Physical activity intensity

This is a summary of my own small research for my own purposes, sort of demo of research diary. When I start I do not know where I end. The question is interesting and important: what kind of training is most useful? I have no idea where we end, so each research is a small journey. Once I understand the subject myself, you will see a summary.

Prior information

Simply putting the questions is the right form we need some prior information. I know that some amount of high-intensity training is needed each week. I remember that for other things low-intensity stuff like walking and home chores should be used instead. Not really sure which exercise should be used where. Also, I remember from the gym that shorter sets with large weights build strength, while longer sets with low weights build up endurance. Finally, I know that flexibility training is a must, but I do not understand how it fits in the system.

High-intensity training

Simply put in google this phrase brings high-intensity intermittent exercise of 2010 and high-intensity weight training of 1970s.

The weight lifting training procedure follows a single set or circa 10 repetitions, usually very slow following 3-1-4-1 rate of pull, pause, return, pause. The weight should be large enough to generate a momentary muscle failure, when the muscles do not follow the command to move, resulting in muscle fiber recruitment. If you remember our courses, this is a classical progressive overload procedure. It is very quick and intense, but not sufficiently long for cardiovascular progress. I think it is mainly used to break a long plateau on a single group of muscles.

I was intrigued about the current progressed and checked “Strength training advanced techniques” on Wikipedia. There are a dozen of techniques there, which work around the HIT: further sets with smaller weights are added before or after the muscle failure. There are also more tricks involved like cheating to help with particular muscle groups and different motion ranges for different weights.

The high-intensity intermittent exercise assumes alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue.  These intense workouts typically last under 30 minutes. For running this means 40 sec of sprint followed by 20 sec of job for cardiovascular fitness.

The premise is productivity: shorter training with better results.

I do not run, but occasionally I lift weights. For weightlifting, this means alternating max HIT weights with 60% of these weights with long sets.

Low-intensity training

The articles I read warn against prolonged high-intensity training.  It takes some time to warm up, build technique, and endurance to do max effort. The method is called LISS or low-intensity steady state. Walking or swimming or yoga for 40 min is something I do quite often, and it is considered to be LISS. The goal is 50-65% of the maximal heart rate. If the maximal heart rate is around 220bpm, the LISS is around 140bpm.

LISS is easy for the body, less likely to generate injuries, good for burning weight and endurance. It can be used for recovery sessions between HIIT sessions. However, it is 45-60 min long and somewhat boring.

For a beginner, it is recommended to have 3 LISS sessions per week, and for advanced 2 LISS sessions and 2 HIIT sessions weekly.

Combined approach

I entered “hiit liss weight loss” in search engine and got this. The article states that 6 weeks of LISS are roughly equivalent to 2 weeks of HIIT. 20 min of HIIT burns as many calories as 60 min of LISS. HIIT boosts metabolism for 24 hours afterward. All authors still recommend LISS: it is safer, and the muscles recover faster.

The researches I saw recommend between 3 and 5 hours of exercise per week or best muscle tonus and weight loss. The WHO recommends 150 min of LISS or  75 min of HIIT per week, and double that number for additional benefits.


Health benefits

I quote WHO:

  • have lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancer, and depression;
  • are likely to have less risk of a hip or vertebral fracture;
  • exhibit a higher level of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness; and
  • are more likely to achieve weight maintenance, have a healthier body mass and composition.

Physical activity pyramid

When I entered “physical activity” in google, it suggested additional keywords. One of these keywords is the “pyramid”. Within seconds I got this site.

The idea as far as I understand it is very simple.  Start with integrated movement in daily routine. This is the basis and the must. If you can, do the LISS activities or recreational games. Being more aware of health benefits, work with HIIT, or flexibility training: you do not need many hours of those. The things we usually do, like working with the computer, should be the cream we can cut down on.

Flexibility training

When I entered “flexibility training” in Google I got a book called “Human kinetics” by Alter (~page 206).   While young people focus on muscles and cardio, at later ages flexibility becomes an issue. Definitely above the age of 55 flexibility should be trained due to reduction in movement range. Apparently, there are separate flexibility exercises for each joined from toes up. Around 3 repetitions of 20 sec can be done per stretching exercise, around 4 times per week.  Some studies found that stretching 4 times per week provided 82% greater flexibility improvements than stretching 2 times per week. When considering ROM (Range Of Motion) there are more scientific articles and fewer myths than in weightlifting.

I quote:

Static, dynamic, and pre-contraction stretching are all effective methods of increasing flexibility and muscle extensibility; however, these modes may be more effective in specific populations. Several authors have noted an individualized response to stretching; therefore, stretching programs may need to be individualized.

Stretching performed as part of a warm-up prior to exercise is thought to reduce passive stiffness and increase range of movement during exercise.

Stretching has not been shown to be effective at reducing the incidence of overall injuries

Stretching is a common intervention performed during rehabilitation. Stretching is prescribed to increase muscle length and ROM, or to align collagen fibers during healing muscle.

Core muscles

Healthy core muscles are important for almost everything we do and prevent injuries. There are several different static and dynamic exercises, with and without weights, for core muscles. The core muscles include abdominal muscles, spinal muscles, mobilization muscles that influence pelvic and lumbar stability, and some other muscles. The core muscles should be trained two or three times a week, using yoga or Pilates, strength training, and balance training. Suppose we do 20 exercises with around 1 min per exercise, 20 min might be enough.

My recommendations

I will sum up what I understand. Everybody should integrate some motion in his routine.

For the beginners, 150 min of low-intensity exercise per week can be used, divided over 4 days. This can include walking, swimming, dancing, and so on.

Additional benefits of highly active people can be generating  as following:

  • 2-3 days of low-intensity exercise, around 45-60 min per day
  • 2-3 days of high-intensity workout, like sprints and weight lifting, around 20-30 min per day.
  • 2-3 days of core muscle exercise, around 20-30 min per day
  • 4 times per week stretching exercises, around 60 sec per joint, around 20-30 min per day.

When we sum up all the training, we get around 60 min per day every day for the highly active people.  This is not too bad if there are no small children.

The low-intensity activity results in 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 10% lower risk of dying from cancer. Highly active people 40% less likely of dying from andy cause during the years of physical activity. Benefits do not depend on the past, so we can basically start now.

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