Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Indoor Training Questions

Today I want to focus on two practical questions from readers.    The first question comes from Bob Fix who is a late 30 something IT person in the Twin Cities.


My question is for those (like me) who want to achieve a higher level of training in the coming year, but are conscious of calories and want to lose more weight:  What is the physiological response to “under” nutrition (not enough calories) and more intensive training? 


A bit more information, Bob is an avid cyclist and last summer he rode almost 4,000 miles and lost about 20 pounds doing a lot of group rides.   He is currently doing about 3-4 indoor aerobic workouts of around an hour per week and strength training 1-2 times per week.   The aerobic workouts include some higher intensity efforts.   Bob also wants to avoid gaining weight this winter so he is ready to go when it warms up.   He is currently counting calories and really watching what he eats and shooting for about 1900 calories per day.  Here is a summary of some ideas I shared with Bob:

  1. For bang for the buck indoor training I prefer the type of interval workouts I have outlined in the blog.   This approach keeps you cardiovascular fitness high and then when Spring/Summer rolls around you are good to go.  It looks like the workouts you sent have some of these elements so if they are working, keep doing them.  Weights a couple of times per week are also a good idea as will be discussed in a bit more detail in response to question #2 below.  So, I think you have the bases covered in terms of winter working out.
  2. Biking on the road is always essentially interval or fartlek training due to hills, drafting, the wind etc.   So this is another reason to do some higher intensity exercise during your indoor sessions this winter.
  3. About counting calories, see what the 1900 cals/day does to your working out.  If you feel overly “wasted” and are not recovering then up the calories a bit.  The other issue in the winter is the temptation to drink a bunch of beers and eat a plate of wings or something while watching a football game.   To avoid situations like this, people who are successful at keeping weight off typically have plenty of carrots and low calorie snacks around to munch on.   There is also at least some evidence that people who work out for longer overestimate the calories they are burning, or that more prolonged exercise stimulates their appetite and can make it harder to keep weight off.   When you are doing multiple hours of riding per day in the summer this is likely less of an issue, so calorie counting can be important for people when they are doing the types of workouts you describe.

Summary, see how the diet goes and make minor adjustments so that your training does not suffer.   More weight will come off when you get outside and the duration of your weekly training picks up.   The key is to not lose what you gained in terms of fitness and to gain what you lost in terms of weight over the winter.


The second question comes from Dr. John Schmidt a colleague who is a research and clinical psychologist at the U of Pittsburgh.


I would be very interested in your thoughts on weight training worked into a typical fitness routine. I recall much controversy regarding the use of weights and the potential for detrimental vascular effects.


Here are a few thoughts on this topic:

  1. Current guidelines now emphasize the need for strength training for middle aged and older adults.   The concerns you mention have not panned out and a bigger problem is that many middle aged and older people lack the strength to do their activities of daily living.   Grip strength is also a powerful predictor of health as we get older, and it is even predictive in younger people.
  2.  There is some controversy for more competitive people about whether cyclists or runner for example should do weight training with their legs.   For cycling some studies are positive and others are negative so there is not clear answer and there is also no clear answer for running.   However, there are some positive indicators in more elite runners.  For both cycling and running it is probably a matter of whether the fatigue associated with the strength training interferes with the quality of the cycling or running training.   Things might also be different for recreational participants vs. more elite athletes.

Summary, resistance training is a key component to overall fitness and health.   The winter might be a good time to experiment and see what works for you.   This is especially true for more competitive people who want to see if strength training their legs will improve their cycling or running.


In answer to both questions I would urge people to use the cold months to experiment and see what works for them.   This will keep you mentally fresh and provide you with some new ideas for when warms up.


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