For many of us, results at the gym are all about numbers – the distance we run, the size of the weights we lift and the number of seconds we hold that pesky plank. But what really matters is making sure you’re exercising at the right intensity to achieve your fitness goals.
Here’s your guide to the gym numbers that really matter.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend you do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most – preferably all – days of the week. But there’s more to it than simply clocking up the required daily quota. According to exercise physiologist Jonathan Cawte, you should divide your time between cardio, strength and low-intensity forms of exercise.
If you’re keen to build up your fitness and maintain a healthy weight, he recommends looking at a weekly schedule that includes: “Two strength training sessions of 30 to 40 minutes, two high intensity interval sessions of no more than 30 minutes and at least one longer form of exercise at a lower intensity – it could be a long walk, a yoga class or playing with the kids.”
If your goal is weight loss, the guidelines acknowledge you’ll need to exercise for more than 30 minutes each day, especially if you don’t cut back on meals. “For weight loss in particular it needs to be a minimum of 60 minutes, five times per week,” says personal trainer Amelia Burton.
Burton suggests aiming for 45 minutes of cardio work that involves a high intensity activity, 10 minutes of strength training and five minutes of stretching. “That would be a stock-standard cardio session and if you are exercising five times per week then I would suggest you would be doing that three days per week and flipping it around and doing two strength days of 45 minutes and 10 minutes of cardio.”
Workout for 2
Having trouble getting out of bed for your morning gym session? Enlist the help of a workout buddy, who Cawte says will help you stick to your workout goals. “Adherence is the number one benefit of an exercise partner,” he says. “One of the hardest things about exercise is turning up, especially for an early morning session, so booking in with a trainer or a friend will help.”
And not only will you turn up, but you’re also likely to work harder. “Females like to do things together, so if your friend is exercising you’re more likely to as well,” Cawte says. “Guys are different – guys like to win – but women like to do it together as a team and do it to achieve the goal in a duo. They definitely exercise harder with a buddy.”
3 sets x 12 reps
In the weights room, aim for three sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise. If you’re unsure about which weight to choose, start with the lightest one you can find and move up if you don’t feel challenged.
“Start with the lowest one and if you can lift it 12 times and you feel like you can do more, then that weight is not sufficient for you,” says Cawte. “Try to go up in the smallest increments you can. It may take you one or two sessions to find out what weight is right for you but it’s better to come at it from a low base and work up.”
For a more intense workout, Burton suggests moving to four sets and using heavier weights. “Set one is 12 reps, set two is 10 reps, set three is eight reps and set four is 12 reps. One is your starting weight, two the weight goes up, three the weight goes up and four is back to your starting weight. That’s a really good way to get stronger.”
500 to 800
Rather than counting kilojoules in, Burton says counting kilojoules out is a great weight loss aid. “I’d much prefer people count their kilojoules in a workout because you can’t cheat. We can go to the gym for an hour and do a relaxing yoga class or a spin class and you’re going to have a different kilojoule burn. As to whether you should train hard or train easily, if your goal is weight loss it doesn’t matter as long as you’re burning between 2000 and 3350 kilojoules per session.”
As a guide, Burton says in one hour a woman who weighs 70 kilograms will burn 1170 kilojoules walking briskly, 3365 kilojoules jogging 10 kilometres, 2299 kilojoules swimming laps, 3072 kilojoules cycling in a spin class and 1755 kilojoules lifting weights.
What’s the best way to lose weight – shed the kilos quickly or change your not-so-healthy ways for good and aim to lose weight gradually? Cawte says you should aim for the latter and a healthy goal of losing half a kilo – or perhaps a little more – each week until you reach your goal weight.
“Weight loss may occur more rapidly at the start but working towards half a kilo to one kilo a week is spot on and it’s normally what happens with my clients,” he says.
The body has an inbuilt system to measure your exercise intensity – your heart. When it comes to cardio, it’s important to incorporate moderate to vigorous intensity sessions into your weekly routine. This increases your heart rate, which burns kilojoules and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen.
Your heart rate should reach 75 to 90 per cent of its maximum rate during a cardio workout. “With the high intensity interval sessions you’re looking at a heart rate range of 75 to 95 per cent when you’re doing the hard interval,” says Cawte. “The beginner would be looking to work up to 75 per cent of their heart rate but the more advanced exerciser can definitely work up to 95 per cent of their heart rate for short periods of time.”
To calculate your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. A heart rate monitor can be a helpful workout companion but studies also show that perceived exertion correlates well with actual heart rate – so if you think you’re working hard, your heart rate is likely elevated.