What Your Training Plan is Missing...

Copyright Max Wettstein, 2006

Intensity!  This is most likely why you’re getting the same results, or getting no results.  So many of us just plop on the stationary bike, elliptical trainer, or treadmill and simply plod along in our comfort zone, (sometimes called the ‘fat-burning zone’ to make ourselves feel better), barely even breaking a sweat or raising our heart rate.  Yes, we’ll chug along, reading a magazine, watching TV, or even talk to a buddy, all the while feeling good about ourselves because we’re at least doing something for our fitness.  But because we're only reaching light to moderate intensity levels, we’re lucky if we even burn 300 calories in an hour, or cause ourselves to go into oxygen debt even once.  Burning your fat stores?  Yeah right!  Think again: You may have been working out at 60% of your maximum heart rate, but you’ll be lucky to even touch any fat stores/adipose tissue in an hour’s time at such a low heart rate.

     You know, in today’s politically correct, everybody’s-a-winner, easy-button, society, there is still some truth to the old adage, “No Pain, No Gain.”  While there will always be a place for ‘LSD’ endurance training, (long-slow-distance), we all need to incorporate some intense and even anaerobic training into our exercise plan.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Move your cheese.  Unfortunately intense training usually goes hand in hand with some level of physical discomfort – not injury pain, but you know what I’m talking about – the “I’m actually working here” kind of pain!

     Intense aerobic training usually means you’re training at a heart rate level close to your VO2 maximum, (maximum oxygen carrying capacity), and above your lactic acid threshold.  In simple terms, this means your working close to entering oxygen debt and building up lactic acid.  Intense anaerobic training usually means your muscles are hitting physical failure in 30 seconds or less, meaning you can’t do another repetition, due to lactic acid build-up and/or your muscle cell ATP stores deplete.  When the latter occurs, your ATP will replenish within a minute or so of rest, and any lactic acid, if produced, will completely recycle within 30 minutes or less.

     So why train with such intensity?  Couldn’t you possibly pull a muscle or have an aneurism or something else bad?  Perhaps, so warm-up, cool-down, and stretch!  Here are a few reasons why, with proper warm-up and your physician’s blessing, you should train intensely at least one day per week:


  1. You’ll burn up to 3 times as many calories in a given period of time compared to low-intensity exercise.  (Roughly speaking, intense exercise is performed at least at 80% max heart rate or greater, or, purely anaerobic/strength training.)
  2. The ‘fat-burning-zone’ training philosophy only works for very long work-out sessions lasting 1.5 hours or longer.  At low intensities it takes at least 30 minutes of exercise to use up bloodstream and liver energy stores before you can access stored adipose tissue fat.
  3.  You’ll raise your lactic acid threshold, meaning you will be able to train at higher heart rates without lactic acid build-up failure.
  4. **Lactic acid build up in the muscles directly triggers a consequential Growth Hormone release...essential for lean-body mass and tissue regeneration.
  5. You’ll involve your fast-twitch/type 2 muscle fibers, building your strength and power.
  6. You’ll actually sweat and detox.
  7. You’ll preserve and build muscle mass.
  8. You’ll maintain bone density.
  9. Short, but very intense work-outs, (45 minutes or less), promote testosterone and growth hormone release.  Long term endurance training can lower these two anabolic hormone levels and elevate Cortisol levels.
  10. You’ll build up your muscle-neurological connection and mapping; develop quicker synapses, increasing your quickness and propreoception.
  11. You’ll increase cell mitochondria function, (your cells’ energy powerhouses), and grow more oxygen delivering capillaries.
  12. You’ll feel alive and focused as you stimulate dopamine production and enjoy your body’s natural opium – endorphins.  You’ll be motivated for the rest of the day.
  13. You'll improve insulin function and sensitivity and 'teach' your muscles how to uptake glucose and store it as glycogen for energy instead of storing as fat.
  14. You’ll be able to vent all your angst and channel any aggression you have in a positive outlet instead of kicking the dog or snapping at your First Officer.
  15. You’ll stimulate your adrenal glands in the way in which Mother Nature intended.
  16. You’ll circulate lymphatic fluid.
  17. When your kid challenges you to a race, or your buddy challenges you to a tennis match, you’ll actually be able to do it without collapsing in oxygen debt, or straining something.  You’ll be in shapeJ

     There’s enough reasons to validate my point, but if you’re not feeling compelled to step up your training drive yet then e-mail me and I’ll give you 10 more reasons, including stop your whining!  I can’t emphasize the mental and psychological aspect of training with intensity enough.  When you give something your mental and physical all, you really can experience a mental and dare I say, spiritual awakening.  The hormones and neurotransmitters that become triggered in the brain and body including but not limited to dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, testosterone, and pain-eliminating endorphins, can really combine to empower you to feel confident, strong, happy, motivated, and alive in general.  An intense workout may be just what you needed to get you out of your rut, or salvage your day, or open your mind up to let an idea in.

     Physiologically speaking, if all you do is slow, aerobic type of exercising, then you are really ignoring 50% of your fitness.  An ideal training program incorporates aerobic/endurance training, strength/anaerobic training, and core/flexibility training, equally.  Perhaps you think you don’t know how to strength train.  Of course you do!  Just do some sprints, or run a steep hill or stairs, or do some push-ups or pull-ups.  Go mountain-biking on an actual off-road trail.  Play a game of touch-football and don’t be all-time quarterback.  Go snow-skiing this season.  Be a kid again.  Again, with intensity comes greater risk of injury, making it imperative that you do a proper warm-up first, and start slowly with light weight, and always proper technique.

     You can read more on intense training, if you go back to my ‘Health and Fitness Tips’ archive and read my ‘training with a heart rate monitor’ and ‘finding your flow’ articles.  Lastly, be sure to read my ‘coping with the holidays’, and ‘holiday eating strategy’ articles as we head into Christmas.  In a nutshell, indulge in your favorite foods, but then get back on the sanity wagon the next day.

Here's an example video to motivate you!... 


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