Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Losing weight, part 2: the workout

Of course, the second leg of the weight loss tripod is exercise. Burning off those guilty pleasures. Hmm, In n Out, the Cheescake Factory, or...? Now it's time to pay the piper.

Since my main focus is weight loss combined with a healthier heart, cardio plays the dominant role. At the same time, building muscle mass will increase my base metabolism to burn more calories while I'm resting, so I have to spend some time pushing the iron around.

Men's Journal had an article last year on improving your heart muscle performance that included an interesting workout. However, it took a fair amount of scheduling your workouts with significant tracking and attention, so I shelved it for later consideration, possibly when I've plateau'd and need to break through. A useful data point though, was their breakdown of the most beneficial cardio exercises:
  1. Running
  2. Cross Country Skiing
  3. Rowing
Given that, I've structured my workout starting with a 30 minute cardio workout, 3 days a week in the gym rotating between the treadmill, the eliptical trainer, and the rowing machine. The 4th weekday I spend in cross-training, a great combination of cardio and body-weight exercises (lunges, pushups, etc.) with the added benefits of a trainer to push you harder than you'd ever push yourself, and the peer pressure of seeing your classmates keeping up. Weekends I do a long and short trail run through the local hills. The 7th day I leave for rest, both because it's important to take time to recover, and who doesn't miss a workout during a busy week.

For weights, I've tried a lot of different routines over the years. Splitting legs, arms, back, chest, core over 5 weekdays. Alternating upper body / lower body between workouts. Doing high reps, low weights. High weights, low reps. Supersets. Pyramid sets or starting with the high weight and working down. They've all worked ok, but haven't given me any great improvements over the years. This time around I'm doing my whole body in every workout. back, chest, arms, shoulders, legs, core. Then I pick a different exercise for that body part on each day of the week, e.g. for chest I pick from flys, incline, decline, flat, pullovers, etc. and do that that day and another exercise the next day. This works my whole body with no worries about missing days or being unbalanced, and also lets me do those isolation exercises or other exercises that you never get to if you stick to your typical "chest/arms/whatever day" routine. 3 sets, 6-8 reps each, often without changing weight just working to failure each set. In addition, each workout I focus on a single body part and work it to exhaustion: 5-8 sets with the same weight, hopefully with my last set being only 1 rep. It may be unorthodox, but it's been phenomenal for my pushups. I did 120 good solid pushups during my last cross training class over the one hour - more than I've ever done and the first time I didn't have to do any on my knees.

All told, it's about a 90 minute workout, door to door. I love it. Endless variety. Indoor and outdoor. Plus breaking a great sweat in every workout. It's given me great results so far, but more on that later.


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