How many Spinning® classes a week is enough cardio training?
Do I have to lift weights? Is taking a Bodypump class equal to hitting the weight room?
Will Pilates "count" the same as yoga class?
Ah, the questions we have and receive in the fitness world.
I understand. I started my life at the gym as a chubby 10 year old jazzercise aficiondao because I wasn't into athletic sports. I began teaching dance aerobics and step class when I was 17. I've seen many trends in the fitness and diet industry come and go in the past 30 years, all in the name of finding that holy grail of what do I need to do? How much is enough/too much?
Most individuals, from casual exercisers to elite athletes, are looking for the elusive prescription of doing just the right amount of the right exercises/training that is going to yield the most bang for the buck, whether it's banging out a first place finish in a local club cycling championship or banging a thong bikini on the beach.
Elite athletes tend to have access to coaches and equipment that enable them to to fine-tune their daily training sessions to exact target parameters and specific measurable performance gains. It doesn't necessarily make training any easier, but when one lives, sleeps and breathes their sport the training payoffs tend to be more tangible in the form of medals, trophies, and gift certificates for new carbon fiber cycling shoes.
When you're not competing, measuring progress in a fitness program tends to run to focussing on more cosmetic and daily quality of life indicators that are at least as important to many recreational exercisers as a first place finish in the local county road race is to the weekend warrior. Questions like Am I having fun? Do I feel better? How does my butt look in my jeans? Is my muffin top disappearing? are just as significant as improving personal best records and minutes per mile. Many casual fitness buffs don't feel the need to hire a coach or personal trainer in order to definitively answer these seemingly intuitive questions-no pain no gain is what I learned from my high school phys ed teacher.
But the pursuit of fitness can be trickier than just showing up. Individuals vary widely in how much of different exercise "types" (cardio, strength, flexibility) they need and more importantly, just how their bodies will respond. Personal trainers and coaches are paid to measure these physiological responses on an ongoing basis and adapt/plan future workouts accordingly. Unfortunately, many people who participate at the gym do not have the resources for a personal trainer, and end up overemphasizing cardio or strength training at the expense of a comprehensive workout routine over time that will help individuals reach their goals and acquire peak fitness in whatever measurable form that translates to for casual exercisers.
This is where the 5 Spinning® energy zones fulfill a crucial role in the training plan of anyone who is looking for measurable results in their workout sessions. I view the zones as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, when you put the five pieces of the puzzle together they form a perfect square.
Should I do more cardio, or focus more on strength?
The answer is yes.
How many Spinning® classes are enough/too many per week?
The answer is yes.
To me, the point of a confoundingly ridiculous response is not to drive my students crazy, but to help them understand that there are no absolute answers to most fitness questions. At the bare minimum, when people use the Spinning® energy zones along with a heart rate monitor to help shape their time spent on cardio training they are at least assured of a more scientific approach than hopping on the elliptical and slogging away for 30-45 minutes every time they're at the gym.
I recall leading a Spinning® orientation several years ago at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. During our discussion of the energy zones, we talked about the purpose of endurance training and aerobic base building. A quiet but powerful gentleman sitting in the back spoke up and shared with us that he not only regularly participated in Ironman triathalons, but he had actually won several of them (this was later verified with Google). He worked with a coach but he had also had devised his own hit or miss training plan over the years. His typical weekly training for competitive events consisted of all periodized pure aerobic training, in cycling what we refer to as base building or LSD (long slow or steady distance). All of it. He did absolutely no high intensity interval training (HIIT) or anaerobic sprints. But when he competed, he went out and tore the the field up. Most competitive athletes training for elite events like an Ironman will vary their training formula so that while they get lots of LSD, they also pepper in HIIT in relatively small but carefully prescribed and scientifically timed doses so all of systems of their body are ready to perform at the highest level during the event. Clearly, the proof of the effectiveness of his somewhat unorthodox training approach lays in his results. However, that's not to say everyone who wants to win an Ironman should run out and start copying his methods, it could result in disaster for the next competitor who trained identically.
The bottom line is we all have to pay attention to results, which first means setting some sort of a goal for the time invested at the gym, and then measuring specific progress towards that goal. It can be overwhelming, and sadly there are no short cuts to fitness or magic pills that will yield results without hard work (sshh, the multi-billion dollar diet & supplement industry doesn't want that secret getting out). The energy zones give us an excellent point from which to start devising our own balanced training approach and plan.
I look forward to seeing you in your thong on the beach this summer.