Online Exclusive: Gym Guide 3: Cardio and supplements

In the previous weeks, I covered the mindset a new trainee should have and also outlined a basic effective weight training routine for beginners.

In the previous weeks, I covered the mindset a new trainee should have and also outlined a basic effective weight training routine for beginners. This week, I’m going to cover the bare basics of cardiovascular exercise and quickly discuss the wacky world of dietary supplements.

Cardiovascular exercise (AKA aerobic exercise)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all individuals engage in cardio exercise (more accurately described as aerobic exercise) on a regular basis in order to protect against heart disease, diabetes and other harmful conditions. The CDC suggests that adults perform 150–300 minutes of cardio or more per week. If the individual enjoys lower-intensity activities, like walking briskly or something of equivalent difficulty, they should aim to perform 300 minutes of this type of exercise each week. If the individual enjoys working a bit harder, they can cut the time down to 150 minutes per week and engage in activities like jogging, lap swimming, etc.

Unlike weight training, there isn’t as much of a learning curve to most forms of cardio exercise. Most of us know how to bike, walk, jog or use an elliptical machine fairly instinctively. The only real confusion comes from the needless over-complication of the process. Unless one is training for a specific sport or event, there is no real need to bother with complex heart rate formulas. The trainee can judge what is easy and what is difficult without the use of a heart rate monitor.

When using exercise equipment, don’t place too much value on the calorie and distance readouts the machines give. While they can be helpful to track progress from workout to workout, most machines don’t do a very accurate job of calculating calories burned. Many overestimate by up to 30 percent. Just as it isn’t helpful to obsess over what the scale reads when one is trying to lose body fat, it isn’t helpful to obsess over how many calories a machine reads.

My recommendations for cardio exercise are roughly the same as the CDC’s. The only additional suggestion I would make is to choose an activity that is enjoyable. This isn’t to say it should be completely easy, but the trainee shouldn’t absolutely dread the thought of their cardio workout. A beginner should experiment with different activities until they find something that is at least somewhat enjoyable. If cardio exercise is absolutely detested, the chances of forming good exercise habits are greatly reduced

Dietary supplements

Nothing is more alluring to a new trainee than the promise of faster results, and for decades, supplement companies have aimed to fulfill this desire. Unfortunately, the supplement industry is a crapshoot. While there are good products, there are many that are complete scams.

When it comes to products the promise of enhanced strength and muscle gains, I suggest sticking to the basics. The only product I can recommend with 100 percent certainty is creatine monohydrate. This isn’t to say that other products may or may not be worthwhile, but they’re a gamble. If one’s budget allows, beta alanine and intra-workout formulas may also be helpful.

In my opinion, most weight loss/energy supplements are not worthwhile. While they do work, they don’t offer much in the way of effectiveness when compared to their cost. Is it worth $80 a month to burn an additional 200 calories per day? Not in my book. Lifestyle changes are needed for a better body and better health, and these products aren’t going to accomplish either of those. If an energy boost is needed for whatever reason, I’d recommend a cup of green tea or coffee (but skip the cream and sugar). Personally, I use the ultra-cheap generic 200mg caffeine tabs from time to time.

Outside of performance-enhancing supplements, most people would benefit from supplementing with fish oils, vitamin D3 and a multi-vitamin. Again, there are other beneficial products on the market, but these are what I consider to be the basics.

I’ll be back again next week to cover some of the more in-depth aspects of weight training. While my previous installment is a good starting point, there are a few insights that I’ve gained over eight years of weight training that I will be sharing with new trainees.