Wednesday, 19 December 2012

What’s The Best Way To Keep Fit?

It’s that time of year, lots of adverts for the latest keep fit gadget, slimming groups and offers to join gyms. But what is the best way to keep fit?

Over the last few months fitness industry magazines have been going on about the latest big craze, HIIT. If you’ve not come across this it stands for High Intensity Interval Training. I’ve read a number of articles pointing out the benefits of HIIT, particularly concentrating on weight loss, including one by a Personal Trainer stating that just 4 minutes of this activity can help you to lose weight. But, HIIT is nothing new, it’s been around for years in the sports world, I’ve certainly been using it for my own training since I started running, back in the last century.

It’s true HIIT is very effective in getting you fit, no matter what sport you play or if you just want to improve your fitness levels, or lose weight. But I’m sceptical about any claims that state you can lose weight by doing just 4 minutes of it. 4 minutes of it during an overall session that lasts more than 20 minutes maybe. The length of and number of intervals will depend on what your goal is. Most trainers would have their clients do intervals of well under a minute, because as a beginner your stamina will be lacking, but as you get fitter you can increase the duration of and number of intervals. Having used it regularly I know it is the cornerstone of my own fitness. In particular it has helped me to quickly regain lost fitness due to injury layoffs. I use it with many of my own clients and it has been effective for them too. But it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone, I work with a number of clients on rehabilitation from injury or illness, HIIT is not suitable for them until they have strengthened any weak areas and built up their fitness levels to a reasonable standard.

For many years it has been believed, within the fitness industry, that cardio vascular training carried out in the fat burning zone (60-75% maximum heart rate, though if you read numerous articles you’ll find that this figure varies from 60-70% to 60-85%). Will help you burn off the most calories, hence the name of the zone. However I’ve never been a strong advocate of that principle, because I’ve always believed that interval training is a better way of burning off fat. However because you need to work out in this zone for at least 20 minutes, preferably an hour, but even more effectively once you dip over the hour, it would be very hard, and ill advised to do HIIT every day. Therefore carrying out a fat burning zone session on alternate days to HIIT would work well.

Many PTs will tell you that resistance training, using heavy weights to build lean muscles is the most effective way to lose weight, because it raises the metabolism, thereby burning more calories. Whilst I agree it will help you to lose weight and will also help you to build strength, it will also change the shape of your body, which may or may not be a good thing for you. I’ve never been totally in agreement that this is the best way to lose weight and from a personal fitness point of view it is not the most effective way to gain cardiovascular fitness. To back this up I recently read an article that stated that endurance training was a more effective way to lose weight than resistance training. Interestingly I prefer to use endurance within my own resistance training and that of my clients. This still builds up strength, without any significant muscle bulking, but because I use exercises that use multiple body parts and also encourage movement around the training area, which gives a cardio boost, I find it very effective in both burning fat and building fitness.

Diet! Can be a contentious subject, there are many of them out there. A lot of people do seem to lose weight during dieting, but many others do not. Some maintain that weight, others do not. My personal opinion on dieting is that your diet should not be restrictive of food types that do you good, it should be balanced and you should eat an appropriate amount to what you require to get through your day. If you exercise more you will no doubt have to eat more. I also believe that eating, like exercise, should be an enjoyable experience so try to pick foods that are both healthy and tasty, and remember a little treat will not hurt, every now and again.

So that’s the pre-amble over, what do I think the best way to keep fit is? Firstly I believe that you are more likely to stick to an exercise regime if you enjoy it. Probably the best way to enjoy it is to do it with friends, but also, for the bulk of us, adding some sense of competition to your regime will really help. On the whole, I firmly believe that a mix of HIIT, steady state endurance training, resistance work and dietary control is the answer. It’s what I do, it works for me, but it may not work for everyone. Mix it up to make your week’s workouts more interesting, but I also believe that you should make your training challenging.

The longer you work out the more calories you will burn, but you need to build up to this, you can’t suddenly go from nothing to a two hour session. My weight is a constant 10 stone 10 to 11 stone at the moment, which for a man of 5’10” is ok, particularly considering my age. The one time I took it below 10 stone, apart from when I was a lanky teenager, was when I trained for the marathon, in 2003. At the time I was doing long interval sessions, long steady runs, no resistance work at all and eating all the time. Further evidence that endurance training will help you to lose weight and get you fit. But of course not everybody can afford the time or has the ability to do two hour plus sessions. So, as I said before, a mix of all types of training for sessions around 1 hour should serve you well. But if you can’t manage an hour in one go, break it up into chunks. This is again something I do; 45 minute interval session followed, later in the day by a 15 minute cardio blast and a 20 minute resistance session.

What I’ve been up to:-
With no more cross country races until the new year I decide to treat myself to a parkrun this Saturday. It was the inaugural parkrun at Congleton, around Astbury Mere. Ray and Sharon came along with me as we tackled this relatively flat but muddy course, 3 laps around the mere. 88 other runners turned up for the event, which is a great number to start with. I’ve finished first in all the parkruns I’ve done this year, even I don’t know how I’ve managed that, but this week I was confident I wouldn’t win. I felt sure a number of good runners would turn out to check out the course, believing it to be fast, and I would surely be fighting to get into the top 10. As it turned out I was completely wrong, I led, unintentionally, from the off. I could hear that I had company, at least two runners, not far behind on the first lap. They, or at least one of them, sounded closer during the 2nd lap and I thought it was just a case of when, not if, they would take the lead from me. But my strength is my endurance and during the 3rd lap I sensed I was pulling away. With half a lap to go I gave it one final push and surprised myself by winning yet another parkrun event. Because this was the inaugural event I obviously hold the course record, but I don’t expect that to last more than a week.

Leading the Congleton Parkrun, event 1

This weekend also saw Sports Review of the Year. I haven’t always watched this event, it has been a bit tedious at times, but this year it was irresistible. So many Brits have made some fantastic sporting achievements that I just had to watch it. Even as a runner I’m not surprised, or disappointed, that Bradley Wiggins won. Though I think anyone in the final selection can feel proud of what they have achieved, on other years any one of them could have won. Mind you I was surprised Mo Farah didn't make the first three, but that’s how it goes. I was pretty touched by the award to Martine Wright, I remember London 7/7 well, I was lucky enough to be on a different route to work but still got caught up in all the confusion of it. I can look back at all the things I've achieved since that day, and hopefully more for the future, and they all mean so much more because, had I been on a different route or had the bombers chosen different locations to cause their destruction, non of those achievements would have happened, plus all the new friendships I've made since then wouldn't have occurred.

This will be my last blog of the year. I've a lot on during the next two weeks so won't have time to write one. Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to all, and if you don't celebrate Xmas or New Year, for whatever reason, just be happy anyway.

Written by Roger Alsop

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