June 14, 2013
That which does not kill you...

That which does not kill you…
… Only makes you stronger. We have all heard that saying and there is a lot of truth to it. The same truth applies to exercise.

Let’s be clear: to gain results from exercise, you do not have to kill yourself in the gym. But, you MUST push yourself. The only way you can make gains in fitness is to challenge your body. You will not die from exercise. Sometimes you may feel like you want to die… and that is what I want to talk about. How hard can you push yourself, and how hard should you push yourself.

The general answer to this is, “Hard.” There are times when you should deliberately push yourself to the physical brink of doom, such as during interval training and strength training. Let’s focus on the cardio and interval training here. When performing intervals (periods of maximum effort followed by recovery periods) you want to deliberately push your heart rate above 85% of your max. This should not feel pleasant. Let’s be honest… this sucks. It is uncomfortable and challenging. As you are doing intervals your body should be tired and your brain is yelling at you to stop. But it is a trick. You don’t actually have to stop. It only feels like you need to stop. When your body truly has to stop, it will. It will just stop moving. Have you ever done a maximum pushup test? If not, do as many pushups as you can without stopping. You will come to a point where you will be in pain. This is from the metabolic byproducts the muscles produce by burning sugar. This is what is known as “the burn.” You could choose to stop here, but this is a max pushup test so you keep going. You push through the burn and then you reach a point we call failure. This is when you will your body to do more, but it just won’t comply. This occurs when the metabolic byproducts inhibit the ability of the muscle to function. It therefore stops working.

This level of the pain and burn is correlated with the intensity of your exercise. As you start out with light cardio, the burn should be non-existent. As you increase your intensity the challenge and the pain will increase. If you push yourself to a full sprint, you will feel even more of the burn until you reach failure. When performing long duration cardio, your heart rate should be between 65% and 85% of your maximum. The higher you can keep your heart rate the more calories you will burn. This means that the more discomfort you can tolerate, the more calories you will burn. Pushing yourself to above 80% of your max has been shown to have many beneficial effects. Higher intensity exercise leads to greater weight loss (due to more calories being expended) and greater increases in fat burning capacity and insulin sensitivity. When choosing between exercising at 65% or 80% of your heart rate max, you will get faster results by pushing yourself harder.

The next time you are doing cardio, see how hard you can push yourself. When performing intervals, choose to perform at maximum intensity. Get the most from your efforts by keeping your intensity up!

Stay strong, team.

Written by Clark Masterson

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