Ranger Up Fitness: Staying Motivated
2 April 2007
Next letter leads pretty well into a few topics I wanted to talk about. Plus, it contains a compliment. I like compliments. Hint: If you want to get a question answered, make sure you include some kind of flattery. Or if not flattery, say something that really pisses me off. Personal attacks work, but only if they’re funny.
I love your columns. Nice mix of I hate the world, but I know what I’m talking about commentary. I find the more I read the more I get confused on one basic issue – how do I measure results? I’m trying to lose about forty pounds. I’m currently 260, 6’1. I’m lifting so I assume I’m both gaining muscle and losing fat but my weight is staying relatively constant. I can blame that largely on beer consumption over the weekend, which I know I need to work on, but overall I’m pretty fucking disciplined. I do cardio after I lift for about 30 minutes and I try to keep my heart rate right around 135 while I workout to burn fat. I’m getting stronger so I know I’m building muscle, but I’m only seeing a little slimming down. What’s the best way to tell if I don’t have the means to measure my body fat percentage?
Also, how the fuck do you stay motivated all of the time. Six days a week is no problem for me but I can’t get the hang of seven days a week.
First off, nice job staying disciplined. But you said one thing that struck me a bit. You don’t need to work out seven days a week, man. If you’re lifting as hard as you should be, three or four days a week is PLENTY. Muscle takes time to recover, and the stronger you get, the harder you’ll be hitting each group. Even if you’re not sore (Sore isn’t always good, I haven’t been sore from a workout in years) you’re still asking your body to adapt.
This takes time. Figure after a good leg workout, for the next two or three days your legs are just repairing the damage that was done. For the next few days after that, you’re slowly building muscle, remapping your motor units, and otherwise doing all the shit that’s going to make you bigger and stronger next time. Even if you’re not lifting every day, you’re still doing some sort of physical activity, which slows down your recovery. With your current schedule, six days a week is plenty, but try to split it up, with three days of lifting (I gave a program in another article), and three days of cardio. Enjoy your off day. Burnout in anything sucks, and if you need to be fighting to stay motivated, it’s not going to last long.
Cardio can even be more intense than you’re doing; honestly regular cardio bores the shit out of me. And while 30 minutes on the treadmill at 135 bpm may technically be “ideal” for fat loss, but it’s not the most effective long-term.
So some background, and I’d say most of you probably know this – skeletal muscle has two energy sources – carbohydrates and fats. (If you’re sitting there saying what about protein, then yes, you can de-aminate amino acids to generate pyruvate for the citric acid cycle. Shut the fuck up, nobody asked you. It’s inefficient and unless you’re a marathon runner or in the middle of Hell Week, the contribution from protein isn’t significant. Don’t listen to the supplement companies.)
The higher the level of energy expenditure, the more that carbohydrates are used. At rest (for example, while sleeping), your muscles can use almost exclusively fat as an energy source. There’s no need to use carbohydrates, there’s plenty of oxygen and fat’s a better energy source. So TECHNICALLY, the most aerobic (fat-burning) activity you can do is sleep. Of course, your overall caloric expenditure is pretty low, so it’s maybe not the most efficient.
At the other extreme, like during lifting or sprinting, you’re burning almost entire glucose for your energy needs. So usually the ideal fat burning workout is somewhere in between, which is where people get that “target heart rate for fat burning” idea. This is great if you’re the average person who wants to drop a little weight, get a little “toned”, and your idea of committing to a workout program is getting on the elliptical three days a week for 30 minutes, lifting weights while listening to 80’s mixes, and taking the Special K challenge. If you’re that kind of person, please stop reading this column. Your existence bothers me.
Now, look at body composition of elite athletes, and think where you want to be. Look at the guys who sprint in short bursts, lift heavy weights, and do general full-body conditioning a few times a week. Take wide receivers, running backs, and Olympic sprinters. These guys are strong, fast, and lean. Not a bad way to be. And they don’t exercise in the “fat burning” zone. They hit the ground hard and fast. Yes, they may not burn much fat during the exercise, but the flip side is, they burn PLENTY during recovery, and their metabolisms are going out of control. Not only that, but the running that they DO is high-load enough to actually build leg muscle. You want to get these benefits, do sprints. 100 meter repeats. 200 meter repeats. Wind sprints on the bike or elliptical. Organize the cardio like this:
10 minute warm-up
6 sprint phase, 12 minutes:
1 minute sprint (80-90% maximum heart rate) 1 minute cool-down (let heart rate drop to a level where you don’t feel like you’re going to die)
2 sprint intense phase, 3 minutes:
30 second sprint, maximum effort 1 minute cool down
5 minute cool down.
Still 30 minutes, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you do this three times a week, you will see better results.
As far as measuring results – don’t worry about body fat percentage. The main purpose of testing body fat percentage is to pass your physical. If you want an objective measure of your true appearance, take off your shirt when in a crowded area. If young children start crying and women look terrified, chances are your body fat percentage is a little high. Otherwise, you can caliper as a baseline, but remember that the numbers themselves aren’t worth much, especially for individuals who weight train with any degree of consistency. However, the numbers are very good for bragging to friends and lying on the internet. (Be sure to subtract 3% from whatever actual number you get.)
And if you really want some way of measuring it, weigh yourself once a week and look at the weights you’re moving. If the first number stays the same or goes down, and the second number goes up, you’re building muscle and losing fat (or some combination of both). There’s no other way that the numbers would be moving. I know this sounds like a cop-out, but sometimes you just gotta have faith that you’re doing the right things you need to get to where you want to be. Self-evaluation is good, but if you do too much of it you’ll just get frustrated. These are slow changes, bud, and if your clothes are fitting any better and you’re feeling better, what more could you ask for.