Wednesday, August 29, 2012

P90 Gets the X

Insane. Extreme. Turbo-Charged. Starting to sound familiar? These
adjectives have become increasingly associated with the at-home, 60 or 90 day fitness programs that seem to pop up like weeds on late-night, early-morning infomercials, full of promises that you too can have a ripped abs, rock-hard quads, and, guys, the tree trunk arms you’ve always wanted, all in just a few short months.  You just need to learn a few air stunts, like repeatedly propelling yourself several feet off the ground, so you can land in seated squats, and perform mid-air twirls—not to mention the recurrent pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups. And even though it’s excruciatingly hard, you’ll somehow get a contact high from the shock of your feet hitting the floor or the pain of your biceps quivering as you attempt to continuously hoist yourself up toward the pull-up bar, like the beautifully- ripped people on the screen. So, come on. What are you waiting for?

Buyer Beware
High-intensity, at-home fitness programs such as P90X, Insanity, and TurboFire may seem tempting, especially when what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked, or has ceased to be as effective. The energy-packed infomercials almost leave you craving some sort of butt-kicking, raw-edged boot camp. Dubbed as an “extreme home fitness” system that includes weight training, cardio, plyometrics, and yoga, P90X, for example, boasts incorporating “muscle confusion” to produce stellar, life-changing results. But while they flash a few “before and after” photos across the screen, you may be unaware of the multitude of problems that follow programs like this.

Associated Risks: The X Factor
Let’s examine P90X, which consists of a 6 days per week regimen that focuses on a different part of the body each time. One day might be shoulders and arms, while another will focus on more plyometrics-style cardio, while another focuses on legs and back. Equipment recommended for best results includes dumbbells, a pull-up bar, a yoga mat, and push-up handles. That’s nothing a gym doesn’t have, so how can it be that bad? And yet frequent complaints of shoulder, knee, and back injuries have repeatedly surfaced from people attempting this “# 1 Extreme Home Fitness Program” without individually consulting with a knowledgeable source, like a personal trainer or physician. Because this thrills and frills program is designed to keep you supposedly “pumped”, the DVDs focus on repetition of moves, rather than pointing to proper alignment. As with many home fitness videos, there’s very little instructional time to highlight appropriate form – quite dangerous for a program that’s already hard on joints to begin with. “Statistically, there is no doubt that people are putting themselves at a high risk for injury,” says Val Fiott, a personal trainer and Director of Operations & Client Services at PPT.  “From a sub-clinical perspective, a person's fitness first needs a proper assessment to determine what is appropriate. P90x is a random, mixed bag where you hope for the best. You'll usually trim and tone a bit, but with damage to joint integrity, the muscles themselves, and, especially, the heart muscle.” Sounds a little counterproductive, doesn't it?

How Can Extreme,  High-Intensity Training Affect Women?
Women have complained that programs like P90X only bulked them up, causing them to build muscle, but not lose fat. Most likely anticipating these types of results, these intense programs advertise that they’re offering a fitness regimen, not a weight loss miracle. But whatever verbiage they’re using doesn’t help the many women who’ve put themselves through three months of unnecessary, overly-strenuous workouts only to feel disappointed. "That's the unfortunate risk with an unpersonalized, cookie cutter approach like P90x and its incompetent cohorts,” Fiott says. “Prioritization and distribution are what make up a proper fitness program. For some, P90x offers far too much in terms of muscle gains, and for others, it's the opposite. What a shame that people spend so much time and money on this shortcut.”

X-aggerated Results
As one success story boasts in a Youtube video, “There’s no way you’re not going to get results.” We can’t help but agree. How, after 90 days of working out at least an hour per day,  six days per week, in addition to cutting calories, could these programs fail to produce at least some results? And yes, as with many modern fitness programs, P90X’s diet component requires reduced-carbohydrate intake. Nothing revolutionary there. Since when has cutting carbs, counting calories, and working out daily failed to produce at least some results? Some of you may be thinking, “Wait, can’t you lose weight and tone up in 90 days more safely? Absolutely. And as for the science of “muscle confusion” that these programs seemingly imply as innovative, the fact is, any good trainer is aware of the plateau effect (in which your muscles become accustomed to a certain regimen, resulting in lagging progress) and operates on the knowledge that muscles need variety. Why put your body through the ringer when you can get great results in a way that’s not only gentler on your body, but more effective in the long run?  

Speaking Of The Long Run...

While there’s no disputing that you can drop weight and increase muscle by following these self-ascribed “extreme” programs, what about long-term results? What is the likelihood of committing to a regimen like this for life? Will you still be doing explosive, plyometric drills in 20, or even 10 years? Is this a program you can envision yourself doing even a year from now? That’s the problem with short-term solutions. Even if you’re able to follow through, you’ll inevitably be asking, “Now what?” The last thing people need after losing weight and toning is to feel that they’re groping alone in the dark, hoping they somehow magically continue to transform or maintain their bodies; the truth of the matter is, the lack of personalization with many of these DVD programs leaves people feeling directionless and even fearful, emotions that can lead directly to weight gain. “There is no doubt that this program isn't appropriate for long-term health, and it isn't progressive beyond the 90-day cycle, so it can't grow and adapt with your body,” Fiott stresses. It’s time to start honoring our bodies through healing nutrients and a more personalized approach, rather than falling victim to gimmicky, so-called quick-result programs that never work long-term.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pulse and Weight Loss: The Heart of the Matter

Resting heart rate. Varying heart rate. Maximum heart rate. Target heart rate. What is all the heart rate fuss about, anyway?  Can’t you just put in a hard workout and reap the results? Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Okay, we’re going to level with you here: Working out is already such a big commitment, and to have to watch your heart rate and listen to your PPT trainer tell you to “Quicken your pace”, “Maintain”, “Okay, slow down now”, “No, really, you need to slow down” can seem, well, frustrating. Sometimes you don’t want to pick it up. And other times the high of working to your full capacity is so exhilarating, who wants to be told to bring it down several notches? But did you know that monitoring your heart rate is one of the most important components of weight loss and overall health?
The Relationship Between Exercise and Heart Rate
Keeping your heart rate in the right zone is vital.
The easiest way to understand how your heart functions during exercise is to visualize a pump. The right side of the heart muscle pumps blood into the lungs, where it fills with oxygen. Blood then flows to the left side of the heart, where it pumps oxygenated blood out through the arteries and into the circulatory system. During exercise, muscles require more oxygen and produce more metabolic waste that the blood flow carries away. To help with this process, the blood vessels in the heart begin to expand, allowing the blood flow to increase. In this process called vasodilation, the heart beats faster. You can actually feel the increased push, or pulse, as the heart pumps increased amounts of oxygenated blood throughout your system. The harder you work out, the faster your heart pumps. Seems simple, right? Well, not exactly.

The Dangers Of A Soaring Heart Rate
Many people assume that if their pulse is high, they’re getting a better workout with the added bonus of exercising the heart muscle.  But pushing your heart rate to the max beyond a certain window of time is more than detrimental— it’s dangerous. Overexertion can lead to serious complications such as heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death. Kind of ironic when you think about your fitness goals, isn’t it? The heart is a complex machine, and while we aren’t trying to instill fear, it’s important to highlight the dangers of pushing yourself too hard, or ignoring your trainer because you’ve been told “No pain, no gain” in the past. It’s a misleading maxim that can lead to a multitude of problems— the same problems we focus on preventing.

How Does Heart Rate Affect Your Ability To Burn Fat?
If you’ve ever worked out at a gym, you’ve most likely studied the BPM (Heart Beats Per Minute) chart on a cardio machine and tried to stay in the “fat burning zone”. More than likely, you’ve questioned how you can possibly burn calories at this low-intensity pace. Plus, if you’ve read about the importance of a varying your heart rate to lose weight,  now you’re on a whole new plateau of confusion. Ever just give up out of sheer exasperation or at least question whether you’re going about it the right way? With the plethora of information out there, it’s no wonder the majority of people are confused!

So, What’s The Answer?
Most of the time, the best way to burn fat is to stay within 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate – also referred to as the target heart rate – which you can calculate using the Karvonen method:
Target Heart Rate = ((Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate) × % intensity) + Resting Heart Rate.

Make sure to calculate both the lowest number (50 percent) and highest number (85 percent) of your target heart range;  a pulse below or above those numbers will prevent you from working out in the fat-burning zone, which is usually a solid beginning for those looking to lose weight. Still you may find that it doesn’t seem aggressive enough or you’re concerned about the health of your heart and want to caution on a safer side. There are a variety of factors that can affect your target heart rate. If you suffer from high cholesterol, hypotension, or other heart-related diseases, for example, you may need to work out in a different zone. On the other hand, if you have quick recovery time (a measure of the heart’s ability to return to its pre-exercise resting rate) you may need a different zone strategy as well. The truth is, no two hearts are the same, so often time there’s just no one-rate-fits-all solution. There are many different workout routines that focus on reaching different heart-rate zones—from lower-intensity, endurance-building workouts, to higher-intensity workouts to interval training, in which you vary your pulse between high and low intensity rates. Remember, if you’re feeling unsure, a good personal trainer has had years of education and can build the right program uniquely for you. One of the many benefits of working with a trainer is his or her ability to personalize your workout on many levels—and analyzing your heart rate zone is one of them.