As you may have guessed from the phrase “the current thinking”, this stuff is subject to change. Much like diets, the actual testing of exercise routines is based far more on “personal experience”, than science. Even when science gets involved, it gets difficult to find a series of studies that support one thing or another, repeatedly. People basically cherry pick the study that suits their inclination and use that, to the exclusion of anything that refutes that study. I read everything and I try just about everything!
Two years ago, we released our wonderful book, The Immortality Edge. In that book, we spent a lot of time detailing the effects of interval training and EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption or calorie burn). Interval training, invented back in the 1930’s, enjoyed a significant resurgence and became the routine of the day, in many lay press publications as well.
While I stand by what we said in the book – interval training is the MOST EFFICIENT use of one’s time in exercise – it appears that the whole EPOC equation may have been way overblown, in terms of actual extra calorie burn. This has not stopped the big guns of the MD internet marketing, from launching books, courses and entire web sites devoted to this form of exercise. Not to worry though, it still has huge metabolic and health benefits.
But before we launch into that, let’s look at what else has had its day in the sun. Basically, that is weight training and “cardio” also known as Aerobics or LSD (long slow distance at low to moderate intensity).
For a while, weight training also enjoyed a heyday, with muscle mags and fitness rags touting its benefits as a primary weight loss tool. The main reason for the attention was, the “fat burns in the muscle” concept, and of course that it was good for business! The more muscle you have, the more fat you burn when you are at rest or exercising. Once again, it sounds simple, but it appears the estimates of just how much more fat you burn were grossly exaggerated. Add to that, most hard core weight lifters also set aside days for “cardio”, purely for the health benefits.
Perhaps the longest reigning champion of fitness and weight loss was aerobics, defined as any exercise that gets your heart rate into the 65 to 72% range of your maximum and keeps it there for a minimum of 30 minutes. Notably, most cardio routines are 60 minutes to give you the extra calorie burn.
Now comes the fun part. What is real and what isn’t, what should you do, and what has been my personal experience after 25 years of medical practice and a certificate as a personal trainer?
Here it is:
1) Interval type training is the most efficient use of your time. If you only have 30 minutes a day, this is what you should do. But, you can’t do it every day or you’ll burn out fast! In addition, I have seen far more disabling injuries from high intensity interval training, especially in middle aged people who are not starting out in good shape. The safest way to do it is deep water sprinting with a flotation vest. This is the lowest impact and should spare your joints as well as giving you some of the much touted “Michael Phelps Effect” e.g. you burn more calories in water because you lose calories as body heat, in addition to your exercise.
2) That said, I have never personally had any success losing weight and inches with ONLY this type of training, unless I do it in circuit fashion with minimal rest (30 to 60 seconds) in between and do it for a full hour. This is a real grind and here you are again with a one hour time commitment, at least 2-3 times a week, so in many ways it defeats the purpose.
3) As far as EPOC is concerned, I only ever documented it using a Bodygem device, while taking my Ultra Strength Fat Furnace. In this case, I was able to show 300 to 500 calories extra fat burn per day, but again much of this could have been from the supplement, not the exercise-induced EPOC.
4) Weight training or some type of strength training is essential. It could be with bands, body weight or weights, but in terms of safety and portability I love bands. That said, I still do traditional weight lifting 2x a week for an hour. For many, it was a huge disappointment to see the lack of calorie burn from extra muscle. Estimates of hundreds of calories a day, for 10 pounds of muscle gain, appear to be completely unfounded. That said, there are all kinds of hormonal reasons why progressive resistance exercise is essential to your health, hormones and metabolism. The other thing is, it’s probably the ONLY way to preserve fat free mass, while you are losing weight. In other words, it’s the only way to ensure you don’t become what I called “skinny fat”, in my emails a decade ago.
On a personal note, this type of training is also the only way I have personally been able to get the last few pounds off!
5) Long slow distance aerobics or cardio, seems to be making a return as the best way to burn calories, now that we know that there is no free lunch with exercise. In other words, you still burn the bulk of your calories while you exercise, not while you recover. As you know, I am a sometime ultra runner. Spending hours in the woods and dales and mud bogs running and struggling, burns a huge amount of calories. But few have, or are even willing to commit the time investment. The other thing, and this is a personal observation, is this kind of exercise tends to create a mountainous appetite when it exceeds one hour in duration.
6) The fact that it often takes more than an hour of this type of exercise to really burn a significant amount of calories and it is not a free pass to eat whatever you want, led to the misconception best stated as follows.
“For years we have been telling people to exercise like this and all those years we have been watching them get fatter and fatter! So, it must be wrong!”
Um, what you put in your mouth still counts, people!
Confusing, isn’t it! Actually, no! Where the confusion comes in is when we try to “mix metaphors” by losing sight of our goals. As the title of this blog implies, the goal is weight loss and if you keep that in mind, the path becomes clear.
The first 6 to 12 weeks of any weight loss program should be spent in circuit training that uses body weight, iron weights, bands, etc in an interval fashion — 30 reps, 1 minute, whatever way you want to define the endpoint, followed by a similar rest period. You should be breathless most of the time you are exercising and partially recovered when you are in between your sets. You should do this for 1 hour 2 to 3 times a week. You should feel exhausted and unable to think about any other form of exercise when you are done. As you progress through the weeks, you will notice just how fast you get into shape and how much harder you are capable of working out. And of course, your body will change!
The main caveats are: don’t work out so hard you hurt yourself or cannot get “up” for the next session, and you still have to reduce your calorie intake. That, my friend, is the hard part. That is why I make all those supplements!
P.S. No matter how many times I say it, someone always writes in and says “you neglected to mention the benefits of my favorite exercise”! The above is not necessarily the best lifelong exercise plan, it may not have the most health benefits and it may not make you look ripped and shredded! But based on the current literature and my considerable experience, it is the most effective at weight loss. For the best “anti-aging” effects, keep in mind a program that addresses our weaknesses as we age, such as loss of power and strength, is very important, and we should try to use all of our muscle fibers, fast, slow and medium twitch.