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More is not usually better

March 27, 2010

Working out by CMarinoIn my guy’s gym the other day, a regular came over to us and boasted how he’d been in the gym since 8 AM. It was then 11 AM. Three hours! He said he’d done an hour of cardio to start. (He always does an hour of cardio, he bragged.) He was on his second hour of weight-training (with a partner, so maybe he’d be a bit speedier on his own).

A few weeks back, at my own gym, I overheard a woman in the ladies’ locker room happily report that she’d been at the gym nearly 3 hours as well. Doing what, I can’t tell you. But she was pleased with her efforts.

 Both these individuals were considerably overweight. Maybe 50 pounds for the man and 30 or 40 for the woman God bless them for trying to make a Herculean effort.

 But, oh, my, what an unfortunate waste of their time.

 Unless you’re preparing for the Olympics or similar high-level competition, it’s just not productive training for so long a time.

 For one thing, you start eating into your muscle mass after too long a time in the gym.

If you have weight to lose, it’s fat weight, not muscle.

Muscle is what you need to keep. Muscle, not fat, gives you a better shape and burns more calories for you.  

Plan your gym time

When I go to the gym, I aim to be out of there in 60-75 minutes. This involves:

  • Weight training two body parts (like back and bis)
  • Maybe some ab work and stretching
  • If any cardio at all, usually just 20 minutes of interval cardio (at most, 30 minutes)

Days I work out with my boyfriend, it could take a bit longer. But no more than 90 minutes total.

 Secondly, you are most likely NOT going to be able to maintain these 3-hour workouts.

 It’s that “all or nothing” thinking. You’re either in the gym—“being good”—for 2-3 hours a shot. Or, you’re overdosing on pizza and cookies and deciding, “I feel too gross to work out. I’ll start again Monday.”

 Knowing you’re going to the gym for about an hour makes it much easier for you to maintain your routine. “Gym time” doesn’t intrude as much into your day. After all, you have other things to do, right? Work. Spend time with family. Read. Relax. Clean. Cook. Shop. Organize your life.

 Put the gym into perspective and it can neatly fit into your lifestyle.

I suggest, for MOST people, 4 times a week, no more than 60-90 minutes, depending on what you’re doing (weights, cardio or both) and whether you work out alone or with a partner. You get in, you get out, and it’s done with and behind you. No big deal.

If you have other interests, such as biking, swimming or walking, fine. Do these on other days and do them for fun and stress relief.

But 2- and 3-hour workouts become oppressive. Long workouts:

  • sap your energy
  • increase your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone
  • rev up your appetite so much you increase your chances of overeating
  • make you think you deserve, or can afford, a “treat” for so much gym time

My experience

Years ago, I cut back from 6 workouts a week to 4, which also forced me to tighten up my food intake. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked that tradeoff. I DO like to eat. But I found that I finally started to lose weight at a steady pace. Overtraining had caused my body to “hold onto” my excess fat stores. 

And I feel so much better training less. My body has time to recover from my workout. I have more time to myself—to sleep, or to do other things that are important to me.

And I start looking forward to getting in the gym again. That’s probably the best part, since consistency is so much more important to staying fit than occasional stretches of manic workouts .


Flickr photo, cmarino.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2010 8:17 am

    I’m over 50, trying to improve my cardiovascular fitness and lose 10-15 pounds. Lately I’ve been trying to use my target heart rate zone to improve my fitness (and blog about it too!) Any suggestions for me? I’m not finding the right balance yet.

  2. kafe55 permalink
    May 7, 2010 11:00 am

    Hi Huffygirl! Thanks for reading!

    Too much high-intensity cardio leaves me exhausted! (I am deadling with adrenal fatigue, so I have to be careful I don’t do too much. It can wipe me out!) And I find this is not uncommon with my over-50 clients, who are either paying the price of too many years of chronic stress (career stress, fad diets, yoyo dieting, overexercising, sleep deprivation, family stress, etc.) or who simply lack a good hormonal environment to recover easily.

    If you’re up to it, try interval training, which results in better fat loss than steady-state cardio (where you remain at the same HR throughout). With intervals, you increase your heart rate (HR) for anywhere from 30-60 seconds, then bring it down for a minute or 2. (I don’t know your current fitness level, so can’t give you more precise recommendations.)

    You can use your HR monitor and note what your percentages are when you’re (1) “working hard” versus (2) easing up (working at your “recovered” rate). Over time, as you get fitter, these rates will change. And you can also increase the time you work hard and decrease your recovery periods. Just make sure your HR truly recovers before you crank up the pace again.

    For unconditioned or deconditioned people, I’d alternate periods of slow walking with periods of faster walking, perhaps on a slight incline. Fitter individuals might choose to alternate periods of walking with sprints.

    Interval training lets you cut your cardio time in half. It’s tough, so try starting at just 15 minutes a session. If you do cardio after weights, I really wouldn’t suggest more than 20 minutes at a time.

    You can easily do it on the treadmill, bike or elliptical. Or on a walk–I used to walk, then jog, then walk…

    Good luck and stay in touch!

    Be patient with weight loss. It takes longer after 50! Focus on getting fitter so you never feel disillusioned.

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