Gauging how good your workout is
June 2, 2005
Several weeks ago, one of my morning aerobics students came to exercise class with a meter attached to her hip. It was part of a project through Western Nevada Community College to challenge students to exercise. This lady is an energetic participant in physical fitness and attends my aerobics classes several times a week. She has a beautiful shape and lots of endurance and muscle. I had fun testing the level of energy expended in the different classes she attended. Some classes had more endurance work than others.
At the end of the testing, it was a surprise to find that a one-hour aerobics class equaled three miles of running. The meter measures foot strikes, and depending on the number of times the foot hits the floor, whether with an impact or not, you will have the distance you covered in one hour. That’s not bad for one hour of fitness commitment. You add that up three times a week, and you have nine miles of endurance workout per week. You can use up a lot of calories in nine miles of running. Maybe even lose a little weight, too.
Another one of my students brought in a pulse chart that measures endurance capacity by target heart rate. Instead of using my standard “6 seconds, add a zero” method for pulse taking, we alternated with the use of the new chart to measure how much energy was expended and whether we landed in the 55, 65, 75, 80 or 85 percent ratio of the target heart rate chart according to age. This was a different surprise for several of the aerobics students. Some of them carry weights while they do the low-impact aerobic conditioning part of the class; the heavier the weight, the better. But even with the weights, the level of energy expended was not very high. When they put down the weights, brought their knees up to chest level and maintained low impact, working against gravity, the workout level went up into the 75 to 80 percent ratio. That’s when they began to notice how hard the endurance part of the class was without the weights.
When you add weight while you do your aerobic work, your body will adjust itself automatically to a lower level of capability. I am not an advocate of carrying weights while you run, whether low or high impact. It becomes increasingly hard on the joints, starting at the ankles and working up to the neck. Any time you add weight to your body suddenly, it has little time to adjust muscle, posture and capability. When you gain weight, you gain it gradually and all over. Even when pregnant, the body will adjust itself for counter balance and weight distribution.
Both the new pulse chart and the distance meter were informative ways to gauge energy levels during a workout. Any time I can test my students on their endurance and muscle capability, it is a chance for them as well as myself to see how well we all are doing in the race for better health.
n Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.