Hi all and welcome back to another week of Get Constructive!
This week’s post comes to you after a UK long weekend in which I took a retreat from technology (barring a GoPro)- an exercise I recommend for everyone to practice periodically. It was a great chance to switch off and enjoy the present moment; something that is so often lacking in a routine filled with program milestones, budgetary pressures, difficult clients and rammed email inboxes.
The weekend is sadly over but on the upside we are back into the swing of things at GC Headquarters and on the back of this renewed sense of calm and clarity, we are tackling another topic that is central to all of our health and wellbeing goals and one that so often causes the wheels to fall off our metaphorical health and fitness Landcruiser (or Land Rover for my UK readers).
Today’s topic is exercise.
Call it exercise, training, going to the gym or just plain torture- when I refer to ‘exercise’ I am simply referring to the act of engaging in physical activity outside of what is essential for us to live and function as human beings. This definition does not discriminate or exclude any form of exercise and I will attempt to wade through the plethora of options available to raise the heart rate and give a quick overview of the benefits of each discipline. At the same time, I will provide a few tips to help the construction cohort fit some exercise into their already busy schedules and finally- I will leave you with some thoughts on how practising consistent exercise over the long term can not only help you achieve great things in terms of body composition, but it can ultimately improve your life overall and in turn- the lives of your family.
Before exploring the types of exercise available, it is useful to start at the beginning. As stated in my series on diet and in today’s introduction- exercise is extra. We have to eat, we do not have to exercise and for that reason we so often hear Pareto’s 80/20 principle applied to diet and exercise respectively. Although it is generalising, I don’t necessarily disagree with this idea and monitoring your energy intake, even loosely, should remain as the first step towards achieving your ambitions in health and fitness. However; 20% is still a big number and without incorporating some form of physical training into our routine, we are missing an opportunity to fast-track and solidify the foundation for improvement laid by a calculated eating plan.
With the importance of training clear- the first mode of exercise to be introduced is Aerobic Exercise also known as the dreaded ‘Cardio’. For many, this is Step 1 when starting a journey into physical training and in this context, cardio refers to any activity performed in the ‘aerobic zone’ or below the ‘aerobic threshold‘ for an extended period of time (i.e. greater than 30 minutes). For running, this is usually at brisk jogging pace, or at around 75% of working heart rate and a similar pace can be applied across the board to other activities such as; swimming, boxing, cycling, stand-up paddle boarding or whatever activity blows your hair back.
Although most of us enjoy running about as much as a council worker enjoys the end of his smoko break- when it comes to entry-level training and dropping weight, plain and simple- cardio works. It can also be done for free, can be practised alone and aside from raising our TDEE and tipping the ‘calories in vs. calories out‘ balance in our favour; regular cardio-style training also produces health benefits in the form of cardiovascular strengthening, increased metabolic rate and recovery from other forms of training.
Moving on from the conventional forms of aerobic exercise, the next mode of training involves upping the tempo and reducing the length of the session. When we push past the ‘aerobic threshold’ and into the ‘anaerobic zone‘ at around 80% to 90% of maximum heart rate, the body moves to glycogen stores as the primary source of fuel and as a by product, starts producing the all-too-familiar lactic acid. Without getting too technical, it makes sense that performing in this zone is only possible for most of us in short bursts and a workout consisting of intervals at this pace is generally shorter than a steady-state cardio session as discussed above.
Now ladies, you may want to cover your eyes because I am about to drop the C-Bomb……..CrossFit.
CrossFit, cross-training, circuit training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) are all popularised terms referring to training comprised of these short, intense bursts of activity, across a huge spectrum of individual exercises. It is important to note that the sometimes dirty word ‘CrossFit’ in my interpretation, is a specific program affiliated with the now global CrossFit brand- it is not the style of training itself. Following a wild surge in popularity over the last ten years, CrossFit, in some circles gets a hard time, largely due to the insane lengths its practitioners push themselves and the ensuing fail videos that then find their way onto YouTube.
I have the privilege of speaking from experience in terms of CrossFit and I will admit, it can be nauseating listening to individuals labour over the subject like their next WOD (Workout of the Day) or bulletproof coffee is the only thing worth waking up for in the morning. However, for weight loss at an introductory or advanced level- I personally prefer it over steady state cardio every time. The workouts are generally scalable to all fitness levels and age groups and the rush of endorphins post-workout is undoubtedly addictive. My advice for those that want to turn to the dark side- find a gym with trainers you can trust and don’t just fork over hundreds of dollars per month because CrossFit is plastered all over the wall and the other patrons are covered in RockTape. There are many gyms practicing this style of training that aren’t governed by the sometimes dogmatic American CrossFit system and I strongly recommend all of my Brisbane readers visit Gym Cartel (link) for some life-changing and non-elitist fitness services.
Moving on from the high and low intensity cardio-style training, the third category for today is Resistance Training, more commonly referred to as ‘Weights’. When flood rehabilitation works led me into the regional areas of Queensland in 2011 and away from my martial arts schools and instructors, resistance training in its many forms became my weapon of choice and remains so to this day barring a few Muay Thai or boxing sessions when time allows. In my opinion, if applied correctly in combination with a prescribed amount of cardio proportional to an individual’s body fat percentage, and in line with the right diet- resistance training can provide the beginner or advanced trainer with the most easily accessible, easily practiced and most efficient improvements in body composition of all the training disciplines.
With the advent of 24 hour gyms in pretty much all towns with a population over 5000, weight training can be practised alone, at a time that suits our often long and irregular shift patterns and is generally inexpensive. Expenses obviously increase if personal training is required and unless you are willing to undertake some self-education from reliable resources (feel free to contact me for a list), then some quality personal training and programming is a good idea prior to starting a resistance training regime.
For the purpose of today’s post I am going to label the final category of training as Competitive Sport or Technique-Based Training. I am lumping a lot into this field but when I say ‘technique-based training’, I am referring to any form of exercise requiring specialized technique, with the objective being something other than the exercise itself. This is to include all competitive sports, martial arts, yoga, gymnastics and the like. Here, technique and skill are emphasised and built over time and competition in, or development of these skills is the primary focus. The health and fitness aspect of the training either goes hand in hand with these objectives, or it is a secondary, yet positive by-product of it.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts epitomised this approach for me personally for a number of years, and while my main concern was in developing my skills and eventually competing- it also helped me significantly improve my physical fitness. This is why these disciplines can be so beneficial to the rookie trainer. Where the mind is almost distracted from the pain of regular, intense exercise by a bigger goal, a mentally stimulating journey or a primal thirst for competition, as well as being pushed by others in a group atmosphere- the results will generally follow on their own.
I know this overview hardly scratches the surface in terms of the endless array of training mediums available in today’s world of health and fitness and where I may be partial to one form of training, you may think it completely ridiculous. The point is, especially for those at the starting blocks in terms of exercise and training- the type of training you choose doesn’t matter. In the end, what matters is your personal goals, your lifestyle and what you enjoy and this culminates in your overall approach.
So where all of our approaches to health and fitness differ depending on a combination of these factors, what doesn’t change for any of us is the fact that, to succeed- you need to start. Don’t wait for the end of your current project, or until a string of your friends birthdays have passed- start now. It can be as simple as starting with one 30 minute walk each week for four weeks, but even something this simple is exponentially better than doing nothing. Set the pass mark low at first so that anything you achieve above this is a bonus- not so high that you set yourself up for failure, disappointment and ultimately abandoning the whole idea to avoid the guilty feeling that you aren’t achieving what you ‘should’ be. It isn’t drastic, overnight, wholesale changes to your life that win in the end, but rather small incremental changes, practised consistently that build a sustainable means for improving your body composition; your health; your life and the life of your family- and please, don’t just take my word for it, ask my mate Eddie Rae (link).
That’s it from GC for another week- I will be posting plenty of useful links and resources through the new Facebook Page (link) leading up to my next installment and when it comes to training or any of the areas I have covered to date, as always, feel free to get in touch via the comments or email with any questions. Enjoy your week and Get Constructive!