Heart-rate training is the key to gauging your aerobic intensity and building endurance. Here's how to get started.
1. Buy a Heart-Rate Monitor (HRM) In order to get the most out of the interval training used in The Shape of Your Life program, a midlevel HRM that can calculate average heart rate and provide target-zone programming with an audible alarm will be the most effective. With those functions, you'll be able to bump into higher and lower heart-rate zones (see step 3, below) without looking at the watch face. Models we like are created by Acumen, Cardiosport, and Polar.
2. Calculate Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) Your MHR will determine the numbers that define your training zones. Use the following formula to determine your baseline MHR.
217 - (your age x 0.85) = MHR (in beats per minute)
Example: If you're 35, that comes out to 217 - 30 = 187 bpm. For rowing, subtract another 3 bpm. For cycling, subtract another 5 bpm. For swimming, subtract another 14 bpm.
3. Establish Your Four Heart-Rate Zones A little more math and you're done. Using your MHR as a baseline, write down the corresponding heart rates for the following zones: recovery (60 percent of your MHR); aerobic (60-75 percent of MHR); lactate threshold, or LT (75-90 percent of MHR); and anaerobic (90 percent of MHR and above). You'll use these numbers to work out at prescribed intensities during each month's regimen.
Individual lactate thresholds vary widely among athletes. If you've let fitness slip for a while, your LT probably falls at the low end of Zone 3 (maybe 75 to 80 percent of MHR); if you're in good shape already, LT may hover closer to 80 or 85 percent. On Friday of week two of The Shape of Your Life program, you'll perform a workout designed to determine your LT more accurately for the upcoming intervals. At the end of each month you'll take a one-mile LT test to see if you've pushed it back.
“A lot of people do their workout and then drop everything,” says Ed Burke, an exercise physiologist and the author of Optimal Muscle Recovery. "But you don't have to be Lance Armstrong to suffer dehydration and glycogen depletion. If you want to come back strong, you have the same recovery needs as an elite athlete."
In other words, you feel great after exercise, but the reality is much bleaker. Dehydration and electrolyte loss just sapped your cardiac efficiency; exercise stress caused microscopic muscle tears; and you drained your glycogen, your body's most efficient fuel source. If you want your training to go better than an Al Gore campaign, you need a nutritional plan that repairs and refuels your muscles for the next workout.
The good news is, we've never had a clearer picture of how to supercharge recovery. In 1988, University of Texas researcher John Ivy discovered the glycogen window—a one-hour period immediately following intense exercise when athletes have the best chance of replenishing lost glycogen. What's more, he found that consuming carbohydrates and protein in a four-to-one ratio during that window makes athletes up to four times more efficient at synthesizing carbs into glycogen. Take in the right kind of food or drink immediately following your workout and you can replace all the energy needed to come back strong each day.
We know you're busy, but sticking to the following two-part, postworkout nutrition strategy will be the difference between a sustainable plan and one that leaves you on the couch munching Cheetos in two weeks.
After an Intense Workout, Down a Liter of Pre-Mixed Recovery Drink The best of the new wave of recovery drinks—Endurox R4, SmartFuel BioFix, and Hammer Pro—combine Ivy's four-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein formula in an easy-to-mix powder. In one shot you'll address three of recovery's most important factors—water, glycogen, and electrolytes. Purchase these at your local GNC or specialty cycling shop.
Consume a Recovery Meal 2 to 4 Hours After You Work Out Follow your recovery drink in the glycogen window with a meal consisting of 65 percent carbs, 20 percent fat, and 15 percent protein to further replace your glycogen stores. Don't get bogged down in the numbers—here are four great examples: pasta with olive oil and tuna, a bean or chicken burrito (easy on the cheese), a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, a bagel with cream cheese.
This Installment of The Shape of Your Life is devoted to building endurance. This weekday plan (use your weekends for hiking, biking, running, climbing, paddling, whatever) utilizes heart-rate training zones to raise your VO2 max and lactate threshold (see above).
You need to round up a heart-rate monitor (see "Heart-Rate Training"), but for the first two weeks, to get familiar with how your HRM works, just wear the unit and mentally note your digits during the aerobic sessions. At the end of week two, you'll determine your personal lactate threshold with a simple test. The interval sessions in weeks three and four are engineered to raise your LT.
We also introduce you to basic strength and flexibility training (see sidebar). For dumbbell lifts, use enough weight to bring you just short of exhaustion in each set. If you struggle with pull-ups, have a partner hoist you at the waist, or get friendly with the weight-assisted pull-up machine at your gym.
Begin each strength session with a warm-up (ten minutes of rope skipping, stair stepping, easy jogging, or zero-resistance cycling) and end with the stretch sequence. As always, if you have health concerns, consult your physician before starting this or any other exercise program. Finally, should you miss a workout, don't panic, just pick the workout back up as soon as you can.
THE GOVERNMENT is lying. OK, that may be a little strong, but if you're adhering to the Food and Drug Administration's daily recommendation for protein, this much is true: You're not getting enough. "Athletes need higher amounts of protein; that's the consensus," says the University of Western Ontario's Peter Lemon, a leading protein researcher for the last 27 years. Like most nutritionists, Lemon feels that active people need 50 to 100 percent more protein than the 0.4 grams per pound of body weight the RDA has been suggesting since the Nixon administration.
So how much is enough? Zealots of Barry Sears's Zone Diet say 30 percent of your daily ration should be protein. Recovery expert Ed Burke argues that protein should make up 15 percent of your diet. And the supplement industry urges you to gulp down protein shakes like it's your patriotic duty. All the alternatives to Uncle Sam's advice can leave your head spinning.
Hoping to cut through the confusion, this summer the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences plans to publish a revised RDA that takes into account athletes' unique requirements. In the meantime, you can use the above numbers from Dr. Lemon—based on a 3,500-calorie-per-day diet for a physically active adult male—to make sure you're getting the right amount of protein.
Next: Build flexibility in part three of our Shape of Your Life fitness plan.
Weeks five through eight of The Shape of Your Life focus on functional strength. All the moves (see sidebar) are simple adaptations of standard weight-room lifts. The key difference is that everything takes place on your feet or a stability ball (you can purchase the latter, also called a Swiss ball, at your local sporting goods store). Lifting on a wobbly platform develops your core, a muscle group that transfers strength gains to real sports.
Our regimen stresses quality over quantity, so you'll do only one set, but perform each rep in a slow, smooth manner (five to ten seconds each), placing equal emphasis on both the up and down portions of the lift. Use enough weight to bring you just short of exhaustion after ten reps. When it gets easier, increase the weight, slow down the reps, or both. Each workout, complete a ten-minute warm-up before starting, and mix up the order of the exercises; variety will promote continued muscle growth. In month three, you'll perform a simple cable test that can help measure increases in core strength.
For endurance, continue zone heart-rate training (see sidebar) three days a week. Weeks five and six use intervals to raise your lactate threshold. To maintain the periodized approach laid out in month one, you'll add time (about ten minutes) to your workouts in week seven, and reduce them in week eight to get you rested for the next phase.
Barrier: Your dumbbell routine is stale. Breakthrough: Tap your imagination. Using a wobble board or a stability ball, you can invent your own functional lifts. But can't you get hurt making up exercises? "As long as you concentrate on the following, you can't go wrong," says Chuck Wolf, manager for human performance at the USA Triathlon National Training Center. "To protect your lumbar spine, when you twist, make sure your pelvis leads the way. Second, when you bend forward, pull your abs in. This will reduce the risk of spine injury and keep your back straight." Follow his advice and you can spice up your routine. Tired of push-ups? Try them on one arm. Bent-over flies too easy? Try lying on a stability ball.