The Minimum Amount of Exercise Required

A question we frequently get is “What is the minimum amount of exercise required for me to get real benefit?”

Before we’d even begin to make a recommendation, we would advise trying to incorporate some activity into your everyday life as this has the potential to yield huge benefits and takes ‘no’ time. We talked about some possible ways to do this in one of our earlier posts.

But as people normally mean the minimum amount of exercise required which is done explicitly as a separate activity, here are some thoughts.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is widely known at this point, it involves bursts of all out activity with periods of resting, repeated a certain number of times. Martin Gibala, one of the foremost HIIT researchers, in his excellent book ‘The One Minute Workout’ (featured in our favorite fitness books), created a workout that takes only ten minutes total and involves just a total of one minute all out effort interspersed in the ten minutes. Performing this protocol three times a week for only six weeks resulted in significant cardio-respiratory improvement in a controlled study.

HIIT as it’s normally practiced targets cardiovascular health and as we believe strength development is very important for health there’s another protocol that can be used in tandem with it. The strength training equivalent of HIIT if you will, and it even sounds similar.

High Intensity Training (HIT) is a style of weight training which gained prominence in the 70’s primarily due to the work of Arthur Jones and champion bodybuilder Mike Mentzer. Their philosophy was that multiple sets of training were redundant and that all that was needed for a body part to grow was one all out gut-busting set and then seven to ten days rest. Many HIT experts design workouts where people would go from station to station doing different exercises with as little rest as possible and finish inside 20 minutes, sometimes significantly less. While we would ideally recommend resistance training twice a week at a minimum, many HIT advocates swear that seven to ten days rest, yields better improvements in strength and muscle. What’s more, many HIT authorities even contend that their strength workouts confer all the cardiovascular benefit a person requires and that dedicated cardiovascular workouts such as HIIT are unnecessary but we haven’t seen compelling evidence for this claim, so we wouldn’t advise dropping cardio completely.

So, combining both of these types of workouts, in theory, a total of 50 minutes a week would give significant benefit in both cardiovascular and muscular fitness.

An alternative to HIIT and HIT, which may give many of the benefits of both is Peripheral Heart Activity (PHA) which we described in an earlier post. Two to three twenty minute PHA workouts per week could definitely yield a lot of strength, muscle and cardiovascular benefits. The attraction of PHA is that the intensity is not as high as with HIIT and HIT and some people report feeling refreshed rather than devastated after exercise.

So, there you have it, somewhere between forty and sixty minutes per week is what various experts say is the minimum amount of exercise required to get tangible benefits.

Dealing with Injuries

Dealing with injuries is a part-and-parcel of training, and life generally. At some stage unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll  have to deal with them.

There are two broad categories of injury as they relate to training.

The first of these is where something specific has occurred, this is an acute injury e.g. you may have performed a high-risk exercise such as jumping up and down to a box and caused a knee injury. Just to note, in all of our workouts, we avoid exercises that are generally considered to have a high-risk associated.

The second type of injury can be more difficult to deal with and these are the chronic. When something you’ve been doing for a significant amount of time, whether in training or everyday life, bursts through a threshold and starts to cause a level of pain that hampers your quality of life. The frustrating thing about chronic injuries is that it often ‘sneaks up on you’ and something that was quite manageable yesterday becomes unmanageable today.

The single most important aspect of dealing with injuries is to remember that while fitness is very important, health is paramount. Your mindset has to put preserving health before worrying about losing fitness. In the long run, this approach gives a better chance of achieving or maintaining the level of fitness you seek.

Obviously, you should consult a treatment expert such as a physiotherapist or a general practitioner to get some recommendations for how to address the immediate pain and the underlying cause. Prioritize their recommendations over your normal activities. Often, a good way of tackling a physiotherapy routine is to incorporate it into a warmup before your workout.

Next, is to stop doing the movements that are exacerbating the pain, at least temporarily, if not permanently. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how long people stubbornly persist doing a movement they know is contributing to their pain. A classic example is someone who insists on overhead pressing when a shoulder impingement has developed or performing standard lunges when they have knee pain. You’re not going to lose impossible-to-recover ground by stopping a movement for a few weeks. If you stop for long enough for the pain to completely disappear but it reoccurs when the movement is reintroduced then permanently stopping the movement is probably required. As unpalatable as this may be, common sense should tell you that ignoring this could lead to permanent damage. Don’t become dogmatic about certain movements, there are always alternatives e.g. a reverse lunge instead of a forward lunge or a landmine press instead of directly overhead.

Of course, with a chronic injury which may have emerged due to everyday life, stopping the movement can be more difficult e.g. you develop hip pain due to the way you press the pedal repeatedly while driving. But even here there may be ways you can at least modify your habits to reduce the pain e.g. use the handbrake more, adjust the car seat.

Once you’re following a treatment  program and you’ve eliminated the painful movements, the next step is to commit to continue to do as much of the remainder of your regular workout as possible. There are three reasons for this

  • First, it helps your mental state, you won’t be as likely to fall into a funk you have difficulty getting out of in relation to getting back exercising.
  • Secondly, you’ll maintain some of the fitness you’ve built which makes the road back easier.
  • Finally, experts agree that people who continue to exercise  experience quicker recovery times.

So, that’s our take, injuries are going to happen, health is paramount, follow your health professional’s advice, drop the problematic movements and don’t let a setback be a full stop.

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 5

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from:

          What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

         When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this advice has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our small, practical pieces of advice so far have been don’t eat between your main meals, don’t put something in your mouth unless your mouth is already empty, use a smaller plate and put away all electronic devices for the duration of your meal.

Our latest practical weight loss tip is to eat only until you’re 80% full.

Everyone’s experienced it, you’re hungry, sit down to a meal and chow down – before you know it, 10 to 15 minutes have passed, the dinner table looks like a crime scene and you’re starting to feel like you’re going to explode.

We’re suggesting that a great habit to adopt would be to slow down and try to recognize how full you feel. It’s not essential to wait until every last vestige of hunger has been annihilated by food before you stop. We’ve already talked about how your body needs time to register that its appetite has been satiated and once you’ve mastered that, this habit layers on top quite naturally.

You can, and should, stop at or before the 80% mark. Your weight will reflect your forbearance, your digestive system will definitely feel better and studies indicate that you may even live longer.

Some people attribute the better body composition among Okinawans over the age of 60 with their adoption of this habit, the typical BMI there is between 18 and 22 compared with an average of 26 or 27 for the US.

So, slow down, listen to your body and see the great things that can happen.

An Alternative to HIIT training

HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training has become very popular over the last few years. By training at a high intensity with appropriate rest intervals, HIIT allows people to reap many of the same cardiovascular benefits of traditional cardio in a fraction of the time.

There are many HIIT protocols and perhaps the most famous of these is the Tabata protocol. In the original experiment, after a 10 minute warmup on a stationary bike subjects performed eight 20 second intervals of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds rest. This was done four times a week along with one 30 minute session of steady state cycling and two minutes of maximum effort intervals, all of this totaled 88 minutes a week. Another group did steady cardio on the bike for an hour five times a week for a 300 minute total. After 6 weeks, the Tabata group had 1.5 times the VO2 max gain of the other group.

If you’re interested in learning more about the great benefits of HIIT and many workout ideas, have a look at the excellent One Minute Workout by Martin Gibala on our books page.

However, HIIT training isn’t for everyone as some people don’t enjoy the intensity required.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like this intensity and would like an alternative to HIIT or want to try a different protocol that can deliver similar benefits and even outperform HIIT in some ways, without the gut-wrenching effort, then we’d like to introduce you to Peripheral Heart Activity or PHA workouts.

PHA alternates upper and lower body exercise in a circuit with no rest between exercises. A lot of cardiovascular and muscular improvement can be attained with PHA workouts without the trainee feeling devastated afterwards.

PHA was popularised by Bob Gadja who was a Mr Universe in the 1960’s, rather than weight train as many others did where they chased the ‘pump’ through fatiguing one muscle group at a time, Gadja believed much more in conditioning the body both muscularly and in a cardiovascular sense.

A PHA approach using a bodyweight workout could be something like:

6 Push Ups

10 Reverse Lunges Left Leg

4 Chin Ups

10 Reverse Lunges Right Leg

Do this circuit 2 to 3 times.

If you wanted to use the Modest Equipment set up, you could try

10 standing dumbbell press

20 bodyweight squats

4 Pull Ups

Alternating Step Ups

8 push ups

10 reverse lunges, 5 left leg then 5 right

Again, do this circuit 2 to 3 times.

To progress these types of workouts, you could choose to either add circuits or add reps/weight. Better yet, use both methods of progression. Start with reps/weight and when that becomes too intense, reduce the reps/weights by 20% and add a circuit, then begin again.

Finally, a word of caution – we advise you to master our standard workouts and remind you that the numbers specified above are just suggestions, remember our guidelines that you shouldn’t exceed ‘8’ on your intensity scale.

Many advocates of PHA, say that the target is to get a good workout in but to finish feel refreshed rather than devastated i.e. you aren’t trying to chase fatigue as with many other workout protocols.

If you decide to give this alternative to HIIT a go, let us know how you do.

 

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 4

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from:

          What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

         When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this advice has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our small, practical pieces of advice so far have been don’t eat between your main meals, don’t put something in your mouth unless your mouth is already empty and use a smaller plate.

Our fourth practical weight loss tip is put away all electronic devices for the duration of your meal.

This one is a challenge we know. We’re all quite dependent on our devices these days whether it be work or leisure related. When we do not have our phone with us or have a TV to watch, we feel lost and anxious (although we would argue that having a mobile device actually causes us more anxiety than its absence but that’s a discussion for another day).

If we do put the device away, we will immediately have a stronger connection with our food and a better awareness of how much of it we are consuming. With this increased awareness we have a much better chance of registering when our appetite has been satisfied as opposed to unconsciously taking mouthful after mouthful because you have to get through the meal in front of you.

You’ll notice too that this habit is very compatible with the habit of not putting something in your mouth unless your mouth is empty i.e. you’ve swallowed the previous mouthful. It is much harder to be aware that you are rushing your food if your attention is being taken by social media or emails from work.

Modern processed food is designed to be hyper palatable, to give ourselves a real chance of recognizing when we’ve had enough, we need to  removed distractions that take all of our protection.

If this seems like too big of a challenge, we would urge you to at least try it with your evening meal, a time when most of us would normally be in less demand from our jobs.

Talk to you soon.

 

Being Less Plugged In

When you compare our life to 30 years ago, before the advent of the web and mobile devices, a lot of things took a lot more time. Simple things like finding a product review, figuring out a journey time or making a booking were all slower processes.

Now, researching everything is easier and quicker whether it’s for leisure such as movies and books or you’re looking for reviews on something as mundane as a household appliance.

Staying in touch with people is a lot easier now too, friends who might have moved away for work or study are only a Facetime or Whatsapp away.

The worlds of news, sport and entertainment are at our fingertips too and we have access to the thoughts of millions of people on the events of the day. There’s a constant information flow and a perceived need to keep up with that flow.

Similarly with work, whereas in years gone by people might wait for queries to be answered, now everyone expects instant feedback. “I called you!” frequently means, “Why didn’t you respond more quickly?”

Without a doubt there are huge benefits to this ‘connectedness’ in terms of time and convenience. However, it’s clear there are also costs.

Beyond the well-documented mental health issues of social media, we have the psychological stress of feeling that we have to keep up, that we can’t disconnect even briefly. There are even physical changes such as ‘text neck’ and ‘smartphone thumb‘.

What we’d like to suggest are a few ways to being less plugged in to electronic media for certain parts of the day which will improve health and consequently fitness.

First, and most importantly, remove electronic devices from the bedroom. Rather than your phone, tablet or laptop, read a book or a magazine for 15 to 30 minutes. It’ll be much more conducive to winding down properly and getting quality sleep.

Secondly, during main meal times, place all devices in another room for the duration of the meal. This will allow you to relax, be present and better enjoy the food and the company.

Thirdly, if you’re on email in your work, find a window in the morning and afternoon to turn off the mail package. You’ll find your productivity goes up and stress down as you’re able to focus on tasks at hand.

Lastly, consider removing social media apps from your phone and forcing yourself to use them through the web browser on the phone. Putting barriers in place has been shown to reduce usage.

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 3

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from

What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our first practical weight loss tip was to ignore the fallacy that we should eat a lot of small meals a day and don’t eat between your main meals.  and our second was don’t put food in your mouth unless you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the previous mouthful.

Our latest piece of advice is use a smaller plate and put your utensils down frequently .

We know, we know this sounds almost laughable but hear us out.

On the first point, the size of the average dinner plate has grown consistently since the 1960’s when it was 800 calories to 1,000 calories in the ‘80’s to 1,600 calories in the 2000’s to around 1,900 calories today – that’s almost two and a half times the size from the initial plate.

If you factor in the increased frequency of meals which we talked about in our first diet tip you have a perfect storm for gaining weight, bigger meals more often. So, we’ve already advised on reducing the frequency of eating and once you’ve done that i.e. say you have managed to stick with the habit for a few weeks, this habit can build on that.

If you even reduced the size of the plate to that used 10 years ago, you would be cutting calories by 300 a day. This assumes you stick with just one serving but this should be easier given your slower more mindful eating. To further build on this habit, if you successfully ingrained the 300 calorie smaller plate, you could then try to reduce it a bit further.

Putting your utensils down, means once you have put the food into your mouth, put your knife and fork down and enjoy your food, it’s just a simple additional tip, feeding into the previous tips but combined together these simple tips act like compound interest.

Anything, no matter how small, that gets you connected to the food you’re eating will all contribute to the weight loss outcome you want.

Designing your own Home Workouts

There are quite a few home workouts on the site which range from using a small amount of equipment to no equipment  at all. They’re good for everything from fat loss to muscle building and they can be tailored to fit the time you have available.

So, you could follow any of these or you could choose to design one of your own home workouts from scratch and in this post, we’ll give you some pointers on what you need to consider if you’d like to do this.

The first question you need to ask is what’s your goal and, if you have more than one, what are their relative importance to one another. For example, you might prioritize losing weight but may also want to improve cardiovascular health.

If your aim is to lose weight or improve cardiovascular health then we’d suggest resistance training in a circuit fashion is the best approach whereas if you solely wish to build muscle or improve your maximal strength at the expense of all else then straight sets are probably preferable. Just to clarify, straight sets are where you do all sets of one exercise before moving onto the next exercise. A circuit entails doing exercise 1 then exercise 2 then exercise 3 and so on and, when you’ve completed all exercises, you start with exercise 1 again and repeat until you’ve completed the target number of sets.

The next decision would be to choose the specific exercises and their order. A good rule of thumb for exercise selection (which we didn’t create) is to have a knee-flexion movement, a hip-flexion movement, a horizontal push and pull and a vertical push and pull. We’d also recommend you prioritize exercises which use the greater number of muscle groups and then perform exercises for single muscle groups e.g. a squat or a kettlebell swing would be performed before a bicep curl or a calf raise.

When choosing the exercises, an important question has to be, “Do I have any injuries or legacy issues that I need to take into account?” For example if you’ve an issue with your knee such as patellar compression syndrome then a reverse lunge is probably going to be easier to sustain than a traditional lunge.

Lastly, for now, we’d urge you to be realistic in deciding how much time you have. There’s an expression doing the rounds at the moment “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and while it’s a bit of a cliché , we often see people wanting to have the perfect workout e.g. it hits every muscle group with every exercise they know every single day, improves endurance, burns body fat, build muscle and takes 2 hours.

This simply isn’t realistic for most people. Maybe you can only fit in 10 to 15 minutes a day or perhaps you can do an hour but only twice a week. Let your life schedule be your guide. There’s no point in turning your life upside down to accommodate an extreme exercise routine you won’t stick with it. Go for something sustainable.

We’ll follow up with another post soon on further considerations when you’re designing your own home workouts.

 

Home Workouts – Training in a Sustainable Way

It’s a common occurrence. Things are going really well with your home workouts and you decide to ‘take it up a level’. Soon after you either suffer an injury that incapacitates you or you get to ’burnout’ where you simply stop exercise because the burden is too much to face.

You’ll hear us repeat many times on this website that the road to fitness should be a slow, gradual process and not a breakneck race. If you look at our Guidelines you’ll see that we advocate aiming for an intensity of ‘8’ which should feel like pleasant exertion rather than all-out devastation.

To expand on this a little, what you need to aim for is enjoying the times of exercise, looking forward to them for their restorative effects. You should just be able to immerse yourself in your home workouts for however long you have set aside, be that 5 or 50 minutes, and finish them feeling better than when you started.

In order to find this enjoyment we suggest, you have to be operating in a space that is only ‘comfortably uncomfortable’. This is what an intensity of ‘8’ feels like – a perceptible strain on your muscles and/or cardiovascular system but nothing that feels like it will wipe you out.

Only when you’ve been at a certain level long enough, so that it feels like you ‘own’ it, should you increase one of the dimensions of intensity e.g. add a rep or two to the sets, add a set, increase the duration by five minutes or increase the weight minimally. Then when you repeat the process and eventually feel equally comfortable with the new level you can think about increasing intensity again. Essentially your ‘8’ has dropped to a ‘7’ or even a ‘6’ and to increase enjoyment you are increasing intensity.

This may seem like an overly, slow and cautious approach but we can guarantee that over the months home workouts using this approach will result in more progress than going hell-for-leather. Think of it as compound interest, small increases over time compound on one another to add up to something surprising.

Remember, if training or exercise is something you look forward to then you’ll keep coming back for more and it’s in this repeated exposure that the ‘magic’ happens.

Time Poor Training – Practical Weight Loss Tip 2

There are countless diet experts with various recommendations online, some of them are true experts and some maybe not so much. There’s advice around on everything from

           What to eat: everything on the continuum from vegan to wholly carnivore

and

           When to eat: intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, have breakfast/don’t have breakfast.

We think that some of this has taken on the characteristics of ideology and is more about putting down others’ views rather than looking simply to help people.

We’re not dietician’s or nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. So, we’re just going to share some recommendations over a few posts that we believe are easy to understand and easy to implement.

Just to be clear the idea is that you implement one of these tips for a short period of time and then when you’re confident it’s in place, start to implement the next one. Using this slow steady approach you will reap great benefits.

Our first practical weight loss tip was to ignore the fallacy that we should eat a lot of small meals a day and don’t eat between your main meals.

Our second, easy to implement practical weight loss tip is don’t put food in your mouth unless you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the previous mouthful.

Essentially, we are aiming not to bolt partially chewed food down.

It sounds simple, maybe too simple to have any net effect?

Well, think about it this way, if it takes you 45 seconds to completely chew and swallow a mouthful of a particular food and you put the next mouthful in after 35 seconds because you’re in a rhythm then you’re eating almost 25% faster than we’re recommending.

We know that people typically eat quite quickly in modern life. The faster you eat, the more you’ll consume before the 20 minutes or so it takes your mind to register you’ve had enough. Wouldn’t it be nice if our meals were a counterpoint to our otherwise stressful and hectic lifestyles, a chance to slow down and take some time?

Besides the significant benefit of eating less overall, the fact is that a lot of people suffer from digestive issues which over time can impact health in a number of different ways, including but not limited to weight gain. If you chew your food more thoroughly, you’re actually doing your digestive system a huge favor by reducing the burden on it because the saliva in your mouth acts to begin the process of breaking the food own.

So, try this more relaxed way of eating for a month or so and see the benefits it yields.