Commonly asked Questions ANSWERED! – Part II…

Whats YOUR Metabolism?Welcome to the second part in my series of answering some of the many questions I get asked by various clients – there are a lot of myths out there in FitnessLand, and often the actual answers may be specific to your own individual  circumstance… here goes!…

  • “What exactly is my metabolism and can I change it?…”

Scientifically, Metabolism can be defined as the whole range of complex biochemical processes that occur within a living cell or organism… to the layman, this process refers to the rate at which food is converted into energy, or the rate with which your body ‘burns calories’. This helps to determine how easily or hard it is for you to lose or gain weight and so it’s very useful to be aware of it.
There are various factors which determine your individual metabolism, some within your control, some not. For example you cannot control your age, your gender or your genes – you can change your diet and exercise regime however – this means we are able – within reason to alter our metabolism.
If you take two people of the same age, gender, they eat exactly the same foods and workout to the same program – their rate of metabolism will be different...because of their individual make up. You will often find people with fast metabolisms think quickly, talk and walk fast and burn more calories – all predetermined. Metabolism does slow down however, with age, especially after your 30’s, so introduce cardio and resistance to your training, this can actually help you to keep burning more calories after you finish training. Eating at regular intervals and adding certain foods to your diet such as, spices( like peppers & chilli to garlic & cinnamon) – to citrus fruits, like grapefruit to foods high in calcium, which may also boost your metabolism. You also should avoid things such as sodas, which are high in sugar.

Boost your sleep quality and aim to reduce stress and you’ll be on the right track!

  • “How long is it best to workout for in one session?..” long?As you probably know by now, there usually is never one easy answer to any question regarding either weight loss or exercise! The answer will always depend on…

the person themselves,
the level they are at,
the type of activity
their actual goal.

The guidelines issued by the government, advising 150 mins of moderate activity or 75 mins vigorous activity are really the absolute minimum. If you talk to people in the industry, they will tell you that these recommendations are deliberately kept low so as not to freak people out, in reality, you would actually need to do more to see real improvement

So, the type of activity would be cardio or resistance work…

For cardio, you really need to do this every day, not necessarily in the gym though, include walking to and around work, walking to the shops, any movement is cardio so include it where you can ( I still see most people either taking the lift or just standing on the Cardio is essentialescalators every day..people, c’mon – MOVE it!!).
If you’re new to this always start slow, build up to more time and more intensity. Choose something you enjoy doing and always try to mix it up. You CAN get benefits from doing bursts of 10 minutes at a time, especially if it’s intense, & great if you’re time poor (vibration machines, either at home or the gym are great for this!). Aim to make your cardio at least 20 minutes long, and again build up to longer, (obviously if you’re training for a marathon you will need to really increase this!) or just mix up the duration.
With weights (resistance), 1 hour is generally considered to be the maximum time required before you begin to overtrain and therefore lose benefits, again it will depend on the intensity, the harder you work out, the less time you need to do! You can do a decent weights work in 30 mins. You may do this 3-4 times a week as a good average. If you want to bodybuild you can introduce split routines and workout different body parts at different times of the day, and you may workout 5-6 times a week.
Athletes and swimmers in particular, can train for hours everyday, so you see there really is no one answer.
In summary, aim to do cardio every day, a minimum of 10 minute intense bursts, or 20 minutes moderate, or longer if you can.
With resistance, results can be seen doing 30 minute sessions,  ( no talking though!), up to an hour, 3 times a week – or more if you can!
Choose what will fit into your lifestyle and something that you will enjoy and stick to – and the benefits will come!

  • “What should my heart rate be when I exercise and is it dependant on my age?..”

Cardio CardioThis is another area where there is a bit of confusion. Your heart rate (HR) is a good indicator of where you are at fitness wise. You should know your resting HR and your target HR (for various different types of exercise) and your maximum HR (MHR).

Generally speaking, % of MHR can be described as…

Low Intensity – 50-60%

Moderate Intensity – 60-70%

High Intensity – 70-85%

Now, heart rate targets on most machines in your gym will put the ‘fat burning’ zone at the lower / moderate intensity end, this is because the body draws on its energy here from the actual fat cells, with oxygen or aerobically and you can run, jog, cycle or swim for longer periods at this rate therefore burning more energy (from fat cells).
This also builds up your endurance and keeps your heart exercising and getting stronger.
You may however, burn more calories in the anaerobic zone (or high intensity level, ‘without’ oxygen), and this can be better for weight loss, but this however is for more experienced exercisers, so you’re better to build up to this level.

A lot of people and trainers now use various methods of training, i.e mixing it up including HIIT (high Intensity Interval training) – to keep the body guessing and keep up results and they like to measure maximum heart rates (MHR) to gage what level the HR should be for different types of training

To measure your resting HR (RHR), do this in the morning before you get up, take your pulse for 15 seconds x 4 = RHR – this should be anywhere between 70-100 bpm- generally the lower the rate, the fitter you are. Athletes tend to have a RHR around 40bpm (women tend to have slightly higher RHR)
A very GENERAL method to measure your maximum heart rate (MHR) is the traditional
220 – your age and then take a % for your training level, so a 41 year old working at a moderate level of 60% would be:-

220 – 41= 179,  MHR, x 60% = 107.4 THR (target heart rate for this level)

If you get really serious about your training, there are more extreme measures you can take to find a more accurate & true MHR, and again there have been numerous studies giving varying results (of course!).

HR Monitor

It is good to get an actual heart rate monitor to measure your HR over any given time. Sports Science labs would then use a graded treadmill to establish your MHR by slowly increasing the speed until you can no longer keep up.
However, more recent findings suggest that doing a shorter series of runs, i.e run as fast as you can evenly for three minutes, followed by 2-3 minutes of gentle running, when you then go back to your fastest run you may achieve an even higher MHR!
If you want to try this make sure that you

– warm up effectively
– are fully well and free of injury
– fresh and hydrated
be aware as well that you can get different MHR from different types of exercise,

e.g running would be higher than a cycle test, which would be higher than a swim test – so base it on the type of exercise you intend to do!

If you have any other Questions you would like answered – Just “Ask Ian“! 

Happy Training!

2 thoughts on “Commonly asked Questions ANSWERED! – Part II…

  1. I have entered the wonderful world of menopause. Even though I am exercising every day and am attentive to diet (I have always been relatively fit and followed a healthy regime), my weight has increased and I am struggling to keep it under control. (In desperation I recently started with a personal trainer to see if that helps). All medical checks are good, but clearly the rules for my body have changed now. What are the new rules and how do I respond?

    • Hi Karen, .. yes, this can be a very challenging time for many women, in more ways than one. I wrote a blog a while back that addresses these issues and will hopefully provide helpful to you. Exercise is really important as is of course calorie intake – if you have these under control, it may be worth while seeing a naturopath to see which of the many natural remedies may be beneficial for you to consider. the blog is at

      or just go to the blog and type in ‘menopause’ in the search part – I hope this helps!

      Ian 🙂

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