Less can be more – and more can be less (Part 1)

My journey this past year has been quite phenomenal in terms of what I’ve learnt in relation to health, fitness, nutrition and wellbeing, not to mention what I’ve learnt about myself, what’s truly important to me, my strengths, weaknesses and goals.  A lot of my previous beliefs have been challenged and everything I thought I knew about achieving improved health, fitness, body composition etc has been turned on its head to the point where I’ve almost done a 180degree change in what I believe achieves results.

As a consequence of these learnings my lifestyle and priorities have gradually evolved, bit by bit, almost without me noticing it, because it’s seemed effortless, but at the same time noticing beneficial improvements in my health, fitness and physique. 

So what does all this have to do with the cryptic title of this blog post ‘Less can be more and more can be less’.  Well,  Brett and I were chatting the other day about how different our lifestyle is as a result of what we’ve learnt in terms of how we eat, rest and exercise etc. An interesting reversed trend struck me in terms of how I train and how I eat.  I train much less these days in terms of duration and yet on the nutrition front I eat more food (and very different food), more often. However, despite these changes in my routine I am leaner, stronger and in many ways fitter.  Hmmm – a good segway into a blog post right there I thought.  My views towards training and eating have taken a turn in the opposite direction.  So now do you see where I’m coming from with this whole ‘Less can be more and more can be less’ title. 

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not advising anyone to ditch the gym in favour of loafing on the sofa whilst doing bicep curls with the remote control.  I am also in no way suggesting you go reprogram the local chip shop into speed dial on your phone whilst munching your way through a slab of Dairy Milk.  The food and fitness epiphany that I’m wanting to share is that it’s not so much the amount you exercise or how little you eat that makes the big changes to your body – it’s THE HOW and THE TYPE in relation to food and exercise and what that does to your body and it’s metabolism that make a change.  It’s all about the quality and application rather than the quantity.  Want to know more?  Well carry on reading.

When it comes to Exercise – Less can be more

If you’ve read my previous blog post ‘Weights are the new cardio’ you’ll know that in the past I have been a self confessed cardio junkie.

I was afraid that if I didn’t get in at least 90mins to 2hours of cardio a day I’d lose my fitness and turn into a blob.  Initially my training changed because my lifestyle and circumstances changed.   As a mum of 2 lively boys, who works full time with lots going on in my life I just don’t have the time or desire to put the long hours into my training that I used to.  Plus there’s the fact that my ‘Mrs Grady Old Lady’ pelvis won’t allow for high volume hours anymore, a grim reminder of the scars of wear and tear that prolonged highly repetitive exercise leaves on the body.  So I simply had to get smart with my training and get more bangs for my bucks when it came to planning my workouts.

So how can less be more when it comes to exercise?  It’s all about intensity and variety.  Doing long duration cardio sessions means you have to be exercising at a relatively low to moderate intensity to keep going.  While this holds some benefits to your overall aerobic endurance it does little to turn you into a fat burning machine with a revved up metabolism. 

Going for longer might seem logical – (it’s all about calories in versus calories burnt right? err no )but it’s about what the workout does for your body after it has ended (or if you want the flash technical term your Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption EPOC).  You want your metabolic engine set to ‘Burn Baby Burn’ rather than ‘Driving Miss Daisy’.   This is achieved with shorter intense workouts that push you above your anaerobic threshold – I’m talking HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and intense, high energy circuits or what is known in the Crossfit world as Metcons (metabolic conditioning type training).

These types of workouts generate a whole shed load of lactic acid which promotes a hormonal cascade of events that ultimately turns you into a finely tuned fat burning machine. Less time? Increased fat burning?   Yes really!!  Wahooooo – guess you really can have your cake and eat it – um actually maybe that wasn’t the best analogy – please don’t go and eat cake :0).  You know what I’m getting at though – less really can be more – just saying.

If it’s fitness rather than fat loss that is your primo goal then these workouts effectively serve that purpose too.  ‘Crossfit’  and ‘Crossfit Endurance’  builds its philosophy on functional, efficient, but also highly effective workouts that normally take between 10 to 45 minutes, yet these athletes are amongst the best conditioned, leanest and meanest in the world. 

Of course if you want to run a marathon than yes you need to do your long runs or if an Ironman or similar long haul endurance event is your goal then it will call for some serious hours on the bike, in the pool and running the streets.  I do now believe though, that great strides can be gained by this  revised condensed training approach in enhancing an endurance athlete’s potential, particularly if the body or circumstances place boundaries on your ability to do high volume training. 

If I’m fortunate enough to be able to rehabilitate to point where I can run a marathon again I won’t do the mileage I once did – my body wouldn’t let me anyway.  My approach will be built around less but more efficient mileage and some smart cross training –it’ll be a cool experimental journey towards rediscovering my speed and getting my running mojo back.  What I can already vouch for is these types of workouts have re-sculpted my body and shifted fat that clung on to some parts for dear life before when all I did was run. 

The result of ‘less is more’ training and smart eating.

Top Tips for ‘Less is More’ workouts

  • Aim for a work duration ranging from 10 to 45 minutes.
  • Always do a good warm up.
  • Pick exercises that you can do at a high intensity that use large muscle groups and more than one joint (ie squats, pull ups, deadlifts).  Think of functional movements that move the body in the way for which it was designed.
  • Keep rest periods short – you should be puffing and sweating if you’re working hard.
  • There are dozens of ways to design circuit workouts but alternating upper and lower body exercises is a good rule of thumb as it uses more energy and is shown to be highly effective.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix high intensity short bursts of cardio into weights circuits (ie burpees, sprints, box jumps, rowing etc).
  • If you’re doing a HIIT session – the emphasis on the high intensity should be right up there- (the clues in the title I guess) – there is no way you should be able to talk or do anything other than hang on for dear life until the next rest period.
  • These workouts should leave you starfished on the floor in a pool of your own sweat when you’ve finished. 

Examples of some ‘Less is more workouts’ to try

  • Go to a playing field or running track and do 5 to 10 rounds of
    • 30 second sprint
    • 20 squats
    • 10 push ups
    • 5 burpees
    • 30 second plank hold
  • Try the following row circuit as fast as you can as follows
    • 500metre row followed by 25 squats, 25 push ups, 25 sit ups
    • 400metre row followed by 20 squats, 20 push ups, 20 sit ups
    • 300metre row followed by 15 squats, 15 push ups, 15 sit ups
    • 200metre row followed by 10 squats, 10 push ups, 10 sit ups
    • 100metre row followed by 5 squats, 5 push ups, 5 sits ups
  • Do a HIIT session based around 30 second sprints and 30 second recoveries, either running, rowing, biking, skipping etc. For 20 minutes.  Or simply google HIIT training and see what you get; there are heaps of variations to this type of working out.
  • Tabata’s are a great version of a short by intense HIIT session based around 8 rounds of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds recovery.  Yep that’s just 4 mins, but try this on a treadmill at a flat out sprint or a stationary bike on a hard resistance out of the seat and you may just taste bile.
  • Try some of the popular Crossfit WODs (workouts of the day) such as ‘Fran’ of ‘Fight Gone Bad’ or for a particularly hardcore one try ‘Murph’.
  • Go have a browse round the BodyRockTV site – many of those workouts are 12mins long but if you do them properly you’ll be a Sweaty Betty (or Benny) by the end.
  • Or you could try my little ’10-4 Burpee circuit’ that I recently posted on my facebook page.


Putting it all together

By their very design these types of workouts are very intense, which means you need to be smart about how you integrate them into your workout schedule.  If you’re new to this type of training then aim for no more than 2 sessions a week gradually building up to 3 or 4 (tops).   These workouts can be integrated with other forms of exercise depending on your goals and/or interests ie slow weights, yoga, cardio, group fitness, a particular sport.  

I currently mix a couple of Metcon circuits, a couple of  weights sessions, 1 HIIT running session, a tempo or hill run and a steady state run.   I’ll also throw in 1 or 2 RPM classes and some yoga.  I change it up every couple of months to keep the body guessing and avoid a plateau but all the time ensuring I’m challenged and enjoying it as that’s the key to being consistent for me.

Please note – these sessions come with a user warning.   The idea is ‘less is more’ so I urge you not to overlay these workouts on top as an addition if you are  already doing heaps of workouts.   They should supplement some of your current schedule to provide a ‘light and shade’ approach to your weekly routine.  Otherwise you risk burning yourself out, raising your cortisol (stress hormone), adrenal fatigue or basically heading for negative rather than improved results.

Do you believe?

So for those of you out there that are normally a sworn devotee of ‘Team Cardio’ and put in hardcore hours of steady state training, do you believe this could be the key to giving you an edge and unleashing some fat burning potential.  Is your love of cardio the ‘nut’ you are holding on to (see post ‘Let go of your nuts’).  I understand your resistance if you don’t quite believe.  I guess I found out by accident but now I’ve discovered this way of training it has opened up all sorts of new possibilities not to mention a 6 pack I didn’t have before I had kids.  Give it a go for a sustained period of time (8 to 12 weeks) and let the results speak for themselves.

To be continued……….

Next post I’ll continue with Part 2 of  ‘Less can be  More and More can is less’ and discuss how  ‘more can be less’ when it comes to nutrition.

6 thoughts on “Less can be more – and more can be less (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Less can be more – and more can be less (Part 2). « Eat – Sweat – Think

  2. Pingback: Lights! Camera! Action! – How I prepared for my photo shoot « Eat – Sweat – Think

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