Many people looking to start an exercise program come in with a host of worthy questions to make sure they start on the surest path to success possible. Here at Body Structure, we’ve selected a few of the most common questions we get on a daily basis and have provided the best answers available.
What’s the best exercise intensity to burn fat?
A: The “fat burning zone” sticker you see on some pieces of cardio equipment actually does have some science behind it. Fat is a very dense energy source, and we rely on in primarily for energy at rest and at low levels of physical activity. However, since free fatty acids (the simplest form of fats that our body breaks down for energy) are very complex molecules compared to carbohydrates, we rely more and more on simple sugars to fuel exercise as the intensity increases. So, an easy walk would be relying on most fat as the primary fuel source, whereas a hard run would need to get most of its energy from a rapidly-burning carbohydrate like glucose.
This, however, does not tell the whole story when it comes to weight loss. It’s worth considering that the recovery process after a workout is fueled mainly by fat, and a harder workout will have a more expensive recovery. Total calories burned over the course of a week, compared to the total amount of calories consumed during that week, are the ultimate determinates of weight loss. So, rather than trying to reach a “fat-burning zone” to maximize fat loss, it is better to focus on working hard within your limits and burn a lot of calories!
How often should I exercise?
A: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 20-60 minutes, 3-5 days a week for general health and fitness. Someone who has been sedentary and looking to start an exercise program can start on the low end (20 minutes 3 days per week), but should increase the time or intensity to improve past the initial gains in fitness.
Strength training should also be performed at least twice per week, working all of the major muscle groups (Thighs, Hips, Chest, Back, Core, and Arms). This can be accomplished with 1-2 sufficiently challenging sets of just a few exercises. For example, here is a sample workout for someone just starting out:
-Squats (Thighs and hips), 15 reps, 2 sets
-Pushups (Chest, core, and arms), 2 sets of as many reps as you can with good form
-One armed-dumbbell rows (Back, core, and arms), 15 reps, 2 sets per side
Perform this strength workout on Tuesday and Friday.
Walk for 20 minutes outside at a slightly-faster-than-leisurely pace, on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday
Further gains in fitness will be achieved with longer and more intense training session.
Should older adults exercise the same way that younger adults do?
A: While older adults may have more joint-related issues and relatively lower strength levels going into an exercise program, one’s fitness status plays a much larger role than age when designing an exercise program. Older adults should consider aerobic conditioning, resistance training, flexibility and mobility work, and even power training at a level suitable to their fitness status, and may use the same exercises as a much younger person in similar shape. Many older adults find low-impact activities, such as swimming or cycling, more comfortable than higher-impact methods such as running, and those adults with balance concerns may feel safer using weight machines as opposed to free weights, but these are dependent on the individual and should not be viewed as a blanket prescription for everyone over a certain age.
Likewise, physical activity recommendations for older adults are much the same as they are for younger ones: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week (that’s five 30-minute sessions), and resistance training for all major muscle groups twice a week, with flexibility training preferably every day.
Why am I sore after a workout? Is it a sign that I’ve done too much?
A: Soreness, here, refers to a dull ache limited to the muscle that appears a day or two after a workout. Any joint pain or sudden, sharp pain in a muscle may be a sign of injury and can indeed be a sign of too much too soon or poor technique.
Muscle damage occurs during every workout, and it’s even an important part of making progress in the gym. What you break down in the weight room will be built back stronger than before with proper recovery. However, it is still tissue damage, and tissue damage requires an immune system response. The circulating white blood cells that help clear out the cellular debris and start the repair process in a muscle also trigger the pain receptors in the affected area. Think about the last time you got a cut or a puncture wound: there was the initial sharp pain, yes, but then some time later there came a dull pain surrounding the area. That’s a similar process at work. It should be noted, however, that some degree of muscle damage occurs with even the smallest of efforts and that such soreness is very rarely a sign of serious injury.
The good news is that, over time, as those same pain receptors are triggered over and over, they become less sensitive. So, even doing the same workout that made you sore at first might not make you sore anymore if you’ve been consistent. Novelty, rather than intensity, contributes the most to soreness. Which means if you’re one of those people who likes to be sore, try hitting the muscles from new angles with new exercises!
How do I get a flat stomach/get rid of these flabby arms/burn off my love handles?
A: The answer to this question, like many others, is to blame your parents. Genetics and sex play the biggest roles in where you store fat; men tend to store more fat around the stomach, women around the hips and thighs, and beyond that is up to your DNA. “Spot treating” fat is not a realistic option. Doing lots of ab work might make your core stronger and make the muscles underneath bigger, but it won’t target the fat on top of or underneath the muscle. Likewise, fat around the arms can’t be worked off with bicep curls, the hips won’t lose fat with squats, and so on. You can certainly lose fat in those areas, but only as part of a whole-body loss through diet and exercise. The good news is, wherever you tend to put on fat the quickest is usually where it comes off the quickest!