to gear up and pick up the intensity to a higher level. So make your weight lifting workout short, but intense – like your cardio!
Sixty minutes is plenty long enough, as long as you have a specific plan, and only rest 1-2 minutes between sets.
Mistake # 4 -- Lifting the Weight Too Fast
Many people think that the more weight they lift and the more repetitions they perform the better. We call it the "how much do you bench" mentality. When you have this mindset, you tend to just throw the weight around with reckless abandon. Worse, with this mindset, a lot of the tension of the weights goes to your bones, ligaments, joints, and tendons.
This can easily lead to an injury.
Your goal should be to make a light weight feel heavy by making slow, controlled movements. This way you have the ability to squeeze the target muscle during the contraction.
Try using a 3-1-3 tempo on your lifts.
That is a 3 second positive, a 1 second isometric squeeze in the contracted position, and then a 3 second negative. You may have to lessen your weights, but I promise you that you will increase your ability to focus on the intended muscle groups.
In general, perform two sets of three different exercises per body part.
If you work out with the proper intensity, you only need to exercise each body part once per week. Two to three one-hour workouts of resistance training per week is all that is needed to entice your body to gain muscle and lose fat.
Working out longer or more often per week will not make you reach your goals faster.
Remember, your body does not increase muscle mass while you work out. You are actually tearing the muscles down during exercise.
Your body mass increases while your body is at rest.
The Importance of a Well-Rounded Exercise Program
To truly optimize your overall health; from shedding excess pounds and gaining muscle, to improving your posture, physique, strength and agility, to increasing your HGH levels naturally, to living a longer healthier life, we recommend you fashion a well-rounded exercise program that incorporate all of the following five types of exercises:
- Sprint 8 anaerobic exercises. For even more information about Sprint 8 (including the personal testimonial with before and after photos) and how to maximize your HGH production, please see this link.
- Aerobic exercises: Jogging, using an elliptical machine, and walking fast are all examples of aerobic exercise. Although standard aerobic exercises can't compete with Sprint 8 exercises for promoting growth hormone or fat burning, simply getting your heart pumping will improve blood flow and increase the release of endorphins, which act as natural pain killers.
Aerobic exercises will also activate your immune system, and help increase your stamina over time, both of which are important for optimal health.
- Strength Training: Remember, as I explained above, you only need 1 to 3 sets, maintaining slow, controlled movements while focusing on squeezing your target muscle, and upping the intensity on your last three repetitions of each set.
- Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability.
Exercise programs like Pilates and yoga are great options for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific core exercises you can learn from a personal trainer.
- Stretching: Active isolated stretches (AIS) developed by Aaron Mattes, is one very effective option. With AIS, 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 allows your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity.