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Step 3: Become Even More Fit (Part 4)

Feb 27, 2007

For those of you who have been smart enough to read Dr. Sheri Colberg’s, features, on activity and outcomes, her Other Tips for Optimizing Endurance Training will make a lot of sense. If you wonder why these tips are important, Click here to read this and all of Dr. Colberg’s features.

SheriStep 3: Become Even More Fit (Part 4)
Other Tips for Optimizing Endurance Training


By Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM

Another means of enhancing overall fitness and insulin sensitivity is to incorporate workouts of varying intensities into your weekly routine. Actually, it is better for a number of physiological (as well as psychological) reasons to alternate easy and hard workouts. Almost all seasoned athletes vary their training in this manner, and for good reason: in order for your body to fully recover from intense workouts, it needs adequate rest, which includes not just proper amounts of sleep (seven to eight hours a night for most adults), but also enough time between workouts to fully rebuild muscle, restore glycogen, and recuperate. Easy workouts do not cause the same level of glycogen depletion and muscle damage as harder ones and, thus, constitute a form of rest in themselves. However, with regard to maximizing your insulin action, the total amount of exercise you do is still more important than the workout’s intensity.

By alternating workout intensities (mild, moderate, and heavy), your body will get both the enhanced fitness and strength benefits of hard workouts and the healing effects of greater recuperative time between intense workouts. Doing so also prevents overuse syndrome, which results from overstressing your body with repeated heavy workouts and manifests itself as frequent colds, chronic tiredness, and joint and muscle injuries. A day of rest at least once a week is vitally important, even if on that day you do a different activity or something low-intensity.

But don’t let more than two days elapse between workouts if you want to maintain your heightened insulin action.

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When you do become more fit, your workouts may feel easier (at least most of the time). At that point, if you want to continue making fitness gains, you can make your workouts either longer or more intense. For example, if you’ve been walking 30 minutes and you’re so fit now that your walk hardly even makes you feel tired or winded, either increase your walking time to 45 minutes or walk at a faster pace to maximize your fitness and insulin sensitivity gains. If for some reason you have to cut back the total amount of time that you are training, try to maintain a higher workout intensity, as working out harder (even if for much less time) will actually preserve your level of fitness more effectively than doing longer, easier workouts. Alternately, you can include intermittent short bouts of harder intensity throughout your workout.

To improve your overall fitness (endurance) base, you can also try LSD training. Perhaps when you see the acronym “LSD,” you’re thrown back to the 1960s and hallucinogenic recreational drugs. It’s time to modernize your thinking! Nowadays, LSD refers to “long, slow distance training,” which serves to generally buildup your endurance. If you do only short bouts of activity—such as 10 minutes at a time—do you really think that your body will be able to withstand a one-hour walk without leaving you feeling excessively tired? Not likely. It is for this reason that people training to run longer races or marathons usually do at least one long run a week, often on the weekend when they have more time. Your endurance will likewise be vastly enhanced if you exercise longer than normal at least once a week; doing so will help you build up your endurance base, which will in turn make every other activity a little easier to do—and you won’t tire out as quickly.

Another simple way to become more fit, believe it or not, is simply to do a wide variety of activities. For example, you could walk for 30 to 60 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but swim on Tuesday and take dance classes on Saturday. Cross training is really the key to avoiding overuse injuries, keeping your exercise fresh and fun, and achieving maximal fitness.
In terms of controlling glycemia, this approach is also very effective. Each activity uses muscles differently, recruiting either different muscles altogether or the same ones in different patterns, which results in a wider use of your whole body. Since you do each activity less frequently when you vary them, though, you will likely not experience as pronounced of a training effect, meaning that you will use more of your blood glucose during activities that you do less frequently—which is not necessarily bad if you’re using your workouts to help lower your these levels.

Tips for Optimizing Your Endurance Training

  • Become more active all day in unstructured ways to build your overall endurance.
  • Incorporate faster intervals into any activity that you do.
  • Plan workouts of varying intensities or hard and easy days to maximize results.
  • Incorporate at least one long day of exercise a week to build greater endurance.
  • To maximize your insulin action, aim to spend a greater total time being active rather than worrying about your workout intensity.
  • If you can only manage to fit in short workouts, try to work out harder during that time to gain or preserve fitness.
  • Emphasize the fullest range of motion possible around your joints during all activities.
  • Participate in a variety of activities to gain the benefits of cross training and to keep your interest high and your injuries few.
  • Include at least one day of rest into your weekly schedule, but ideally avoid taking off more than two days in a row.


In two weeks, I will share more tips and ideas from my latest book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight (2006).  Information about all of my books, my many articles, my research, and more is available on my web site: www.SheriColberg.com

Tip for the day:  Instead of measuring your heart rate, you can use the Talk Test to easily tell when you may be working out harder than you need to. To “pass” the test, you should not be breathing so heavily during an activity that you’re not able to carry on a conversation with someone else at the same time without gasping for breath. Exercising too intensely increases your risk of injury, as well as the chance that you will not continue to exercise regularly.

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