How Exercise made me slightly less fit.


HIT Training

HIT Training,

Six weeks ago I started a new exercise regime. It was an experiment to see if I could make myself slimmer and trimmer: On that basis HIT has failed. In fact by one important measurement, I seem to have got slightly less fit doing HIT training.

At that point I was at a record low weight for me of 14 stone 2. At the start I took the trouble, of taking a few basic measurements of my fitness. The key measurement was a way of me estimating my VO2Max.  I walked as hard as I could for a mile, and recorded, how long it took me and what my heart rate was at the end of the walk.

Based on my weight, age, gender, a time of 12.1 mins and a heart rate of 107, I got an estimated VO2Max of 56.06.   After 6 weeks HIT training I did it in exactly the same time, but my heart rate was slightly higher: 113. So my VO2Max has fallen from 56.06 to 54.43. That has actually made me drop out of the top category “Excellent” down into the “Very Good”. I am not too worried about that as it is an arbitrary line, and I am still very fit.  But it does amuse me, none the less.

The reason for this “drop” in performance is that my weight has not dropped. It has actually increased. I had hoped to dip below 14 stone for the first time in over a decade. But instead my weight has careered off in the other direction. I was 14 stone 2. I am now 14 stone 10, so I have put on 8 pounds.

It’s not been all bad news; my resting heart rate was 54 bpm, it’s now 43 bpm, which is an improvement. When I started this exercise regime, I could do 39 press ups in a minute I can now do 49. Sadly I need to get another 3 in and do 52 to get into the top category of “Superior” But I am now at the upper rather than lower end of the very good category.

I would like to think that my increased bicep circumferences of 15 ¼ rather than 14 ½ inch explains the increase in weight. I would like to think that I have “bulked out”. But the scales I have don’t seem to agree. Before they said I was 26% body fat, they are now telling me that I am 28% body fat, though I think those bastards have been lying to me for years.  It’s hard to know, if anything I have put an inch on around my waist:  now 37 inches up from 36 inches.

The main thing I notice now is that the first sprint isn’t difficult at all. If anything I am surprised how absolutely fine I am when I get to the end of my first sprint. Although to be honest, I would also say that, I am not going noticeably further on these sprints anymore. I think my speed, has increased as much as it is going to. Or from now on I will see only marginal improvements in speed.

The other thing that I am pleased about is that my maximum heart rate seems to have improved. My theoretical maximum heart rate is 184 bpm. When I started this fast fitness thing I was only clocking 164-66 bpm max HR. As I think of myself as basically a fit person I did wander what I had inadvertently done to give myself the max heart rate of someone much older.

I am now regularly racking up a max bmp of 170. Ideally I would have liked to have been higher than my age should allow, but given, it’s heading in the right direction and I am not actually running from a lion, I’m ok with where it is.

I had tried to stay off the sweets for the last three weeks but on Thursday, realizing that I was not going to get a six pack by Friday, I caved and had a blue cheese burger with half a leffe, followed by a whole tub of Ben & Jerries. Yes it made me feel a little ill, but it was totally worth it.

Although fascinatingly I now don’t get the same pleasure from doing that: that I used to when I was a much fatter man. The ice-cream really does a lot less for me now. I am less addicted to it now than I was.

So am I going to keep going with this? Yes, but I don’t think I will beet myself up about it if I miss the odd session.

The reason why I was very fit before is that when I worked up in town my cycle commute is over 50mins per day each way and I do a lot of cycling in my free time. I suspect that on balance, my health is better now. I also think I probably have lost a tiny amount of flab. But I think getting rid of that is such a slow process I am not going to worry about it. I am simply not willing to put myself through the torturous process that I would need to in order to burn through the remaining flab on my tummy at a noticeable speed.

Subcutaneous fat (flab) probably has protective health benefits. And I’m going to assume that I have done a reasonably good job of removing most of my abdominal fat. For the last three weeks. I cut out all sugar, and it didn’t reverse my weight gain, therefore I assume that my increased weight is due to increase muscle mass. Certainly my legs and arms do seem to be bigger than they were, and I am feeling more powerful and strong again, but I do also feel heavier.

After I lost the weight on the Five: Two diet, I noticed I had less explosive power when I was playing badminton, at some point I will book a court and see if I have got any of that zip back.

The main conclusion I’ve come to over the last year or so doing the Five: Two Diet, giving up sugar and doing HIT training is that there is a problem with our society’s relationship with food.

There is a huge problem with how we use “thinness” as a proxy for health.  The fact of the matter is that I am thinner now and that makes me look more attractive. Intern that makes me feel better about myself and happier: but should it?

I am a heavy set build, so for me to conform to a “normal” body shape means that I have to fast two days a week, and keep a very strict eye on how many sweets I eat.  I think the issue is that the human population is highly variable for many physical attributes, yet we seem to take the approach this should not be the case for weight. I dread to think how a girl with a chunky build feels.  If it is hard for me to keep the weight off and remain “attractive”, then I assume the situation feels even worse for women who are naturally more robust.

I like hard data, and you know what, I don’t think I really have any. What I want is a fundamental measurement that says: “You are now healthier than you were before you started all this” and I don’t have that.

When I was 17 stone, I didn’t know my max heart rate. I didn’t have my resting heart rate, but I know it was in the 50-60 bpm range.  I think there was a problem with my insulin response and clearly I had a lot of abdominal fat which is now gone. But was I unhealthy? Am I healthier now? And if so: by how much?

What’s not clear is, how much better off I am now, and if I have had a good return on the time and effort I invested. Have I even given myself any extra years of life? Or have I made those years, any more enjoyable than they otherwise would have been?

Everyone has a set of bathroom scales, and we are obsessed with weight. It is the first thing we compare with each other. Perhaps now is the time when we should start promoting a new instrument? Everyone repeatedly says that the scale is letting us down because they measure the mass of bone, muscle and fat. Perhaps, we need to start promoting the use of heart rate monitors? Maybe everyone should know what their VO2max is?

When you want a measurement of how good a car is, you don’t say, “What is its weight?”, and “what proportion of that weight is good weight from the metal engine and “bad weight from the trim & seat cushions?” You just ask: “What’s the: top speed, 0-60 or the fuel efficiency”?

I am certain that many of the obese are unwell. I am also certain that many of the thin people are also unwell. We judge attractiveness, by weight and many very attractive people who are not stick thin are made to feel, unattractive and bad about themselves as a result. I think we need to get to a place in our society where we don’t talk about weight, but instead talk about performance. People shouldn’t ask: what do you weigh, but instead should ask more fundamental questions, like, what is your resting heart rate and what is your VO2max or  are you in a pre-diabetic state?

If someone wants to know how healthy they are, they don’t check their height. Perhaps we now need to see that their weight isn’t much help either. Everyone should have a heart rate monitor, and should go out and test their VO2max. I also suspect that until we know how to use them we should throw out our bathroom scales. They are letting us down because they don’t measure performance and therefore they don’t tell you much about health.

Clearly HIT training does work. The only reason I got a few odd results is that I was on the border of having an extremely high VO2max, similar to a professional athlete. My increased weight dropped my VO2max very slightly, and tipped me into the category bellow. By all the other measures of health HIT training has helped me but that in a way makes my point. If we focus on weight alone we miss all the important details.