I cannot believe the responses that I have received from my last blog post. I am overwhelmed in a very good way! I knew SparkPeople is a community of supportive and generous people, but I was still bowled over by the incredible amount of support, encouragement, and warmth that I’ve received from so many of you. Sparkers are truly incredible people. I hope to respond to many of you, but given the large response it might take a bit. But please know that I appreciate each and every comment, SparkGoodie, and email.
A number of people have asked me to share something about my diet and exercise plan that helped me to achieve the weight loss I have so far. I’m planning on writing several blog posts about some of the components that I found to be very beneficial to me. This first one is about my exercise schedule.
If you read my previous post, then you know that I’ve been working with a personal trainer since September 2012. Before working with my trainer, I had been exercising four to five days a week, often for several hours a day (back-to-back hour-long exercise classes or a class followed by an hour on the treadmill). I didn’t spend any time on the weights, because I wanted to burn calories and that meant cardio, right? Wrong.
My trainer explained to me that high-intensity or long-duration training has its place, for instance training for specific athletic events, but such exercise can be counterproductive to weight loss because when the body is stressed it releases stress hormones, which can interfere with a body’s ability to lose weight.
My trainer started me on a program to do cardio and weights three times a week for one hour total each day. I am to warm up for ten minutes (either treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine, or cycle), then do 20 minutes of cardio (same), followed by 20 minutes of weight-bearing exercises (which vary day to day and week to week, often focusing on activating as many muscle groups as possible simultaneously such as walking lunges while moving an overhead medicine ball from side to side or doing squats while balancing on a BOSU ball and moving a medicine ball on a diagonal, twisting side to side), followed by five minutes of cardio on a different machine, and then, finally, five minutes of stretching. On the other days of the week, I’m supposed to take long, vigorous walks or other activities that get the heart rate up. And, besides regular living, that’s it.
The weight training is important for muscle tone, endurance, and strength, but also for building muscle, because muscle keeps the metabolism up thereby burning more calories throughout the day. Cardio is good for burning calories immediately and for keeping the cardiovascular system strong and healthy.
So I’ve shared with you the ideal. The truth is that I’ve hardly been to the gym in over a month, because I was suffering from a severe cold for weeks. Over a one-month period, which included Christmas, a trip to California for five days, and becoming one with a Lay-Z-Boy as I recovered from my nasty cold, I lost six pounds. How was this possible? Because I was still eating according to my diet guidelines (with a few exceptions, such as Christmas when I ate what everyone else was eating just in small portions). You may argue that I lost muscle, and you might be right, but I know I lost fat by sight, feel, and measurements.
My trainer says it and that month confirmed it for me: weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. If you exercise more but don’t adapt your diet, then you may just increase your calorie consumption to match the extra calories burned. On the other hand, if you control your diet and you exercise, each additional calorie burned is one less calorie you have to carry around on your body.
Not exercising is not ideal, but if you can’t exercise much or even at all for a period of time, as I couldn’t for over a month, don’t despair. A lot can be achieved by eating a healthy diet alone.
That being said, I missed my gym sessions while I was recovering. I missed the feeling of strength and achievement, growing confidence, and pride for following through with something that I know is good for me. I’m just getting back to the gym on a regular basis, which feels really good. I like to think that my exercise efforts are helping me to lose weight, but now I understand that weight loss can be achieved independent of my exercise efforts and that exercise is important for the physical and mental benefits regardless of whether or not weight loss is a result.
As a parting note, I want to be clear that this is my experience and what has worked for me while under the watchful eye of my personal trainer who corrects my form regularly. Also, I am writing from memory and, although I believe all that I’ve written is correct, please make sure that whatever exercise you do is right for you.