Sit Down, Stand Up: Maximize Your Stationary Bike Workout

Even if running is your primary sport, indoor cycling can be an attractive diversion from the norm. Not only would some time on the bike give you interesting variety in your workouts but mixing things up could also help you avoid injury. Particulary if you’ve recently strained your calves or are just worried about doing so, the bike might be worth considering.

A recent study, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise,  explored various approaches to indoor cycling, including weighted vests and standing, with the ultimate goal of building more and more effective routines. Their findings offer game-changing insight on how to make the most of your cycling bouts and how to best use these techniques.


Study Structure

The subject pool consisted of 12 female cyclists who each performed four 4-minute long trials, while standing and wearing a weighted vest. The weight of the vest was either 5, 10 or 15 percent of the subject’s body weight. Each subject also performed 4-minute trials while seated to act as a control by setting a baseline for their heart rate and calorie expenditure.

Not surprisingly, standing vastly increased the caloric burn of a cycling session and these effects were increased even more when the subjects wore heavier and heavier vests.


In Practice

To add an extra boost to your cycling, consider giving a weighted vest a try. Remember that a heavier vest produces a more challenging cardiovascular workout, so don’t treat the weight like it’s a strength routine. Since many weighted vests have adjustable weights, start out light and work your way up.

In addition to the vest, periodically stand during your ride. Stand for about 2 to 3 minutes, while maintaining your pace. The length of your seated intervals depends on your fitness level and how difficult you want your workout to be. For example, if you use 2 minute standing intervals and 10 minutes of sitting, you would only stand twice in a 30 minute workout. But if you shorten it to 5 minutes down and 2 minutes up, you’ll be standing much more frequently, adding more of a challenge.




Have Researchers Found The Perfect HIIT Formula?

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is all the rage in the fitness world. Endurance athletes love it because HIIT can create incredible improves in speed and explosive power. Even more those that are more strength-oriented make frequent use of HIIT to burn huge amounts of calories while maintaining their hard-earned muscle mass. And everyone loves the fact that HIIT workouts can be as short as 15 minutes.

But the one problem with HIIT, the one fact that can make an otherwise simple training method difficult, is the wide variety of programs. Crossfit, Tabata and the Little method have emerged as leaders in the field but more and more approaches continue to pop up. To date, though, HIIT has been lacking one, effective, precise formula that can be used by anyone and produce maximum results. That is, at least, until researchers at the University of Copenhagen published their findings in 2012.


What They Found

The scientists set out to develop the missing formula for an easy-to-follow HIIT routine by testing some of the more popular interval models. Initially, 30-second sprints were used since these are a pretty standard interval and do genuinely produce good results. The problem is that sprinting, all out, for 30 seconds is very difficult, even for more experienced runners.

Gradually, then, the researchers decided to try shorter sprint intervals to see what sort of improves were possible at what seemed to be lower difficulties. The formula that was settled on, which is generally called either 10-20-30 or 30-20-10, produced amazing results.

Veteran 5k runners who used the program for just 7 weeks cut a full minute off their time and 1500-meter runners dropped an average of 23 seconds, all while decreasing their weekly mileage by about half. The subjects also saw significant losses in their blood pressure and cholesterol. Despite all it has to offer, in general, the workouts only last between 20 and 30 minutes.


The Details

Now that we’ve covered how fantastic the 10-20-30 training method can be, let’s talk about exactly what it is. The system is, at it’s heart, a structured approach to Fartlek training which involves short bursts performed at relative speeds based on how you’re feeling in the moment.

Basically, a typical workout would look like this:

  1. A 10-minute warmup. The runners in the original study ran just 3/4 of a mile for their warmup.
  2. Jog for 30 seconds, run for 20 and then sprint for 10. Repeat this same pattern four more times, keeping up the routine for five straight minutes.
  3. Perform an active rest by either walking or jogging for 2 minutes.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3. Try to cycle through the intervals two or three time. Runners in the study eventually worked their way up to four of these sets.

While it appears that the original study didn’t use any type of cool-down, it’s always recommended. Walk or job for another 10 minutes to wind yourself down.

The 10-20-30 training method for HIIT can provide a workout that is easily adjusted to your fitness level by tweaking the speed and number of sets while still giving you impressive improvements in your performance.

Have you tried 10-20-30? Tell us about you experience!




New Sensor Knows When You’re Approaching “The Wall”

You’re well into the race and genuinely felt great out the onset. But now, further in, everything starts to go wrong. You’re breathing is labored, your stride is starting to falter as you work to haul you 2-ton feet around. To make everything worse, your mind starts to turn on you, telling you that there’s no way you can keep going.

This frightening scenario describes the infamous “wall” that all runners deal with at some point in their careers. There are various strategies to prepare for and work through this obstacle, which we’ll discuss in a later post. But news of a new biosensor could provide hope for runners looking for an edge in avoiding the wall.


What is “The Wall”
At first, during mild exercise, your muscles can get buy using aerobic systems for fuel. This method is extremely clean and efficient, leaving behind very little waste.

When your muscles need more fuel than aerobic methods can produce, though, your body shifts to an anaerobic state. This process unfortunately produces lactic acid and lactate as byproducts, which build up in your system and cause muscle fatigue.

This extreme buildup of lactic acid and lactate is what causes you to hit the wall since your muscle can no longer work under the harsh conditions. It is true that you can train specifically for this, increasing your body’s tolerance to lactic acid but to get the best results, you need to be able to measure your levels of the byproduct. Current methods, though, are no what one would call “accessible.” Often, a test requires a blood sample and takes time to produce results.

A group of researchers working out of the labs of the Department of Nanoengineering, University of California San Diego have produced a new sensor that they believe could help solve this problem.


The Sensor

Small, flexible and incredibly similar to a temporary tattoo, this new sensor could help athletes to prepare their bodies for the inevitable wall. By measuring the amount of lactate that’s excreted in your sweat, this sensory can provide valuable insights on your physiological state during exercise.

Related research has shown that these sensors can be adjusted to test for a range of various factors, including pH levels of your skin and certain chemicals in your sweat. These sensors can also be used to monitor many other biological markers, including your heart rate.

For right now, though, more research is needed. First off, a definite correlation has to be shown between the amount of lactate in your sweat and the amount of lactic acid and lactate in your body. The relationship between fitness levels and lactate production also has a long way to go before we can put these sensors to their full use.

Despite these drawbacks, this sensor technology represents great strides in sports sciences and could, eventually, help you avoid the wall.






Why I Like to Run in Summer

keyNot all seasons favor runners. Actually, all of them have their pluses and minuses. We must adapt through the calendar year to whatever Mother Nature decides to throw our way. Luckily, I live in an area of the country where Mother Nature is generally quite kind and I don’t experience the type of harsh weather most do.

I do love to run the summer, despite the rise in temperatures. This weekend, during a race, I reflected on the benefits of summer running. These are personal to me, but some of you may feel the same way.

I am forced to get up early. I feel refreshed, more alive throughout the day and more productive when I get up and run. I get my workout out of the way so I can check it off my to-do list…plus I do it when I have the most strength. Later in the day I get sluggish and feel generally heavier because I’ve eaten. When I run on a fairly empty stomach, i.e., when I wake up, my body is lighter and the miles flow faster. I also avoid the searing temperatures.

I get heat training. Heat stresses the body and makes it work out harder. My body works to stay cool and I burn more calories. Yes, it puts me at risk of dehydration, but as long as I run with a water bottle and stay hydrated throughout the day, I can handle the heat. It makes a cool weather run feel so much easier. It’s perfect training for an early fall marathon–I’ve done all my training runs in something so much more difficult.

I meet more people. I love to run on the trails and while they get more crowded during the summertime, this also means I have more company. I feel safer with more runners around, get to pet all the dogs people take hiking, and practice technical running rather than asphalt training.

Why do you love to run in the summer?

Resveratrol May Be Slowing You Down

In a past post, we discussed the growing body of research regarding free-radicals and antioxidants. Despite the longstanding belief that free-radicals were the cause of countless medical conditions, including aging, and that antioxidants were the solution, these findings paint a very different picture, one in which free-radicals play a valuable role and too many antioxidants can actually be a very bad thing.

One of the most popular antioxidant supplements, resveratrol, has been touted as a miracle treatment for everything from aging to obesity and has quickly risen in sales. What exactly is resveratrol and what does it do?


Product of the Vine

Resveratrol is a polyphenol found naturally in many species of plants including, most famously, grapes. In fact the wave of interest in resveratrol began in earnest when studies started to suggest that the cardiovascular benefits of red wine were all thanks to resveratrol. In general, though, most supplements are made from the Japanese and Chinese knotweed plant although some are extracts of red wine or grapes.

Like other polyphenols, resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant that helps to prevent and even reverse the adverse effects of free-radicals. As mentioned, though, isn’t always a good thing.

The newest research regarding resveratrol is especially of interest to those people out there who spend long hours working on their cardiovascular health.


Too Much of A Good Thing

Past studies with resveratrol have shown that the chemical had the amazing ability to enhance the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Unfortunately, these findings were in animals or test tubes and don’t appear to translate to humans.

Over the course of the 8-week study, 27 men were asked to follow a workout routine. Half of the men were given 250mg of resveratrol and half were given a placebo. At the end of the study, not only did the researchers find that resveratrol did nothing to increase the benefits of exercise, it actually prevented them. The men who took the real supplement saw fewer improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol profiles and the overall efficiency of oxygen use then the placebo group.


What it Means

It’s important to note that the dosages used in the study are fairly high. The dosages found in supplements vary, but genuinely hover around 150mg, much lower than the 250mg used to get the above results.

The study is also the first of its kind and is focused on a very specific group of people: men over 65 who were physically inactive. To fully understand the scope of these effects, more research is needed with a broader subject base.

While you may not see these same effects, this study does add to the warning that too many antioxidants could be counterproductive.





The Calorie Counting Crisis

Just about any discussion of health and fitness somehow comes back to calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to make sure that you’re burning as many calories as possible when you workout. Even if you’re not, though, you at least want to make sure that you’re eating enough to fuel your workouts. Getting an accurate idea of your caloric expenditure, then, is a valuable tool towards reaching your fitness goals. The problem is, the amount of calories you burn is highly personal, based on many individualized factors. A basic understanding of these factors, though, can help you to get a better estimate of how many calories you’re really burning.


How Fit Are You?

Your fitness level and body composition have a major impact on your caloric expenditure. While it’s true that the more muscular you are, the more calories you need as a base line, it’s also true that you will burn fewer calories during your actual workout. Anyone who’s ever experienced the excitement of losing a lot of weight very quickly only to feel the frustration as that weight loss slows when you get closer to your goal understands the annoying truth of this statement.

The reason for this can be illustrated by a car. The better maintained a car is, the more efficiently it will use up its fuel. So the better trained your body is, the more efficiently it will use up its calories.


Your Workout

It may seem pretty obvious that your choices in workout design can have a big impact on how many calories you need to get through it, but the number of important details that affect your caloric expenditure can be staggering.

For example, the more muscle fibers that an exercise uses, the more calories it will burn. This means that compound movements that focus on multiple muscle groups are a more powerful weapon in the war on fat. A squat, then, will use up a lot more fuel than a simple bicep curl.

Even on cardio machines, this principle can be applied. The elliptical tends to challenge more muscle groups than the bike or treadmill and will thus boost your caloric expenditure.

Strength training also has the added benefit of the EPOC, or after-burn, wherein your body burns excess calories for as much as 24 hours after your actual workout!

Adjusting your rest periods during your workouts can also go a long way. By keeping your rest period between sets to about 60 seconds, you keep your heart rate elevated which will require more fuel.


More to Think About

The things that can affect your caloric expenditure just seem to multiply when you take your workouts outside, too. The altitude, which affects the density of the air, will change your caloric burn since thinner air requires less energy.

Although you may not even notice it, the wind can work for or against you, as well. Running into the wind can add a spike to the amount of calories you use and a cyclist who drafts can cut their fuel use by almost 40 percent.

The list goes on to include everything from your choice of shoes and clothing to the texture of the ground you’re running on.


Staying Accurate

Fortunately, many exercise machines have built in caloric calculators and portable devices are also available. But some of these machines are more accurate than others and the more personalized you can make it, the better. So take the time to enter your information like age, gender and weight into the computer. Devices that measure your heart rate will have a better idea of your fitness level, too, which will make it more accurate.