Frequently Asked Questions

Author: Sarah Marshall, CPT
Below is a list of common questions and answers submitted by real members of Western's Campus Recreation in London, Ontario.

How many times a week should weights be done?
For general improvements in strength and muscle tone, a guideline to weight lifting is 2-3 times/week. Try to avoid working the same muscle groups 2 days in a row, i.e. upper body on Monday and again the following day. I'd recommend alternating your workouts so that the same muscle groups are not worked on 2 consecutive days, or do a whole body workout every other day.

Try for 1-2 exercises for each muscle group. Start with large muscle groups first and work down to smaller muscle groups. Also, do exercises that work more than one muscle group (such as the bench press - pecs and triceps) first, and exercises that isolate one muscle group (such as arm curls) last.

The Chart says that for my age group (30), I should be below 180 bpm. Is it dangerous to exceed this rate (for instance go 190 for 2 min?)
Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) can be estimated by subtracting your age from 220 (i.e. 220 - 30 = 190 bpm MHR). This is, however, an estimate. There is a lot of variability between individuals concerning MHR. If your HR can reach 200 bpm on a sprint, than obviously 190 isn't your max. It is the rate at which your heart rate plateaus, despite further increases in exercise intensity.
Exercising aerobically (using oxygen along with energy stores in the body for fuel), (you tend to settle around 60-80% of your MHR. However, past 80% (again, varies between individuals) you will begin to work anaerobically (using little oxygen and stored fat as fuel, using body stores of glycogen and ATP). You will fatigue shortly after this point and will be unable to maintain this pace because you are simply too tired.
In good health, it is not dangerous to exercise at a high heart rate (near or at your MHR), but be aware of the warning signs to stop (dizziness, difficulty breathing, pain). Keep in mind that if your goal is a steady state 1 hour run, keeping your heart rate that high is not realistic. However, throwing in a few sprints differing in duration (also called Fartlek training. I know, it's hard to read that word without snickering) can spice up an otherwise monotonous run.

Is the number of calories stated on cardio machines that you've burned somewhat exact? Give or take 10-30 calories?
The cardio equipment gives a very rough estimate for a very average population. The number of calories you burn in a workout is dependant on a number of variable, including but not limited to body size, weight, and composition (%fat), gender, age, etc…Body weight is among the most common used for estimates. If a machine asks for your weight, then it is likely to give a reasonably accurate estimate. The more body information you need to enter (gender, height, age, etc…) the more accurate it is likely to be. However, if no weight is required, you are being quoted an estimate for an average size person of the general population, male or female, usually in the range of 65-75 kg. If you are a petite female (~55kg), you likely burn less than the machine states, if you are a large male (85+kg) you likely burn more.

If I feel I'm starting to get sick, should I exercise more? Does this help fight an existing infection?
I wouldn't recommend exercising MORE than you normally do. Changing your program could result in fatigue, soreness and possibly injury when your body is suddenly under attack from infection. However, exercising as much as you feel well enough for can definitely help you through your cold! It can decrease congestion. Ceasing exercise can increase sleeping problems, fatigue and sluggishness. So to suddenly stop exercising as you're starting to get sick can make you feel even more miserable! If, however, all you want to do is rest, then do just that. Rest, keep warm, and drink fluids.

If you have a raised temperature, feel shivery or sweaty, have aches and pains, swollen glands, and/or a very sore throat, then rest is best. These symptoms are partly due to your immune system's attempt to combat the infection, and you may compromise this by pushing yourself too hard at the same time.

I read the question "what if I exercise a lot?" and I was wondering if you could define a lot? Is 1-hour daily too much for an 18 year old?
1 hour of aerobic exercise a day is a model fitness regime for an 18 year old exercising for general fitness and health benefits.
'Too much cardio' has no clearly defined boundaries. It is very dependent on the situation and the individual. Doing too much too soon (i.e. a sedentary adult suddenly starting a running program of 1 hour each day) can result in injury, including stress fracture, shin splints, muscle soreness and strain.
Another possible consequence of 'too much cardio' is Athletic Amenorrhea, the absence of menstruation for 3 months without menopause or pregnancy. It is seen in female athletes who follow a high volume and high intensity training program (i.e. high intensity, rigorous training for hours daily over an extended period of time). Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins in the body, and with excessive exercise comes excessive levels of endorphins, which can interfere with the female sex hormones that induce menstruation. Amenorrhea can also accompany rapid weight loss, caused by extremely low body fat percentage and drastically reduced caloric intake. Prolonged amenorrhea can lead to osteoporosis and infertility.
Keeping this in mind, exercise to meet your needs. A 45-minute workout 3-4 times a week is recommended for health benefits. Your current program is excellent. Varsity athletes may need to train 2-4 hours daily to be competitive at an intercollegiate level, while elite, world class athletes may need to train over 6 hours a day to achieve their peak performance. All

low yourself one day off a week to allow your body adequate time to recover and repair. You may also want to consider starting strength training and flexibility training for a more balanced workout, both of which have associated health benefits.

What is the best workout to burn the most calories?
The more muscle you use the more calories you burn. Activities that burn the most calories are ones that recruit the most muscle groups. For example, jogging, which includes arm, leg and postural muscle groups, will burn more calories than cycling, which involves mostly legs. So, that being said, activities such as jogging, swimming, rowing, x-country skiing, etc… are excellent calories burners.

Will I burn fat in the first 30 minutes of cardio? If not, how long do I have to work until fat burn?
Within 10-20 minutes of light/moderate aerobic exercise, the metabolic pathway involving the breakdown of lipids (fat) becomes the primary source of energy. So yes, you do burn fat in the first 30 minutes of a workout.

When should I stop eating before I do cardio? I get cramps and nausea if I eat 30 minutes before, but I find I don't have enough energy if I eat a couple of hours before.
Try eating something light about one hour before your workout, like an apple, a cup of chocolate milk, granola bar or power bar. If you still get cramps and nausea, try eating a little less, or try an hour and a half before your workout.
If none of these suggestions brings good results, eat a small meal 2-3 hours beforehand and try drinking juice or a sports drink before and during your workout. This will help keep your energy levels up without giving your stomach too much to work on.
It is also a good idea to eat a light carbohydrate snack, about 100 calories, within 20 minutes of the end of a hard workout to replenish depleted glycogen stores. This will leave you feeling more energetic after your workout and during subsequent workouts in days following.

-How do you get rid of fat on the arms and stomach?
-What exercises reduce fat on the arms?
-What exercises do you focus on to target the stomach area?

There is no way to 'target' an area where you want to lose fat. Fat loss is not site specific (sucks, I know). When you exercise aerobically (long duration, 20+minutes, at a moderate to low intensity), you will use a higher percentage of stored fat as fuel and it'll be used from stores all over your body. So any aerobic exercise will reduce fat on the stomach and arms, as well as from everywhere else. I'd suggest strength training for your arms and stomach, which IS site specific. This can help tone your stomach and arms and give the 'illusion' of reduced fat.

-Is there a big difference between doing a short cardio workout at a higher heart rate (i.e. 75-80%) versus a longer workout at a lower heart rate (i.e. 60-70%)?
-What should my heart rate be in order to know I'm receiving a max workout and burning fat?
-Why is it that (or is it true) you can burn more fat working at a lower heart rate - even when it is easier in the fat-burning zone, than working harder and burning more calories?
-My goal is weight loss. What's the most effective way to use cardio to achieve this goal?
-I need to burn fat! Help!

You should perform cardio at lower intensities for longer periods of time to burn fat more efficiently. Lower intensity exercise (never pushing it, always able to talk) uses a higher % of fat for fuel than carbohydrates. Fat is the most abundant fuel source in the body, and is therefore favoured during long duration exercise. However, it is not the most easily accessible source of fuel in the body (carbohydrates are number 1), so when you need high energy quickly (i.e. 20 minute high intensity workout), your body tends to favour carbohydrates as its fuel source. Within 10-20 minutes, fat will be the primary source of fuel.
For example, if you used 55% calories from fat for 30 minutes at a low to moderate pace, and 45% calories from fat at a high pace for 30 minutes, you could burn 840 (these are example values) calories in total and 462 from fat at low intensity while 1200 calories total and 567 calories from fat at high intensity. Although you'll burn more fat overall at a higher intensity, it is done more efficiently at a lower intensity. If you're goal is to burn fat, exercise for longer periods of time at a lower intensity.

What's the best way to increase aerobic endurance? Are intervals better than a steady state moderate intensity workout?
Any aerobic activity can help improve aerobic endurance. However, longer duration workouts that recruit more muscle mass can have a greater training effect. For example, compare cycling and cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing involves arms, legs, back and stomach (to name a few) while cycling's predominate muscle group is the legs.
Try 3-6 steady state workouts a week, with 1-2 (20%-30% of total training) higher intensity interval workouts a week

I really like to run. On each session, I run 2-3 miles. My question is: How often can I run per week (2-3 miles at about 8 min 20 sec/ mile) without damaging my muscles or bones?
Good question! If you're a novice runner just starting a running program, begin with 1-2 short runs/walks each week. Every 2-3 weeks, slightly increase the distance of each run and/or add an extra run. The same guidelines apply to veteran runners (have been running regularly) who want to increase their mileage. If you've been running regularly but want to run more frequently, add a weekly run or extend one of your runs every 2-3 weeks.
Remember to start each run with an easy warm-up and end each run with a light cool down and stretching.
If you start to feel pain during your runs, drop one a week and wait at least 3 weeks before increasing your mileage again.