You’ll enjoy all the hormonal benefits of exercise provided you use the right type, frequency, intensity and duration. Many people waste their exercise efforts with misguided information and habits that can actually sabotage fat loss. Let’s talk about a few of the top workout mistakes and misconceptions that can interfere with fat-burning results, so you can be sure to avoid them from now on.
Workout Mistake #1: Completing Your Cardio Before Your Weight Training
I used to do my workouts in this sequence because I thought cardio was best as a warm up before doing weights. I now know that saving my strength and completing my weight workout first is a much better plan. You can work out harder and lift more when you avoid fatiguing yourself with cardio first. Plus, you will continue to burn fat should you decide to follow your weight session with some cardio. Just hop on the bike or walk for 3 to 5 minutes, as a warm up, to loosen up a bit before your weights.
Although I’ve personally used the weights-then-cardio approach for years, I certainly didn’t come up with the idea. A study from the University of Tokyo found that people who did a total-body strength workout before cycling burned 10% more fat than participants who only cycled. The author of the study, Dr. Kazushige Goto, also found that less fat was burned and less growth hormone was released by the group that completed cardio first, followed by weights.
At the same time, adding cardio to the end of a particularly taxing weight training session can cause a spike in your cortisol because the entire workout ends up being too long and stressful. For these reasons, I recommend you do your weights and cardio sessions at separate times. If you do wish to do them together, keep your cardio short. Dividing your workout this way may actually give you better fat-burning potential, as the same study from the University of Tokyo showed that splitting cardio into two sessions maximized the post-workout fat burn. I’m sure the same theory would apply to dividing cardio and weight training into two separate sessions.
If you’re still not convinced, I think you’ll feel differently once you begin the exercise plan. Then you’ll see that resistance training workouts can be intense enough that you won’t have much zip left for cardio immediately after. Your heart certainly gets pumping when you do your strength training exercises effectively, with little rest in between sets. Resistance training can yield the most amazing changes in your body composition when you do it properly. If you want to stand in front of the mirror and love your look, resistance training is the way to achieve your goal. And finally, another great benefit of this approach to exercise is that it keeps your workouts short and sweet.
Workout Mistake #2: Pumping Iron for Hours at a Time
Unless you are an athlete training for a specific sport or event, workout sessions that last longer than 45 minutes are not necessary and may even be harmful. Although exercise is a wonderful long-term stress reliever, working out does put physical stress on your body in the short-term. So when you workout is too long, your cortisol goes up, up, up. Cortisol is destructive to muscle tissue, especially when it’s present without the muscle-protective hormones, growth hormone and testosterone. Keeping your workouts shorter, though still intense, will help prevent excessive cortisol release, which usually starts to happen after about 40 minutes or so of continuous exercise. Compacting your workout in this way will give you the best gains in the shortest amount of time. It also means less wear and tear and quicker recovery.
Workout Mistake #3: Getting Socially Active Between Sets
If you are the gym’s social butterfly, you need to turn over a new leaf. You don’t have time for chatting any more. Most of the workouts I promote are no longer than 30 minutes, which leaves no time for chit chat in the midst of your session. Power through your routine and socialize only after you are done. Studies show this no-nonsense, heads-down approach is the best way to maximize muscle gains and illicit the hormonal response you’re looking for.
In a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal (2005), Kazushige Goto and his team at Tokyo University found that a group of test subjects who worked out continuously, with no rest between exercises, had greater increases in growth hormone, noradrenalin and adrenalin during their workouts and netted greater muscle gains after 12 weeks than those who were instructed to rest between exercises. These findings can help you understand why I recommend completing your exercises in a circuit two to three times before having a rest. I truly don’t want to torture you; I simply want you to get the best rewards from your efforts. Give each workout your all and you won’t believe how quickly your body will respond.
Workout Mistake #4: Intense Cardio Is the Best Way to Lose Weight
I know I’ll probably ruffle more than a few feathers with this one, but neither running nor continuously training in the “fat-burning zone” is the golden ticket to your best body composition. Shorter workouts with intervals are far more effective than running or using a cardio machine for 40-plus minutes every other day. An interval is a short period of exercise performed at a higher intensity for a specific length of time. Each interval is separated from the next by a short period of rest or lighter activity. To truly take advantage of the benefits of interval training, you must be willing to shake the mindset that endless (and boring!) cardio training is the key to weight loss.
For example, 25 minutes of running can be more effective than 40. How? You will burn more fat during and after your workout if you run for 10 minutes at a steady pace, then alternate one minute fast and one minute slow for the next 10 minutes and run at a slower pace for the last 5 minutes to cool down. Even though you’re exercising for a shorter period, you’ll still net greater fat loss using this method.
A number of studies lend very strong support to the value of interval training. One piece of research by Tremblay et al, published in the journal Metabolism, showed greater muscle gains and fat loss in one group of subjects who exercised at a higher intensity for 15 weeks than a second group who exercised at a steady pace for 20 weeks. Although more calories were burned by the steady group, the interval training group lost much more subcutaneous fat. Moreover, researchers at the University of New south Wales in Sydney, Australia, found 20 minutes of interval training to be more effective in sparking our fat-burning hormones than 40 minutes at a steady pace. How great is this? More fat burning with less time spent exercising. Clearly, intervals are the secret to shorter workouts with more fat-loss success!
Workout Mistake #5: Guzzling “Sports Drinks” Before or After Workouts
When you’re working out for 30—40 minutes, you don’t need sugar to get you through your session. The only thing you should be guzzling is water. Consuming so-called sports drinks (i.e., sugar blast in a plastic bottle) before or after your workout will do nothing but interfere with fat loss and hormonal balance. Too much sugar before or after exercise can also blunt growth hormone release. (As an aside, fatty foods after a workout have also been found to have the same dampening effect on growth hormone.) Sports, energy and other drinks containing high fructose corn syrup have no place in your diet at any time.
Workout Mistake #6: Lifting Weights on an Empty Stomach
Your muscles need fuel to reach full force of contraction and strength during exercise. Always consume a blend of protein and carbohydrate before and after your resistance training sessions. This combination is proven to stimulate more growth hormone release and to encourage more muscle gains.
About an hour before your workout, try a snack that includes the macronutrients you need, such as a slice of Ezekiel bread with almond butter; a bowl of oatmeal with soy milk and blueberries; an Elev8tme bar; or a protein shake with flax oil, soy milk and whey protein. Follow your workout with a protein shake made with fruit juice, soy or skim milk, bananas and whey protein. Do not add the fat to your smoothie after your workouts because it can hamper growth hormone release. Always consume your shake within 45 minutes of finishing your exercise session for the greatest repair benefits on your muscles.
When you do your cardio, on the other hand, you can do it on an empty stomach (although you don’t have to), provided you stick to a session that’s 30-minutes max. You should still have your smoothie within 45 minutes of finishing your cardio, and it shouldn’t contain fat (flax oil or flaxseeds).
Workout Mistake #7: The More Exercise the Better for Maximum Fat Loss
I started lifting weights and going to the gym regularly after my first year of university. Ten years later I met a personal trainer who finally told me to stop working out for an hour at a time. In fact, he used to yell at me if I ran or exercised on the days I was supposed to rest. For months I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of exercising less. But guess what happened? When I finally followed his advice, I got in the best shape of my life.
Over-training or over-use of cardio is an incredibly common mistake among people who love to work out or are enthusiastic about weight loss. This misguided approach, however, only serves to raise our cortisol and interfere with our ability to build metabolically active muscle. You should train with weights a maximum of four times a week (I recommend three) and do your cardio no more than two to three times a week. On the days you are not supposed to work out, don’t! When we are trying to maximize the hormonal benefits of exercise, sometimes less truly is more. Stick to your routine, take the time off you need for rest and recuperation and, trust me, you will notice greater gains.
You wouldn’t believe the results I’ve seen in my patients who have heeded my advice and gotten away from lengthy stints on the treadmill. Instead, they turned to interval training, yoga and weights and now they look amazing! Their body fat percentage has dropped and they are more toned than ever.
Workout Mistake #8: Believing that Lifting Weights Causes Women to Bulk Up
Ladies, if you’ve always avoided the weight room for fear of ending up looking like a member of the Russian men’s powerlifting team, you need to think again. Most, if not all women, will not bulk up from lifting weights. We women naturally possess only 5—10% of the testosterone that men do. Testosterone is what causes men to build muscle. In fact, women are far more reliant of growth hormone to build muscle.
The more muscle you have, the more fat you’ll burn, even when you’re sleeping. So building more lean muscle mass will absolutely help your fat-loss progress. Using weight training will allow you to build strong, lean muscles without looking too pumped up or masculine, guaranteed.
In fact, exercise for weight loss simply must include resistance training. A comprehensive review of hundreds of studies completed and published in the International Journal of Obesity proved this to be the case when little benefit was found in subjects who used moderate cardiovascular exercise and dieting over diet alone. Meanwhile, it’s well documented that people who use a combination of resistance training and cardio lose fat while losing little or no metabolically active muscle.
Does this mean cardiovascular exercise is a waste? No, it does help to prevent weight gain and to maintain body weight, especially after a calorie reduced diet. But, it’s definitely not the answer to lasting fat loss.
Workout Mistake #9: Assuming Heavy Weights are Just for Guys
Wrong! Ladies, don’t be afraid to lift heavier weights. Just make sure you use proper form so you don’t run the risk of injuring yourself. I’m small but can lift a lot of weight and have been doing so since 1999 – right about the time I met that trainer who convinced me to stop over-exercising.
Heavier weights tone muscle and boost growth hormone much more than the lighter weights most women tend to use. A 2006 study led by William J. Kraemer, a Professor of Kinesiology, Physiology and Neurobiology at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, found greater gains of growth hormone in women who did fewer repetitions with heavier weights than in those who did higher reps with moderate weight. The study, published in the journal of The American Physiological Society, showed that women who underwent six months of moderate- or high-intensity training and aerobic exercise had higher amounts of growth hormone.
This common workout mistake was the driving force behind the set-up of the personal training studio here at Clear Medicine, staffed by a team of top trainers. I wanted all my patients to learn how to exercise – properly!
Workout Mistake #10: Thinking Yoga is Just for Girls
Years of weight lifting and running, especially without proper stretching, can shorten tendons and cause stiffness, misalignment and joint and back pain. With its full spectrum of poses, yoga can bring the body back into its natural alignment, level out imbalances and strengthen physical weaknesses. If you’re an athlete, yoga can improve your performance by increasing your flexibility, relaxation, breathing and balance. Anyone can improve posture, energy and endurance with regular yoga practice.
If you think yoga is too easy or too gentle a workout, how wrong you are! When my husband the hockey jock tried it, he couldn’t believe how hard yoga was. This type of workout can be very challenging and can make you feel inadequate if you compare yourself to other practitioners who appear more limber. Just remember yoga is a solo sport; the only person you should be competing with is yourself. As with all sports or skills, you will definitely see improvements with practice. No matter what your ability level, yoga offers fabulous benefits for calming your nervous system, restoring hormonal balance and strengthening your muscles.
Yoga can also be a terrific stress reliever. Numerous studies, including one completed in 2003 by The Center for Integrative Medicine of Thomas Jefferson University, in collaboration with the Yoga Research Society, have shown that yoga can lower blood cortisol levels in healthy males and females. It’s also known to reduce adrenalin and stimulate our calming brain chemical GABA.