If I have to pick just one kind of exercise, which should it be?

We are all pressed for time. I appreciate that. This is by far the biggest excuse/issue I am presented with when I ask people why they do not have some kind of regular exercise program.
Alright, let’s try to be a little more realistic then. As much as I would like to see everyone exercising daily most of you will be too busy making up some kind of excuse as to why that is an impossibility. I will not digress to that issue today, however.
Instead I will try and provide you some focus. Let us assume for a second that you have made a decision to commit to some exercise throughout the week. This information is going to apply to someone who has been exercising for a long time or somebody who is just starting out.
A minimum commitment I ask of people is that they complete 3 exercise sessions a week. I do not think this is too much. If you can tell me the plot of 2 shows on TV or have read a magazine in the last week then we can find the time.
Not saying it is easy. Just that it is possible.
So the question now becomes: if I only have limited time to exercise what should I be doing to maximize the time I am putting into the program?
Back in the days of training at large box gyms I would tell potential new clients to perform a little experiment. I had them walk around the gym a few times on different days at different times and just watch the people around them (not in a creepy stare at their body kind of way, that will get you kicked out and labelled as the pervert of the gym). I then asked them to make note of the apparent fitness level and body style of all the people they saw.
Final part of the experiment was to tell me whose bodies they would most like to emulate: those on the treadmills, elliptical, and other various ‘cardio’ equipment; those participating in the various group exercise programs; or those hanging around the free weights and other resistance training apparatus.
What did I hear time and again? Everyone wanted the body style of the people they saw lifting weights and hammering through resistance training programs. Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule, but 9 times out of 10 this is exactly what happened.
Then oddly, the people I was talking with wandered off to the cardio equipment to do another mostly useless workout wondering why I just had them pace around the gym for two days. That’s not true, I then told them why I made them do it.
It’s a simple couple of concepts really: progressive resistance and EPOC. And within these two concepts is the answer to the results of the mini-experiment.
The first is progressive resistance. In relation to your exercise this simply means that as you adapt to one stimulus you then make it harder. Once you adapt to that, then you make it harder. There are a plethora of ways to accomplish this. Longer workouts, more weight, increasing the difficulty of the exercises, faster repetition speed, are just a few of the variables we can change to create progressive resistance. There is a reason for it.
Once your body adapts to the demands you are placing on it there is no longer a need for it to progress towards a goal. It doesn’t have to, you are already there! The key now is to make a change to the program which increases the demands placed on the body. In response your body must adapt to meet those demands. Then the entire cycle begins anew.
In general resistance training (most people think of this as weight training but this is not necessarily the case) programs are very easy to manipulate to make these changes.
With cardio style programs your options are usually just to go longer or increase a little resistance. However, the nature of this cardio training is that you need to be doing it for longer than 30 minutes so increasing too much resistance is difficult.
Group fitness programs are cardio training. Yes, you may lift some weights and step on some boxes, but they are NOT high intensity training or strength training programs. I have taught them for years. The problem is rest. There is not enough of it. If you are not taking enough rest than you are not working at a high enough percentage of your max effort to truly be performing a strength training program.
The second concept is EPOC. Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. We will not get technical here or provide a science lecture, just keep it simple! EPOC is essentially a way to measure your metabolic rate after exercise. In general, heavy resistance training has a much higher EPOC than traditional cardio training, which means that your metabolism stays higher after strength training than after a dose of the elliptical. The greater the EPOC, the better the metabolic response after training.
Even better than basic weight training is high intensity exercise, which I talked about last week. This style of training has an even greater EPOC than basic resistance training.
What does all of this mean to you and managing your precious workout time effectively.
The most bang for your buck is high intensity training. You will be able to progress the resistance faster following this protocol as well as increase you EPOC over basic resistance training and over cardio training.
But what about the health of your cardiovascular system? A recent article published in the journal Medical Hypothesis demonstrated greater improvements in cardiovascular health measures following high intensity interval training over traditional cardio training. This study looked at participants all the way up to 75 years old! It also demonstrated health benefits in numerous other areas including decreased risk of developing type II diabetes.
If you are new to exercise, high intensity training is not somewhere you should start. A basic strength training program is safer and a few weeks of building up your body there will allow you to kick it up to a higher level of exercise intensity.
The best thing is that a good HIT training program with heavy resistance and low reps should only be performed (for most people) 3-4 times a week for 20-40 minutes. And we can all find that amount of time. There are also many programs that require no equipment and not much space. Your excuses are quickly drying up!
If you have any questions or comments please send them my way!

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