18 June, 2013 07:14

Here we go. The New York Times getting lazy again. This article isn’t wrong in what it says, it’s just so vague and incomplete that someone who hasn’t ever engaged in regular exercise before but is getting ready to try is likely to make some terrible mistakes. Lets add just a bit of important detail.

First, everything the article says is correct…when talking about aerobic/cardiovascular exercise. You can train multiple days in a row, and such frequency can enhance the quality of your workouts as your practice develops better skills at that particular activity (running, cycling, even power walking have skills that can be improved).

The reason you can perform these activities multiple days in a row is determined by their nature, which is described in the category name AEROBICS. Aerobics refers to both a human energy system and a certain range of physical intensity.

Aerobic type exercise typically falls into a category of intensity between 60% and 85% of a persons theoretical max effort. At these ranges of effort, a person can continuously exercise for 15 or more consecutive minutes before becoming too fatigued to continue. Within this range the entire cardiovascular system becomes healthier and stronger, and that’s great. But it’s only half (some might argue 1/3) your fitness journey.

Anaerobic exercise is the other half of this very important fitness story. Like aerobics, the term anaerobic refers to both a human energy system and a range of physical intensity for the activity. In Anaerobic exercises, the intensity MUST exceed 85% of a persons theoretical maximum effort, causing rapid exhaustion (under 60 seconds, typically, but always under 2minutes). Training in this range improves the tone, and physical strength, of a persons skeletal muscular system, improving the bodies posture, appearance, resistance to physical injuries, and later in life, infirmity and osteoporosis. Can you walk up a flight of stairs when your 80? Can you tie your own shoelaces? Can you carry a bag of groceries or get up out of a cushy sofa? These are matters of physical strength in the geriatric community, and major challenges to millions of Americans.

Training at this intensity level can not be performed on consecutive days, because training at this level actually causes a temporary weakening of the skeletal muscles involved, and the following 24-48 hours are needed for the muscles to recuperate and adapt in order to become stronger.

The Times article correctly states that 72 hours between exercise bouts is too long to wait for any exercise, but fails to caution that certain kinds of exercise require a certain amount of days off before repeating.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

NYTimes: How Often to Exercise


Indoor Cycling



There is no such thing as the best kind of exercise…but when it comes to cardiovascular training indoor cycling comes close.


With a good instructor you’ll get an awesome cardio/aerobic workout helping you burn enormous amounts of calories, and that helps you control your weight and body fat. You will strengthen unarguably the most important muscle in your body; your heart. That’ll keep you alive. It will improve your lung capacity so you don’t get winded going up a couple of flights of stairs when an elevator is out.

There’s more benefits, too. Unlike a 1 mile (or longer run), cycling can incorporate anaerobic training. Anaerobic training uses different sources of energy and challenges the skeletal muscles of the legs and hips to a far greater degree than aerobic training is designed to. This builds true muscle tone and strength creating shape. And that shape also enhances your ability to generate more power to go longer distances at lower levels of intensity and to overcome obstacles like hills and rough terrain along the way, or going up those two flights of stairs with a couple of heavy grocery bags, too.

Spinning and other indoor cycling programs give you all these benefits. Running and other forms of aerobics can, as well, but because of the pounding impact of jogging, running, and other aerobic type classes you also dramatically increase your risks of injury.

You can find me at the new cycling boutique studio in Forest Hills: SUN CYCLE Studio Tuesdays at 6am and 6pm, and Saturday at noon and as always at New York Sports clubs in Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Manhattan locations at 38th & Broadway and 23rd & 8th. My schedule there has not changed.

Join me and all the other great instructors for a great indoor cycling ride.

Come get the ride of your life, and get in the shape you’ve dreamed about.


Intensity: Revisited

There is so much confusion regarding exercise intensity that I could probably write a column on this one topic every other day for a month, and not clear it up for everyone. I have to constantly remind myself that i’ve chosen to understand this topic whereas most people have no desire to. Then again, I understand how important calculus is to the modern world, and am grateful I don’t have to know it. So lets break this down.

There are two main types of Fitness Energy Zones: the Aerobic and the Anaerobic. Here are dictionary definitions.

Anaerobic Exercise: relating to or denoting exercise that does not, or is not intended to improve the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular system in absorbing and transporting oxygen.

Aerobic Exercise: relating to or denoting exercise that improves or is intended to improve the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular system in absorbing and transporting oxygen.

Now it seems to me that the general public and the media seem to privilege aerobic exercise over anaerobic exercise based on the premise that aerobics “make the heart healthier” and weight lifting is for certain athletes and other men who are trying to overcompensate for something. So lets dig a little deeper.

First, about those definitions. Most pundits and the general public seem to misread and stop reading the definitions at a certain point:

Anaerobic exercise “…does not…improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular systems…”

We’ve all read quotes that look like the above in a variety of contexts. When a writer decides to edit a quote from the beginning, in the middle, and again at the end, you should become immediately suspicious. Heres the second quote the way popular magazines tend to put it:

Aerobic exercise “…improves…the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular system…”

Written like that, who wouldn’t say that aerobics is more important? But it’s a lie based on misreading and selective editing. All either definition is describing is whether or not the energy system involved involves the absorption and transportation of oxygen through the blood stream. It says nothing about whether one has greater overall health benefits. It doesn’t even say what the relative health benefits of each might be. If these readings were valid, all U.S. Marine, Army Ranger, and SEAL’s special forces must be very unfit.

The assumption is that anything that is “good” for cardio, is good for life, and by selectively editing the definitions presented above it seems apparent that aerobic is more beneficial. But did you know that anaerobic training has been proven to improve cardiovascular health? It improves heart action! Your heart becomes more powerful, just like it does with conventional cardiovascular aerobic training. This is referred to as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) to progressive overload. You do remember that the heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, will respond and adapt to what you put it through. A person is even training their heart; as well as every skeletal muscle, and even the integrity of the bones in their bodies; when they sit on a couch for 4 hours. The difference is, when you sit on the couch, your training consists of telling your body you don’t need a strong heart, you don’t need strong muscles, and you don’t need strong bones. Welcome to slugville (a negative response of specific adaptation to imposed demand).

Now, I teach Spin. I’ve been a body builder, a strength competitor (both strictly amateur) and a ranked racquetball player. I love athletic exercise, even though I don’t compete in any of those things, anymore. I’m not a dancer, so Zumba, cardio jam, the modern step class are not my cup of tea. That doesn’t invalidate these activities at all. We each need to find those things that get us going, get us excited, and get us wanting to put everything we have into them. The problem isn’t whether or not this class or that method is worthwhile, the problem is whether your effort is worthwhile.

So lets take our discussion of intensity to a deeper level. We talk about intensity zones like the fat burning zone (60-70% max heart rate). This is the zone where 85% of all the calories you burn will come from stored body fat, after the first 12-15 minutes of activity (how long it takes fat metabolism to kick in). At this level, the intensity of your activity is below the threshold necessary to improve actual fitness of the participant. You need to train in this zone for a significant length of time (90+ minutes) to get any appreciable caloric burn off.

The Aerobic training zone (70-80%) is where you get a well-rounded workout. You will still burn significant fat calories (50% of total), your calories/minute will be more significant, allowing you to get real results in about 60 minutes (the average length of most group exercise classes), and your heart and lungs will start getting enough stimulation to actually improve its functioning over time.

The anaerobic zone (80-90%) is the next step up. Your body will consume very high amounts of calories/minute. 85% of those calories will come from stored carbohydrates, and only 15% from fat stores, as fat metabolism requires oxygen, and your burning energy too fast to use the oxygen delivery system efficiently. This intensity level severely limits the duration of an exercise session. Most people will become utterly exhausted within 10-20 minutes. Ever worked out so hard you felt like throwing up (or did)? Welcome to the anaerobic zone.

Max Zone (90-100%) Nausea, dizziness, light headedness, even fainting, can occur in an unprepared exerciser. This level should generally be avoided unless you know your fitness level. The problem is, no one knows their true fitness level or heart rate zones. All our tools at the consumer level are no more than good estimates. Get a stress test to determine your true max heart rate and then you can get reliable personal zones (mine is 177 bpm).

Where does this leave us? As intensity goes up, fat burning seems to go down, but this is misleading. At the fat burning intensity you burn so few calories/minute that you have to train for an exceptionally long time to get any significant benefit. If you want results in this zone, train for 2 or 3 hours without stopping. This is the zone competitive marathoner’s spend most of a marathon in, pushing up into higher intensities only as the race nears the end. A runner who was leading most of the way and faded at the end miss timed their kick. They pushed their intensity up too soon, or their opponents were better trained, or both. Of course, this is equally true of a Tour de France or Ironman triathlete competitor.

So why bother with anything besides the Aerobic zone? Based on those original definitions, you’d think higher zones are counter productive or a waste of time. What’s happening is you’re consuming energy (calories/minute) faster than your aerobic capacity can produce it, and your body starts switching over to the lactic energy system. This doesn’t mean that your aerobic system has shut down however. It is desperately trying to keep up with the demand, as it is the energy system your body is most efficient at using. Here’s why you want to include the anaerobic energy zone.

Your body is really just a conveyor belt of energy (calorie) distribution. During fat burning you start burning glycogen (starchy sugars) stored in the muscle directly. As these start depleting, your body sends spare energy stored in your liver to your muscles, replenishing them so they can continue to move, or do more reps. After 12-15 minutes of continuous movement without rest, fat metabolism starts up and fat is converted to glycogen and sent to the muscles and the liver to replenish them. Move up the intensity 1 step (aerobic zone), the process accelerates a little. Move into the Anaerobic zone and fat metabolism still occurs, but the workout duration will be shorter because the energy is being burned faster than the body can convert and transport energy to your muscles. Remember, fat metabolism begins 12-15 minutes after you begin exercising. Most people become exhausted 10-20 minutes in. See the problem? Even if you’re very conditioned, and you can go 30 or 40 minutes, you will only get 15 or 20 minutes where fat metabolism is even happening at all. But it doesn’t matter. At the anaerobic intensity level, your body is burning large amounts of calories/minute, your liver is desperately trying to replace the muscle glycogen so you can keep going, and your aerobic energy (fat metabolism) can’t keep up. When you are finished, your body still needs to replenish the muscle and liver sugars (glycogen) that you depleted, as quickly as possible, because the body does not like deficits (homeostasis). This forces your body to stay at an enhanced metabolic rate for 4-6 hours to quickly convert fat into sugar (glycogen) to get the liver and muscles full. At the end of traditional aerobic exercise, the human body returns to its original pre workout metabolic rate within 30 minutes.

We’ve seen how fat burning percentages go down as intensity goes up. The inverse is equally true. The less intense your activity level, the greater percentage of fat your body can use as an energy source. Want the highest fat metabolism rate? Sit on your ass. Go to sleep. There’s a great weight control strategy.

Here’s a great secret for the gym, whether the aerobic class, Spinning, or the weight room. The more you adapt your body to train in higher intensity zones, the better your body gets at training at every intensity below that threshold. If I spend my time in the weight room doing leg press with 75 lb, 3 sets, 15 reps every other day. I will reach a certain level of fitness and then my body will stop responding. If I leave the weight the same and increase the number of reps, I’ll get better at doing more reps, but will eventually plateau. On the other hand, if I start increasing my weight to 100 lb., even if I can no longer complete 15 reps initially, my muscles will get stronger, and my ability to push lighter weight (75 lb.) for higher reps will still improve; and at a faster rate with less risk of plateauing. As the heart is a muscle; in arguably the most important one we have, it responds to all these intensity zones in just the same way. For the athlete, it’s just a question of knowing when to apply each level of intensity during training and competition. For everyone else, it’s all about physically manipulating your body through them to help you achieve your goals. In the Spin room, use a heart rate monitor if possible. The more time you spend in the higher intensity zones, the longer you will be able to train at the lower intensity zones, when the circumstances dictate. And we want to prevent plateau’s as much as possible. That’s why official spin classes are 45 minutes, not 60 like other classes.

Good luck.