According to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), 80 percent of Americans are not exercising enough to get a health benefit. As a fitness professional, this discourages me but doesn’t surprise me. Let me explain the statistic to you. It doesn’t mean people aren’t exercising. Many people hit the gym with the intent of working out. Clubs are packed full of people each and every day. What these numbers do indicate, however, is that those who are working out, aren’t doing so effectively. This translates into poor health, even though they “think” they are doing their body good.
The heart is an amazing organ. It is constantly working to ensure we have oxygen. Breathing in and out is what it was designed to do. Simply doing so is not exercise but par for normal course. In order to be exercised, therefore, it must be challenged. This is where most people make their mistake, and it discourages me. I feel so bad for people who are putting the time in at the gym but aren’t getting the benefits simply because they aren’t working hard enough. It doesn’t surprise me because I believe many people just don’t know. You can’t do what you don’t know, so here’s the scoop: work at a higher intensity.
Many health and fitness clubs have heart rate charts to help you work at the “right zone” or “target heart rate.” My experience is that the average person doesn’t know their resting heart rate, which must be taken over three days at the exact same time each morning and be averaged. I personally am math-challenged! Besides, the heart-rate formula used by most facilities provides estimations anyway. I prefer to make it exact! I encourage people to monitor their own breathing and use the Intensity Chart, which is basically a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most difficult. Here is how it works: When you first walk into a class or gym, you are breathing normal, which is through your nose. This is level one. This is easy because it requires no additional effort from the body. As you begin to warm up (you do warm up, don’t you?), you start to increase your intensity. Your breathing becomes fuller through your nose. Here is where some people will get stuck, especially if they are reading a good book or talking to a friend. If you truly want to get the health benefits, you must continue to increase your intensity past this point, which is about a three. You must work yourself hard enough so that you are labored enough to recruit the mouth. Fuller breaths and using the mouth for more oxygen indicate a level five to six. You could still have a conversation, but it is between breaths. Breathing is the priority, not talking. I’ll say it directly: if you are able to talk while you are exercising, you aren’t working hard enough. Why put the time in if you don’t get the health benefit?
This is a great place to start, but I still encourage people to go higher. The great thing about monitoring your own breathing is that it is “you.” It isn’t a formula based on a young man. What you want to do is actually push yourself to a level eight. Here, you are “comfortably uncomfortable.” Meaning, you know you are working, but you can go the distance. You are breathing through the mouth and talking is VERY difficult and limited, if at all. NOTE: You might be asking yourself, “then why can fitness instructors give us cues while teaching class?” Two possibilities: 1) They aren’t working as hard as you think or as in my case 2) They are practicing techniques that allow them to speak through their breathlessness…and they are controlling their breathing, even though they normally wouldn’t be able to speak. Trust me, it takes practice and being in really good shape.
To truly get the most out of your work out, you should stay at the level eight for 20 minutes of your 30 minutes. You’ll have a little warm up and then a burst at a level nine to really challenge your system, followed by a cool down. If you prescribe to this intensity scale, you will see results. Now that you know the scoop, get out there and increase that intensity. Your heart is depending on you.
For more secrets to healthy living, get a copy of my book, Finally FIT: Customizing Fitness to Your Type.