Friday, December 14, 2007

C's comments on the "Biggest Loser"

I admit... I make it a point to watch The Biggest Loser every Tuesday night. I'm hooked. It's classic "reality" tv (aka, shows a glossed-over version of reality, particularly picking out the highest Ups and the lowest Downs, which results in an over-dramatized version of what I think of as Reality). But, being one who is practically obsessed these days with health and fitness, I dig watching the show. And, I admit, I get teary-eyed at the end of each episode when they show the successes participants have made. I mean, for someone to lose >100 lbs in 3 months is amazing. I can't imagine the sense of pride & self-confidence they feel... not to mention all of the helath benefits they'll reap from this transformation. It's incredible.

I do have some issues with the show, though. Because it's a one-hour (only!) prime-time tv slot, they have to jam one week's worth of diet and exercise programs into about 45 minutes. And since they're going for the big-hit drama, they spotlight the toughest of the tough workouts. So the at-home audience gets to see about 5 minutes worth of snippets from the contestant's hardest workouts, where they're really grinding and slaving away. It's impressive, it's dramatic, it's cool to see a 300-lb man doing pushups with his trainer on his back. But, this tiny glimpse into what it takes to get fit is a bit misleading, and I hate the thought that many viewers come away with the thought that successful fitness has to come from such grueling experiences.

In Real Reality, only about 10% of your weekly workouts should be at that I'm-Going-To-Die intensity. Another 20% or so should be at the I'm-Really-Working-Here intensity, and the remaining parts of the workout should be at the I-Could-Keep-This-Up-Forever(but thankfully I don't have to!) intensity. Basically, the lower intensity work helps to develop endurance and burn fat. If weight loss and overall fitness are your main goals, you can spend the majority of your time here in this zone. If you're just starting out with an exercise program, staying here in this zone for several weeks or months may be all you need. Better to stay here longer than to jump ahead and risk injury. Once you build a good base and are able to handle longer stints in the base zone, you can start working into higher intensities. WOrking in that middle range will help you improve your aerobic capacity and improve your performance. Finally, to really start training your muscles to handle lactic acid and transform your body from a Buick to a Ferrari, you need a little high intensity work. But not too much-- it's really easy to overdo it here. There's lots of info out there about wroking out at different intensities. I'm definitely no expert, so I'll stop here and refer you to Google where you can surf for hours (believe me) to find differing opinions and workout plans about heart rate and effort intensity, builing fitness programs to meet whatever goals you have, etc.

But please, if you take only one point away from the day, let it be that NOT every workout needs to be like the ones they show on the Biggest Loser!!! I don't know for a fact, but I'd be willing to wager that those folks spend most of their exercise time at a brisk walk or similar-intensity workout. So don't let the tv-glossies dissuade you-- you can achieve a better level of fitness without grunting and grueling. Start with a good brisk walking plan for a few months. Chances are, your body will tell you when it's ready to grunt and grind a little more!

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