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To Run or Not to Run- Understanding Cardiovascular Training

Due to the recent buzz about the How do YOU Celebrate Success Contest, where my sponsors and I are giving away a Half Marathon Adventure valued at over $1,400.00 to one very lucky Desperately Seeking Slender reader, this question has come up.

When we start talking about which exercise programs are better, I think first and foremost it is important to note that the only exercise program that will work for you long-term is the one that you adhere to and normally that means the one that you find fun.

107853560ac511e38faf22000a1f99f9_7As a weight loss coach, when we start talking about cardiovascular training and prescription, we try to incorporate three key ingredients in our program:  overload, specificity and progression.

In order to make gains in cardiorespiratory fitness, meaning we want to improve our cardiorespiratory health (which also improves a long list of other things such as, cholesterol levels, body fat percentages, resting blood pressure, diabetes, high blood pressure) we need to either exercise more frequently, for longer periods of time, or at higher intensities. This is the concept in “overload.”

“Specify” means we train in certain modes and according to the goal at hand.  So for example, if your goal is to run a half marathon then we train in running, not in swimming or cycling even though both are good forms of cardiovascular exercise.

The theory of “progression” implies that we must increase the overload gradually to avoid injury and burn out and to combat the lack of adherence to an exercise program that is too intense for you to perform.

When we start to get serious about Cardiovascular Prescription we often used targeted heart rate to determine the rate of overload and progression that we design into a client’s cardio routine. After all as my mentor Bobby Whisnand teaches “It’s all Heart,” meaning, it’s all about your heart rate, and boy is he right on the money.

Now here is where we start to understand the FITT model a little. Let’s envision cardiovascular exercise like a prescription for weight loss.  Let’s consider cardio a weight loss antibiotic for a moment. If you take an antibiotic for a long time what happens? You’re body builds up a resistance to it and uses that medicine less effectively. The same thing happens in cardio exercise.

DO-SOMETHING-TODAY-THAT-YOUR-FUTURE-SELF-WILL-THANK-FORThe fitter you are the FITTer you need to be and in order to achieve that you need to alter your cardiovascular prescription by either adding frequency, intensity, time preformed or by changing the type of exercise you are doing. Your body needs change in what it does. The same exercise preformed over and over, at the same rate of exertion, for the same amount of time, eventually, becomes less effective to your body in regards to cardiorespiratory fitness and weight loss as well.

Let’s use me as an example. At 420 lbs I first got on a treadmill and told myself, I will walk a mile or 30 minutes whichever comes first. And for many weeks, 30 minutes came first. I walked 30 minutes at under 2.0 mph and my body burned approximately 238 calories in that time frame. I was tired, breaking a sweat, breathing heavy and my heart rate was up in the 120s and reaping all the rewards of the exercise I was doing. If I did that same exercise, at the same pace, for the same amount of time today at 165 lbs and with three years of cardiovascular training under my belt, I would never reach my target heart rate and I would burn on average 94 calories in the exact same amount of time exercise.

Now let’s say that I walk that same amount of time at a faster pace. Let’s say I walk it twice as fast at 4.0 mpg and my heart rate is in my target heart zone. No surprise here! I burn twice the amount of calories and will end up burning approximately 187 calories in the same amount of time.

And now let’s say I run that same 30 minutes at an even faster pace, say 5.0 mph which is basically a 12 minute mile and my own personal goal. My heart rate is going to go up because I have increased the intensity of the exercise and now I am going to burn approximately 299 calories in that same 30 minutes.

So it’s very easy to see why we need progression, how our bodies adapt to the cardiovascular exercise and how increasing the intensity means we get more out of the exercise and burn more calories in the same amount of time… which really helps fight those weight loss plateaus when you’re trying to increase your caloric deficit.

Understanding progression is important because we don’t want to hurt ourselves when we are training. That means we want to add progression slowly. If you are thinking about starting a serious cardio program I suggest you consult with your doctor, a personal trainer or a weight loss coach like me who is educated in building cardiovascular programs.

But if you are out there on your own, there are a few basic guidelines you should understand and follow. The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) suggests you engage in moderate intensity exercise 3-4 days per week, for 30 minutes totaling 150 minutes a week in order to see the health benefits of cardiovascular exercise.

If you’re trying to lose weight, those recommendations go up, because more exercise is required to create larger calorie expenditures. So the ACSM recommends progressing that exercise prescription to 50-60 minutes 5 days a week–totaling 300 minutes–in addition to reducing your caloric intake by about 500-1000 calories per day.

When we see these numbers, we’re talking moderate physical activity. That’s where your heart rate is increased in a range that is about 40-60% of your heart rate reserve.  Those numbers go down if we raise the intensity, and eventually progress to a vigorous intensity, which means we are achieving more than 60% of our target heart rate. Knowing your target heart rate and how to check it is extremely important during exercise. If you don’t know how to obtain your heart rate or what your Target Heart Rate is, my mentor Bobby Whisnand has a great video that will teach you as well as a chart that will help you find your own target heart rate.

When I exercise now, after 3 years of progressing my cardio program, I shoot for hitting 75% of my Target Heart Rate, for me that’s about 136 and to achieve that, I do interval running.

Interval running or run-walk-run is a concept introduced by US Olympian Jeff Galloway, who also happens to be the official RunDisney Trainer where you basically build up your running intervals to paces that are comfortable for you, beginning at a run for 5 seconds and walk for 55 seconds ratio. His run interval suggestions change based on the time you are trying to achieve, but if you are looking for a 15 minute mile pace, which is the recommended training pace for RunDisney events which have a 16 min/mi pace requirement, his interval suggestions go up to running 1 minute and walking for one minute (Which you can all ask my first contest winner Dawn Brell about, because we tried REALLY hard to get her to those interval times).

We’ve talked about all the physical aspects of walking, running, and cardiovascular exercise prescription, but now let’s talk about the mental aspects. Because let’s be honest, I’m a huge Chris Powell fan and my weight loss and wellness coaching often incorporates his “Transform your mind,” concepts.

Have you ever heard the quote “Exercise would cure a guilty conscious?” Plato said it. Or what about “Strength of mind is exercise, not rest,” Alexander Pope said that.

According to an article published in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch in Feb, 2011, [Exercising to Relax] discussed the mental benefits of aerobic exercise and among the list you’d find relaxation, stress relief, assistance with anxiety disorders and clinical depression.

The basis behind this theory? It’s all neurochemical based. Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body. We’re talking about hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. Exercise also increases the production of happy hormones, or endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killers.  This can also be valuable information to your weight loss journey, as studies are starting to show that an overabundance of stress hormones can play a significant part in weight loss plateaus.

il_570xN.487756649_bs14This is the sensation that you’ll also hear a lot of us refer to as “Runner’s Zone”, “Runner’s Zen,” or “Runner’s High.” It’s the rush we get in the middle of a good run, and it often lasts quite a bit after. The endorphins our body releases are what cause that feeling.

I have found for me personally that I no longer achieve that feeling if I am just walking. Without some interval runs in there that shoot my heart rate up and really get me going, I don’t find that runner’s zen that I chase after when I run. For me it’s a place where I feel connected to my late father, a place where I feel like my mind is silent instead of full of to-do lists, a time when I have some of my most peaceful conversations with myself, set my goals, and work through my emotions and struggles rather than turning to food to stuff my feelings.

All this talk about running has me itching to get out there and get some exercise in today. It’s 9am, 53 degrees and sunny in Wilmington, NC today and this Wellness Coach as a day off from the gym. It’s definitely a day an outdoor exercise cardio day for me. Would you like to join me? Now that you understand what it’s all about, make a promise to get out there and get a little cardio in there yourself today. Why not try to jog for five seconds a few times and see what you think?

When you get home you can write your essay for the second “How do YOU Celebrate Success” Contest. I’d love to see you enter and today is your last day to get those entries in.


Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

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Social Media and YOU – Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

Do you know what my biggest gripe about being a blogger in the WLS and Weight Loss community is? I’m a tell-it-like-it-is sort of girl, so I’m not afraid to come out and say this… I dislike the lack of support.

i_dislike_button_by_calisoldier805-d3yzvu1I’m not the only one; I talk to fellow bloggers often who say the same things. Who are disappointed by the responses that they get from within this community. I won’t call attention to people who don’t want to be named, but just as an example, last August at the OAC Convention one of my fellow bloggers received a large amount of products from one of the vendors to host a fan appreciation give away. I warned her not to be disappointed if she ran a contest and didn’t get very many entries for it. You know why? Because it had happened to me too many times. Sure enough it happened to her as well and she found it disheartening.

This is exactly why you don’t see me host fan appreciation giveaways. I hold contests to give away Half Marathon experiences because quite honestly, I don’t care if only one person enters, if that person has the desire to do something amazing in their post weight loss journey and I can help facilitate it, I won the contest myself; that’s just who I am and what I am about.

But let’s talk about a few things from a blogger perspective. As someone who strives to put information out there that helps motivate and inspire others in their weight loss journey, I have a few concepts to share with you.

images (1) “Sharing is Caring,” I’ve said this a lot. Just in case you don’t understand what I mean by that, that is my way of telling you that when your favorite bloggers, nonprofit organizations and companies post things on their blog or in social media venues like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and what not, what they are HOPING for is that you interact with them. Not only are they hoping that you will like or favorite what they do; they are hoping you will hit the share button, hit the retweet button, pass the message along and hoping you will comment. Do you know why? Because their success in these venues is dependent on how well they engage their audience. How well you respond to a post decides how much attention the social media platforms give it.

Focus on the Positive and Avoid the Drama. Have you ever noticed how if there is something people don’t like or disagree with, or someone else is kvetching about something they are upset about, it tends to get more likes and more comments than your average run of the mill status update? I see more shares of snarky eCard messages within the weight loss and WLS community than I do shares of things that we claim we care about. People are more inclined to share an eCard that says “I don’t care what you say,” than they are to share a message that says “Look at this amazing recipe for Mahogany Chicken Wings from Kosher Bariatric” – Why not keep it positive and share the stuff that people are putting out there to try to help the community rather get into a 60 comment long debate about someone else’s eating habits or exercise routine?

downloadReturn the FavorOk so let’s be straight up here, the bloggers aren’t all innocent in this either. There are certain bloggers you will see me promote on a semi regular basis. People like Nikki over at Bariatric Foodie, Shelly from The World According To Eggface, Joy from Kosher Bariatric, Kesha from Waning Woman — and there are other bloggers that you won’t see me promote at all. You know why? Because sharing is caring, and if I share for you and you don’t share for me, then I don’t have the desire to share for you constantly and feel like the affection is unreciprocated. This is just the truth. I got an email not too long ago from someone asking me to support and share the information for a fitness oriented event they were doing. I did so because that is the sort of thing I can get behind and support. But when I’m doing something and I ask for it to be shared they seem to miss it. That only happens once or twice before I notice and next time you ask me to promote something for you, I nod my head, roll my eyes and end up busy with other things. Sorry, true story folks. Nobody like being asked to do a favor by somebody that never does a favor back. I abandoned supporting organizations with causes that I actually believe in and feel passionate about for the same reason, just as I have stopped social media interactions with people for the same reason. Nobody likes to feel taken for granted or like a relationship they have built only goes one way; so return the favor and keep your friends and supporters just that; friends and supporters.

Practice Empathy rather than Apathy. The ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others goes far in this community. Just because we might not agree with what someone says, or even feel that way ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t understand it. It also doesn’t mean that our social network won’t benefit from it.  Just as an example, as a weight loss coach I believe that professionals need to have a starting point to discuss weight issues with you. While I believe that BMI is a grossly negative standard when it comes to setting the bar, I believe it one of the only realistic measurement points available right now for professionals to start with. I believe you need to look at that number alongside many others like body fat percentage, lean muscle mass calculations, bone density calculations… and often you need to look up at the person you are talking to and judge for yourself whether the numbers are an accurate assessment of their physical fitness. I also understand all sides of the equation. I empathize with the folks that hate BMI calculations and think they are a false representation when used as a standalone measure or who have come so far in their journey that they are angered by a number on a chart that says “You are still overweight.” – Trust me, I struggle with this myself.  I empathize with the professionals that say it’s one of the most accurate measurement tools we have without more financially feasible technology at our disposal. Guess what? You will see me share information on both sides of the debate. Why?  Because both sides of the debate offer relevant information to my social network.


On the same note you might see me share information on an article about body image issues. Not because I have had the same experience (mine might have been vastly different) but because someone else might benefit from reading the information. And if someone else could benefit from it, I’ll share it.

So next time a blogger you follow holds a contest to give away a product that you use, enter the contest. Next time a blogger you read posts an article that has information pertinent to your social network or a nonprofit organization you support posts a link, share it. The next time someone posts something that you agree with or appreciate, leave a comment. Take the time to show you care and appreciate what they do. Take the time to be positive and proactive. Take the time to reciprocate the friendships you’ve built with the people who you’ve met in this community so that you stay friends. I encourage you to remember that when you take the time to do these things for others, they will take the time to do them for you, and in the end, we’ll have a much stronger, friendlier and more positive community.


Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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