At the beginning of January I decided to monitor my workout progress a little more closely (I've been working out pretty steadily since April 2006). One of my workout partners has a background in kinesiology and he brought over his old college texts, notes and labs. We took our anthropometric measurement (weight, height, width/girth/depth of chest, hips, shoulders, knees, elbows, ankles, wrists, calves thighs, gluts, etc). We also adopted the workout software I talked about in detail in a previous post and we found the correct testing protocols for maximums and established our baselines. The baselines are simply 5 reps of each exercise at the absolute maximum weight we can do with proper form. We record this as well as putting it in the software. After a month, I can report the following:
(All anthropometric measures are cold measurements)
Some of the significant strength gains are partly due to coming back after 2 months off, and muscle memory kicking back in. Still, the gains are significantly far enough past my prior maxes that its significant progress, so the software designed workout program DOES work (Fitness Buddy).
After a month of this I began to wonder if there was a way to fine tune my workout. Part of the problem with strength training is that it can neglect cardio in the process of seeking max lifting gains - I did not want to neglect my cardio.
I have an exercise bike with a computer and a pulse feedback system so I started doing 30 minutes of biking prior to my workout. This gave me some good instant heart rate data, keeping my heart rate in an aerobic zone between 132 and 142 which is where I need to be at to make gains at my supposed age/gender/weight. But it didn't give me feedback during my weight workout.
I read an article in Men's Health regarding new research that indicates that weight workouts that were thought previously to be low in cardio intensity could actually be 71% higher than originally thought - and with some tuning, you can combine a strength workout with cardio with a few simple modifications.
Being a hard data kinda guy, I decided I needed more info on my own body, so I got a Suunto ANT heart belt and PC POD unit. Gotta love eBay - $119USD (Running room wanted $295CAD for the package).
And this is the belt you put around your chest:
Basically it feeds your heart rate back to your PC, live, as you exercise. The system comes with analytic software which is cutting edge stuff. It basically lets you do analysis on your heart rate, VO2 max and respiration and other measures (some extrapolations are made based on age, experience, exercise type, weight etc) and can give you significant feedback about your performance, and most importantly, whether your training is effective or not. Not too long ago you needed an entire exercise lab to get this kind of data. Not anymore, its available at the consumer level and the quality is very high based on the literature I've reviewed.
The key to the analysis is an output called EPOC - Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Suunto basically contracted with a research company called Firstbeat Technologies, which has been pioneering this research and turning it into consumer level products. Its still all very scientific and you have to really eggout to understand it all, but EPOC is basically a measure of the quantity of exercise induced disturbance of the body's homeostasis. What does that mean? EPOC analysis can tell you if you are staying in a beneficial workout zone. The zones work like this:
1.0-1.9 Minor Training Effect
2.0-2.9 Maintaining Training Effect
3.0-3.0 Improving Training Effect
4.0-4.9 Highly Improved Training Effect
One of the pitsfalls of significant training can be overtraining - work too hard you damage your body such that it doesn't fully repair itself before the next workout. It also doesn't disturb your body's homeostatic state in a productive way - hence no training benefit. Train too little or without enough intensity and you minimize the training effect and waste your time. Just like Goldilocks, somewhere 'in between' is the zone you want -the zone of maximum benefit.
Next, finding that zone.
My First Workout - Disappointment
My first workout with this system yielded disappointing results. While I am making good strength and physiometric gains as evidenced by my anthropometric measurements (thanks to Fitness Buddy - if you do weight training, you MUST get this program), my cardio on this workout sucked:
I didn't get past level 1, even though I put in a terrific effort on my workout from a strength perspective. You can even see the dips where I rested too long and allowed my heart rate to stay too low to receive a cardio benefit.
My Second Workout - Holy **** Batman
Looking at the data I could see my core problem was my heart rate was not staying in the beneficial zone long enough. So I did a couple simple things to my workout. I minimized my rest between sets and exercises and I watched my heart rate live and made a conscious effort not to allow it to go below 140 for any significant length of time. There were places where this was unavoidable - some exercises required freeweights that need setup and I had to spend time there. Prior to my workout I put on some Tae Bo wraps and went to town on a punching bag we installed in my basement - forcing my heart rate up - so when I saw my heart rate go down, I hit the bag and brought my heart rate up to above 160-170 for at least 30 seconds at a time and then hit the next exercise. That short time on the bag had an effect and kept my heart rate up during the weight part of the cardio - doubling my benefit - strength and cardio workout all in one.
With this approach the results were astonishing. First off, I felt the most unbelievable pump I've ever had on a workout. My body literally pulsed. Secondly when I analyzed the data, I was shocked to see this:
So according to the analysis, my 47 minute workout exceeded the benefit of my 76 minute workout substantially. Less time spent, but spent more strategically for maximum benefit.
Those who have worked out before will probably understand this on an intuitive level, but this is all new to me, and to see the training effect demonstrated and backed up by biotelemetric data and analysis in an quantifiable and immediate manner is pretty amazing. The fact that the workout result is quantifiable is an awesome benefit for someone like me who likes to see independent analysis to backup theory. Using this method, I can consciously and with design target my workout activity for a very specific end result.
Thread: High Tech Workouts