In this series, I’m going to share some thoughts about the 8 patterns that comprise the Integre8t Wellness program. With these fundamentals in place, you can expect to see enhanced results from your fitness plan. Parts 1-4 have covered breath, hydration, nutrition and strength.
The fifth pattern is conditioning. The most obvious trait of this type of exercise is that it significantly raises your respiration rate; improves circulation, cardiovascular (CV) efficiency, and endurance; and thus maximizes your ability to process oxygen (which increases your ability to burn calories before, during, and after sessions).
Often this type of activity is reduced to “cardio.” Yes, CV training is an important part of conditioning; however, it is also true that lifting heavy weights, calisthenics and yoga can increase your heart rate and generate heat. All of them can make you sweat. With this in mind, you should realize that the body’s systems cannot be separated from each other. You have only one cardiopulmonary system and only one circulatory system. It is a misconception that “cardio” training is the only or best way to improve your conditioning. No matter the types of activity you do, they will make demands on all the same systems in their various degrees.
The potential danger of “cardio” is that many people do far too much of it. They generally think mainly of jogging for a long time, which can do serious damage to feet, joints and spinal alignment. Other modalities of CV training include rowing machines, stair climbers, ellipticals, jumping rope, cycling and swimming. This pattern of repetitive activity is called Low Intensity Steady State (LISS). For decades the assumption has been that performing monotonously at a medium pace for a long time is a great way to burn fat; however, the more current research shows that this is not necessarily true.
All the activities listed above for CV conditioning are awesome; however, the way in which they are often performed can cause you to store fat and waste muscle. This is the exact opposite goal for most people who train. LISS induces prolonged stress in the body, which manifests as extended periods of inflammation and/or the secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and other fight or flight hormones. The body responds to this ongoing, moderate activity by holding onto fat stores and getting rid of calorically expensive muscle. All your body can respond to is the fact that you are burning more calories than usual. We evolved to survive famines. Your metabolism is trying to protect you from starving to death by slowing itself down.
A perfect example of this will be many of the people you see around yourself at your gym while you are on an elliptical in a sea of people reading, talking or watching TV on their own ellipticals. If you have gone for a while you will recognize people. You may notice that many never change what they’re doing, and they never make much progress. Most of these people look practically the same today as they did a year ago when you first noticed them. This is LISS.
Consider High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as an alternative. The constant changes in intensity have a very different effect on the body: You will be more focused, burn more fat, build more muscle, finish in a fraction of the time and have an elevated metabolism for up to 24 hours after you finish. Done properly, you cannot go longer than 20 minutes. If you can go longer, you didn’t do it right. What’s also nice is that all your favorite CV activities are still on the table. You simply do them in incremental bursts, rather than at a constant plateau. Oscillating between peaks and active rest forces more adaptation in your body, and will remarkably hasten the process of improving your body composition. Switch up the activities: After a couple weeks on the elliptical, go over to rowing, then cycling, etc.
Oh, and one more observation: Simple walking is one of the best forms of exercise you can do, and under normal circumstances, it requires no special equipment, no membership fees, no supplements and no designer clothing. You also get to breathe the free air and see the sky. Unless you’re at a clothing optional resort, all you need is comfortable shoes and weather appropriate clothes. Oh, don’t forget the sunscreen (especially if you’re at a clothing optional resort).
info: Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.