Like most time-pressed women who juggle their career, errands, family and friends - and much more - many firefighters scramble to find the time to exercise on a regular basis. But there is a difference between them and us. Firefighters have to stay fit to do their jobs. So Discovery Health Online asked Michael Stefano, author of The Firefighters Workout Book: The 30-Minute-a-Day, Train-for-Life Program for Men and Women, for his recommendation on the most efficient way for busy women to get in shape and stay there. We asked him to keep three goals in mind:
- Losing or controlling weight
- Building muscle strength
- Boosting overall health (with our society's emphasis on looking good, we sometimes forget that a key benefit of regular exercise is that it protects us against the progression of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and some forms of cancer.)
Alternate Cardiovascular and Strength Training
According to Stefano, you can accomplish all three goals by doing a 30- to 45-minute cardiovascular workout on Monday, for example, and strength training the following day. The strength training should consist of eight or 10 short bursts of intense effort (sets) performed in a series or circuit at least twice each week. This alternating workout program "will give you a two-for-one bonus of both fat burning and toning," he says. The end result is four or five workouts weekly (including cardio) "that can be as little as two hours of total exercise each week."
Insist on Intensity
Getting results is more a matter of how intensely you exercise than which exercise you choose to do. Stefano explains: The benefits of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise depend strictly on the heart and breathing rate achieved during the activity.
Ideally, you need to elevate your heart rate to between 60 or 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for about 20 or 30 minutes at least three days a week. (The simplest way to do this calculation is to subtract your age from 220. The result is the maximum number of times your heart can beat in one minute; take 60 or 70 percent of this number to obtain your target heart rate.)
The more intensely you train (without working above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate), the less time you'll need to exercise to get the same results. Walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling are all good fat-burning exercises when done at your target heart rate.
Similarly, the point of strength or resistance training "isn't necessarily how many sets you do, or how often you lift," says Stefano, "but how intensely you train while adhering to perfect form. This intensity level is relative, varies with each individual, and depends on many factors, including age, sex, and current level of fitness."
Stefano says the top resistance exercises for improving muscle tone are the captain's chair for abdominals, squats for the buttocks and push-ups for the arms, shoulders and chest. See the next page to learn more.