I am a former jogging addict and recovering calorie counter. If you charted my weight over the years, it would look like a yo-yo. It was not until I lost a bet with my best friend that I moved away from the hamster wheel of dieting.
My name is Susanne and I am a practicing Physician Assistant and the Chief of Activity and Adventure at Beyond Practice. I am a host in the Transform10 Challenge, a program with the goal of empowering 10 million people to avoid medical conditions via physical activity. I now believe that quality is better than quantity when it comes to building an exercise program.
The bet that changed my life
The bet that changed my life was simple: whoever had the most decrease in body fat percentage within one month would win. We used a DEXA body composition scan to decide the results.
My strategy was to restrict my calories and run 100 miles in the month. I called the challenge “May Miles” and recruited friends. I ran over 100 miles in both May and June, yet my friend won our bet by a landslide, and I did not reach my goals.
How many miles did he run? Less than 20 miles each month, and most of them were when I convinced him to join me.
So what did I do? Frustrated, I doubled down. I restricted my calories even further and I started training for a half ironman. This decision meant that I was doing hours of cardio each day. My results were still disappointing, I was still not seeing the results I wanted. I felt cold, tired and hungry all the time.
The yo-yo began again, and I gained back the weight I had lost as soon as I stopped spending hours of my day doing cardio.
What I was doing wrong
How was it possible that I could spend so much time exercising and not see results? I had the wrong strategies,I wasn’t listening to my body and I was neglecting my hormonal balances.
When someone restricts calories, the human body responds by decreasing thyroid hormones. This change leads to a decrease in metabolic recovery and can cause side effects such as feeling cold and hungry constantly.
Growth hormone and testosterone reduce muscle loss during calorie restriction, meaning the best way to maximize your results are to perform activities that promote testosterone and growth hormone. Not all activities are created equal and the timing and quality of the exercise also matters.
When I was jogging hours and hours every day I was overworking my body, which eventually led to overuse injuries. Jogging is a very efficient movement from a scientific perspective. The body is able to coast forward with a low amount of effort and since the muscles in the legs aren’t under tension, there’s no signal to preserve muscle.
This lack of signal means that while my cardio endurance and cardiovascular health was improving, my muscle tissue wasn’t being preserved, my metabolism down regulated and the repetitive movements led to overuse.
How I found a healthy balance
So what did I do? I reduced the hours and hours of cardio, I fed my body what it needed and got back to a good hormonal balance.
But because I value my cardiovascular health, I didn’t give it up completely. The American Heart Association actually recommends performing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week [R]. My new form of exercise to reach this recommendation was high intensity interval training (HIIT).
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) describes intervals of high-intensity exercises separated by recovery. With HIIT workouts, you are not trying to coast with efficiency. Instead, you are alternating purposeful work and rest. The work periods have higher levels of muscular tension, which signals to your body to preserve your muscle mass and lean tissue.
In my fitness program, I now incorporate HIIT workouts in place of long jogs. I no longer have pain in my hip flexor muscles and achieved more impressive results with less time dedicated. I also enjoy mixing it up with strength training and even dance classes.
Looking for HIIT ideas? ClassPass videos are a challenging, fun and very efficient way of trying out HIIT. The variety of programs makes it easy to find a motivational HIIT session. The classes have unparalleled quality and instruction that matches beginner to advanced levels. These are the same classes that I prescribe to my patients!
Once I learned about the value of HIIT, I started encouraging my patients to try it out and then I worked with my best friend (a physician and the person who beat me in the one month challenge) created the Strong Foundations program! This 10-week program includes:
- The science of why building a strong foundation is critical to your longevity.
- How healthy testosterone levels prevent disease in both men and women.
- It showcases how to lift with proper technique and answers all the common questions.
- Then it turns up with heat by prescribing premium ClassPass content.
To get started, click here.