Category Archives: Food & fuel

HIIT or steady state cardio for fat loss

HIIT or steady state cardio for fat loss. Which one is better? As summer teases itself in you may feel an urge to get on the exercise train.

High intensity interval training or HIIT

If you do not know what HIIT is, it is exactly how it is described. High intensity intervals are alternated with relative rest or recovery periods. It is repeated multiple times to complete a workout. It could include aerobic exercise like biking or running, and it can also include resistance training, plyometrics or body weight exercise.

In general the effort required during the high intensity phase will range from 80-100 percent of your VO2max, heart rate maximum or maximal power output. The active recovery/rest phase is usually around 50-70%.

Here is some research findings presented by Bryce Hastings a physiotherapist and a presenter at CanFitPro, where HIIT sessions were compared to vigorous steady state cardio.

The HIIT sessions required an activity level where greater than 85% of heartrate (HR) max was achieved. The HIIT subjects demonstrated a higher degree of improvement in VO2 max(cardiovascular fitness), body fat reduction, and triglyceride reduction.

The optimal aggregate amount of time spent over the course of a week in HR max should total 30-40 minutes. So for example, if you do a 30 minute HIIT workout and 15 minutes is spent in HR max, you would need to do this twice weekly to get the 30 minutes.

It was highlighted that in order to participate in this HIIT program, you really need to be in shape already. Given the high level of exertion and higher risk for injury, the above HIIT protocol would not be something for a beginner exerciser.

What if you are a beginner exerciser or recently less active?

So what if you are a beginner exerciser or recently less active? Can you still use and benefit from HIIT? I recently came across a podcast whose guest speaker was Dr. Martin Gibala, described as a world-leader in HIIT research. His perspective included HIIT for beginner’s which included cardiac rehab clients.

It would appear that the term HIIT can be used very loosely to incorporate a larger range of fitness abilities, and hence a wider range of intensities. Other terms like MIIT(moderate intensity interval training) and LIIT(low intensity interval training) are also part of this family of training protocols.

To make it simple, just start with IT(interval training). Essentially, move for a period of time, then move a little harder for a little while, then repeat. Seriously, it’s that simple. As always, if you are unsure if it is safe to exercise, follow up with your health care practitioner.

Interval walking

Interval walking is an example of an activity that could be performed in intervals. Simply, brisk walking could be interspersed with recovery periods at a slower pace. If you have found most of your days are spent sitting this could be a perfect place to start. The degree of effort can be self regulated as well as the distance or duration.

As always, be mindful of where you are on the are you on the exercise and physical activity spectrum. Check out this post Are you evolving as an exerciser to see where you stand on the exercise and physical activity spectrum. If you are not sure if you are ready for exercise or if it safe to exercise, look for activity readiness questionnaires online to guide you or follow up with your health care professional.

Here is some more information that compares lower to moderate intensity workouts and HIIT.

Low to moderate intensity, longer duration exercise

The following info was found in an article in 2013 by exercise physiologist, Len Kravitz called “The Physiology of Fat Loss”:

In a single exercise bout we burn the most fat when exercising at a low to moderate intensity, when oxygen consumption is between 25 to 60 % of VO2max.

EPOC or excess post exercise oxygen consumption (the number of calories you burn after exercise) is higher after HIIT than after longer duration lower intensity exercise.

Weight loss with HIIT or steady state cardio

Whether you choose to do (shorter duration) HIIT or steady state cardio (longer duration with low to moderate intensity exercise), you will contribute to your weight loss goals if everything else is kept contant.

The problem is, we are often are in a big rush to see gains. We choose a level of exercise and/or a reduction in food intake that we can’t sustain. We end up hurting ourselves or feeling rotten. Our efforts at being healthier are at risk of being thrown to the wayside before the benefits are experienced.

I would propose that your desire to increase your daily activity level be addressed independent of any weight loss goals. If you are just starting out on the fitness terrain, work on one thing at a time. Start with activity goals that you can sustain, and as always, start small. Making initial fitness goals that do not include body fat level reduction may help to keep things simple and expectations in check.

Self efficacy and exercise

Once your are on the exercise wagon, chances are you will see changes that will make fat loss goals a lot easier. Develop your exercise habit. This realization that you can succeed at an exercise program can spread into other areas of health. Like making positive food choices more often than not.

Don’t try to do a complete rewiring of all of your (not so good) habits from the outset. Just start rerouting one at a time. Before you know it, you will have transformed yourself into something you may have never imagined. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Let’s GO!!

Essentrics with Andrea

Lifestyle resolutions on fitness and food

At this time of year, new commitments to health and fitness are common. I know I have made multiple diaries with charts, dates, goals and promises over the years. Renewed lifestyle resolutions are a good thing, but we need to find a way to sustain and evolve them on a regular basis, making our day to day function better than ever before.

How can we make every day count and get on a more sustainable and satisfactory path? Extreme exercise routines or fad diets are options but how do we make our resolve last longer than a day, a week or a month?

Think process. Process implies evaluation(I am out of shape), planning(I am going to do this), application(do it) and then reevaluation(can I make it better). It is never ending. There are ups and downs, but it is always present.

10 things you can do today to stimulate sustainable lifestyle resolutions:

  1. Forgive yourself. Stop beating yourself up over recent adventures including lying on the couch for days or consuming that box of chocolates a little faster than you intended. It’s done. It’s now time to literally move onward.
  2. Start with daily mini exercise sessions. Make a concerted effort to move your body for a set period of time. Start with a 5 minute brisk walk in your home or adjacent hallways.
  3. Improvise. Stick some music on and boogie. It really is that easy. Don’t fling yourself about with great force unless you have worked up to it.
  4. Drink more water. Sometimes thirst is disguised as hunger. I hate plain water, so I have sparkling water or herbal tea instead.
  5. Try something new. Has a friend or colleague mentioned an app or workout that they like? Turn it on then start to move at your own pace.
  6. Online fitness classes are abundant. I myself will be trying a few different routines just for fun. An example of a place to start could be Essentrics.com. The website has recorded classes for all levels as well as a list of instructors who do live streaming.
  7. Commit to a workout with a friends or family. Join them for an online class or a socially distanced outdoor hike.
  8. Stretch. Get up out of your chair and stretch. Start with gently moving your head and neck, work down to your shoulders, elbows, hands, then continue down your spine all the way to your feet.
  9. Tune in. Try some deep breathing into your belly. Gently fill it and then release. Then check your posture. Can you sit or stand a little taller? Are there areas of your body where you need to relax a little more?
  10. Write down all of your physical activity options on one page. Keep it simple. Then each day pick one and do it to whatever degree you like. From there more options and ideas may arise.

Get going and stop thinking. There are so many possibilities and so many paths you can take. Pick one and let’s GO!

Choosing a sustainable path

When exercise doesn’t feel good: 6 reasons why and how to overcome them

Sometimes exercise doesn’t feel good. If you are like me, I exercise for a release. But what happens when that release or elevated state after exercise doesn’t occur? What if it is just the opposite?

I recently did an online class with my favorite instructor.  But I will admit, I wasn’t feeling it.   Until we got to the side leg lifts.  More on that later.  Maybe it was because I had a kink in my neck that was distracting me, and a resolving shoulder tendinitis on the opposite side. I was in a bit of a funk. Probably even before I started. I left class on a neutral to grumpy note. I didn’t experience my usual lightness of being.  My focus was also a little scattered with concerns unrelated to the class.

Let’s start with the obvious:

1: Pain or injury. Sometimes we can manage to do what we like to do despite a little niggling irritation or pain. Sometimes after exercising that discomfort is gone. But sometimes its worse. If you are in the habit of feeling more pain after exercise, you are doing the wrong thing. Switch your intention to releasing versus tensing. Go “loosey goosey”(credit : Essentrics). Go through the range of motion without visiting the painful limits. This may be enough to nudge you back into balance.

The other thing is try something completely different. Give that unhappy area some relative rest. Do an activity that focuses on another area of the body (stationary cycling instead of upper body activities for a shoulder injury). Focus on ideal postures and positions for the area involved. If you can’t figure it out, consult with someone who should know how to approach injury and exercise.

The exercise itself may not be the reason for your pain. It could very well be how you spend your day (sitting, slouching?) that is the main contributing factor to your malaise. Start paying to attention to more of what hurts and what helps. This may inform you as to what activities may be beneficial and what is harmful.

2. Illness. if you are sick, you are sick. Some of us know when we are about to get sick. This is the time to back off so your body can focus its energy on your immune response. Taxing your body at this time is a bad idea. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a short walk, if you are truly up for it. You still need to move but bring it down several notches so nature can take its course, getting you better sooner than later.

3. Self criticism. Sometimes we enter into exercise with a less than positive attitude. Find the spaces where you know you have felt uplifted before. If you are just getting started, can you create or find an environment where you feel the desire to thrive? Where can you find some positive encouragement for your efforts? Try not to compare yourself to others, even if just for the next 20 minutes. Be present for your own benefit.

4. Over training / overexertion. This is again where the ego’s desires exceed the physical ability or capacity. Yes, you may have run a marathon, but the boot camp isn’t a run-a-thon, so take yourself through new activities with several ounces of caution. What’s the hurry? What’s the point of exercising beyond your tissues’ limits?

I like exercise that I can sustain everyday. I no longer want to train so I can barely walk the following day or two. It depends on what your goals are. If you are directing your efforts towards a specific goal, are you starting from a base level of fitness or are you starting from square one? A different approach will be required for each circumstance

Overtraining can lead to chemical imbalances that can can be more destructive than constructive (long term elevation of cortisol) , leaving you feeling lousy instead of energized.

5. Not enough fuel/water/sleep.

Fuel. We need food to maintain our basic human processes. If we are exercising, we need more. This doesn’t mean you should eat the McDonald’s cheeseburger because you ran for 1.5 hours. Look at what you eat and drink as your building blocks to success. Not eating enough to sustain your activities may result in increased cortisol levels and decreased recovery.

If you are pairing exercise with reduced food intake for weight loss, try not to be too extreme. Look for the nutrient dense food (aka healthy) so your body gets what it needs. Cut out the junk food. We can eat crappy food on occasion when we are fitness focused. But feeling dizzy during exercise because you haven’t eaten or drank enough shouldn’t be an option.

Water. I don’t derive a lot of pleasure from drinking water. I feel the same about eating green vegetables but at least my body recognizes that they are important and sometimes craves them. Water? I am rarely thirsty and hate the taste. I just know I need water. So I try to choke down a a cupful or two during exercise. I use a cup instead of a bottle for easier access.

Sleep. If you didn’t sleep at all the night before, should you be doing that morning routine? Sleep is a tough one if your are having trouble finding it. If you like to keep your exercise schedule regular, switch up your workout that day and try something calming or meditative. Maybe do a light stretching routine. Get in tune with yourself instead of maxing out that day.

6. You are too hot or too cold. This is very important but often overlooked. I am guilty of this, having noted my ability to overheat seems more likely than ever before. Peri-menopausal? We need to exercise at a temperature that allows us to cool off when needed, and to be warm enough to encourage soft tissue extensibility.

I am particularly sensitive when it comes to my feet and ankles. I think that I have beaten up my tender tootsies one too many times. The result is that I can’t function well with cold feet. It hurts. If it’s cold, dress warmly. Move around gently in anticipation of more complex movements later in the workout.

To summarize:

Getting on the fitness train isn’t as difficult as staying on the train. I think if you focus on the big picture, and keep reminding yourself that it is a constantly evolving process, you will have more reasonable expectations. You will judge yourself less if you don’t follow through on the exact prescription you created for yourself that day. Accept the reality that movement will result in a healthier and longer life. Daily small successes are way better than none at all.

If I am in pain, I need to modify. If I am sick, I have to take it easier. If I am sad, I have to give myself a mental break. If I am unrealistic, I have to redefine ground zero or reconsider what level of elevation I am aiming for. If I am too cold or hot, I bring on the layers or expose a little more skin.

All of these perceived barriers have answers. No need to struggle. Just be a little better than yesterday or just maintain your gains. You are in charge. Ask for help if you need it. You are stronger than you think (credit: favorite fitness instructor).

Essentrics with Andrea

Body fat, weight loss and exercise

There are many connections that can be made between exercise and weight. Exercise keeps me in a healthy head space even when the scale has tipped one way or the other. I use exercise as a tool to: promote a positive body awareness, re-enforce healthy eating habits, gain or maintain muscle mass, increase self efficacy and increase my resolve to continue on as healthy a path as possible for the rest of my life.

It is hard to discuss over fatness or obesity because of the pain and suffering people have been subjected to because they may have been considered outside of “normal’. The stigma that is associated with it is so powerful that it is easier not to talk about it, even when someone is asking for help.

I checked out the Canadian Obesity Network many years ago. My interest is in helping those who would like to improve their body composition as a means to improve their health. Finding the most constructive and compassionate way of doing so is essential. Movement is definitely a factor in my experience along with what we consume. I can address the movement factor but I will leave the nutritional counselling to those who understand it best.

On an even more personal level, I have had experience with disordered eating. But as of late, let’s say the last 2 years, I have adopted a more stable outlook. This perspective has minimized the need for negative self talk when I have not been “perfect”. I am not perfect and don’t try to be anymore.

Some say we should never comment on someone’s body weight. The one place where weight is addressed in my profession is when it comes to joint health, particularly the knees ( i.e. for every extra kilo or 2 pounds, the joint load increases 3-5 times). Exercise and weight are two factors that can be addressed when it comes to the health of our mechanical body.

How I associate exercise with weight:

Increased body awareness

Exercise for me increases my body awareness. It brings me to a place where I am focusing on my body’s sensations, the good and the bad. The good would be ease of movement, positive energy, clothing fitting comfortably and a sense of tone and firmness in my muscles.

Resetting the stage

If I am feeling overfat, a change in my exercise program can help set the stage for a new start, kind of like a change of seasons. It helps to renew my resolve to make healthier eating choices, and helps increase my vigor to stay on track. I have to be careful at these times and try not to be too radical or restrictive. This is because it is usually a waste of time, leading to negative talk and potential downward spirals if not kept in check.

Using exercise to elevate your mood

When you are feeling good about yourself, self love and forgiveness comes easier. A favorable outlook makes its easier to accept the process of self improvement without worrying about the length of time it will take to get there.

When I am in a range that I feel best at, exercise actually becomes easier. The focus is purely on health and longevity. I know that what I do physically on a daily basis means more than bouts of maniacal training and dieting.

I have rarely been underweight. It has occurred when I have restricted myself considerably. It is never sustainable and takes a lot of mental energy, and rarely leaves me feeling better. The nutritional deficit ultimately takes a toll on energy levels and general sense of well being.

Gaining muscle mass

One other reason to look at the interplay of exercise and weight would be if you are trying to gain muscle mass, or it you have low muscle mass. In this case, I have gained weight with weight training programs, and would consider this again if I was debilitated after injury or extended illness.

I also realize that with aging, my muscle mass will naturally deplete if left to its own devices, so some form of muscle strengthening to minimize sarcopenia is important (the stats may be different depending on where you look but after age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade).

Finding stability

I actually credit becoming a fitness instructor in Essentrics for developing a more stable body weight. My weight in general has stayed in the same 10 lb range for the last 2 years. My range previously was approximately 40 lbs since my teens. I think the frequency with which you focus on your body on a positive level, it becomes easier to manage the weight. I luckily have found something that once again, like dance, requires regular reflection of the body’s fitness. Exercising has been the best part of my day for a very long time.

Exercise or DIPA (daily intentional physical activity) goes way beyond burning a few extra calories. It’s a process that has its ups and downs, tons of variety if you look for it and new adventures if you are open to it. It can be used to self regulate on many levels and ultimately helps one be comfortable in their own skin.

Let’s get DIPA into the process!

Essentrics with Andrea