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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Workout Intensity

What's more important?  Workout length or workout intensity?

"30 minutes of cardio 3 to 6 days a week for good heart health."  This has been the recommendation from doctors and trainers for the past few decades.  Because of this recommendation, you can go into any commercial gym and see people bouncing up and down on the elliptical or walking on a treadmill, while reading the latest issue of People magazine, at an average speed of really slow!

Lately we have a lot of trainers, and doctors, recommending shorter, more intense, workouts.  Some of these training protocols (Tabata Intervals -shameless plug to my news paper article!) have been highlighted recently in the media.  I was quoted in the paper as saying "You should be able to get in, do a full warm up, get your workout in and get out, all within a half-hour".  The idea behind these shorter, more intense workouts, is the high intensity will elicit a higher heart rate and a greater hormone response which will lead to greater adaptations.

So which is better?  Long, slow workouts?  Or shorter, more intense workouts?  To put it simply, the answer is both.

"Really Mike, you're not even going to take a stand on the issue?  You're turning into quite the politician!"

Hear me out... It is important to incorporate both training protocols into your workout regimen.  To get the most out of your fitness program you must work at many different intensity levels and many different time domains.  People who spend all their time bouncing up and down on the elliptical are wasting a lot of time.  So are the people who do only short bouts of exercise.

To optimize your training you should do some short duration workouts, some medium duration workouts and some long duration workouts.  You should also vary your intensity.  I love high intensity workouts!  I believe you get great benefits by working out as hard as you can.  But there is a place for moderate and low intensity workouts.  It is impossible to work out at maximal intensity all the time.  Your body needs to recover from very high intensity workouts; especially if they are long, high intensity, workouts.  One of the best ways to recover is to do a lower intensity workout.

Following is an example of how you can break down a 5 day training week to optimize training length, intensity and recovery...

  • Monday:  Medium Length/ High Intensity (First workout of the week.  You will be able to push hard through a good 20 minute workout)
  • Tuesday:  Short Length/ High Intensity (After the high intensity effort the day before your body will be a bit fatigued.  Shorten up the workout, 8-12 minutes, but keep the intensity very high early in the week.)
  • Wednesday: Long Length/ Low Intensity (Lowering the intensity will help you recover for the next couple workouts.)
  • Thursday: Medium Length/ Moderate Intensity (Work hard, but save a little energy for the next day)
  • Friday: Long Length/ High Intensity (Last workout of the week.  You have two full rest days after this workout, so push yourself as hard as you can!)
For overall fitness, it is very important to vary your workouts as much as possible.  You must work on every aspect of fitness.  There is a lot of time wasted in the gym.  Don't be that person who spends an hour on the elliptical, reading a magazine, 3-6 days a week.

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