Is a high-intensity training program working against you?
January 7, 2017
Being a student of the game is always a valuable stance in the pursuit of excellence. I've always endeavored to continually seek higher learning in the realm of fitness and life. In an effort to uncover techniques to enhance myself and the students I coach, I have a different understanding and experience with lower heart rate training that has proven worthy. Considering the holidays are in full swing, the added fat burning benefit that's along for the ride with the techniques discussed in this column is worth noting. Here's what you need to know.
For many years, I've maintained that high intensity and high heart rate training were essential to any fitness enthusiasts' success. There have been many documented studies, fitness cultures and experts who have claimed that high-intensity exercise is more beneficial over the lower heart rate counterpart that plagued the decades preceding current times. As in most cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Even though I still believe there is a valuable time and place for intense exercise, I have learned to dial it back. Here's why.
High intensity proponents argue that during bouts of lower-intensity aerobic training efforts, the consequences are decreased muscle strength and mass, reduced systemic stress that hampers adaptation, and inefficient fat burning processes. This is largely accurate, but misses the mark on a few points. Most notably, I have experienced that high-intensity training creates challenges for acquiring low body fat levels. This may come as a very surprising claim, but I have one reason for this argument that has come to light recently.
First of all, my undesirable experience concerning high-intensity training is with regards to overweight trainees who just can't seem to get lean in the midst of an aggressive training approach. My explanation for this is very simple. High-intensity exercise causes such a large systemic stress, the demands require so many calories to compensate for the damage. It's overly challenging to recover from such intense exercise without a surplus of food that negates any attempts for weight loss. This is a huge oversight that many professionals miss. I have rarely been my leanest during high-intensity blocks of training. I have certainly failed many students who've attempted leanness under my care while I've blindly prescribed puke sessions.
There is a time and place for intense conditioning drills. For individuals who are lean, and need a great deal of work capacity required for specific life or sports applications, high-intensity exercise has a place in the program. High-intensity exercise is also efficient for the time constrained because he can train for a shorter period of time and generate a great deal of work if the effort is substantial. But for those who have struggled to get lean in the process of really intense exercise efforts, try the following.
First of all, what exactly is a high-intensity exercise program? Classic high-intensity workouts include, but aren't limited to CrossFit "WODS", P90X, high-repetition kettlebell swings, battle ropes, sled pushes, interval spin classes and sprinting. For simplicity, anything that you pursue in which you can't talk during the effort is likely more intense than necessary for fat loss. Instead of these staples, I suggest walking at a fast pace for an hour, five days per week. Also, lift heavy in the five repetition range a few days per week using large compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift, overhead press, barbell row and pull-up. The benefits of this training template is three-fold. Walking at a low heart rate will burn fat, plain and simple. Secondly, training with heavy weights, for low repetitions doesn't cause the muscular damage associated with higher repetition training, necessitating a lower caloric intake. Thirdly, heavy weights will stimulate increases in strength which is always a worthy pursuit.
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By no means am I shunning the methodology of high-intensity training. I'm still a believer in this protocol for the right reasons. Given how many people chase after exercise as a weight loss tool, it's time to consider other options because it just doesn't seem to work as well as it looks on paper. It's taken me years to recognize this pattern. Stay tuned, next week I will talk about specific methods and heart rate zones to fully capitalize on lowering the intensity for maximum benefit. Have a great week!
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club in Edwards.
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