As I'm writing this month's fitness article, I'm preparing to travel to North Carolina and spend Thanksgiving with family. I have written before that we should be thankful this time of year and allow ourselves a few indulgences. It's what we do the other 364 days that matters most, so one day of feasting will be OK.
Aside from overeating, the end of Thanksgiving is often the beginning of a long month of stress for a lot of us trying to find time to stay fit during what should be a joyous time of year. You may be pleased to learn that you can actually benefit from less time spent working out and more time spent resting. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that most adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. According to ACSM, multiple shorter sessions of at least 10 minutes are acceptable, and even people unable to meet the minimums still benefit from some activity.
Recent research shows the benefits of short-duration exercise. Beyond promoting weight loss and stress reduction, multiple short sessions of fitness training per week, whether it's high or moderate-intensity, can have the same effects as longer, more typical blocks of exercise. While even a low-intensity short workout is better than not moving at all, high-intensity, short bursts of exercise could mean individuals can spend less time overall working out. Experts say what these short bursts of activity lack in duration they can make up for in intensity.
OK, I'm going to now preach what I don't always practice. My clients are often amazed when they learn that most of their muscle growth occurs while they are sleeping and not during their workouts. For those that are striving to reduce their body fat, sleep is also paramount. Less sleep often means more fat, due to a reduced metabolism and lower energy levels to perform. We all hear that in order to progress and succeed we must work hard and often not enough emphasis is placed on the importance of rest.
During intense workouts, especially resistance training, there is cellular damage that takes place. As we recuperate from our workout the rebuilding begins. This rebuilding process can require 48 hours for moderate low intensity and low volume work and 72-96 hours for intense workouts. If a muscle group is worked too frequently, there will be insufficient time for muscle recuperation and growth. When we're sleeping, important processes for growth and recovery take place. Growth hormones are secreted and our nutrients are assimilated to help the recovery process as we sleep. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to take advantage of this process. On a side note, studies have also shown that those who receive 6 to 9 hours of sleep per night live longer than those who receive less or more.
Overtraining can occur when a muscle is worked too long or too frequently. If not allowed to recuperate, the body can move into a catabolic state (breaking down) instead of the desired anabolic state (building). The following symptoms can alert you to overtraining: reduced energy, inability to sleep, continual muscle and joint soreness, loss of strength and diminished desire to exercise. In these circumstances, rest would be your best course of action, or no action I should say. It would be best to take a planned week of no exercise. During this time off, you should strive to reevaluate your training program, nutritional needs and rest requirements.
Recuperation needs vary person to person. Learn to listen to your body and recognize the signs of overtraining. When you are energetic and receiving the benefits of your training, you will know you are on the right track. On the flip side, diminished energy and strength levels should alert you that you need to modify your program. During these times, less work can mean more results. Learn to relax and be thankful for these periods of recuperation. If you trained hard and consistently, there will be no reason to feel guilty for taking a break. You deserve all the rest you can get!
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years.