When I first started losing weight, I was going to Highbanks often. I lived right out there so it was convenient plus as you know I love it there. I always tried to run that trail, and I would slow down and walk only when I couldn't breathe anymore. I wanted to lose weight so badly. I was sick of feeling bad about myself and was ready to do the work. I tried and tried to get better at running so I wouldn't have to take as many walk breaks. I worked and sweated and didn't lose any weight.
It was so frustrating. I couldn't imagine doing more, but I wasn't getting anywhere. What I didn't know was I was just emptying my body of all its carbohydrate fuel, so as soon as I got home I was out of control and needed sugar. Immediately. I usually got it by sticking my hand into the cereal box multiple times. Then I'd make dinner.
I like biology and I like to read, so I started trying to figure out what was going wrong. I learned about heart rate zones and aerobic versus anaerobic exercise. I bought my first heart rate monitor and I went back to Highbanks. Turns out I could barely run 5 minutes without my heart rate shooting right out of my target zone and into carb-burning. What I wanted was a high percentage of my calories burned from fat. What I was doing was burning near 0% of calories from fat.
So I switched to walking. I kept my heart rate in my target zone, except for when it went up during the big hills. I lost two pounds that week. Then another two the week after. For two years I had been stuck and now I was moving. I felt like I had cracked the code. It motivated me to eat healthier because it was so rewarding to finally see some success. It was also much easier to make good choices because I wasn't operating on low blood sugar. I was well fed from my fat stores that were being broken down into energy during my walks.
For me, that is also when exercise became enjoyable. It was working! I was losing weight. When exercise is effective, it is not nearly as difficult to make yourself get those shoes on and go. It's when it feels like you are spinning your wheels but getting nowhere that it seems so difficult.
I spent the next few years getting almost fifty pounds lighter and enjoying a combination of strength training and walking. Eventually I could even run my slow little run and keep my heart rate in the zone. I walked at Highbanks and Sharon Woods and anywhere else I could find. Then in 2008 I injured a disc in my back. Walking was good for it, but I could not run without pain. I couldn't ride a bike or an elliptical. I took it easy for about a year and a half while it healed.
When I started to run again last year, I was so happy. Except I couldn't breathe. My heart rate was way back up where it used to be when I was huffing and puffing through those first Highbanks runs. I worked and worked. I did speed work. I tried to run faster. No improvement. I got my lungs checked. No asthma, x-ray was fine. What was going on?
I finally got an assessment, which told me exactly what was going on. The heart rate at which I burn the most fat is 128. The heart rate at which I start to lose my endurance due to lactic acid build up is 138. I was running at 168. All carbohydrate fuel. No wonder I wasn't getting anywhere. Same as before.
So I put on my heart rate monitor and I went to Sharon Woods and walked. I watched my heart rate the whole time. Never let it get above 138. I tell you what. I burned almost the same number of calories as if I had run as fast as I could, it felt enjoyable and almost easy. I felt good later, not out-of-control hungry. It was wonderful.
This applies to everyone. Runners, walkers, elliptical, zumba. Find your target zone, measure your heart rate, and go the speed/intensity needed to stay in your zone. I had to back WAY off in my spin class but I still got an awesome workout. I felt better after and I am much more confident that my workout is supporting my goal. That is way better than spinning my wheels.
Here's the bottom line on exercise. Strength training is for your metabolism and to empower you. You need muscles to burn fuel and they need to be strong to be able to get those miles in. Interval training (hills, intervals, speed work) is also for your metabolism. It works by burning lots of calories after your workout. Both of these workouts can be done once or twice a week.
The key to fat burning is consistent aerobic exercise. By consistent I mean almost every day. You know I believe in gently adding, but if you have been at this awhile and are still not exercising consistently, you are moving too gently. Figure out what the obstacles are and kick them out of the way. It will be much easier, I promise, because if you get into your target heart rate range and stay there, the workout will not be so strenuous that you dread it or feel awful afterwards. Plus you will see results and what is more motivating than that!
Get a pencil and a calculator. Fill in the blanks. This is an estimate of your target range based on your age. Then get outside, on a treadmill, bike or anything else that gets your heart rate up and stay in your zone for as long as you can. How many calories do you want to burn? How sick are you of being stuck? If you do this correctly, you only have to do it once.
____ Max = 220 - your age
____ A = 0.7 x Max
____ B = 0.8 x Max
____ C = 0.9 x Max
For FAT LOSS, your target heart rate range is between A and B.
[For endurance, your target heart rate range is between B and C.]
I recommend the Polar FT4 Heart Rate monitor. You can get them at Road Runner Sports or Amazon. I want to hear from you! Let me know how it's going. I promise, it's worth it.