Read More on Ship Shape on Transfin.

Understanding The Myth Behind Converting Fat into Muscle

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Jan 27, 2019

Our body comprises different organs and tissues...each having their unique role in its normal functioning. Apart from brain, heart, lungs and abdominal organs, readers may be familiar with two types of tissues - lean tissue (i.e. skeletal muscles and bones) and body fat. Perhaps I don't need to emphasise that lean tissue is good, and fats not so much. However, body fat is not all bad – some fat is needed for insulation against cold, while females need more fat for normal hormonal function aside from needs of pregnancy and lactation.   The amount of body fat desirable depends on age and gender - about 12-20% for healthy adult males and 16-25% for healthy adult females, rising with age.   However, with nearly one third of the population being overweight or obese, there is a large chunk of population trying to lose fat and build muscle to be fit.   That begs the question, can fat be converted into muscle?    Well, sorry to break the bubble but:   The conversion of fat into muscle is physiologically not possible.   In general, the body finds it easier to progress in one direction at a time - both during anabolism or catabolism. That means when you eat less but don't exercise, you will lose both muscle and fat. Similarly, if you exercisely intensely and eat more with intention of "bulking up", you would gain both muscle and fat.    As discussed earlier, with heavy exercise, lean tissue constitutes about two-third of the gained weight, with one-third being fat. The latter may be minimised, of course, using professional help with diet and drugs/supplements - neither available nor desirable for most normal adults. Moreover, unregulated consumption of supplements do enhance risk of liver and kidney damage.    But this is not writ in stone. It’s indeed possible for obese individuals to eat sensibly, cut down on high-calorie refined foods and exercise regularly to lose fat and gain some functional muscle.     At this point, an important concept needs to be understood. Whether one is overweight, underweight or fit, the body is in a state of equilibrium. We provide a stimulus to the metabolism, using dietary modifications and exercise, which is followed by change until we reach a new equilibrium...commonly known as a plateau. Another stimulus is now needed to trigger further change in the desired direction. Either in the form of diet evaluation, or progression of exercise? Perhaps you need to increase your number of reps? Or lift a heavier weight? Or even slow down? Don't hurt yourself - but change should be your only constant which achieving your planned objectives.   There is a reason for the popular gym saying: everything works, for about 3 weeks; after that, you need to change. Hence, if one continues to eat and exercise the same way, day after day, one stops losing fat and building muscle after a few weeks: a change in the routine is again required.   Our cravings for certain foods, extremes of weather, social events and work pressures distract us from our goals, and need to be figured in and accounted for. Be patient, be steady, and don't lose focus.       This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Why is Protein a Diet Essential For Muscle Growth and Bodybuilding?

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Jan 20, 2019

Proteins are well known as the building blocks of muscle. They are made up of amino acids, which are divided into Essential and Non-essential. Non-essential does not suggest unimportant. Its rather a medical term implying they can be synthesised in the body, while the Essential ones can’t.   Hence, Essential amino acids must be consumed as part of one’s diet, as their deficiency hinders effective muscle growth.    Further, proteins have the same calorie content as carbs (about 4kcal/g) but are much harder to digest. Nearly a third of their calories are consumed merely in digesting them. This means consuming proteins keeps us full for longer, and imposes a lighter calorie burden on the system, resulting in weight loss and muscle building, if supported by proper exercise.   Yes, muscle growth is a function of two inputs - proper nutrition AND exercise, both alone being inadequate for the best results.   Speaking of the nutrition part...for years debates have raged around two aspects:   1. How much protein is required daily, for building muscle? 2. Are meats the only good source of protein?   How Much Protein?   The first question is harder to answer than commonly believed. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) say that for a normal, healthy adult (read sedentary individual), about 0.8-1 g/kg of body weight is enough. This translates to around 56 g/day for an adult male weighing 70 kg and 46 g/day for a 59 kg female. Even this amount is hard to source in average Indian vegetarian diets.   Moreover, much higher intakes are recommended for inducing optimal muscle growth.   For those who practice regular strength training, the requirement stands at around 1.5-2 g/kg of body weight. These are recommended for professionals and not the average gym enthusiast, who could do well with c.1 g/kg, with a reasonable upper limit of 1-1.5 g/kg daily.   Bodybuilders supposedly need even higher intakes, with different authorities recommending 1-1.5 or even upto 2 g/lb body weight (1 kg=2.2 lb), meaning an intake of upto 2.2-4.4 g/kg body weight. This kind of consumption is obviously impractical, except for professional athletes, who typically consume 4,000-6,000 kcals per day via 6-7 divided meals. Note: This is NOT recommended for weekend enthusiasts and needs professional advice - which this series of articles does NOT claim to be. Consult your Dietician.   The very idea of heavy protein intake for muscle building has been questioned. Coach Wade, the author of Convict Conditioning, rightly questions this guideline - having witnessed convicts achieve massive gains in strength and muscularity, despite being on relatively restricted prison diets, and being limited to bodyweight exercises and few fixed weights.   Having said that, a healthy protein intake along with willpower certainly helps build muscle and prevent muscle breakdown, especially while trying to lose fat in order to achieve definition.   The Best Sources of Protein   Now to the second question. The best source of protein comprise: eggs, meats (red and white), fish, milk and nuts. These deliver the most healthy and complete proteins having all Essential amino acids.   Also, as you can notice, these are largely non-vegetarian sources. Does that mean that vegetarians can't have enough protein or become strong?     Absolutely not! But non-vegetarian foods definitely have their advantages with respect to muscle building. For starters, they contain complete proteins with all the Essential amino acids. They also have a much greater protein content per gram, containing 50-90% of their calorie content as protein, compared to 13-20% of total calories in vegetarian sources.   Conversely, most vegetarian sources lack a few of the Essential amino acids. The only vegetarian source of complete protein is: soy, buckwheat and quinoa. Other healthy vegetarian sources are nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, peanuts), tofu and tempeh (from soybeans), lentils (daals), chickpeas and beans like kidney and black beans (also called legumes), green peas, spirulina, oats, wild rice, chia seeds, nut butters, and vegetables like broccoli, spinach and asparagus. Fruits contain only small amounts, the maximum being found in guavas, berries and bananas.     Its not practical to eat only quinoa or soy all day long, one has to improvise. For instance, daal and rice both have incomplete proteins, but daal-chawal together have all the Essential amino acids. For reassurance, some of the most impressively muscled Bollywood stars – John Abraham, Vidyut Jamwal, Sonu Sood and Shahid Kapoor are vegetarians. Around the time he was shooting for Dangal, Aamir Khan became a vegan as well.   Further, in India there are 3 types of vegetarians – vegans, lacto-vegetarians (a diet that includes vegetables as well as dairy products) and ovolacto-vegetarians (a vegetarian who does not eat meat, but does consume some animal-derived products such as eggs and dairy).   Obviously, it is much easier for the latter two groups to imbibe the required amount and quality of proteins - eggs and milk/dairy are some of the richest and best sources.   Eggs contain very high quality proteins. The PDCAAS score (a marker of protein quality) is 1 for egg protein and whey. One large egg has about 6.3 g proteins, about 3.75 g being in the white. Soya is another excellent source of proteins. Notably, it also contains phyto-oestrogens, making it unsuitable for consumption in substantial amounts by males.   Milk also has IGF-1 (Insulin like growth factor-1), which is also very helpful in bulking up. So, next time someone says she is a hard-gainer, tell her to drink two glasses of whole milk daily and exercise: she will be surprised.    Protein Supplements   Anybody aiming for >1-1.5 g/kg daily intake of proteins has to take supplements. They broadly come from 3 sources - whey and casein derived from milk; albumin from egg whites; and soya. Whey and casein can be consumed by lactovegetarians. The former is better for muscle building (more anabolic), while casein is slowly digested and so is better for preventing muscle breakdown (anti-catabolic).     A lot of controversy exists about the role of protein supplements. Proteins are digested by the kidneys, hence there is no problem with consumption of reasonable amounts of proteins (1-1.5 g/kg body weight) if kidney function is normal. However, when professional bodybuilders take huge amounts of proteins (2-4.4 g/kg) along with drugs/supplements of questionable quality (as proteins are very expensive), chances of damaging the liver and kidney are high.   Thus, one should preferably consume natural foods rich in proteins rather than large amounts of whey or other supplements; if one has to, then 30-40 g of whey or other supplement protein is a reasonable amount per day.   In summary, proteins are very important for building muscle. A healthy consumption is even more important for strength trainees. While meats, eggs and dairy are the best sources of complete proteins, it’s quite possible to consume healthy proteins as a vegetarian (even as a vegan), and become strong and muscular.   Next week, we shall try Understanding The Myth Behind Converting Fat into Muscle.   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: What is Nutrition.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

10 Must-Have Books on Avoiding Obesity, Good Nutrition, and Diet Plans

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Jan 13, 2019

Akin to the previous article, which suggested some must-have books to begin resistance training, this one discusses some valuable books on nutrition. Reading these will provide you with an insight into the root causes of obesity, i.e. food and habits which are likely to promote it), while simultaneously offering some effective tools to deal with it.    As discussed earlier, it is easy to design a diet and lose some weight in the initial few months. The trouble is in maintaining progress. Multiple well-designed and meticulously conducted studies have demonstrated that weight loss tends to plateau even in the most committed individuals over 6-12 months, and is inexorably followed by weight regain over the course of the year after. Hence, two years after an enthusiastic beginning, most people (>90% in several studies) are back where they started from. A depressing scenario, indeed!     Those who have been following this series from the beginning know that it’s possible to lose weight and keep it off too, provided some rules are followed. While one can learn a lot about the impact of different food items and nutrients on weight just by revising the Ship Shape articles on nutrition, some of you may want to delve deeper for a fuller understanding of this rather complex subject.   Please bear in mind that a lot of the information in the earlier articles is from scientific medical journals and text-books, which are a little too complex to be followed by the lay man. I shall thus be presenting a list of books that can be read by anyone, not just doctors or science students.   The Root Causes of Obesity and Lifestyle Diseases   1. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes   This is one of the landmark books that examine the history and causes of weight gain in the last 50 years. With data from scientific studies in populations that have stayed away from civilisation, as well as rat studies, it presents at length the insulin model (simply put, the carbohydrate model) of obesity, with compelling data on why calories don't matter, that is, fat is not burnt by the body unless insulin levels in the blood are low. He also recommends a regular intake of all kind of meats, while avoiding refined carbs completely (including wheat and wheat products) – two major diet controversies today.   2. Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, by William Davis, MD   This one is by a cardiologist, who also believes that modern wheat is to be avoided in order to be healthy and fit. The data on two pieces of whole wheat bread raising the blood sugar more than two tablespoons of pure sugar comes from this text. With the recent wave of going gluten free, especially among athletes and sportspersons, a look at this very informative book is warranted.   3. The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, by Jason Fung, MD   Dr Fung is a nephrologist with special interest in diabetes and obesity, and also supports the insulin model, i.e., the carb-based model of obesity. He also presents the history behind the data leading to guidelines restricting fat intake, and their loopholes. While the book has been criticised for quoting blogs in addition to medical journals, he was one of the early researchers to implicate refined carbs more than fats in obesity. Finally, he suggests a diet pattern that enables us to avoid getting fat, or lose weight if we need to.   4. Eat Fat Get Thin, by Mark Hyman, MD   Another book presenting the background of the demonisation of fats by studies conducted in the 1940s-60s, and their formal restriction to prevent obesity and heart disease in subsequent dietary guidelines. It discusses the impact of fats on metabolism, explaining at length why fats do not cause obesity.   5. The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes   A thorough discussion on how sugar and refined carbs have helped usher in obesity and lifestyle disease. While it has been criticised by authorities as being biased, the amount of data on sugar that was relatively ignored in the 80s and 90s is shocking. There is no doubt that these items should be minimised in our diet, as this book will undoubtedly convince you.     What and How Should One Eat?   6. Food: WTF Should We Eat: The No-Nonsense Guide to Achieving Optimal Weight and Lifelong Health, by Mark Hyman, MD   A book that discusses the nitty-gritty of diet, it talks about all individual food groups (e.g., meats, eggs, dairy, fruits and vegetables, etc.), and provides guidance on what items can be consumed ad lib, what are to be limited and what is to be avoided. He suggests his version of an ideal diet-the “Pegan diet”, a synthesis of the Paleo and Vegan diets (discussed earlier), designed to keep one near ideal body weight and full of energy. Perhaps one of the most useful texts if one wishes to plan one’s own diet.   The two books discussed above (3 and 4) also give useful information about what to eat and when to.   Small, Frequent Meals or Intermittent Fasting?   7. Intermittent Feast, by Nate Miyaki   A to-the-point discussion on the benefits of eating a more natural diet (akin to Paleo) while minimising refined foods (carbs or fats) with natural proteins and fats. Carbs can be increased by people who exercise heavy regularly, while fats need to be emphasised by sedentary individuals, who gain weight rapidly if they eat excess carbs. Overall, the recommendation is to avoid refined foods and keep the meal frequency low (he strongly recommends a satisfying dinner, and light snacks during the day).     8. The Warrior Diet: How to Take Advantage of Undereating and Overeating, by Ori Hofmekler   An Israeli ex-Army officer, he has evolved his own techniques for Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat by using The Anti-Estrogenic Diet and finally, The Warrior Diet (incidentally, all 3 are titles of books he has written on nutrition and fitness). He also reiterates the remarkable benefits of intermittent fasting-feasting as in the above book, especially for people who are physically active.   9. Better than Steroids by Warren Willey, DO   This is a book for bodybuilders, or those who perform heavy exercise regularly. Rather than using steroids or other supplements of doubtful value, Dr Willey outlines how one can achieve similar results with healthy food combined with exercise. He gives detailed plans regarding calorie intake and adjusting meals according to exercise plans and goals.   For Those Who Want Quick Fat Loss   10. New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great, by Westman, Phinney and Volek   The original Keto diet – the Atkins’ diet is discussed here. Replete with details of the Induction and Maintenance phases, full of practical meal recipes and plans, this is a must-have for those planning a short phase of the Keto diet. While there are concerns about its health implications for long-term use, there is no doubt about keto diet's fat-loss efficacy.   Among these books, the most useful books to understand the cause of obesity are Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It and The Obesity Code. The most helpful one for designing a healthy and balanced diet is Food: WTF Should We Eat? Better than Steroids is more useful for athletes, sportspersons and bodybuilders. Wheat Belly is an essential read if one wishes to go gluten-free, or is gluten sensitive.   That’s it then-the complete low-down on the sources for the secrets of nutrition, fat loss and muscle gain.   You can buy the book by clicking on its title in the article. You would be re-directed to Amazon where you can place your order. Happy reading :)    This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: What is Nutrition.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

15 Must-Have Books to Start Exercising

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Jan 06, 2019

One of the toughest things about starting resistance training is to learn how to do the individual exercises accurately. As alluded to earlier, venturing head on into weightlifting is not the best idea. One must start gradually, learn the proper form of the exercises and then progress slowly but steadily.   Hence, we have two major challenges at hand.   To learn the proper form of these exercises To plan the workouts, their days, and sets/duration, etc.   We shall look at the first one today.   Resistance training can be done in several forms - bodyweight training or callisthenics, weightlifting with free weights and/or machines, and dumb bells/kettle bells. Let’s look at some great resources for these.   Bodyweight Exercises   The best way to start resistance training is to learn bodyweight training. It’s easier to learn. There is little, if any investment needed and the chances of injury are also less. Further, there is nothing more efficient than learning to move one’s body in space effectively.                                  1. Convict Conditioning by Paul “Coach” Wade   This is one of the best resources to learn about body weight exercises. Learn it from people who have nothing to develop their strength, except their hands and feet, and sheer will power – convicts. This wonderful book outlines the history of bodyweight strength training (with multiple photos), and the techniques to master the big 6 basic exercises – push-up, pull-up, squat, bridge, hanging leg raises and the handstand. Not just this, it gives the means of progression to elite standards in these (though the last couple of elite levels in the one-arm pull-up or one-legged squat are probably unrealistic). Still, it’s one of the best books to get started on the subject.   2.  Never Gymless by Ross Enamait   Another great text on a wide variety of body weight exercises, their variations and progressions. Also, it looks at the use of simple tools to make these exercises easier, or harder, as per requirement, for instance ropes, boxes, etc. More to the point, but perhaps, not as inspirational as Convict Conditioning.   3. Raising the Bar by Al Kavadlo   For those who want to do the pull-up and can’t, or think pull-up is the only exercise you can do on a bar, is this little gem from one of the finest practitioners of Callisthenics, The Kavadlo brothers have written several books on the subject. Here, he outlines the steps to master these difficult exercises, as well as how to make slow, but steady progress. To see the results, check out their “human flag” photos. You can see four progressions for the pull-up here.   Weightlifting   Bodyweight training has enough juice to last a lifetime. However, there are many who want to lift heavy weights. While Schwarzenegger and Bill Pearl do give cursory descriptions of hundreds of strength exercises in their huge volumes on weightlifting, these are not the best sources for learning the proper form. For that, the classic text is Starting Strength.   4. Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore   Perhaps the best book to master the big 5 - the bench press, overhead press, squat, dead lift and power clean. While he does spend pages on apparently simple aspects like positioning of the feet, where one should look and the different types of grips, at the end, one does come out much wiser. However, my favourite part is the Foreword. Rippetoe dedicates the 2nd edition to his teacher, Philip S. Colee, who passed away with cancer. He writes,   You have not witnessed determination until you have seen a man wearing an oxygen bottle do deep squats for sets of five across…(the metastatic cancer) was not going to prevent him from living his remaining days as he saw fit-he taught many of us here at the gym what was possibly the most valuable lesson…no matter what your personal circumstances might be (the universe is unconcerned with such details), you get out of life exactly what you have contributed to the effort. It is my honour to have been his student. He will be missed.   Strongly recommended.   5. Strength Training Anatomy Workout by Delaware and Gundill.   This is a useful text which shows good anatomical photos of various muscles, and outlines of several exercises with barbell and dumbbells. Should ideally come after one has learnt the basics from Starting Strength.   6.  Exercise Technique Manual for Resistance Training by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)   A useful resource, it encloses two DVDs showing correct and incorrect exercise techniques.   However, Olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk) are much more technical and more injury prone than the power lifts (squat, bench press, dead lift). Hence these are best learnt from a coach, especially in the younger age group. As one ages, it’s much harder to master these rapid jerky movements, and much more likely to cause injury.   Kettlebells   7. Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel Tsatsouline   Pavel is the Russian strength coach who introduced Kettle bells to the West. This is one of his finest books in mastering the difficult art of handling the “gym in the palm of one’s hand”. Many of his books have been criticised for being overpriced and too brief; this isn’t one of them. It contains detailed descriptions of the major kettle bell exercises – the swing, the Turkish get up, the clean, the press and the snatch. Embellished with tips and tricks from the master himself, this book is a must-have for all kettlebell enthusiasts.   8. Kettlebell RX: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches by Jeff Martone   This is the other complete guide to learning the above-mentioned exercises and more. A Martial Artist and a trainer of repute, Martone is well known for his feat of performing get ups with a female athlete clinging to his forearm, instead of holding a kettlebell, highlighting the strength these exercises can build over time. While this book is more structured and systematic than Pavel’s, the two are probably complementary.   Other Useful books for Strength Training   9. Never Let Go by Dan John   A well-known strength coach, Dan John specialises in writing practical, no-nonsense guide books on strength training. Subtitled “A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning”, this one is full of useful insights. Dan John’s inspiring writing is sure to fire up the newbie as well as the seasoned athlete.   10. Practical Programming For Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe   Another book by the author of Starting Strength, this one teaches us the tough art of programming - the term used for cycling of workouts, or simply, taking two steps back, in order to take three steps forward. As one starts plateauing which is inevitable within 6-12 months (probably even sooner) of starting strength training, programming is critical to progress.   11. Strength and Physique (3 slim volumes) by James K Chan   A police officer and a martial artist, Chan shows how to build strength, fitness and bulk by using the right exercises and the right schedules. While these books are printed privately (hence lack proper page numbers), they pack a lot of useful information for designing your own workouts, should you choose to exercise in your home.   12. Body By Science by Doug Mcguff and John Little   The best for the last. This is a complete text book for fitness, strength and fat loss. It discusses the metabolism at length, followed by a description of 5 major exercises (both machine based and using free weights) that are crucial to building whole body strength. It also packs in detailed chapters on HIIT and fat loss.   Highly recommended.     Further Reading   13. The Complete Keys to Progress by John McCullum   An old-school guide to strength training. If one starts to lose enthusiasm or novelty, this is the go to resource for finding inspiration and variety.   14. High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way by Mike Mentzer, with John Little   The detailed work on HIIT protocols, as applied to strength training.   15. Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline   His detailed exposition on using just two basic exercises (dead lift and the side press) for two workouts a week for maximal strength and fitness.   What Should One Start With   I suggest Convict Conditioning or Starting Strength as the first text, depending upon preference for body weight training or weightlifting. The NSCA Manual is also useful due to the DVDs showing correct and incorrect exercise forms. Those preferring kettle bells can start with either Pavel or Martone, both are excellent.   Once you have eased into a routine of regular exercise, Dan John and James Chan give you more variations, as well as philosophy (especially Dan John and McCullum). Raising the Bar will serve well for conquering the one-arm pull, the muscle-up and other enviable, impossible to perform bar exercises.   As Pavel says, “Power to You!”   P.S. One can refer to Athlean-X to understand the correct posture for the exercises mentioned through the article.   You can buy a book by clicking on its title in the article. You would be re-directed to Amazon where you can place your order. Happy reading :)   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

The Dark Side of Exercise and Nutrition: Workout Injury, Fatigue, Steroids, Supplements and More

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Dec 30, 2018

Over the past couple of months, we have discussed the all-encompassing benefits of a healthy diet and exercise. As the year comes to a close, think it is now time to take a look at the darker side of things.   A primary concern while exercising is that of injuring oneself. This has been discussed in several previous articles on running, weightlifting, using kettle bells, etc. Let’s address all of these in one place.   Nearly half the people who run regularly end up injuring themselves over the course of a year. These injuries can be anywhere - feet, ankles, knees, hips, back or neck. There is also the risk of road traffic accidents if one is running on the roadside instead of on a track or in a park.     Herein lies the importance of a coach - to learn the proper stance, develop the right stepping, using the right footwear for individual needs, and most importantly-the right way to stretch fatigued muscles. Most injuries can be prevented by these, and doing proper warm up and cool down, which are essential for any strenuous exercise.   Another common concern is that of a sudden cardiac arrest during or immediately after a long run. This has also been discussed at length earlier. To reiterate, in healthy and fit individuals who exercise regularly, the risk of such an unfortunate accident is very low, and rises only to a very minor extent while exercising. Conversely, regular exercise significantly lowers the risk of sudden collapse during the rest of the day (a risk which is much higher in sedentary individuals). It’s important to be aware of this. This is also why it’s recommended that any person starting on a strenuous exercise program, especially after the age of 30, undergo a medical check-up prior to beginning. Notably, males are much more likely than females to suffer such events.   One is also prone to injury while weightlifting, though surprisingly, less so than running. However, trainees often suffer muscle pulls, which need time to heal, and muscle soreness and stiffness, which are mostly benign and self-limiting. One needs to differentiate between muscle soreness occurring soon after unaccustomed or heavier exercise, delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle pulls or worse still, tears. While the first two will settle with appropriate rest and decrease (but not disappear) with experience, muscle pulls may need physiotherapy and avoidance of exercises stressing the injured muscles till they heal. However, some soreness is normal after a heavy bout of exercise, and the muscle need not be avoided unless the situation worsens.     Muscle tears need professional opinion from an orthopaedic surgeon or ideally a sports medicine specialist. Even more important is to find out why the muscle was injured - was it was due to an improper technique, or inappropriately high weights? Needless to say, that the predisposing factors need to be addressed. Proper training for learning techniques is even more important for exercising with kettle bells, as rapid, jerky movements with a weight are more likely to cause injury.   Resistance training mandates following proper exercise techniques, and realising that slow and steady is the only way to gain. It’s been said that we overestimate what we can achieve in a year, but underestimate what we can in a decade. This is particularly true for weightlifting. Growing from 30s to 50s, a feeling of improving youth and fitness that is imparted is a most satisfying reward. The ancillary benefits of sticking to lifting heavy weights regularly are many, not least of which is developing an iron will to persist in the face of adversity.   One is usually prepared for pain and injury when initiating an exercise program; it’s the desire for rapid progress and unrealistic goals that causes greater harm. After the initial honeymoon period of rapid increase in strength and fitness, one reaches a plateau within 3-6 months of regular exercise, depending upon one’s initial fitness levels. At this stage, a coach is most crucial in guiding a trainee regarding programming-a term signifying taking a couple of steps back before moving 3 steps ahead. Even so, progress is slow and hard to find. The obvious solution at this stage is shortcuts: the use of supplements and/or drugs to augment performance.     These have been in use for decades now: Arnold Schwarzenegger was candid enough to admit that in his time, they used drugs to boost performance as they didn’t know better. However, others like legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using them with full knowledge, managing to fool authorities for years, before finally coming clean a few years back. It’s important to understand supplements for what they are, along with their long-term consequences.   Whey protein is safe upto reasonable limits - 30-40 g per day can be easily digested and tolerated by a healthy young athlete aiming to fulfil her protein requirements. Other safe products include multi-vitamins and some minerals within recommended doses. Limited amount of creatine and glutamine powders may enhance strength and hasten recovery, respectively, and may be consumed under medical supervision. However, these are expensive and often come from unreliable sources.   Nothing beats a healthy diet, regular exercise and a solid will, as far as a normal adult aiming for fitness is concerned.   Steroids and other performance boosting drugs are a strict NO-NO; these harm the body in numerous ways and people might suffer lasting consequences for years even after giving them up. Youth in their pursuit of strength or a six-pack should not get carried away. They should persevere with their efforts and avoid taking short cuts - an endeavour that is fraught with permanent risks.   In summary, exercise is a life-changing endeavour, with multifarious benefits. It has to be a lifestyle change, rather than a compulsion and should not be muddied with drugs or supplements for rapid gains.   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Ship Shape Podcast: Nutrition, Exercise, Health Tips, and Healthcare Policy

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Dec 27, 2018

    In conversation with Nikhil Arora and Sharath Toopran  of Transfin. for an hour long discussion on:   The Bare-Bones (slurrp!) of Good Nutrition   I begin by addressing some recurrent queries posed by my patients - Why do we crave fats? Why do we regain the lost weight? Is veganism the way to go? How healthy is red meat?   I go on to talk about the basics of nutrition, discussing how the moderate consumption of any nutrient is the most optimum and how to engineer a 'balanced diet'.   Fitness 101   We move on to discuss exercise and fitness. What have we gotten wrong about fitness and exercise? Where do we begin from? What are some cost-effective alternatives to the gym? How do we think of diet and exercise in parallel?    What's Wrong with India's Healthcare?   Lancet, an acclaimed medical journal recently spoke of the rising risk of physical violence on doctors. I talk about how and why a reputed profession has come under attack in the recent past.   Hope you enjoy listening in. I may do this again in the future, so do drop in any questions or clarifications on nutrition and fitness that you may like me to address in the Comment section below.    For a deep dive into some of the topics we have discussed in this podcast, visit my profile on Transfin. here.   Also will recommend you to go through my 5 Most Popular Articles for a better understanding of how nutrition and exercise work:      Combining Exercise with Healthy Diet for Weight Loss, Bodybuilding, Endurance and More     Why HIIT is the Ultimate Resistance Training Routine     Intermittent Fasting vs. Frequent Small Meals     Your Guide To An Effective Keto Diet     Fixing The Healthcare Industry in India       (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Diet and Exercise: Identifying the Right Amount of Calories For Weight Loss, Bodybuilding, Strength, Endurance and More

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Dec 16, 2018

Last week, we briefly discussed how to calculate the caloric requirement and macronutrient intake of an active individual. It is suggested the reader reviews the article before we take a deeper dive into the topic.    Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or the energy spent when the body is at rest is highly dependent upon age and gender. As discussed earlier, progressive muscle and bone loss begins in normal adults after the age of 30. Apart from decreasing strength and causing problems in mobility, along with body and muscle ache, it also slows down the BMR, resulting in the creeping weight gain (0.5 kg per year). Use of simple formulas to calculate one's BMR may help as shortcuts, but remain just those, which is not ideal for serious athletes. Therefore, use of the Harris Benedict equation is the most recommended.  As established earlier, it is notoriously challenging to estimate burnt calories while exercising, or those consumed while eating. Therefore, a fine tuning of the diet plan should be guided not just by math, but also by the outcome.   Are you achieving your goals?  Fat loss, muscle gain, athletic gains, or even a combination of these?   Let's revisit the examples given last week.   A 30-year old female needs about 1,300 calories every day to maintain her BMR. One can add another 250 calories if she walks briskly for 45 minutes daily and is generally active. This means about 75 g of good quality proteins, 180-200 g of carbohydrates and 55 g of fat, if she is happy with her current weight and fitness levels.   However, if she wishes to lose fat, she should consider decreasing the total calorie intake by about 200 calories, most of them being refined carbs or added sugar. This would mean a reduction in carbs to 140-150 g per day. On the other hand, if she wants to gain lean mass, she should consider starting strength training and adding another 200 calories per day (approx. 25 g extra proteins and 25-30 g extra carbs and remaining fats). Another 250 calories can be consumed pre or post-workout for best results. These are not counted as part of the daily calorie intake as we have not calculated the caloric burn due to NEAT and EPOC. One can use the apps mentioned last week (HealthifyMe and Cronometer) for the needful. But this is just the beginning. The most important step is to monitor the progress.   If she is losing fat as per her goal, the plan continues; if not, she needs to re-evaluate the calories consumed, or reduce carbs further by 25 g per day.   If she is unable to gain strength as in the second example, she can consider adding 25 g carbs to her diet. Either way, reviewing the weight and strength gains (or losses) every week is important for deciding the next week’s plan.   A 35-year old male athlete who wishes to maintain his weight needs 2,300 calories every day. If he exercises regularly, he would do well to start with 100-125 g proteins, 250-300 g carbs and 70-80 g fats.   If he wishes to lose fat, he should reduce his carb consumption by 50-75 g and monitor his progress. If he wishes to gain strength/lean mass, adding 25 g proteins and 25-50 g carbs would help. Again, weekly weighing and measurements are mandatory for maintaining progress.   Here, it is important to mention why we are mostly meddling with the carb intake. Carbs are the easiest to digest, taking about 2-3 hours only, while proteins take 8-9 hours and fats even longer, with more calories expended in the process. Hence, a carb meal is digested within 2-3 hours, leaving a person hungry again, as is commonly seen in malls and cinema halls after enjoying colas and popcorn. On the other hand, the same amount of calories eaten as nuts, milk, cheese, chicken, fish or eggs take nearly three times as long to get digested, leaving a person full for much longer.   This also implies that the net calorie gain in a carb meal is higher than a protein/fat meal, which are commonly consumed together in all the above foods. Thus, a 300 calorie snack will differ in its impact upon the body depending on what food the calories come from. This is what is meant when it’s said that calories do matter in weight gain/loss, but not in the way most people think.   Hence, a person exercising for fat loss and fitness goals, should cut down on carbs (to around 40% of total calories) and consume higher proteins and fats, while one aiming for strength gains and not fat loss can go higher to 50-60%. However, a minimum amount of fat (about 20% of total calories) is essential for getting fat soluble vitamins and a minimum amount of carbs (about 30-40%) are needed for maintaining bowel movements. One must also ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals through fruits, vegetables and salads. Proteins are to be kept at 1-1.5 g/kg per day if one is seeking general fitness, and about 2 g/kg if one is lifting heavy weights or practising HIIT protocols.   How to Measure Progress?   Ideally, an athlete should get a body composition analysis. This may be impractical, as the best methods are dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), a special type of X-ray that measures bone mineral density and under-water weighing - both not suitable for regular use except in elite athletes.   Practical methods include using Bodpod machines (available for gym and home use, not very expensive; simple, not very reliable but can tell whether one is progressing in the desired direction) and callipers for measurements. Jackson-Pollock formulas are useful for 3, 4 or 7 point skinfold thickness measurements and give more reliable body fat estimates.   Weekly or fortnightly measurements are useful if one is sincerely following a goal. This is important because one can never only gain muscle even if one undertakes rigorous strength training. Usually muscle and fat are gained in a 2:1 ratio at best (means 2/3 of gained weight is muscle, 1/3 is fat). This means one has to watch the fat and manipulate exercise and diet to lose fat intermittently.   All the while, strength and fitness gains are of utmost importance, and should not be forgotten in trying to lose fat or gain muscle. Strength gains which come at the expense of general health (using supplements indiscreetly, incurring injury while trying unrealistic lifts) or fat loss with a feeling of general weakness is of no use ultimately.   A pre-requisite to follow the above - Motivation   No program can begin or continue without it. Initially gains come fast and one is energised. Within weeks and months, these plateau, following which progress is slow and hard to earn. This is the time when most fitness enthusiasts begin to feel frustrated and become irregular in their schedule, starting the slide downhill. This is why most people manage to lose weight or exercise regularly for 3-6 months, but then start regaining weight. This is the time to realise that a healthy lifestyle is its own reward, and will bring benefits if one is persistent.   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.  [Listen in to understand some broad thumbrules around good Nutrition and Fitness from Dr Chopra.] (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

Diet and Exercise: Combining Exercise with Healthy Diet for Weight Loss, Bodybuilding, Endurance and More

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Dec 09, 2018

In the midst of a series on exercise, I shall, in this article, shift gears to discuss the appropriate diet when one is exercising regularly - a recurrent question asked by many.   It goes without saying that the calorie and nutrient requirement varies from sedentary individuals to athletes.   Calorie Requirement   Let us begin with the question of optimum calorie requirements. There are standard calculations for normal adults, depending on age, lean mass, and body structure. Calories are added for different activity levels, based on the stress of the activity and the frequency. Using these, it is easy to arrive at a figure. The difficult part, however, is to stick to it. It is notoriously challenging to estimate burnt calories while exercising, or those consumed while eating.   A more objective measure is to assess the physical response:   Are you achieving your goals? Are you gaining or losing weight, losing fat, gaining strength, or whatever else your goal is?   We shall discuss these next week.   The calories needed are based on one’s body weight, exercise schedule and the need to gain/lose/maintain body weight. To calculate the daily requirement, we shall study two components:   Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) Energy Spent on Exercise   Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)   BMR can be calculated most accurately using the Harris-Benedict equation:   Males: 66.5 + (13.75 X W) + (5.003 X H) - (6.775 X A)   Females: 65.1 + (9.563 X W) + (1.850 X H) - (4.676 X A)   where, W is weight in kg, H is the height in cm, and A is age in years.   However, if it sounds too formidable, we can use simpler equations:   Males: BMR = Weight in pounds X 11 (1 kg = 2.2 pounds-lbs)   Females: BMR = Weight in pounds X 10   If you have access to a body composition machine, or can make the effort to calculate your lean mass, (details later) the equation changes to:   Males: Lean mass in lbs X 12.5   Females: Lean mass in lbs X 11   Energy Spent on Exercise   The calories burnt while exercising can be calculated depending upon the time spent on an exercise and how strenuous it is - mild, moderate or severe. Various calculators are available online or as apps (HealthifyMe, Cronometer are two such apps) which can guide you regarding the calorie content of foods consumed and the caloric expense of different exercises.   Note that we are here ignoring the calories burnt during NEAT and EPOC (discussed earlier), and also the differential effects of different foods (proteins and fats consume more calories in their digestion than carbs), which are harder to calculate. For practical purposes, it's best to see how the body responds to the schedule. If the set goals are being met, continue with the schedule.  However, if one is gaining fat, reduce the total calorie intake, and if one is losing muscle, increase the calorie intake.   Macronutrient Requirements   Proteins   The macronutrient requirements come next. Good quality protein is important during exercise. For low to moderate exercise levels 1-1.5 g/kg daily, while heavy trainees need 2 g/kg or more, depending upon their goals (these people are generally professionals, and should seek specific guidance). This means that most exercising adults would do well to consume at least 100 g of good quality protein daily.     Good sources of proteins are eggs, meats, nuts, seeds, milk and milk products, legumes, etc. Serious athletes who cannot complete their protein quota, can consider whey or albumin protein powders, keeping in mind the extra expense involved.   Carbohydrates   Carbohydrates are tricky. If the aim is to lose fat, they should be curtailed to about 40% of the total calories consumed daily. If the aim is muscle/strength gain, higher consumption is desirable, especially on the day of a heavy workout. Whole grains and complex carbs are to be preferred over refined carbs and added sugars.   Fats   Fats are used to complete the quota of calories that remain. Fat consumption (as long as it isn't fried foods) doesn’t directly correlate with body fat gain across a vast range, and healthy fats should be part of everyone’s diet. These have been discussed earlier.   As an example, a 30-year female with weight 55 kg, who wishes to maintain weight but increase her fitness levels will need 1,210 cal as BMR, say 300 cal for exercise requirements - depending upon the level of exercise, and an extra meal pre or post-workout which we don’t count (to cover up for NEAT and EPOC). This means about 1,500 to 1,600 cal daily and one extra meal on the day of the workout.   A 35 year male weighing 80 kg, aiming to lose fat and gain some muscle will need 1,900 calories as BMR, say 300-500 cal for exercise and an extra meal on the day of workout, minus say 200-300 cal for fat loss. This comes to about 2,200 cal per day and an extra workout meal.     The caloric content of nutrients is as follows: proteins and carbs 4 cal/g and fats 9 cal/g. So, we keep 400-500 calories for proteins as a start. The carbs can be 40-60% of total calories as required, based upon your goals as discussed above. The rest is consumed as healthy fats. For strenuous exercise, it's good to consume a lot of fruits and vegetables daily, and consideration can be given to taking some multi-vitamin supplements in addition.   What is more important is getting weekly measurements of total weight and ideally lean mass, using Bodpod machines or body fat measurements with callipers, to judge the response to the schedule. If it is going in the desired direction, the same can be continued and assessed weekly. If not, calories can be increased or decreased as per requirements. However, there is no need to be obsessive about these measurements, as occasional “cheat meals” and missed workouts tend to balance out if one exercises regularly and watches one’s measurements weekly.   We shall discuss more about tailoring diet according to one’s goals next week. Stay tuned.   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.  [Listen in to understand some broad thumbrules around good Nutrition and Fitness from Dr Chopra.] (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

A Guide to Exercise: How to Incorporate HIIT in Your Daily Workout Routine

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Dec 02, 2018

Having previously discussed the four guiding principles of High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) and why HIIT is perhaps the ultimate resistance training routine, this week I will elaborate on how these principles can be effectively applied on specific exercises such as running, kettle bells, free weights etc.   Running/High Intensity Aerobic Exercise     For specific running goals and techniques, one should consult a coach. However, if the goal is fitness, leg strength and fat loss, a simple running schedule is also helpful. The options are running outdoors (on a track or roadside), on a treadmill, a cross trainer or on a stationary bike. The system here is somewhat different from weight training.   It is advisable to perform 4-8 bursts of the exercise, involving an all-out effort for 30 seconds at a time, followed by 3-4 minutes of rest or slow walking.Thus one essentially exercises for 2-4 minutes in a total workout time of 18-36 minutes (including recovery periods). This workout can done on 3 non-consecutive days every week. One can check improvement in one’s fitness every 2-3 months or so. It is also possible to change the routine at this stage. One can either change from road-running to a cross-trainer or vice versa. Alternatively, one can start doing slower, longer runs one day a week if the target is to one day run a marathon. However, running a marathon requires specific training for endurance running, for which coaching is recommended.   Kettle Bells   Dubbed the “gym in the palm of one’s hand”, these can be used for exercising literally every muscle in the body in a very short time period. The swing is a wonderful starting exercise for fat loss, leg and back strength, which will satisfy most goals of a trainee. The clean comes next, followed by the snatch - the greatest test of power with endurance. Strength building exercises include the press (overhead press), goblet squat and the Turkish get-up.   (Videos to all exercises mentioned have been embedded as links the first time they appear in the article.)   The same principles may be applied as discussed previously - one set of the exercise carried to fatigue. While the strength move like the press can be performed to complete fatigue, care has to be taken while performing the power moves (especially swing, clean and snatch). Here, carrying on to total fatigue is not advisable, as it can lead to injury. The set must be stopped as one senses that the form of the exercise is failing. Further, these moves require specific training; though there are several videos, articles and books available, learning from an expert is the most advisable in order to avoid injuries, especially with the swing and the snatch.   Kettle bell workouts can be performed stand alone (only the swing, the swing and the press, the clean and press, or the Turkish get-up and the snatch, for instance). They can also be combined with body weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and dips. A workout of 10-15 minutes is enough to leave even the fittest of athletes gasping for breath.   Free Weights   Traditionally, HIIT was used for free weights and machines. With free weights, the emphasis is on performing one work set each with 3-5 exercises, stressing the whole body. These are:   Barbell rows Bench press The Press (or overhead press) Back Squat Dead lift.   Even as all these exercises are full body exercises, they do stress some select muscles more than the others. A young fit adult can do all five of these in one workout session, a senior athlete (> 40 years) can divide them into two or more, as needed. If only three exercises can be performed per workout, they can be an upper body (bench press or the press) followed by barbell rows and a lower body exercise (squat or dead lift). If only two, one can skip the rows while performing a press and the squat/dead lift. Another option is BP/Squat in one workout and the press/dead lift in the next workout, alternating these as one goes along. Another back option that works exceedingly well (if one wishes to avoid barbell rows) is the pull-up - a wonderful upper body and abdominal exercise.   Once an exercise is decided upon, one should perform 1-3 warm up sets of the exercise before going on to the work set, which as mentioned earlier is performed to positive failure in 12-20 reps, lasting 45-90 seconds. If one feels that one can go beyond 90 seconds and without feeling fatigue, this could probably mean that the weight has been underestimated. Here one can increase the weight by 5-10% in the next workout (the weight can be reduced likewise, if one can’t complete at least 8 reps of the exercise).   Another important issue is that of the cadence - the time taken to complete a rep. While both fast and slow reps have advantages, slow reps (2-4 seconds in both the positive and negative component of the movement) work best for both strength gains and safety.   Adequate recovery time (2-4 minutes) is allowed between exercises, till the whole schedule is completed. This should be followed by active stretching and cool down for muscles relaxation. Warm up and cool down are important for everyone; with the importance increasing significantly as one grows older. Senior athletes must take care to spend 5-10 minutes on warm up and 10 minutes on cool down to avoid cramps. Adequate hydration cannot be overemphasised. Consumption of 2-3 litres of water per day is recommended, especially during summers.   Machine-based Exercises     Here again, the focus is on whole body exercise, the chief options being:   Seated row Chest press Pulldown Overhead press Leg press   These can also be performed all on one day, or in different workouts depending upon the age and physical condition of the athlete. Here, the advantage is that one can slow down both components of the movement (positive and negative) as per inclination as the weights are better controlled for better strength gain. The chances of injury are also diminished. However, the effort required to maintain the weight in the required arc is not performed here (as needed with free weights). In this respect, free weights are superior. Rest periods are similarly guided by the level of fatigue and general fitness levels, as above.   A very important concept is to decide on the frequency of the workouts (typical intervals are 4-14 days). A young fit 50-55 kg female may be comfortable doing this regime twice a week; a healthy male weighing 80 kg will probably need a full week’s rest for complete recovery. As both gain in strength, the inter-workout intervals will tend to increase further, as there is no benefit of exercising if one hasn't recovered completely. This is the major advantage of HIIT - an exhausting workout lasting 30-45 minutes once a week or less, granting the greatest bang for the buck.   Bodyweight Exercises       Though commonly HIIT is performed with weights, machines or while using the treadmill/cross trainer, body-weight based protocols are also available. The staple are the push-up, the pull-up, the dip, the squat, the burpee, mountain climbers and star jumps. Here, circuits are more commonly used, for instance, all these exercises (5-7 of them) are performed for 10-20 seconds each without rest in between the exercises - these constitute one set lasting 60-90 seconds. After a brief rest period (30 to 60 seconds), one can repeat the same set several times (5-8 times). These take hardly 15-20 minutes for the whole workout but leave one exhausted. If one lacks space and equipment, these are the perfect tools for building a strong and healthy body; however, the recovery is faster than with weights so the frequency has to be greater (2-3 times a week).   Another popular protocol is the Tabata protocol - 20 second exercise followed by 10 seconds rest, for a total of 8-12 such circuits. Similar circuits can be performed with free weights and machines as well. Discussing all possible variants is beyond the scope of this article.   The same routine can be continued for 6-12 weeks.  These can be modified depending upon the results achieved. Hence, maintaining a written record of every workout briefly (for comparison) is a great investment of your recovery time. After 6-12 weeks, taking a break from exercise for a week or so, if required, is a reasonable option before starting a new routine.   In summary, HIIT can be incorporated in our workouts in any way we like exercising. It can work with running, treadmill or cross-trainer, as well as with free weights, machines and body weights. Kettle bells are another versatile tool for the same purpose.   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)

A Guide to Exercise: Understanding the Basic Principles of HIIT

Dr Arun K Chopra

Ship Shape Nov 25, 2018

Having previously discussed why High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) is perhaps the ultimate resistance training routine, we shall now review its basic principles and commonly deployed protocols.   Before we go further, just a reminder - HIIT is not a specific exercise in itself.   It is rather a broader principle driven training routine, which can be applied in a variety of ways: stand-alone or as a combination of aerobic exercises; free weights; kettle bells; machine based or bodyweight exercises.   Would advise you to read this article to familiarize yourself with its physiology before reading on.   Now with that behind us, let us start where it all starts.   The Four Guiding Principles of HIIT   Intensity Duration Progression Frequency   We’ll look at Intensity, Duration, and Progression in the purview of resistance training, and Frequency from the perspective of a broader routine, but parallels can be found across exercises as would be elaborated through future articles.     Intensity   The underlying idea is to exhaust all possible muscle fibers being exercised.   There are 3 broad types of muscle fibers:   Slow twitch fibers: which have more endurance, which fatigue slowly, but recover fast (recovery in about 90 seconds). Fast-twitch fibers: which are more powerful, which fatigue quickly, and recover slowly (4-10 days for complete recovery) Intermediate-twitch fibers: a large group falling in between a. and b.   The ideal exercise should engage all types of muscle fibers sequentially and exhaust them.   The quantum of load is important here. If the load is too light, some slow-twitch fibers would recover by the time the fast twitch fibers come into play. Conversely, if the load is too high, the fast-twitch fibers would get exhausted before the slow twitch have been stressed, deeming the exercise as "over" in only 2-3 reps.   Hence, moderately heavy stress must be placed on the exercising muscles; which means about 50-60% of the *1 rep max.   The aim is to do 12-20 reps of the exercise in one intense, all-consuming set (with the broader acceptable range being 8-25 reps).   *1 rep max is the maximum weight that can be lifted in one rep, say 100 kg on the bench press (for example).    50-60% of 1 rep max would hence imply (for the aforementioned example) as lifting 60 kg, which can perhaps last till 15 reps.   So a 60 kg lift for 15 reps becomes the load for the work set (defined later). The penultimate rep should take all of one’s strength and willpower, with the last rep being barely possible with the entire reserves of one’s body and mind.    This is what is meant by intensity, which when accurately deployed gives the desired results.   The set would end only when there is complete muscle failure, at least positive failure (meaning complete inability to lift the weight), though an ideal regimen often involves negative failure (lowering the weight under control). But only try this if you have a trained spotter, not if you’re exercising alone.     Duration   Duration has two aspects to it.   First, the duration of the set which should be between 45-90 seconds for best results (range 30-150 seconds).   Second would be the duration of the workout, which may last a maximum of 45 minutes, though ideally this should be under 30 minutes.   After 45 minutes, the body’s testosterone starts falling and cortisol rises, so the returns start diminishing.   Aim to do only 1 work set per exercise, to failure. Since this is meant to be an exhausting set, any further stress on the muscle can perhaps result in injury, without any gain.     Progression   A progressive increase in either the load or the number of reps is essential.   This means that from one workout to another, there must be progress in the work performed – either the load should increase, or the same load be lifted for more reps, or perhaps the previous load and reps should be aimed to be finished in lesser time.   After one has determined the optimal recovery time (range 4-14 days) for the body, it is possible to continuously progress for months (and ideally years), provided you are committed and eat well.   Case study in Progression: Say you’re able to perform 15-18 reps of the exercise comfortably. For the next round your load may be enhanced by 2.5 kg or 5 lbs for upper body exercise and double that for squat and dead lift, depending on the weights you use.    After a few months, you will reach a plateau depending on your initial fitness and strength; the higher one's fitness is at the time of starting, the earlier one is likely to plateau. Now would be the time to slow down but attain definite gains - increase by one rep per week till one can again perform 12-15 reps with a higher weight, say 70 kg for the athlete in the above example. This is likely to result in a substantial gain in 6-12 months, and is a highly achievable goal.   After this, one can change the exercise a bit: for instance start incline press instead of the bench press, or change to dumb bell press or body weight training (difficult push-up variants, dips etc. ) for a few weeks.    You have to exercise regularly, while changing the routine a bit, but stressing the same muscle groups, in order to achieve the best results.   A truly Zen concept, as Danny Kavadlo says.      Frequency   Frequency is dependent on the type of exercise being performed.   The hallmark of HIIT is to allow complete recovery before the next workout.   Typically, aerobic exercises such as running can be done thrice a week, while weights should be lifted at most once a week.   Generally, it is better for people who start exercising late (after 30), to begin slowly, possibly consult a physician before kicking-off in case one is otherwise used to being sedentary. Learn all the exercises gradually to build a reservoir of strength and endurance, before graduating to HIIT.   Next week, I will elaborate on applying the principles of HIIT on specific exercises such as running, kettle bells, free weights etc. Stay tuned!   This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.   (We are now on your favourite messaging app – WhatsApp. We highly recommend you SUBSCRIBE to start receiving your Fresh, Homegrown and Handpicked News Feed.)