Walking The Walk

In an age where exercise is as mainstream as ever and science continues to show us new and easier ways so stay active, walking remains the oldest and simplest form of physical activity. Not only is it inexpensive, it is the the most ubiquitous form of exercise available to everyone in the world. According to science research, some of the benefits of walking include fat loss, reduction of the the risk of cardiovascular diseases, treatment and lowering of high blood pressure, improvement of HDL and lower resting heart rate.

Fortunately for me, I live in a city where walking is an integral part of the lifestyle and is inevitably encouraged. If you live in New York City or have visited before, you know how essential walking is, regardless of your areas of destination. According to walkscore.com, a website company that ranks walkable cities with access and proximity to and around neighborhoods in United States, Canada and Australia, New York City is ranked number one. It is for this reason that New Yorkers living in New York City get a good portion of their aerobic activity via walking, covering as far as even two miles a day!

But as great as that sounds, you can make walking a much more challenging cardio activity. Brisk walking, which is how an overwhelming majority of us walk, is generally the preferred pace the body will adhere to. This is because at higher intensity work, the body will rely on carbohydrate for fuel as opposed to fat which is used for lower intensity, long-duration activities. Because carbohydrates are limited in the body (via depletion of glycogen stores as exercise intensity elevates), the body will naturally use fat for brisk walking.

However, using high intensity interval training protocols (HIIT), you can make walking fun and challenging while burning tons of fat calories. Here are 5 ways to incorporate HIIT into walking:

1. Aerobic Interval Training: In this method, a 4-minute aggressive, challenging walk is followed after by an easy, light 2-minute walk and repeated 8 to 10 times. As a way to gauge intensity, use the Rating Of Perceived Exertion Scale with the work portion at Hard to Very Hard and the recovery portion at  Light.

2. Sprint Interval Walking:  Note that the term ‘sprint’ here doesn’t mean an all-out run. It should be a near-maximal walk on a treadmill. It should be fast enough so you feel you’re just about to slide off the treadmill but not quite. Using the RPE scale, combine a Very Hard 30-second ‘sprint-walk’ with a Light 4-minute walk. Aim to do 4 to 6 total intervals.

3. Four-Minute Interval Walking: This method calls for an increase in RPE every 4 minutes. Start at a moderate-pace walking speed on the treadmill and increase the walking speed to a much more challenging one after 4 minutes. The process is repeated until a specific number of interval is completed or a set time is achieved. For example, a sample workout could start out at a walking speed of 2.0mph on the treadmill. At the 4-minute mark, the speed is increased to 2.5mph. At the 8-minute mark, the speed is increased again to 3.0mph. The workout is terminated at the 20-minute mark when 5 intervals are completed. The workout can also be terminated after a certain amount of time, say 35 minutes. This workout can be done using an incline walk or a combination with a treadmill speed.

4. Near-Maximal Interval Walking: This method combines a 5-minute near-maximal ‘sprint-walk’ with a light 5-minute recovery walk. The near-maximal walk should be performed at a ‘Hard’ or  ‘Very Hard’ level on the RPE scale while the recovery walk should be Light. 6 to 8 total intervals should be performed or at least 60 minutes.

5. Supramaximal Interval Walking: This may be the the most adaptable and likeable walking HIIT workout. A 90-second ‘sprint-walk’ is combined with a 30-second easy walk. The ‘sprint-walk’ should be performed at a ‘Very Hard’ intensity while the recovery walk should be Light.  An ideal number of intervals to aim for is 12, although 8 would suffice.

Keep in mind that if you’re an elite athlete or possess higher-than-average fitness levels, these forms of walking may not present a challenge for you and can be deemed boring. But even if you can run a mile in 6 minutes, you can embrace a different challenge and give your joints a break occasionally by performing one of the aforementioned workouts. Those suffering form ankle and hip chronic conditions may have a very hard time doing these workouts. Tendonitis, arthritis and bursitis of the knee and hip can make walking very difficult, let alone walking at higher intensities. If you have a chronic condition of any of the joints of the lower body, brisk walking at a moderate-pace is enough for a challenge. Be sure to walk at a RPE intensity of at least Hard.

5 Ways To Make Your Workouts More Fun And Challenging

If you’ve been an avid exerciser for more than a year, chances are you’ve occasionally gotten bored with some of your routines and wished for new ones. There are some dedicated fitness enthusiasts that use workout programs designed by famous strength coaches and keep daily logs of their workouts. At the health club I work, I frequently see members bring fitness magazines with them and follow customized workout plans written in some of the sections. If you belong to either of these groups of people, give yourself a pat on the back. Your brilliance and creativity is an obvious sign of your commitment to your health and fitness and your constant push for new challenges and upward progressions.

I applaud your efforts!

However, what if I told you that you could embrace new challenges without doing any of the above? What if I told you your workouts can become much more exciting without changing anything in your routine? Sounds hard to believe right? Well, the thing is the human body is designed to respond to any physiological demands placed on it and can handle a lot of stress providing good form, appropriate load and proper mechanics are up to par. Whether the goal is strength, lean muscle gain or fat loss, you can avoid complacency, boredom and minimal results from your workouts by simply making a few minor adjustments.

Here are 5 ways to make your workouts more fun and challenging:

1. Increase The Volume: So many gym folks, guys especially, feel as if they have to continually increase the weight between sets to achieve or maintain their size and strength. I also know of several women looking to sculpt and lose weight who stick the the old 3×15 rule of thumb for every exercise. When I began to earn my stripes as a lad in the weight room, I was told by some of the older folks that 3×10 was the blueprint for everything. I’m sure some of you heard that at some point as well. It’s true. It does work. But only for a while before the body demands for a new challenge. Simply adding more reps and sets to your workout is a surefire way to continue to keep your body guessing. If you’re looking to get bigger and stronger, there’s only so much weight your body can handle before your joints start to scream. Squatting 225 pounds for 10 reps can be made more challenging by squatting185lbs for 15 reps. If you’ve been doing 3 sets of 15 reps of reverse crunches for a month, increase the challenge by adding a fourth set or an additional 5 reps. In both examples, the body will respond because a new stimuli has been placed on it. Trust me when I say you’re going to hate me when you’re done!

2. Take Shorter Rest Periods: If there’s one cardinal sin I commit occasionally during my workouts, it’s that I often get carried away by conversations with buddies and colleagues and end up resting too long. So many of us are guilty of doing this even if we have workout partners. Because the gym can be looked at as a social gathering of people with a common interest, it’s easy for this to happen. Our muscles can get cold over a prolonged rest which can hamper our goals and efforts and even lead to injury. Now I don’t necessarily believe in designating rest periods except unless you’re a powerlifter where the all-out maximal effort requires rest periods of up to five minutes. However 60 seconds to 2 minutes seems to be recommended norm for the majority of us. So let’s assume you’ve been resting 90 seconds between your sets, increase the challenge next time by resting 75 seconds. It’ll be much harder initially but the good news is that your muscles will stay under tension and contracted for a very long time which means stronger and leaner muscles.

3. Stop Doing All That Cardio And HIIT It: We all need cardio to stay lean and live an optimal lifestyle. We know that. But so many of us (even myself once upon a time) continue to spend endless amount of time on cardio machines. What if I told you that you could burn more calories in a much shorter amount of time? Recent studies have endorsed High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as the most effective cardio method to burn fat. Simply put, HIIT is performed by alternating short bouts of high intensity activities with moderate-to-long bouts of very low intensity recovery periods. An example would be to run at your fastest speed on the treadmill for 30 seconds to 1 minute followed immediately by a slow, mild walk for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. That process would be repeated at least 6 to 8 times. HIIT has also been associated with increased EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) in which the body stays in a fat-burning metabolic zone for 24 to 48 hours afterwards! HIIT is the best way to burn fat which for a lot of us living in this country will continue to be a priority. But steady-state cardio can be incorporated occasionally for those interested in improving cardiovascular endurance. For a deeper insight on HIIT, read this blog I wrote a while back.

4. Change The Sequence Of Your Exercises: This basically refers to the order in which you perform your exercises. One major reason our workouts become so redundant and uninspiring is because we perform particular exercises at certain junctures and on certain days. Monday has been universally dubbed ‘Chest Day’ by an overwhelming majority of guys who workout. Some people like to do cardio before weights or vice versa on the same day. Others simply do a collection of exercises in a particular order (barbell squats, leg press, lunges, leg extensions, etc). Again, there is nothing particularly wrong with this format but its predictability by the body’s central nervous system can cause the body to plateau and stop responding to these exercises. It inevitably makes workouts drag and as a result takes the fun out of it. Try switching things up a bit. Rather than start your chest workout with flat barbell bench press, start with incline dumbbell chest press or weighted push-ups. If you’ve been doing a push-pull superset for a few weeks, try a lower body-upper body superset or simply reverse the push-pull format to a pull-push.

5. Learn A New Craft: Those that know me well know how much I love, enjoy and embrace exercise-related challenges. It is a huge reason why my workouts never get boring because I’m always looking to learn a new skill that can enhance my workouts. Resistance training will continue to be the template for a lengthy, healthy lifestyle. It’ll be that way forever and will not change. But there are days when you just can’t push your body to get under the bar, run on the treadmill or even do some core work on the mat. Fitness accessory tools like the TRX, Kettlebells, Medicine and BOSU Balls, Battle Ropes and Prowler Sleds can add some spice to your workouts. These tools have the ability to strengthen the body and build lean muscle while additionally emphasizing core and cardio work. The TRX and Kettlebell alone allow for hundreds of exercises that will target virtually every part of the human anatomy. If you’re proficient with any of the aforementioned tools, I’d suggest you routinely incorporate them into your workouts. If you have no knowledge on how to use these workout accessories, leave a comment at the bottom of this blog and I’ll be of assistance.

Stop doing all that cardio and HIIT it!

Right from the first time we picked up a set of dumbbells, we were told and reminded time and time again that cardio is a vital part of training that must be routinely performed conventionally on cardio machines to burn fat and build lean muscle. Treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes have become staples for cardio training in commercial gyms. It isn’t unusual to see people run on the treadmill for over an hour! I’m about to tell you why doing that much cardio could be a complete waste of time.

For the majority of us (competitive seasoned runners excluded), we do cardio to burn fat and improve endurance. Our bodies produce fuel via 3 energy systems: the ATP-CP (activities lasting 10-15 seconds), Anaerobic (activities lasting 10 seconds to 2 minutes) and Aerobic (activities lasting longer than 2 minutes) energy systems. All 3 systems are utilized in our daily physical activities. The aerobic and anaerobic systems uses the body’s stored fuels (glucose, glycogen and fat) when we perform steady-state cardio sessions lasting anywhere from 15 to 45 or more minutes and yields a ton of burned fat calories. An average 130-pound person can burn up to 250 calories of fat running on the treadmill at 6 miles per hour.

Great, right?

Well, what if I told you that you could burn more calories in a much shorter amount of time? Recent studies have endorsed High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as the most effective cardio method to burn fat. Simply put, HIIT is defined as alternating short bouts of high intensity activities with moderate-to-long bouts of very low intensity recovery periods. An example would be to run at your fastest speed on the treadmill for 30 seconds to 1 minute followed immediately by a slow, mild walk for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. That process would be repeated 6 to 8 times. HIIT has also been associated with increased EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) in which the body stays in a fat-burning metabolic zone for 24 to 48 hours afterwards!

HIIT can also be performed with traditional exercises like kettlebell swings, clean & press, burpees and squat jumps. Just like the name, it can be quite intense especially if you’re a first-timer so don’t be discouraged if you struggle initially. Due to its taxing nature, HIIT should not be performed no more than twice a week with at least 48 hours apart. Do not perform HIIT if you have a preexisting heart, chronic and/or cardiovascular condition. Always check with your doctor first.