Your body will adapt to the stimulus you give it. So, if you give your body a reason to keep or build muscle, it will. If you don’t, it won’t. Maybe oversimplified, but valid. And that’s the reason you can lose muscle mass if your main mode of exercise is traditional cardio, like walking or jogging. Low intensity exercises like these can help you lose weight, but they don’t give your body a reason to keep its muscle.
So, what’s the solution? The simplest step is to add an element of resistance to your workouts. A simple weight training program of large-movement, multi-joint exercises will do the trick for most. If you’re just starting out, try a program of deadlifts and overhead presses, five sets of five repetitions, two to three times a week.
The next step is to get more out of your cardio workouts. One method that is growing in popularity is interval training. Interval training consists of a series of short, intense bursts of work followed by a short period of low intensity recovery. Here’s an example using an exercise bike with adjustable resistance:
- Warm up for 5 minutes
- Sprint – high resistance, high speed – for 30 seconds
- Rest – low resistance, low speed – for 1 minute
- Repeat the Sprint/Rest sequence 3-5 times
- Cool down for 10 minutes
Funny how less than 10 minutes of real work gets your heart racing more than 30 minutes of walking. You’ll probably also notice that you feel your muscles more. These are some of the things that make interval training so effective, offering these benefits:
- Efficiency. You get a better workout in a shorter period of time than you do with those 30-minute to hour-long treadmill walks.
- Intensity. Because the intensity level is raised – even for a short time – you encourage your body to keep its muscle mass.
- Higher metabolism. It has been shown that interval training allows your body to continue to burn fat for up to 24 hours after your workout. This is apparently due to the higher intensity and/or the “shock to your system” of the repeated “hard-easy-hard-easy” cycle.
- Portability. Interval training can be done with several different types of equipment, even no equipment at all, and just about anywhere. Even a simple program of sprinting and walking will work.