By Dr. Mercola
Exercising is, hands-down, one of the best physical things you can do for your health.
Besides being beneficial for weight management, exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression, and it can increase your energy levels, help you think clearer, and slow down the aging process.
Unfortunately, exercise is also one of the first things that tends to fall by the wayside. And, even with the best intentions and follow-through, progress can stall and intentions can go awry...
Shape magazinei lists eight exercise mistakes that could be keeping you from getting the full benefit of your fitness program.
Interestingly enough, one specific type of exercise can help you circumvent or overcome most of these pitfalls, namely high intensity interval training—exercises in which you go "all out" for about 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery interval.
(One session consists of eight such intervals.) Here, I'll reveal how...
Skimping on Sleep to Work Out Could Backfire
While I do recommend exercising first thing in the morning, I don't advise sacrificing sleep to do so. Fortunately, you don't have to! The research that has emerged over the past several years clearly indicates you don't need to exercise for long periods of time—as long as you're exercising correctly! As it turns out, the most effective and efficient way to work out is to 'remember' your ancestral roots, meaning, how humans used to move.
Both young children and animals clearly demonstrate the proper way to exercise: in short but aggressive or intense spurts with rest in between.
High intensity interval training using an elliptical machine or stationary bike can mimic this, and a growing body of research tells us the benefits from exercising this way are FAR greater than slow, long-distance forms of exercise. Interval training can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities in a fraction of the time--because you're utilizing your body as it was designed to be used.
A high intensity interval session only requires about 20 minutes or less, two or three times a week, opposed to an hour or more on the treadmill, several times a week. Most people can carve out 20 minutes without losing sleep over it. As mentioned in the featured article, getting enough sleep is an important aspect of health, and lack of sleep can hamper weight loss efforts and contribute to a wide range of health problems.
Concentrating on a Single Body Area is Counterproductive
As tempting as it may be to believe you have to do 100 crunches a day to achieve washboard abs, the truth is that such spot-specific focus tends to fail miserably. One of the main reasons for this is that in order to achieve muscle definition, regardless of what area of your body you're targeting, you need to lose fat, and spot-specific exercises like crunches are not an efficient way to boost fat loss...
High intensity exercises can make a dramatic difference here, because these exercises not only boost fat burning, they also automatically help create muscle definition all over your body, while simultaneously improving your aerobic fitness.
While I don't recommend doing just one form of exercise, IF that's all you have time for, then doing short but high intensity Peak Fitness exercises will give you the greatest all-around benefits, and this form of exercise differs from others in that it benefits your entire body. This is because high intensity exercises sequentially recruit all the different types of muscle fibers in your body, starting with the smaller motor units made up of slow-twitch fibers—which are primarily aerobic in metabolism, have a lot of endurance, and recover quickly—to the intermediate fibers; followed by the fast-twitch fibers.
The key to activating your fast-twitch muscle fibers is intensity, or speed.
Your fast-twitch fibers are largely glycolytic and store a lot of glucose. When these muscles are recruited, it creates the stimulus needed to grow muscle. At the same time, it enlarges the glucose storage reservoir in the muscle, which in turn enhances your insulin sensitivity. I've often stated that normalizing your insulin is one of the primary health benefits of exercise, and this is particularly true in the case of high-intensity exercise. Conventional aerobics does not do this as efficiently.
Activating your fast-twitch fibers also prompts your body to create human growth hormone (HGH), also known as "the fitness hormone," which plays an important role in slowing down the aging process.
Jumping on Every Fitness Fad that Comes Along May Hinder Your Progress
As mentioned by Shape Magazine, mixing up your workout is a great way to challenge your body and keep things interesting. But jumping on every exercise fad that comes along can be counterproductive. You need to stick with your program to give yourself the chance to reap the benefits from it.
That said, there's certainly nothing wrong with trying something new. After all, exercise is part and parcel of a healthy lifestyle, so it's a lifelong endeavor. There's plenty of time to explore. I'm a perfect example of this myself; after 30 years of being a dedicated long-distance runner, I stopped running over three years ago and switched to interval training instead once I realized just how much time I was wasting, and how many more health benefits I could reap from the switch.
Now I just do one high intensity Peak Fitness exercise on the elliptical once a week, along with two weekly strength training workouts. I go up to three Peak Fitness workouts a week if I don't have access to weight equipment when I am traveling. But I pay careful attention to my energy level during the workout and during the day. If I notice that I don't have the energy to finish the workout or the weight I can lift is decreasing and not increasing, I know it is time to take a break and get some more recovery time.
Over-Exercising Could Do More Harm than Good...
Switching from long-distance running to high intensity Peak Exercises has saved me a TON of time while improving my physical fitness. There's no doubt in my mind that most people are wasting loads of precious time in the gym, or running outside, as I once was... Some may even be doing more harm than good by exercising too much—either by exercising too intensely, and/or too frequently.
As discussed in the featured article, the "no pain, no gain" methodology can backfire, as can the practice of hitting the gym twice a day... Granted, over-exercising is far less common than not exercising enough. But it does happen, and tends to be counterproductive in most cases—at least if you're exercising for general health and longevity.
Part of the equation of creating optimal fitness is recovery. Besides intensity, recovery is a key factor of high intensity workouts. An equation to keep in mind is that as intensity increases, frequency can be diminished. In fact, you need to allow your body to fully recuperate in between sessions, so it's NOT recommended to do high intensity exercises more than three times a week. Both Phil Campbell and Dr. Doug McGuff have addressed this in previous interviews.
If you don't allow your body to fully recuperate and rebuild, your efforts will not pay off beneficial dividends.... I made that mistake, which is why I cut back on my frequency. If you're competing, you can certainly increase the frequency, but if you're exercising to get healthy and live longer, then make sure to give yourself sufficient recovery time in between sessions.
One of the keys here, as with any exercise program and lifestyle change, is to carefully listen to your body. With exercise you have to pay careful attention to recover if you tend to be someone who pushes yourself hard. If you only work out occasionally, this is a non-issue. But for those who are really committed and disciplined, it is very easy to over train, so please understand that recovery is every bit as important as training and if you work out too much you will not achieve the results you're seeking.
Over or Underestimating Yourself Could Nullify Your Efforts
As described in the featured article, many make the mistake of either pushing themselves too hard, or not hard enough. Or, when it comes to strength training; using weights that are too heavy or too light. In order to maximize your workout efforts, you need to strive for that 'Goldilocks' Zone' where you're pushing hard enough to challenge your body at your current level of fitness. Needless to say, this will change over time, and that's the crux—a lot of people forget they need to continuously up the ante as their fitness improves.
This is especially important as it applies to high intensity exercises. To perform it correctly, you'll want to raise your heart rate to your anaerobic threshold, and to do that, you have to give it your all for those 20 to 30 second intervals. (As a general guideline, you can calculate your anaerobic threshold by subtracting your age from 220.) For a demonstration, please see the videos below.
Strive for Balance
Shape Magazine advises against sticking with one single workout routine, and I wholeheartedly agree. While high intensity interval exercises accomplish greater benefits in a fraction of the time compared to slow, endurance-type exercises like jogging, I do not recommend limiting yourself to Peak Exercises alone. If all you have is one, two, or three 20-minute blocks of time per week, then by all means, do what you can with what you've got. High intensity intervals will give you the biggest reward for your time investment. But ideally, to truly optimize your health, you'll want to strive for a varied and well-rounded fitness program that incorporates other types of exercise as well. Without variety, your body will quickly adapt.
I strongly recommend incorporating the following types of exercises to create a well-rounded fitness program suitable to your current level of fitness:
- Interval (Anaerobic) Training: This is when you alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
- Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program.
You need enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles. The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild.
You can also "up" the intensity by slowing it down. For more information about using super slow weight training as a form of high intensity interval exercise, please see my interview with Dr. Doug McGuff.
- 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 also great for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from a personal trainer.
- Stretching: My favorite type of stretching is active isolated stretches developed by Aaron Mattes. With Active Isolated Stretching or 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 help repair itself and prepare for daily activity. You can also use devices like the Power Plate to help you stretch.
Lastly, I also agree with their recommendation to select your workout buddy with care. Because while it can serve as motivation to know someone is holding you accountable, if your workout buddy is more interested in talking or ends up being a frequent no-show, then they're not doing you any favors. You may be better off hiring a personal trainer. Not only will a trainer be able to teach you how to perform each exercise safely and effectively, knowing you have an actual appointment with a professional may be the motivation you need to get you into the gym on a regular basis.