Working Out Harder, Not Getting Results?
By Dr. Rick Kattouf II
More Intensity, Less Results?
Body transformation; it's something many individuals are striving for. Body fat loss, weight loss, increase muscle mass, improve overall health and fitness, improved athletic performance, etc., are just some of the goals individuals set for themselves. As a result of setting such goals, the mindset of "more is better", is often adopted. On the surface, it almost seems to make sense, right? Want to lose body fat? Then just work out harder/more intense! This seems like a very reasonable approach. But, in the famous words of ESPN's College Game Day, Lee Corso, "not so fast!" When it comes to working out, can more intensity lead to less results? Absolutely; this can easily become the reality (and a frustrating reality). In order to understand how and why this can happen, we want to dive into some basic principles of human physiology. Before we get into such details, in no way does this mean that we have to work out easier, not even close. When it comes to achieving body transformation and athletic goals, it's not a matter of working out easier versus harder; rather, it's all about working out smarter. There is a big difference between working out smarter and working out easier/less intense. Let's take a look at workout intensity in terms of anaerobic and aerobic metabolism.
Anaerobic metabolism is the creation of energy from the breakdown of carbohydrates when oxygen is not available. This is when the respiratory rate is very high and the lungs cannot pump enough oxygen into the bloodstream. The demand of oxygen from the muscles is too high and this is why anaerobic metabolism is utilized during very short bursts of activity. During anaerobic metabolism, fuel sources like glycogen and glucose cannot be broken down and as a result, high amounts of lactic acid enter the blood stream. When lactic acid attacks the muscles, they stop contracting and muscle function is greatly reduced. Hence, the human body has to slow significantly or come to a complete stop in order to reset. And this is why, when lactic acid builds up too quickly in the body, our performance is greatly reduced.
Aerobic metabolism is the creation of energy from the breakdown of mainly fats & carbohydrates. Aerobic metabolism is much more efficient as compared to anaerobic metabolism. For example, one molecule of glucose can produce 39 molecules of ATP (adenosine triphosphate; think of this as energy) during aerobic metabolism. But, during anaerobic metabolism, one molecule of glucose can only produce 3 molecules of ATP. And, it is this adenosine triphosphate that helps to fuel the muscles. Once we start to exceed 90% of our maximum heart rate, we start to switch from aerobic metabolism… Into anaerobic metabolism (which is much less efficient). Keep in mind, when we go all out (anaerobic) we can only sustain this for a few seconds and up to a maximum of approximately 2 minutes. At this point, lactic acid builds up so much that the muscles cannot contract and the body has to come to a halt. The body now has to recover and reset before it can start back up again.
Working out smart is all about working out in the proper, aerobic heart rate zones, in order to build the most efficient system possible. As mentioned above, aerobic metabolism is much more efficient as compared to anaerobic metabolism. And again, in no way does this mean that individuals have to work out easy/low intensity. Now, with that being said, when individuals start to work out smart and follow the proper heart rate zones, sure, it may in fact feel very easy and low intensity at first. Why is this? Well, the answer is simple; it means that the individual is not very efficient at this stage in terms of their personal fitness, and that is okay. We are going to work on this and improve efficiency.
We have to keep in mind, the key to body transformation success is not a matter of how hard/how fast/how intense we can work out. Rather, it's a matter of how hard/how fast/how intense we can work out… At the lowest heart rate possible. That’s the key phrase, at the lowest heart rate possible. Simply working out at an extremely high intensity is not going to result in the body transformation goals we desire especially if the heart rate is extremely high (we are not maximizing fat burning). There is a "metabolic cost" to our workout intensity. And the goal is to keep this metabolic cost as low as possible in order to get maximum benefit. When we just simply go all out, drive that heart rate up super high, there is a big metabolic cost to this. And remember, the anaerobic metabolism is not nearly as efficient as aerobic metabolism. In addition, individuals who have not yet built the necessary efficiency, are putting themselves at increased risk for overtraining, injury, delayed recovery, fatigue, etc., when they workout at a heart rate that is too high.
As we continue to work out smart and become more and more efficient, the results become nothing shy of mind-bending. There is no better sign of increased fitness than being able to work out at a very high effort and intensity, but at the same time, maintain low heart rate zones (your heart is working less hard, but at the same time, moving the body at a fast rate). This is the concept that we want to grasp. Just think about what just happened here. We can work out at a very, very high effort and intensity but at the same time, be able to keep the heart rate low; this is unbelievable! This is the key to success when it comes to improving overall fitness and achieving body transformation success. This is all about building a very strong and stable foundation, much like building a house. In order to build a great house, we have to first build a very strong and stable foundation, right? But all too often, when it comes to fitness and body transformation, individuals tend to skip steps and they want to build that roof (anaerobic metabolism) before they've built an extremely strong and stable foundation (aerobic metabolism).
Working out smart has been the backbone of TeamKattouf® Coaching & Training from day 1. Whether we are working with a professional athlete, an individual that is morbidly obese or someone in between, proper heart rate training is the key to success. What are some of the signs of increased cardiac efficiency? One of the main things you will notice is this; you will be able to work out longer, harder and faster at the same or lower heart rate. When you see this happen, look out; because you will have achieved a fitness level you may have never dreamed of before. When we can teach the heart to beat as slow as possible but at the same time, move the body as fast as possible; that is the dynamic we are looking to achieve by working out smart.
I think most individuals would agree that they want to get the biggest return possible on their investment of time when it comes to their workouts. Individuals are very busy and therefore, they want to make the absolute most of their workout time. Well, it's as easy as monitoring your heart rate during each and every workout. All too often, individuals look back at their workouts and realize how intense their workouts have been and their heart rate has been very high. In addition, they are scratching their head because they do not understand how this super high intensity/high heart rate during their workouts is not resulting in a lighter and leaner physique. These individuals are not noticing body transformation changes, despite the high effort, intensity and high heart rates that they have been working out at. While there are many factors that lead to this (nutrition, strength training, etc.), working out smart and working out in the proper heart rate zones will be a huge step in the right direction.
We have to keep the following in mind; working out hard is easy. But working out smart takes time, effort, energy, patience, focus, discipline and the ability to delay gratification. So, if you have been putting in a great amount of workout time and intensity and you are not achieving the body transformation goals you desire, it may be due to the heart rate zones at which you are working out at. Let’s start to switch the focus from harder workouts…to smarter workouts, in order maximize body transformation results!
WORKOUT SMART, EAT RIGHT, GET RESULTS®!
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Rick Kattouf II, O.D. is a 2x Best-Selling Author and Fitness & Nutrition expert and has been named one of America’s PremierExperts® and one of the World Fitness Elite® Trainers of the Year. Rick is a Sports Nutrition Specialist, Heart Rate Performance Specialist, Master Personal Trainer & Triathlon Coach. He has been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates around the country as well as in the USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Ironman.com, Livestrong.com, FIGHT! Magazine, Florida Cycling Magazine and The Independent in the UK. Rick is the CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf® Inc, CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf® Nutrition LLC, CEO/Founder of Virtual Gym LLC, Creator of TeamKattouf® Nutrition Supplements, Host of Rx Nutrition, author of Forever Fit, Creator of 5-Round Fury® Nutrition Supplement, 5-Round Fury Fitness® workout app, Creator of Coach2CEO, Creator of Fuel Keeper®, Entrepreneur and Inspirational Speaker. Dr. Rick has personally coached individuals in 30+ states and 10+ countries.