“A strong body makes the mind strong,” Thomas Jefferson once said.
Apparently TJ was on to something: Aerobic exercise and weight training improve brain function in a variety of ways, according to a review of more than 100 recent studies by University of Illinois exercise scientists.
Several of the studies found that exercise spurs your body’s production of a protein called insulin-like growth factor-1. IGF-1 has been shown to stimulate the growth of neurons and enhance cognitive performance, the Champaign-Urbana-based team writes. (We hear Einstein was a real gym rat.)
You don’t need to log endless treadmill hours to boost brainpower, either: Most of the studies found that exercising three days a week for 30 minutes was enough to observe an effect.
If you’re looking for a new workout to build the body and explosive strength of an athlete, visit the Men’s Health Power Training Center. Each workout takes only 30 to 45 minutes, and you can choose a 2-, 3-, or 4-day-a-week plan that fits your schedule
There are so many exercises out there for each body part that it can be hard to figure out which ones will give you the best results. So, we asked IFBB figure pro Felicia Romero for the best excercises to help you get stronger, leaner, and fitter.
“Curls are one of the most popular arm exercises out there, yet they are also one of the least utilized by women. To get the best definition in your arms, do curls with 20–25 pounds. Then, immediately go into triceps extensions, making sure to keep your elbows close to your head. Do three sets of 15 reps.”
“Close-grip lat pulldowns are one of the most common back exercises but they’re frequently performed incorrectly. Using an underhand grip, slowly pull the bar down to your chest, making sure to keep your body and back straight with every rep.”
“Try plié squats. Make sure to keep your legs wide and your toes pointed outward. Lower into the squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, and as you press up, squeeze your glutes and inner and outer thighs. To make them harder, try holding a weight between your legs. Do three sets of 20.”
“When it comes to working your core, definitely go with a three-exercise circuit. Exercise 1: Ball Crunch; hold a Bosu ball as you crunch for 25 reps. Exercise 2: Hanging Leg Raise (15 reps), and Exercise 3: Bicycles on the ground. Perform this circuit three times, resting only between each circuit.”
“Nice shoulders make you look more toned. I like the single-arm cable side lateral. Start with light weights and stand with your right side facing the machine as you grip the cable with your left hand. Good form is key. Make sure your arm stays straight— raise the cable to your left side to about shoulder height.”
A popular myth is that there is a specific range of heart rates in which you must exercise to burn fat. Even many cardio machines display a “fat-burning zone” on their panels, encouraging people to exercise in a specific heart rate range. Have you ever wondered if you really have to exercise in a specific heart rate zone to lose fat? And what happens if you venture out of that zone? Jason R. Karp, PhD, a nationally recognized speaker, writer and exercise physiologist who coaches recreational runners to Olympic hopefuls through his company, RunCoachJason.com, sheds light on this issue.
Fuel Use During Exercise
You use both fat and carbohydrates for energy during exercise, with these two fuels providing that energy on a sliding scale. During exercise at a very low intensity (e.g., walking), fat accounts for most of the energy expenditure. As exercise intensity increases up to the lactate threshold (the exercise intensity that marks the transition between exercise that is almost purely aerobic and exercise that includes a significant anaerobic contribution; also considered the highest sustainable aerobic intensity), the contribution from fat decreases while the contribution from carbohydrates increases. When exercising just below the lactate threshold, you are using mostly carbohydrates. Once the intensity of exercise has risen above the lactate threshold, carbohydrates become the only fuel source.
If you exercise long enough (1.5–2 hours), your muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) content and blood glucose concentration become low. This metabolic state presents a threat to the muscles’ survival, since carbohydrates are muscles’ preferred fuel. When carbohydrates are not available, the muscles are forced to rely on fat as fuel.
Since more fat is used at low exercise intensities, people often assume that low-intensity exercise is best for burning fat, an idea that has given birth to the “fat-burning zone.” However, while only a small amount of fat is used when exercising just below the lactate threshold, the rate of caloric expenditure and the total number of calories expended are much greater than they are when exercising at a lower intensity, so the total amount of fat used is also greater.
The Bottom Line
For fat and weight loss, what matters most is the difference between the number of calories you expend and the number of calories you consume. Fat and weight loss is about burning lots of calories and cutting back on the number of calories consumed. For the purpose of losing weight, it matters little whether the calories burned during exercise come from fat or carbohydrates.
SIDEBAR: Workouts for Fat Loss
To maximize your fat loss, try these workouts. For assistance in designing effective, safe workouts, consult with a certified personal trainer.
A great way to perform high-intensity exercise and decrease your body fat percentage is through interval training, which breaks up the work with periods of rest. Not only does interval training allow you to improve your fitness quickly; it is also more effective than continuous exercise for burning lots of calories during exercise and increasing your postworkout metabolic rate. Try one or two of these workouts each week:
- 5–6 x 3 minutes at 95%–100% maximum (max) heart rate (HR) with 2-minute active recovery periods
- 4 x 4 minutes at 95%–100% max HR with 3-minute active recovery periods
- 8–12 x 30 seconds fast with 1-minute active recovery periods
Each of these interval workouts should include a warm-up and a cool-down.
Go Very Long
Long runs or bike rides (≥ 1.5–2 hours at 65%–70% max HR) that stimulate mitochondrial synthesis and promote the depletion of glycogen threaten the muscles’ survival, since carbohydrates are muscles’ preferred fuel. In response to this threat, muscles “learn” how to use fat more effectively and over time become better fat-burning machines.