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Exercise (cont.)

Interval Training

Interval training (IT), also known as speed training, or speed work, is a method of cardio training in which you combine aerobic and anaerobic training. The way it works is that you work out at your normal pace for a few minutes (after a proper warm-up), and then you increase the pace for a minute or two at periodic intervals. Take running as an example. You run at your normal pace of 6 mph for three minutes, then increase to 6.5 mph for one minute, then back to 6 mph for three minutes, then back to 7 mph, and so on, continuing this for the duration of your workout. As you get more fit, you decrease the rest time and increase the work time. These periodic changes are known as "work to active-recovery ratios" (written as work: active recovery).

You can get more specific and use heart rate to monitor your intervals. Heart rate is an excellent indication of how hard you're working. For example, if your heart rate is at 70% of your predicted max when you jog at 6 mph, then start at that speed for three minutes, then increase the speed (or elevation on the treadmill) so that your heart rate increases to 85% or even 90% for one minute, then go back to jogging at 6 mph, or 70% of heart-rate reserve.

A ratio of 1:3, or work to active-recovery, is a good starting point. As you get more fit, you can increase the work and decrease the active-recovery in 30-second increments so that the ratio becomes 2:2. Research clearly shows that fitness improves quickly and substantially with interval training. And there's more research to show that you may be able to get as fit with intervals as you can with traditional aerobic training in less than half the time. Give intervals a try. They get you fit, and they can help you break through a weight-loss plateau as well.

Resistance Exercise

Resistance exercise is any exercise that causes muscles to contract against external resistance. It could be weight-lifting machines, free weights (for example, dumbbells), resistance bands, or even your body weight (pushups, pull-ups, etc.). ACSM guidelines for resistance exercise are to do one set of eight to 10 exercises that condition the major muscle groups, two to three days per week, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise; 10-15 repetitions may be more appropriate for older and frailer people, and multiple-set regimens may provide greater benefits if time allows. Research shows that beginners can get stronger with just one set of each exercise, but then after three to four months, you'll probably need to increase the number of sets to get stronger since your strength will plateau and your muscles will need a greater stimulus to improve.

Free Weights vs. Machines

Both of these work, and I recommend a combination to maximize your workout. Here are the advantages of the two:

Free weights:

  • More versatile so you can do more exercises with them
  • Challenge your balance since you must control the weights
  • Less expensive than machines


  • Safe for beginners who might not have the coordination or experience to work with free weights on their own
  • Are efficient because all you need to do is put the pin in the weight stack to get your resistance
  • Permit you to do certain exercises more easily and safely than with free weights (for example, cable rows compared with bent-over rows, pull-downs compared with a pull-over)

Bodybuilders use both, and if it's good enough for them, then it ought to be good enough for you. I recommend at the very least using the cable row or rowing machine and the cable crossover. The cable crossover is great because it allows you to do many of the exercises you can do with free weights without lots of different dumbbells, plus the cables have a smooth action that feels great. Ask a trainer at your gym to show you the different exercises you can do with it if you don't know how.

Here are the potential down sides to free weights:

  • You need lots of them to get a thorough workout if you want to work out at home.
  • You could drop one.

Here are the potential downside to machines:

  • Not all machines fit all body types. Ask a trainer to make sure the machine is set properly for you (seat adjustment and arm adjustment if available).
  • The range of motion is set and may not fit your anatomy. For instance, the biceps machine where the handles do not rotate can cause considerable stress on the elbow. The same goes for the triceps machine. So, if you have pain on a machine, ask a trainer for advice.
  • They are efficient for home use but can get pricey. In all cases, I recommend having a few sessions with a trainer if you've never lifted weights before.

I also recommend exercise tubing for resistance exercise. Tubing is inexpensive and versatile. You can do lots of exercises with it, even in a chair. In fact, there are more exercises that you can do with tubing than with dumbbells and machines combined. All that, plus tubing is portable and you can stow it away in a drawer! I recommend starting with a set of four tubes for about $20. They come in colors to denote the tension. If you order them, make sure to order the strap that allows you to attach the tube to a door (critical for at least a dozen exercises including rows, triceps press-downs and kickbacks, lateral and v-front raises, pull-downs, upright rows, biceps curls, and more). To work the legs, hips, and glutes (buttock muscles), purchase leg bands.

Here are some vendors that sell exercise tubing:

Other methods for resistance exercise include physioballs, medicine balls, Pilates, and Gyrotonics. Physioballs are great for abdominal work; medicine balls are great for side bends and torso twists, lunges (try holding the ball while you do giant lunges across the room), toe touches, overhead lifts, and tossing against a mini-trampoline or with a partner; Pilates and Gyrotonics both use machines (although there are Pilates mat classes as well) and are great for toning, stretching, balance, coordination, and strength. Gyrotonics is a system of exercise designed to improve flexibility and balance as well as strength. It differs from Pilates in that it works more on flexing the body inward whereas Pilates works on extending the body outward. It's a personal preference, and if you have a Gyrotonics center in your area, you might want to try it. Search online for a center near you.

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