I started a new workout yesterday called Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide, a workout plan that was introduced to me by my sister in law while we were visiting the family on our trip. It’s not that I’m unsatisfied with my current workout plan, but every now and then I like to shake things up and find new sources of inspiration. This time my reason also stems from the fact that I’m not really comfortable in my own skin at the moment – 10 days holiday with all you can eat buffets and 5 course dinners will do that to you.
My approach to working out is pretty simple – keep it short and fun. I keep it short by following a high intensity resistance programme with lots of strength and toning exercises done at a rapid pace, and I keep it fun by changing up my exercises regularly so I don’t do the same thing in the gym every day. When I do my own workouts, I go really hard for 25 to 30 minutes and then I’m done. I find this to be very motivating, because unlike in previous years, I no longer have the will or the time to spend an hour or more in the gym.
I used to exercise differently. My standard pattern was 45 minutes of cardio minimum followed by 15-20 minutes of toning. There’s nothing wrong with that per se – in fact, working out in this way kept my weight stable and my fitness levels up. What I didn’t realise though, is that you don’t NEED to spend that long exercising to see results.
In fact, it’s better for you if you exercise for shorter periods of time and incorporate rest days. Our bodies are not designed to be pushed to the limit, day after day. Think about an Olympic athlete – their career spans 4 to 15 years, depending on the sport. After that they are done. They often struggle with chronic pain and complications arising from the battering they gave their bodies. That kind of relentless pounding has an expiry date.
I’m not suggesting the average person works out at the pace of an Olympian, but pushing ourselves to our limits in terms of intensity AND time every day is not good for us. It facilitates burnout and injuries and can actually inhibit weight loss.
The great thing about high intensity workouts is that your body keeps on burning fat even after you’ve finished exercising - something it doesn’t do after long and steady cardio sessions. Who doesn’t want that!
So what happens when you exercise too much?
Your body becomes distressed and a distressed body – whether the stress is from too much exercise, work problems, money worries or other things – goes into crisis mode. As your adrenal glands are depleted and stress hormone cortisol rages through your cells, your body essentially breaks itself to try and slow you down. It cannibalises muscle, stores fat, induces fatigue, enables injuries, introduces nerve pains and a whole host of other miserable symptoms as it tries to get you to ease up and allow it to recover.
Our bodies are smarter than we are – they know when they need a break. Have you ever been really stiff and sore but just gone to the gym anyway? We all do it, but we’re actually ignoring important warning signs that our bodies are giving us. They need time to recover and repair the muscle and tissue that we’ve broken down with exercise. This recovery time is as important to health and weight loss as exercise is.
In this day and age, we are all so busy trying to juggle a million things and still have some semblance of a life. Often the first thing to fall off our radars is exercise because it takes up so much time and is the easiest thing to drop. If you skip the gym then no-one is going to go hungry, get left at school, not get walked or miss their favourite TV show.
Exercising for shorter periods is not only smarter, it is increasingly becoming the only option for many of us.