Friday, March 25, 2011

Lessons from Week 1 Personal Training & 21 Benefits of Exercise

I'm no newbie to exercise. For the majority of the past 12 years, I've woken up before the crack of dawn and exercised before work. But in all that time exercise always meant cardio.

Just last year I started to really get into strength training. It completely changed my body shape, enabling me to drop five pants sizes even though I only lost about 33 pounds. The general rule is you drop one size for every 10 pounds you lose; that I was able to lose so many sizes is a clear indication of the benefits of strength training. Muscle takes up less room in your body than fat, so as I replaced fat with muscle, my body changed. See the link below for a really excellent article on other great benefits of exercise.

Now I'm at the point--for the first time in my adult life!--that losing weight is no longer my goal. Instead, I want to maintain while continuing to work on firming and toning. I had no idea how much exercise I needed to do--how much cardio, how much strength training, and how much rest--so I'm participating in a program through work where I can work with a personal trainer for free for a month. One week in, here's what I've learned.
  1. Over training is bad. In our first assessment session, Tom, a student graduating from Pitt's exercise science program and my personal trainer for a month, told me that I could be over training. He said only trainers, professional athletes, and people training for an endurance event like a marathon should be exercising as much as I'd been to maintain weight (150 minutes of high-intensity cardio, 160 minutes of low to moderate intensity walking, and 150 minutes of strength training a week). He thought I could see the results I wanted and maintain my weight while reducing my exercise time, so this is one of our goals.
  2. Yoga is good. Tom encouraged me to try yoga because it would work my body differently than what I was used to. I'd always previously thought of yoga as glorified stretching and, sweating it out on the elliptical, snubbed the people who sat on mats working on their breathing. Unfortunately, the first class I took reinforced that idea; it mainly focused on relaxing and stretching, and afterward I felt I'd wasted an hour better spent doing cardio. But on Tom's advice, I tried another class. It was tough! And the next day, my muscles were sore! Tom was right--it worked different muscles in my body. And...I liked it! I've done it a few times since and plan to continue doing it.
  3. Trying new things is key. I told Tom that I didn't like running. Our very first session, he had me jogging in between strength training sets. He also introduced me to the weight room. Last year I saw huge results with my own equipment at home--dumbbells, resistance bands, stability, medicine, and Bosu balls, step, and bar--but then I stopped progressing. Tom pointed out that introducing your body to new exercises is key to progression. And, he pointed out, that's especially true for lower body. You can do squats until the cows come home, but adding more weight is important to progression, and it's difficult to do that without weight machines.
My body has been sore pretty much we started personal training; I can't remember the last time I was ever sore! I've also loved the new exercises--weight machines, yoga, and even adding jogging sprints to my walks. Clearly something is working.

Power Surge: The Hidden Benefits of Exercise
I really love this article from Fitness Magazine. It summarizes many studies that show the instant, post-workout, and long-term benefits of exercise. Below is a sample. Read the full article.

As You Work Out...
Your lungs are getting stronger. When you do cardio, your brain sends signals to them to help you breathe faster and deeper, delivering extra oxygen to your muscles.

Within One Hour of Exercise...
You're protecting yourself against colds, flu, you name it. Exercise elevates your level of immunoglobulins, which are proteins that help bolster your immune system and ward off infection. "Every sweat session you do can help strengthen your immune function for about 24 hours," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise.

Within One Day of Exercise...
You're adding lean muscle. If you did a strength-training routine, your muscles are now starting to rebuild themselves and repair the microscopic tears that come with lifting weights, says Paul Gordon, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Physical Activity at the University of Michigan School of Medicine in Ann Arbor. Preliminary research shows that women respond to and recover from resistance training faster than men.

Within One Week of Regular Exercise...
Your risk of diabetes goes down. The more you work out, the greater your sensitivity to insulin. That, in turn, lowers your blood sugar levels, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Within One Month of Regular Exercise...
You're blasting belly fat. After four weeks of regular workouts, your body is ditching flab and gaining muscle. Overweight people who took part in a four-week program of moderate aerobic exercise in an Australian study reduced ab fat by 12 percent.

Within One Year of Regular Exercise...
You've cut your cancer risk. In a study of more than 14,800 women, those who had the highest levels of aerobic fitness were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than those who were sedentary. Women considered moderately fit had about a 33 percent lower risk of developing the disease. Exercise may also help protect against endometrial, lung, and ovarian cancer, researchers say.


  1. thanks for this information. i'm really into exercising, too. i've power walked and did strength training on my own for years. in january, i joined the local fitness center and started taking classes like zumba, body bump, and spinning. it's so amazing to change up your fitness routine and feel your body changing as well! and it always helps to read stuff like this. it just makes all the hard work worth it!

  2. Thanks for this-- good info to get me back into the gym after a LONG-- too long-- absence!

  3. I'm so not a fan of cardio. I want to be, but I'm not. I have dreams of being a runner. Dreams! I get the whole start out slow, wear good shoes, get enough rest, walk when you need to thing. My legs just want to fly though and my lungs just want to quit.

    I do love strength training at home though and going to yoga classes. I need to get back into better condition. It's not like I'm overweight by any means, but my size 2's are getting a little snug.

  4. Kim, you should try interval training. Jog/Run for a little and recover by walking or fast walking. Eventually the time you are running or jogging will increase compared to your rest periods.
    When you lift weights, use alternating muscle groups so that you don't have to take long rest periods. This will keep your heart rate at an increased level and help with your cardio.
    It sounds like you run the way I swim.

    The key to progression is to be consistant and keep track. Write down all of the exercise you do.