Losing Weight and Getting Fit Like a Geek
Why I Started Exercising Like a Geek
At one point in my life I was overweight, slept poorly, got tired when doing simple chores and was just generally in bad shape. I was also depressed. I had made many attempts to get myself into a better shape but it just never seemed to work. I tried weightlifting, exercising, long walks and so on. Sometimes I got a little lighter and fitter but it never lasted for long. I was also getting a little grumpy from all this.
Being a geek at heart I like looking at numbers and statistics and studying stuff. For some reasons I never thought about applying those strengths to my exercise routine. But as luck would have it, I decided to spend some time studying things like the effects of heart rate, resistance training and nutrition, and try to create a training program by using sports science that would both suit me and be effective.
Before I decided to study this I had seen at the gym something called the fat burning zone and assumed like most people that it was best to train in that area. As I studied the effect of heart rate on peoples health, figured out how to calculate it correctly and looked at the heart rate chart after my first exercise, I saw the first thing I had been doing wrong in my previous exercise attempts. I had been training in the wrong heart rate zones.
At this point I should mention that I am not a health professional (if there was any doubt). This is merely my own account on how I understand all this and how it worked for me.
The Heart Rate Zones Explained
There are roughly speaking five heart rate zones of which each has it's own benefits to your health as you can see from the image below. I mentioned that I had been training in the wrong zones and it turned out I had been training mostly in the bottom two zones. You might think that since those zones are called the fat burning zones they would be best for losing weight.
That, however, is a misunderstanding. In those zones the majority of calories burned do come from fat ( thus the name ) but the total calories burned are much lower and you do not get any extra benefits from the training after it is over, such as the afterburn effect, where the human body continues to burn extra calories, even when resting.
The Heart Rate Zones and Their Effect on Health
How I Calculate My BPM For Each Zone
To use the heart rate zones you need to find your BPM for each zone. To do so I use the following formula
BPM = (MAXhr - RESThr * % Intensity) + RESThr
Where MAXhr is the maximum heart rate and RESThr is my heart rate at rest.
I read about a few ways to measure your maximum heart rate, an although they seemed hard I was mostly put off by warnings about them being dangerous to perform. It turned out, however, to be really easy to estimate my maximum heart rate as I found a formula that was accurate enough to start with:
MAXhr = 206 - 0,711*age
After I got my maximum heart rate I needed to measure my rest heart rate. I simply strapped on my heart rate monitor and lay down for a few minutes and measured until my heart rate did not drop any further. With these numbers, it was easy to calculate my heart rate zone BPM.
My Heart Rate Monitor
The heart rate monitor I use is the Polar H7 heart rate sensor. I can't say if this is the best heart rate monitor out there, but for me it does a great job. With it comes an access to the Polar Flow website that tracks and stores my training data.
My H7 is synced to my smartphone giving me real-time data on what my pulse is during exercise. This means a lot to me as I am now able to see what my pulse is during various exercise routines and adjust them to suit my training goals. I can also see how long I have trained in each heart rate zone and how many calories I have burned.
After the exercise the data gets sent to the polar flow website where I can look at it afterward and compare it to previous exercises to see if I am getting fitter.
How I Started Exercising and How You Can Start Too
Now that I knew how to measure which heart rate zones I was training in, it was time to look at how I had been working out. What I had been doing wasn't really all that bad, I had been mixing together weight lifting with light cardio, I only needed a lot more intensity on the cardio side.
So at the gym, I started running on a treadmill at a pace which lifted my BPM into the aerobic zone. And it was really hard to begin with. I often took breaks to catch my breath and then did another short run.
What I did was to run as long as I felt I could at around 70% intensity and then walk at a medium pace for 3 minutes. Then I ran again as long as I could at 70%, rested for 3 minutes, ran again and so forth. For a total of 30 minutes. In time I was able to push myself a little further until suddenly I was able to maintain that pace for 10 minutes without a break.
I then changed my routine a bit. Started to run on a treadmill at around 75% intensity for 10-15 minutes, followed with a 5-10 minute session on an elliptical at 80-85% intensity. Over time this started to get easier and I was able to stay a full 20 minutes running and 10 minutes on the elliptical at those intensities. At that point, I decided to take another look at my maximum BPM and add some weight lifting to my routine.
Measuring My Maximum Heart Rate
As I started getting fitter I noticed that I was able to get my BPM over my MAXhr, which is physically impossible. I, therefore, assumed that the formula was wrong and decided to try to find out my own maximum heart rate. So I got a local trainer at my gym to keep an eye on me and proceeded to measure my MAXhr.
I would stress that this can be dangerous if you are unfit, elderly or have an underlying medical condition so at least have a professional with you if you try it out.
I did the following to measure my MAXhr.
- A good heat-up, a few minutes on the treadmill at an easy running pace.
- A fast sprint on the treadmill for one minute
- Easy running pace again for a minute
- A fast sprint again for one minute
- Easy running for a minute.
- And finally, a fast pace until I was out of breath.
The highest heart rate from this method was 198 BPM so I added a bit and estimated my MAXhr at 200 BPM.
After a few weeks, I noticed a change to my overall heart rate during training sessions, this reflected my maximum heart rate getting lower as I got fitter which makes sense as both my MAXhr and my RESThr started to get lower. I repeated the MAXhr measurement above and saw that it had dropped to 186 BPM. In the table below you can see a comparison of my training zone BPM's today and when I started.
A Comparison of My BPM for Each Training Zone Now and When I Started
When I started
How I Exercise Today
Today a typical exercise consists of 10-15 minutes running at a pace that keeps my BPM in the aerobic zone, 10 minutes running/elliptical while I keep my pace in the anaerobic zone and a short burst on a rowing machine that pushes my BPM up into the maximum zone. After this, I take a couple of minutes to breathe and start my weightlifting routine.
Gaining muscle mass is a great way to increase the base metabolic rate so if you are mainly focused on weight loss you may also want to learn more about how to grow muscles naturally and fast.
My weightlifting routine consists of doing a mix of deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and bench presses with dumbbells. Alternating on doing deadlifts and overhead presses on one day and squats and bench presses on the next day. I do a single warmup round of 6 reps, then a few repetitions (3x5) with weights that are 80% my max and then a single max or near max rep.
If you decide to try this routine be always aware of your sugar levels as if is an energy consuming routine. If you start getting light headed and dizzy you should stop.
I expect that most people should be able to reach this level and for myself, it is quite enough. The total time I spend is about 60 minutes with 10 minutes of stretching.
Do you exercise regulary?
Food Supplements That Are Useful
There are a couple of food supplements that I use and I think they can be really useful if used correctly. I started out using Amino energy which I drank 20-30 minutes before each training session. I feel that it gave me the extra boost I needed when I was starting out, although I cannot say that this is the best pre-workout drink, it just worked for me. Later I switched to Jym, which is a more potent pre-workout that I wouldn't recommend for everyone.
I also start each day by drinking about 30g of whey protein as it boosts muscle growth and 2g of creatine as it also helps with muscle growth and protects muscles from damage. I won't recommend a specific brand, just browse and ask around for a good one.
If you want to try these products just be careful to follow the instructions on the labels. Using more won't help you more and in fact might damage your health. And remember that supplements do nothing on their own. The main purpose of supplements is to help your body to get fitter in a shorter time, but you still need to put in the work.
Changes in Eating Habits
As I started training I noticed that I began eating differently without any conscious effort. I began eating less bread and processed foods and more protein-rich whole foods, probably because my body was calling for a different type of nutrition. Later I learned that eating whole foods was probably the best dietary choice I could make.
The only conscious choice I made concerning my diet was to cut out all soda (also diet versions), sweets and snacks. This obviously had an effect, but I had not been eating so many snacks or drinking sugary drinks before so I don't believe it made a huge difference.
The reason for cutting out diet sodas as well is based on an idea that artificial sweeteners will mess with the regulatory systems of the body. Just consider this thought experiment: You drink a sweet tasting drink, the tongue sends a message to the brain that the belly is getting some sweet loving, the brain activates the sugar-digesting mechanism of the stomach, but there is no sugar there and the stomach goes "Hey brain! We need some sugar down here" which confuses the brain, ending with you craving for carbohydrates. And there is solid research that confirms this in a much more complex language.
My mentality was also highly important. All the previous times I started changing my diet and training only to lose weight. This time I started training to improve my overall health, start to feel better mentally, get fit and I tried not to think about my weight, although the weight loss is a great side effect.
I believe this is important as when I was concentrating on my weight I got bummed out if I ate something unhealthy or my weight wasn't moving down fast enough. Concentrating on getting fitter makes it easier to shrug off an occasional lapse as it really does not matter all that much for me at this point.
Using this method I have been able to improve my heart rate significantly, I lost quite a number of pounds, I sleep much better and am able to do all sort of fun stuff that was just too hard before. This has also helped in keeping my depression at bay.
If you are in the same steps as I was a couple of years ago then, by all means, try this way out. And don't be afraid to make changes later that you feel are better for yourself. No two persons are alike and the most important thing is to just do some exercise that you enjoy.
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Levictus Marcus Saarith