A Gym plan for a chubby dude with not-enough time (yet).
November 22, 2009 2:41 PM   Subscribe

For a few months, I have a total of 30 minutes at the gym in the morning (not counting shower) at three times a week. (It's a long story.) I know this is not much at all. I am a 25 lbs overweight guy and would like to get a bit leaner. I don't expect quick results. I have asthma but control it with inhaler so I can "trot" a bit on the treadmill so far. I can't (yet) flat out run for long periods without asthma/poor shape affecting me. I am very familiar with the gym and various weightlifting exercises. I am not sure how to make the best of my time, though. At all. Within a month I would like to bump it up to 45/1hr in the gym and 4 times a week. (and then later, 5 days a week.) But for now, do you have any solid advice that works for you?

I am eating much healthier now and smaller portions but I think the sedentary job change has got to me the most. So, in summary, leaner and more energy is my goal. (I will put on hold my goal to look like Brad Pitt from Fight Club but hey, everybody can dream a little...)
posted by snap_dragon to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Given your time constraints, I would lift free weights for 30 minutes.

If you have double the time then I'd run/walk for 30 minutes and then lift free weights.

But given the time pressure you're under I'd say lifting free weights and controlling your diet will give you more bang for your buck.
posted by dfriedman at 2:49 PM on November 22, 2009

What works for me...
...eat more vegetables, cut out all refined sugar (fruit is okay. no cookies) and integrate casual exercise into your lifestyle (take the stairs, park further away) Do stretches at your desk every few hours to keep the blood flowing, and/or take a break to stroll up and down the stairwell.
posted by debbie_ann at 2:49 PM on November 22, 2009

Use freeweights and build up your muscle mass. Don't screw with cardio for weight loss with that small amount of time right now. Take walks during lunch breaks, walk in the park, speed-walk when you need to get somewhere for your cardio workouts. Building muscle mass will burn calories and give you lean body mass that burns calories at a higher rate.

Mainly, if you want to lean out, you need to pay more attention to your diet. It's a drag, but the best way to lose weight is to limit your calories. Generally, if you're smart about lowering calories and not going overboard with that, you'll find you have more energy and will achieve the leaner look you want faster than concentrating on cardio.
posted by xingcat at 2:50 PM on November 22, 2009

Body For Life, especially the HIIT cardio training. You probably don't have enough time for the weight training portion right now, but the HIIT is pretty awesome.
posted by SoulOnIce at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2009

I'm going to disagree with the above posters and say focus on cardio at first. When I was totally sedentary and totally out of shape, I started with 20 mins. of cardio (all I could manage) on the treadmill. I got results pretty fast. After that 20 minutes is doable, extend it as long as you possibly can -- or do you need the other 10 mins. for shower and changing clothes? If you can't make it longer, make it harder. I eventually worked up to 60 mins. on the elliptical at level 10/7 and it's basically changed my life. And I've lost 70 pounds. Doesn't sound like you need to go that far, but I encourage lots of cardio.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:16 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: Diet and weights are the most effective ways to change your body composition.

Doing only cardio, I hate to say it, is too easily nullified by your diet. A solid 20 minutes on the treadmill could be worth ~300 calories, which equals one bagel. Easier to just not eat the bagel.

Weights are marvelous because it raises your base metabolic rate for up to 48 hours afterward. While it costs fewer calories in the moment, you burn more over the long-term. You'll also help to avoid losing muscle tissue while running a calorie deficit (which you would need to do to lose weight).

MeMail me if you're looking for resources.
posted by dualityofmind at 3:28 PM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

You could try a couch to five k program -- the one I'm trying takes 31 minutes! (cut 30 seconds off the warm up and cool down and it'll fit!)
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:39 PM on November 22, 2009

It's all about diet. Unless your diet is spot on you are wasting your time in the gym. Weight loss and toning up is 70% diet, 30% exercise.
posted by fire&wings at 4:09 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing weights, though I'd be inclined to avoid the bench and do stuff like compound lifts, just to get your heart going a little bit more.
posted by box at 4:11 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: 30 minutes isn't so bad, really. Like others have said, diet is the key for weight loss anyhow. Since you're coming from doing nothing, I imagine you'll get results from 30 minutes. Just make them tough minutes.

I'd probably do weights two days (day one I'd do upper body. Day two, some cardio, or stretching, day three, lower body. You could do Push/Pull instead of upper/lower, depending on what you feel works better for you.)

I'd take measurements too, as you might find the scale isn't showing tremendous results, even though you're clothes are fitting better. You could be losing inches, but it might not register on the scale. Give yourself plenty of time to lose the weight (think a pound a week, so 6 months - and if it's quicker than that, great).

Good luck.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:28 PM on November 22, 2009

In very general terms exercise is a great way to improve your overall health, but is not the primary way to lose weight, you need to change your diet to do that. There are two simple reasons for this; first, its takes a great deal of exercise to burn off a significant number of calories, a 5 mile run will only burn around 600 calories and second you tend to feel hungry after a workout so its remarkably easy to eat away any calories you just burned and then some.

So to lose weight you have to control the calories you eat. This is easier said than done. I lost 35lbs using the Hackers Diet before I ever stepped into a gym.

I approach exercise as a means to making my body strong/fit/healthy rather than anything to do with losing weight. That perspective means a mixed approach, some cardio, some weights. I think of cardio as "weight lifting" for my heart and lungs.

When I started out on the treadmill I used the built-in heart rate monitor to measure my progress. I didn't try to run, I started off just walking at 3mph on the flat. Then I adjusted the speed and incline to keep my heart rate around 120~130 as I got fitter. I finally arrived at the point after maybe 3 months of 30min 3 times per week where the speed was 4mph (as fast as I could walk) and the incline was maxed out (15 degrees). At that point I set the incline back to flat and the speed to 5mph and started jogging. I thought I'd try and run for 10mins without stopping (which would have been a 1st in a lifetime accomplishment), I ran for 50min non stop, it blew me away. So my advice is use a HRM, to measure how hard your heart & lungs are working, then over time as your body gets fitter you will have to increase your effort to maintain the pulse rate. That pulse rate should be within your aerobic range - this means low enough that your body can keep it up for a reasonable amount of time. If you run "flat out" you'll exceed that rate and pretty soon you'll have to stop (out of breath) and let you body catch up. So the trick is to find a pulse rate that you can maintain for the full 30min of the cardio.

Your body is a complex machine. Your weight is a function of the balance of calories in and out. There is a confusing amount of information surrounding both those variables. I found this to be a good web site that explained some of the issues regarding exercise. At this stage any amount of exercise you do will be a health benefit, but you may not see any weight loss unless you're really focused on how many calories your eating.
posted by Long Way To Go at 4:55 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

cut out all refined sugar

Repeating because this is probably the single-most effective way to lose pounds (given the average person's diet).

Even more specifically, cut out all sugar water. No soda. No Kool-Aid. No sugar with your coffee. No juice.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:00 PM on November 22, 2009

I have seen better results with stronglifts in about five months than I have with literally five years of other weight routines. Admittedly, I had a solid physical "base" to work from when I started, but I think it would actually be better for the beginner than someone half way along like myself.

You should (at first) be able to get the routines into 30 minutes. Don't bother with cardio for now. Seriously. Weights will elevate your heart rate, jumpstart your metabolism, and help convert some of those love hands into guns.

nthing diet, not exercise, for weight loss.
posted by smoke at 5:10 PM on November 22, 2009

Nthing weights, though I'd be inclined to avoid the bench and do stuff like compound lifts, just to get your heart going a little bit more.

The bench press is a compound lift.

You can do plenty of good strength work in 30 minutes at the gym 3x/week, but only if you focus on the important stuff and don't do anything silly. The important stuff means back squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. Do those for 3 sets of 5, adding a little bit of weight each time you go. Squat every workout, do the other things every other workout, and you'll be on your way.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:38 PM on November 22, 2009

I also have asthma, and was pretty sedentary until a year or two ago. It honestly took me a while to figure out what my lungs feeling tired/tight/wheezy meant-- if it was asthma, or poor shape. (hint: if you KNOW you are about to die, it's asthma. If you hope you are about to die, it's not)

You say you manage your asthma with an inhaler? Does that mean albuterol? Because it isn't exactly a "maintenance" drug. Let your doc know that asthma may be interfering with your exercise goals, and you both may decide on some additional Rx, like daily steroids or bronchial dilators. It was kind of scary learning to trust my lungs, and I certainly keep albuterol on me when working out, but getting asthma under control should be a priority.

Also, you need to be aware of drinking water even more than anyone else working out. Your lung's gas exchange depends on having happy hydrated membranes. But, cold water is a trigger for bronchial constriction, so room temp water for you.

My weight training includes lots of compound lifts/movements, and this is good cardio without lots of panting.
posted by fontophilic at 7:48 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: In the beginning, you're going to want to build up your cardiovascular fitness and your core strength. Cardio will help because you're going to feel better basically all the time, and good cardiovascular fitness lasts way longer than increased muscle mass. With good cardio, you'll be able to do longer and denser (less recovery time between sets) workouts when you eventually start to lift weights, leading to better results, faster. Good core strength will prevent injuries from cardio (running), and improve your posture, leading to better breathing, balance and coordination.

For the beginning month, i recommend using a rowing machine (ask if your gym has one): uses way more muscle groups than freeweights (plus resistance on the machine builds back, leg, and arm strength), and much more cardiovascularly intense than simply running. I would use my time thusly: 5 min warmup (walk for 3 min, then brisk walk for 2) on the treadmill and then as much time as possible on the rowing machine as you can. you're not going to be able to make it 30 min on the rowing machine, trust me. Its low-impact (even more than the elliptical) so there's less of a chance of injury (very likely as you increase your cardio fitness but haven't gained leg muscles and lost that extra weight). End each workout with some ab (crunches, back extension, flutter kicks) and upper leg workouts (squats-no weights, leg presses, leg extensions). Vary these as much as possible, to work different muscle groups and keep yourself from getting bored. If you don't make it the entire 30 min, that's ok, its early.

If you don't have a rowing machine at your gym, use the bike or elliptical rather than the treadmill. You want to keep things low impact. But be careful, its easy to have bad form on the elliptical (keep those heels down!).

After a month, I would start separating the workouts. Do one day with half an hour on the treadmill, and one day with half an hour on the rowing machine/bike/elliptical, and one day with half an hour doing ab workouts. If you feel comfortable, increase frequency of your workouts, not length, first. You want to keep your metabolism as high as possible for as long as possible, and another 30 min workout a week will do just that. Add a lifting routine now. hit every muscle group in your body with light weights first (yes, you may feel girly next to everybody else, but its only for a month, and everybody's got to start somewhere) . you don't want to overdo it, you body's not used to lifting weights, and you need to develop those stabilizer muscles so that when you start lifting heavy and trying to gain muscle mass, you actually workout your biceps instead of just tiring out those stabilizers. I suggest: dumbell curls, tricep pulldown, bench, upright rows, lat pulldown, shoulder extensions, 2-3 sets of 6 with some rest in between will get you right around 30 min. do this for a month.

So its now month three: you're doing four workouts a week: 1. warmup, then treadmill for 25 min, jogging or running. 2. warmup, then rowing/elliptical for however long you can. 3. ab workout for 30 min 4. weights for 30 min. Now, begin to separate your lifting exercises into 2 muscle groups: pull muscles (biceps, back, forearms) and push muscles (triceps, chest, shoulders). this will get you up to 5 workouts a week (2 cardio, 1 abs/legs, 2 upperbody). As you get more comfortable, lengthen your workouts. And now you're on your way to being fit and happy! good luck!
posted by wayofthedodo at 8:05 PM on November 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

Stop eating so much processed carbohydrates. You'll see a real quick drop in weight as your stored glycogen goes away. It helps keep up your morale.

Diet is key.
posted by phrakture at 2:13 PM on November 23, 2009

In the beginning, you're going to want to build up your cardiovascular fitness and your core strength.

I think most of wayofthedodo's comment is wrong, but you know, whatever floats your boat. However, I just came across this article which you might find enlightening, about why "core training" is a waste of time. (PDF)
posted by ludwig_van at 9:34 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would lean more toward cardio than weights right now -- maybe a 70/30 percent ratio, give or take. As for cardio, have you considered mixing it up with some interval training (lots of info via google)
posted by gb77 at 4:25 PM on November 28, 2009

However, I just came across this article which you might find enlightening, about why "core training" is a waste of time.

The "article" ludwig_van posts (more of a rant than anything), if he or she had taken the time to read it, actually is about using small weights to develop core muscles in athletes who already are in pretty good shape. And he does have good points, but the article is a macho rant about "wimpy" core training for already fit athletes.

I quote, "it is completely inapplicable to an athlete who is training properly on a basic barbell program."
"Do you not see that an athlete with a 200 lb. press, a 300 lb. clean, a 400 lb. squat, and a 500 lb. deadlift has a stronger “core” than your runner who can just manage to do a standing Reverse Wood-chop with a 2 kg medicine ball?"
"Unless a person is an unadapted rank novice ...core stability training is an absolute waste of time" (Emphasis mine)

I wouldn't use that specific terminology, but i think our OP doesn't count as an athlete but as a novice, and I would certainly think he can't deadlift 500 pounds. Core training is absolutely essential. Rippetoe (the author of the article) is a competitive powerlifter, and his advice is for such, not novices. Don't believe his lies, snap_dragon.
posted by wayofthedodo at 8:07 PM on November 30, 2009

Ok, I don't want to argue about this, but Mark Rippetoe is not a competitive powerlifter and hasn't been one for many years. He is a strength coach and he works primarily with novices and does not train powerlifters. His article is not aimed only at those with a 500 pound deadlift; he does, however, state that the deadlift, along with the squat, press, and other barbell movements, provide sufficient "core training" without needing to spend time doing a lot of accessory exercises. You are free to disregard his advice.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:07 PM on November 30, 2009

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