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Friday, August 13, 2010

Yoga for Weight Loss

Back in my cardio-loving days, I would have laughed at the title of this post. Because I thought that burning more calories was the answer for weight loss, I considered yoga to be not the best use of my time.

Yoga helps reduce stress. Stress in the body releases cortisol, a hormone known for its link to weight gain. Deep breathing and meditation, both important parts of a yoga workout, reduce stress. This is another way of working with your body.
 Contrast that with the person who is busy busy busy all day long, runs into the gym, continues running or doing some other form of cardio exercise, and then hurries on with their day. In that case, exercise continues to elevate the level of stress carried by the body. You send your body a message to burn calories and to produce cortisol, thus storing fat (particularly around the midsection)- a mixed message. (Note that in all three forms of exercise we've talked about, there are periods of rest, not a constant low grade stress on the body.)
Yoga helps you slow down your body and your mind.

Yoga strengthens your muscles. You get stronger when you hold poses for a long time. Though it works in a different (gentler) way than weight lifting, your body weight acts as resistance to build and tone muscles. And the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn, even at rest.

Yoga helps you feel good. With your muscles stretched and toned, of course you feel good after a yoga workout! But even more than that, you feel good about your body. Your muscles are stronger, and so is your mind. A few minutes of peace and relaxation helps you to remember that looking good is not what it's all about. You feel better about where your body is now and what it is able to do.
And when you feel good about your body, you want to treat your body better. You know that a donut is not going to nourish your body, and so- even when it sounds good! - it makes it easier to make a better choice.

I've said it before, but yoga is for everyone. If you are looking to start a fitness program, start with yoga.
Then, when you're ready to take it to the next level, you can add in heavy weightlifting and HIIT.

A sample weight loss, fat burning workout for the week (which doesn't include any traditional cardio) would look like this:
Monday- Yoga
Wednesday- HIIT
Thursday- Yoga
Friday- Yoga
Saturday- Heavy Weightlifting
Sunday- Rest

There you have it: a workout that is better than cardio. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

High Intensity Interval Training

Once a week, I do exercise that could be considered "cardio." It gets my heart pumping. But unlike a traditional cardio workout, where you perform low to moderate intensity activity throughout the workout, HIIT training has periods of rest.

The basic structure of a HIIT workout is a warmup followed by intervals of intense exercise and intervals of rest.

I walk down to my local park. It's about a 5 minute walk, and that counts as my warmup. Then I run sprints across the length of the park. I have never been much of a runner, and I still wouldn't say I'm fast, but when I sprint I give it everything I've got. I try to pretend that a bear is chasing me. Or that my baby is on the other end and a bad guy is going to get him if I don't hurry across that field. Or that I'm in a race and this is the last 30 yards to the finish line. It's that kind of a run. Totally. Intense. Focused. Running.
I walk back to where I started and catch my breath. The first two times, I always think, "Why did I think this was so hard last time? This isn't so bad." By the fourth time, I'm starting to remember why I thought it was so hard. And after the 6th time, I can't run back right away. I have to catch my breath a little longer before heading out for another intense sprint. I do this 6 to 10 times in a row and I walk back home.

The reason HIIT training works is that your body doesn't "get used" to it. Just like with progressively adding more difficult weights, you progressively add more challenges with HIIT training- either by making your rest intervals shorter and your intensity intervals longer, or by lengthening the total time of the workout.

Here are some ideas of exercises to perform doing HIIT training:
sprints or hill sprints
jump roping

Add your own ideas for HIIT in the comments below!

Kat at Body Incredible has some great thoughts on HIIT if you'd like to learn more.