Criticize my workout
July 17, 2007 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Criticize my gym regime!

230lb, 34 years old, 5ft 11in, male. I've recently started going to the gym three/four times a week to get fit and lose weight. I'm reasonably experienced at gym work, having been an on/off member of gyms throughout my adult life.

The machines have built-in heart-rate monitors and I'm aiming to keep to 150-160bpm. I use the HRM as a guide to what settings I use. If my heart rate drops I crank up the resistance of the machine.

My current regime is:

10 mins on cross-country skiing machine
10 mins fast walking on elevated treadmill
10 mins recumbent cycling
10 mins step/thighmaster-style machine
10 more mins on cross-country skiing machine

That's 50 minutes and it's as much time as I can spare.

Is there any room for improvement? The only other aerobic machine in the gym is the rower and I hate it.

What's different about this plan compared to previous plans I've had is that I don't really lose my breath. I sweat a lot. But I don't walk out feeling particularly tired. Previously at the gym I've always pushed myself hard and practically staggered away.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
10 minutes is barely enough time to warm up on any given cardio machine. Pick two per day and do 30 minutes each - you'll find you can push through the initial tough plateau (likely right at 5-10 minutes in) and increase your ability.

I'd do one machine for 20 minutes and full-body weights (squats, bench, dead lift, etc.) for 30 minutes, personally.. building muscle is just as good as cardio when it comes to burning calories, since it reshapes your body and burns more calories while resting.
posted by kcm at 7:20 AM on July 17, 2007

Think about light jogging or running on the treadmill, instead of walking. But build up slowly. If you want to progress to the "losing your breath" stage, do windsprints on the treadmill as well (observing the usual precautions, of course, when running at high speed on this machine).

I'd also throw in a weight-lifting routine somewhere -- maybe on alternate days. But kudos on the fine cardio.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:20 AM on July 17, 2007

What's different about this plan compared to previous plans I've had is that I don't really lose my breath.

What were your other plans? Did you spend more time on one piece of equipment back then, or did you go from machine to machine as you're doing now?

Where's the weight training? If I had 50 minutes to spend, I'd spend half an hour going full out on one cardio machine, and 20 minutes on weights one day, and the next day I'd do 20 minutes cardio and 30 minutes weights, working different groups. OR I would do full on cardio one day and all weights the next. Mix it up a little.
posted by iconomy at 7:25 AM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

if you can manage to go 4 times a week, i would suggest trying to mix in some weight training in there... the cardio is great, but building muscles will also help with general weight loss. perhaps you could go 5 times a week -- do 3 days of your current cardio routine, and 2 with a short 10 minute cardio warmup and then 40 mins or so of upper body weight training?
posted by modernnomad at 7:27 AM on July 17, 2007

What were your other plans? Did you spend more time on one piece of equipment back then, or did you go from machine to machine as you're doing now?

The other plans were drawn-up by the instructors. This time I've gone it alone.

I can't remember the details of every plan but, generally speaking, they told me to spend 10-20 minutes on each machine. The emphasis was always "a little bit of each machine". The problem was that their plans meant I was in the gym for maybe 90-120 minutes at a time, and that's one reason why I stopped going. I find gyms really boring.

Keeping it down to 50 minutes stops me getting bored and I watch the lunchtime news on TV. As you can probably tell, part of my technique here is dealing with my own dislike of gyms.

Also, I used to feel retched when I walked away from the gym previously. Now I don't feel so bad. In fact, some days I almost feel pretty good.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 7:38 AM on July 17, 2007

Like everyone else said, you need to add weight training. See this Pubmed abstract, which is just one example of tons of studies showing that weight training improves body composition more than just traditional cardio.

Also, if you learn the right technique, the rower is one of the best cardio machines. Most people avoid it because it's too hard, but that just means it's effective.

posted by Durin's Bane at 7:43 AM on July 17, 2007

I would also recommend moving from 5 machines to 2 or 3. Running is a good idea too, especially if you don't like the gym. Moving at a faster speed = more ground covered = more energy used = less time in the gym.
posted by taliaferro at 7:47 AM on July 17, 2007

Two things I'd do:

--First, add in weight training like others have suggested.

--Second, interval training, interval training, interval training. You *don't* need to be spending 50 minutes at a go to get fit and lose weight.
posted by Kat Allison at 7:50 AM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Paring your workout down to 50 minutes was a good strategy. To keep from being bored, just mix it up - you've gotten some good suggestions so far. Make yourself an exercise menu and pick one from column A and one from column B and go for it. What about music - maybe you could get an mp3 player to listen to when the news isn't on.
posted by iconomy at 7:53 AM on July 17, 2007

Weight training! My personal experience is that a combination of aerobic exercise and weights was the most effective way to get fit and lose weight. My understanding of why this works is that building muscle increases your metabolism overall (even when you're not working out), and the extra strength will of course make your cardio workouts more productive.

What worked for me was 10 minutes jogging on a treadmill to warm up, about 30 minutes of weights, and 20-30 minutes on either a stepper or an elliptical. You can also alternate cardio days and weight training days if that's too time consuming. Lately I've been finding this site helpful in revising my routine, as well as the old MeFi standby Stumptuous (not just for women!).
posted by AV at 8:09 AM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second everyone else that building muscle is good for you.

However, you don't have to get off the cardio machines to do that. If you exercise at around your anaerobic threshold (for me that is about 15 strokes below my max pulse or about 30 min at the cross country ski machine at my highest sustainable rate) you will build both muscle and stamina.

Doing this makes you feel like shit though but for me it works better than weigths
posted by uandt at 8:17 AM on July 17, 2007

Running outside? Maybe running to the gym? Treadmills kill good running form and (for many people) lead to shin splints and other problems.
posted by tmcw at 8:23 AM on July 17, 2007

I am a longtime gym-goer and cardio aficianado that has found release from hours of gym time and the boredom of repetitive workouts through Crossfit (but carefully, and start with scaled workouts). Fantastic workout. You will hurt, but it will get things done.
posted by schroedinger at 8:31 AM on July 17, 2007

As mentioned earlier, do interval training! You want to train smarter, not harder, and right now you're doing 50 minutes of endurance training. That won't make you fitter/slimmer/stronger, it just means you'll be able to go longer. Interval training will burn more fat and build more muscle than endurance training.

30 minutes of interval training will make much more of an impact than 50 minutes of cardio. If you want to get the full benefit, mix it up - do a long cardio on M and do interval training on W & F. What I like to do is warm up for 5min, then do 2 minutes of high intensity followed by 2 minutes of low intensity. Repeat for 20-30 minutes, then cool down for 5 minutes.

I also agree with the others that you should limit the number of machines you're doing cardio on in one session, using 2 at the most. There isn't much to gain by switching during a workout other than avoiding boredom. Switching machines for different workouts can be helpful though.

Also, don't forget the weights - put together a circuit of the common weight machines and do a set of 12 reps for each machine. Start out with a weight that you can only lift 8 times correctly. Keep doing that until you can lift it 12 times, then increase the weight by 10% (back down to 8 reps). Some suggestions are: lat pulldown, bicep curl, tricep extension, military press, bench press, leg curl, leg extension, leg press, back extension, and ab crunch.

I'm currently doing all the above, and I get in & out of the gym in 60 minutes. I'm 29, 6'1", and 250lbs, and I just joined a gym to get back in shape as well. Embarrassingly, this is not my first recovery from fat to fit, and the above is what worked for me last time (mixed in with hiking on the weekends). My knowledge was gained from my days as a college athlete.

If you really want to kick ass, find a yoga studio for T/Th and Sa ;)
posted by jpeacock at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2007

Try to get someone at your gym to show you how to work out using the free weights. They are far superior to the machines.
posted by sid at 9:41 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm aiming to keep to 150-160bpm.

If these numbers were not determined as a % of your tested max heart rate, they are not a good guide to follow.
posted by probablysteve at 9:43 AM on July 17, 2007

1. Lift heavy. Very heavy. Sets of 3-5 reps. Once or twice a week.

2. Pick a cardio exercise you like and do intervals on it. This is a much more time-efficient way of getting cardio exercise than screwing around for 10 minutes each on a bunch of different machines.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:50 AM on July 17, 2007

I second, third and fourth Crossfit as mentioned by Schroedinger. Be careful though, it quickly becomes a lifestyle.
posted by nameless.k at 10:14 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm going to disagree with rxrfrx, but only for a little while. When you start lifting, doing higher volume work (8-12 rep range, hitting each muscle group with about 24 reps per workout) is more beneficial. Your body will adjust faster, the strain will be less, and you will have significant "newbie" gains. Once the gains start slowing down, switch to lower rep work. This will also give you time to perfect your form, which when you are lifting heavy is very important.

I'll actually continually disagree with him on only working out once or twice a week. I'm a big fan of three full body lifting days per week, with lower reps. As long as you are recovering completely between the lifts (ie. at leats 48 hours between lifts), you'll be fine and your gains will be better than only lifting once a week.

And, nthing everyone above me, if you are just looking to lose weight you only need to worry about high intensity interval training (HIIT). Pick one machine, and do sprints on it. 30 second on, 1 minute off is a good starting interval. Do that until you don't feel so good, and then maybe do it a little more. You won't need nearly 50 minutes to do this, so it'll fit well within your time requirement.

One of the biggest keys to success in the gym is intensity. Another is injury prevention. Take care to stretch after you lift and pay heed to any sharp pains or chronic aches. Tmcw is correct about treadmills, they are horrible for your legs and form. Drink plenty of water and eat well.
posted by Loto at 10:16 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm going to go against the grain, and say that lifting weights at this point and time isn't the way to go.

You have a time crunch, and you want to lose weight.

If you focus on your cardio (I like the suggestion of limiting yourself to 2 machines per session), your fitness will increase, and your weight will go down.

Once you get that goal under your (now loosened) belt - then I would say you should start splitting your workouts between weights and cardio.
(Shift your cardio into a much more moderate "maintenance" phase, and focus more on weights)

I think breaking your goals down into phases is more realistic - and more rewarding - than trying to do everything at once.
Fifty minutes for a workout can get eaten up pretty quick. You want to make the most of it!

Good luck!
posted by Tbola at 10:21 AM on July 17, 2007

Tbola, the reason people are suggesting lifting and cardio is because it has been shown in studies to be much more effective for weight loss than cardio alone.
posted by Loto at 10:35 AM on July 17, 2007

Thanks everybody for the suggestions! Thanks too for not being patronising.

There's lots of food for thought and some good articles to read.

As odd as it might sound it never occurred to me to visit the gym just for weight training. I always thought I had to work it into an aerobic session. I'll try and work in some dedicated WT visits across the week.

I'll look into interval training when I get a bit fitter. At the moment I think it might be too hard and I'm enjoying the more gentle aspect of this particular stint of gym visits.

Oh, and regime vs regimen. I think you're right, and I had meant to say regimen, but regime actually works quite well. My dictionary says a regime is a "system or planned way of doing things".
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 10:49 AM on July 17, 2007

Loto - I understand what you are saying, and yes I've heard lots of people say that weights & cardio is better.
Personal trainers, especially.

Thing is - I don't see the results.
The same as how I don't see the results of a lot of the supplements that trainers and magazines seem to like pushing.
I do see a lot of people uncomfortable with what they are doing in the weight room, doing it because they "should", and a lot of people that give up because of it.

Also, I find the mental contradiction (cardio - 'get lean and efficient' vs. weights - 'get strong and build yourself up') makes it hard to find a good focal point when you walk into the gym.

But that's just me - and I'll I'm offering is a suggestion.
posted by Tbola at 1:02 PM on July 17, 2007

Your suggestion is pretty much dead wrong, though. Building lean muscle through strength training increases your Basal rate, shapes your body into a more pleasant form, and allows you to perform the sports (including your cardio) in a safer manner since your muscle groups can now stabilize and protect what needs protecting. There's no contradiction between building strength and becoming lean as they are complementary goals.
posted by kcm at 2:13 PM on July 17, 2007

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