A Long Slow Walk to Nowhere or Watching Hamsters


This was the second of a series I wrote a few years ago based on my visit to a commercial fitness facility. I was moved to repost/ revise it after I walked by a commercial fitness center in a mall. All I could think of was watching hamsters on the wheel in the HabiTrail.

In part 1 I covered weight training. To review, look at what everyone else is doing and, don’t do it. Pretty simple. The Charles Staley 180 Principle. Everyone benching, think more rows. Just keep telling yourself, do the opposite. Guy does arms for an hour. You should do legs. Just a thought. How many people walked by you on their hands today? My guess unless you went to the circus was zero.

In regards to “cardio”, the same is true. I hate the term cardio. Most of the people I saw in the gym the day I was there were on what I like to call “the long slow walk to nowhere”. Even if I liked the term cardio, what these people were doing would best be qualified as Ultra Low Intensity Calorie Burning (ULICB) or Ultra Low Intensity Cardio Training (ULICT). Just figured I’d make up my own acronyms. Everyone else does. I have trouble believing that anyone walking on a treadmill, while holding on no less, is getting much of a cardiovascular workout.

I know, I know. It is better than watching TV. But, guess what, at most of these places you can walk slowly and watch TV. If only they had waitress service, you could eat while you walked also. Here is my analogy. Walking is to exercise as eating sugar packets at Dunkin Donuts is to nutrition. Yes, if you were starving you could get calories from sugar packets and fend off malnutrition. That doesn’t mean it is good nutrition.

What I witnessed was the cardiovascular lowest common denominator. Lets get one thing straight. If you want to improve your fitness you need to challenge yourself. Walking is a great place to start. However, if you continue to walk at the same pace for the same time the benefits, beyond calories expended, decrease and potentially disappear.

Back to Charles Staley’s 180 principle. Everyone is holding on. Let go. Everyone is walking flat. Raise the incline. Everyone is walking for a long time. Walk up a hill and then rest. That’s it. Start a simple interval training program if you have been walking for a while. First step, buy a heartrate monitor. You can get them at http://www.performbetter.com. Buy a cheap one. All you need to do is know your heartrate. Next time you walk use your monitor and see what your heartrate is during your walk. This is what we will call your Comfortable Working Heartrate. Most middle aged people would need to break 110 beats per minute to get a cardiovascular effect. Either way, don’t worry about it. Just figure out what heartrate you normally walk at.

Next time you walk warmup for 5 minutes at your normal pace and then raise the incline to 5%. Walk for one minute. This should move you about 10%-20% ( this will be 10-20 beats in most cases) out of that steady state comfort zone. If it’s more than 20% higher, reduce the incline to 3%. If it’s less, raise it to 7%. Step off the belt and wait for your heartrate to return to 100 beats per minute.

The bottom line. Do a 180. Do the opposite of everyone else. Don’t be a hamster.

PS- If you only have an hour to exercise weight training will burn more calories and make more positive changes than an hour of cardio. The research is very clear on that. Pressed for time, do a total body lift.

10 Responses to “A Long Slow Walk to Nowhere or Watching Hamsters”

  1. Thanks Craig. 1991. You must be from Boston.

  2. Craig Burns Says:

    I use this same approach when it comes to shopping for groceries. I’m always looking at other peoples carts and not buying what they are! Mike, I’ve been following your career since 1991. Whenever I start a conversation with someone about strength and Conditioning, the first thing I ask is “Have you ever heard of Mike Boyle?” I then do my best to spread your message! It’s really great to witness your success. I don’t work in the Field of S and C, but I live like I do. Thanks to you.

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