Don’t Jog – Run. Why long low intensity workouts are a waste of time

Unless you’re training for a marathon, the idea that long low-intensity cardio sessions, such as an hour of slow jogging or pootling along on the stationary bike whilst reading a book will burn piles of fat is a complete myth. I could get all technical here about energy pathways and how oxygen is utilized in the presence of fat to rebuild adenosine triphosphate from adenosine diphosphate (If you’re curious, here’s a good summary).

However, I’m not going to do that, as what we are interested in here is how you go about beating the bulge in the 30 minutes a day that you actually do have for fitness once you’ve been to work, been shopping, cooked, fed the family and got the kids to bed. At this stage of the day, you’re completely knackered and it’s the hardest thing in the world to motivate yourself to go to the gym, let alone the prospect of sitting on that stupid treadmill for an hour.

Well, I can’t offer you much help with the kids, but I can make your workout more efficient.

rowers photoThe first thing you’ve got to understand is that you are not training for the Olympics… or maybe you are, in which case, WHY are you reading this?? Olympic rowers will spend a couple of hours at a time sitting on the ergo in the boathouse. Boring, yes, but this is the stuff of champions.

What they are doing is training a particular energy pathway, namely the fat + oxygen + ADP -> ATP + CO2 + water (What!?!?) They need to be more efficient at doing this so that their bodies can utilize this source of energy production at higher intensities and for longer during a race. But you, my friend, are trying to get fit and lose weight.

A very effective type of training is a circuit with resistance stations and medium intensity cardio stations.  You can use your imagination and create your own in your garden, with running on the spot, star jumps, press-ups, crunches, burpees, lifting sandbags, etc., etc. Great in the summer, but more tricky in January.

If you can’t be bothered with that, there’s always jogging. What?! Jogging? Don’t jog – Run! OK, don’t overdo it on the first outing, and please, please make sure you consult your doctor before you start an exercise program especially if you’re been a couch potato for the last decade.

However, once you do get into it and have been out for a few jogs, try a bit of interval training. Interval training is where you raise and lower the intensity of the exercise in intervals. This trains different energy pathways such as the ones needed for the final sprint for the line at the end of the 1500m or perhaps, more realistically, the turn of pace required to catch the number 38 bus that is just pulling away.

More to the point, you’re muscles and joints will also react to the training, getting stronger than if you only pushed them to the level of a slow jog all the time. Practically, you could pick up the pace on alternate lampposts or trees on your normal circuit. Like I said, build it up gradually. Depending on your starting level, if you keep this up, eventually you will get to the stage where you can go at a full on sprint between every third and fourth lamppost. Now, that’s fitness!

There are a couple of added benefits to training at higher intensities. Once you finish your workout, with your tired muscles, the body has to go to work repairing the damage you have done. OK, this sound more dramatic than it actually is.

Every time you train a muscle to the point at which it feels sore the next day, you have slightly damaged some of the muscle fibers. This is perfectly normal. Your body repairs the muscle and slightly over-compensates, adding a few extra fibers so that it is better able to cope next time. This is the whole principle behind body-building.

muscle photoThis repair job requires energy, which will be created in the presence of oxygen and fat ….that’s what I was talking about before – remember the Olympic athletes? So there you have the after-burn effect, which can last up to thirteen hours post training. So, you could go for a slow jog to burn your hour’s worth of fat, or you could do a half-hour high intensity workout, and burn extra fat several hours whilst you rest. Hmmmm. Difficult choice?

The other wonderful benefit of a high intensity workout is the amount of endorphins it releases in comparison to low intensity. You will simply feel great afterwards.

I like running. I go off with my dog in the woods behind my house. Trouble is, it’s pretty hard on the joints and there’s always the risk of injury. I tore a quadriceps muscle last week by stumbling over a root on the way back downhill and taking a big step to prevent myself falling on my face. It’s just about getting better now.

rowing photo

I have never injured myself on my Concept2. I usually do my interval training by doing 30 seconds high intensity, then dropping down to low for a minute, then 30 seconds medium, followed by another minute low and then repeating the process for ten cycles. It’s easy to set your intensities using wattage or meters per minute as your guide.

Whatever exercise method you choose, remember that the most effective form of exercise is a mixture of cardio and resistance. The resistance can be in the form of higher intensity such as interval training. Vary your training to prevent A) boredom and B) your body getting used to the same routine. If you run the same circuit every day, try going the other way round.

Happy training!

PS: Check out this post for a great 30 minute HIIT pyramid on a rowing machine.

Photo by Claude Robillard

Photo by RightIndex

Photo by markheybo

Photo by DancesWithLight

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