Common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight through exercise
Earlier in my career path I owned health clubs. I sold memberships, trained clients, hired and fired trainers and in 12 years of managing club affairs I learned a lot about the needs and desires of fitness enthusiasts. I could rant for hours about the goofy things I had witnessed members do in a health club, however, my focus for this article relates to the moronic things I see trainers have their clients do and get paid for. Before I build my list of useless exercises, I think it’s important that I shed light on the typical requests of the average new client in order of importance:
1. Weight loss (most people join health clubs to lose weight)
2. Tone-not build (the second leading request is to tone muscle without building them larger)
3. Improve health (coming of age and tired of feeling sickly and lethargic)
4. Supplemental to sports training (cross training, this one is pretty new)
5. Meet people (likes group exercise, classes, Yoga, Zumba Spinning etc)
A trainer is hired to help clients achieve their goals. Look at the first few lines of any trainers’ bio on their personal website and they will tell you: “I will help you archive your goals”. Flash forward to the initial interview of trainer/client: Client shares their desires (see 1-4 on my list), trainer divulges the fee for hire, a deal is struck and then… is when the *^%x hits the fan I my book!
The broad stroke
9 out of 10 trainers will begin by suggesting; “get on a (pick one) cardio machine and warm up for 15 minutes.” After which, they will begin segregating body parts and working each major muscle group in some fashion of sequential order. For example: Back-Biceps, Legs-Triceps, Shoulders-Abs… I think you get the idea. What’s worse is most health clubs are designed with specific departments of body part machines in plug and play fashion so as to make it easy for the novice to find the appropriate machine to work the appropriate muscles. The trainer you are now paying will serve as your guide. He or she will plug the pin into the weight stacks, count your repetitions for you out loud and tell you how great you are doing, because he or she is very considerate and over patronizing.
Let’s return to the #1 goal- To Lose Weight. The best way to lose weight is to keep your heart rate up for a reasonable amount of time. What is reasonable? How much weight do you need to lose and how much time can you dedicate and how much can you endure? More is better. Too much too early is unsustainable. Heart rate is directly tied to the amount of calories you burn and from which energy source. If your heart rate is too high, the exercise will be short lived. You burn more calories relative to time spent but high intensity exercise does a terrible job of burring fat. If the exercise is low intensity, you’ll be able to spend more time but the caloric expenditure will be low even though the majority of the calories burned will come from fat. (This is awesome if you have all day to exercise).
The solution: Wear a heart rate monitor during exercise; have a VO2 max test conducted to identify specifically what heart rates will produce greatest benefits for you. If you can’t afford a VO2 max test or don’t have access to this technology, subtract your age from 180 and based on your initial state of fitness, add or subtract 5-10 beats per minute. If you start out pretty healthy, add 5, if you are out of shape, subtract 5 beats per minute (reserve the 10 bpm shift for extreme cases +/-).
Avoid exercises that isolate small muscle groups
Here is a short list:
• No bicep curls
• Triceps extensions
• Calve raises
• Laterals for the deltoids and…
• Ready… crunches or sit ups.
Most people that visit a gym will spend between an hour and ninety minutes max on their exercise routine. Do the math: 15 minute warm-up on cardio machine, 3X10 reps on body parts. Working biceps and triceps average 1 minute per set X 6 sets with an average of 30 seconds to 1 minute rest between sets. We have now wasted up to 12 minutes on an area of the body that will not improve in appearance until the layer of fat is burned away. Because the muscles are so small (relative to larger muscle groups, hips and thighs) you will only burn a fraction of the calories that you should have relative to your goal (lose weight-tone not build). You have now exhausted 50% of your dedicated time exercising on worthless exercise. What people should come to grips with is that to lose weight you have to make every minute count, espically if you only plan to exercise for an hour.
Focus on Compound Exercises
A compound exercise involves more than one joint: For example, the hip and knee, shoulder and elbow. When bot joints are involved the exercise becomes functional and integrates far more muscle mass than does isolated exercises as mentioned above. You will burn easily 4 times as many calories per effort and will improve functional motor skills which are a huge bonus and arguably even more important than the number of calories you’ll spend during exercise.
You may be thinking that by participating in an aerobics class sounds like the answer?
To some degree you are right. You would burn more calories this way but in my experience, most aerobic classes are not aerobic at all. They tend to be anaerobic, especially if you are out of shape. This will result in calories expended almost exclusively from sugar (You won’t be burning fat over the long term).
Lifting weights while exercising overloads muscle, when a muscle is overloaded, it becomes stronger, denser and increases your metabolism. Having said that, the key to weight lifting effectively is a matter of progression, begin with lighter weight and work up to loads you can manage with good form for an average of 10 repetitions. Initially, many exercises are more effective with body weight alone. For example: if you can’t do 10 push-ups with good form, doing a bench press is not an effective substitute. A push-up is a functional exercise; it involves more than one joint and encourages core integration and stability. A bench press does not. A body weight squat that takes you through a full range of motion should precede a squat with external load (weights) that you cannot successfully move through a full range of motion.
My recommendation for a successful hour of exercise to lose weight and tone muscle
Begin without any external devices for the first 6 weeks. Perform a circuit of exercise that cause you to keep your heart rate to an 180-age while exercising with recovery times between exercise as needed that causes you to come down to no lower than 120 bpm. If you are 40 years old, in fair shape, 180-40= 140 + 5= 145 bpm (you will be surprised how hard this is in the beginning).
Example: Jog/run 200 yrds, do 30 seconds worth of burpee’s (look it up) 30 seconds worth of push-ups, plank for 30 seconds, recover to 120 of max and repeat. Each of these collective sets, including recovery will take 4-5 minutes. After the second round, you will want to walk a bit, this is very taxing. Go ahead and walk until you feel able to proceed. Keep this up for an hour, do it every other day and follow a sensible plan, doing this will get you to your goal much faster than your old trainer. Oh yeah, I forgot. Fire the trainer, use the money to buy a high quality heart rate monitor.
This approach is surprisingly simple in structure, does not require a membership to a gym yet is highly effective.
To really accelerate the process, make a point to jog or walk for an additional 30 minutes every late afternoon, preferably before the dinner meal. This added bump in metabolism will pay huge dividends. It m
ay not seem like much but it’s the consistency that matters. Turning the switch up on your metabolism right about the time that things began to slow down.
This is the theme for the exercise sessions I take my small group through 3 days each week. Of course there is more variety, some overload and a few extra tools but the concept is the same. I don’t count reps, I don’t commonly complement new hair-do’s but I get things done. That’s what they pay me for.
Written by Richard Diaz, founder of diaz human performance.