The Sixth Minute: Why Minimum Effective Dose Doesn’t Work
by Paul Carter, Ph.D., CSCS
Why do so many people fail at getting into shape?
They don’t have enough willpower! I’ve been there. I was skinny and overweight, but I wanted to get fit. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew it would make me happy if only I could.
I started with walking around my neighborhood, then gradually moved up to jogging or running. My goal was to lose weight and look good naked in front of everyone at the beach.
It didn’t work out that way.
After a few months, I gave up trying to lose weight and focused on looking good naked. Then I tried yoga. That worked too, until one day when I went to class and realized that instead of feeling relaxed, like I did before, now all my muscles were tense. When the teacher asked us how much we liked our classes she got annoyed because we weren’t answering her questions correctly! She told us that we needed to practice more.
Why does exercise have this effect on people? Why do some people rage and get angry when they exercise? Why are there so many different opinions on what works and what doesn’t? And why are some people obsessed with it? Do some people actually enjoy it?
The answer is in your brain chemistry. Your brain chemicals are the reason you do anything. Some people have more of a tendency towards aggressive personalities. They can either channel that into exercise or become criminals.
Some people have a tendency to be relaxed and calm. They can either channel that into exercise or become couch potatoes.
You have to understand the way your brain is hard-wired, and then you need to take steps to rewire it.
These steps are well-known in the worlds of fitness and neuroscience. Unfortunately, you won’t find them at your local gym or in the brochures about getting in shape. In fact, most people at the gym have no idea how to use this information. They just do what other people are doing, which is a great way to keep everyone average.
But you’re not average. If you’re interested in taking your fitness and brain function to the next level, then keep reading…
The minimum effective dose (MED) of exercise
“The smallest amount of exercise that will provide the desired benefit.”
This concept is true for anything in life. You don’t want to overdo it. You want to do just enough that you get the benefit, but not too much that it starts to cause problems.
Too much of anything is a bad thing.
How do you find this minimum effective dose for yourself?
The first step is identifying your goals.
Why do you want to exercise? To look better naked? To live longer? To be happier? To cure a medical condition? Or just to prove to your friends how much more awesome you are than they are?
Once you have your goal, then comes the next step.
Determine the amount of exercise needed to achieve the goal
Why so much exercise? Why not just a little bit?
The answer is similar to why you don’t slowly kill yourself with cigarettes. Your body is smart and it adapts to whatever you throw at it. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad.
Let’s say you want to look better naked. If you exercise a little bit, your body will compensate by adding a little bit of muscle and burning a little bit more fat. It won’t make much of a difference.
If you exercise a lot, your body will compensate by adding a lot of muscle and burning a lot more fat. It still won’t make that much of a difference. The only thing that will make a difference is if you add so much exercise that your body can’t compensate.
But then there’s a catch 22. If you go too far and exercise so much that your body can’t compensate then it stops being fun and you get injured.
That’s why you need to find the right balance. That’s where the minimum effective dose comes in. You need to keep adding exercise until you reach a point where you’re making progress but not hurting yourself.
This takes some experimentation. Some of us are just born with a higher tolerance for pain than others. But there are ways to minimize the pain and still get maximum results from your exercise routine.
The single most important thing you can do is warm up before you exercise. This keeps you from pulling muscles or joints while working out, which is especially important as you get older.
There are tons of other things you can do to warm up, from light jogging before lifting weights or running in place, to dynamic stretching and even light cardio. You can find all different kinds of warm up routines online, just do a quick search.
Another important thing to remember when working out is that your muscles grow while you’re resting, not while you’re exercising. So don’t go overboard on your “warming up” routine. Otherwise, you won’t be able to complete your actual routine because you’ll be resting all the time!
You can also take time off. As long as you keep your muscles guessing and don’t do the same routine over and over again, then your body will continue to adapt to the new stimulus and grow stronger.
It’s called “muscle confusion” and it’s a real thing.
Finally, drink lots of water. Your body is going to be pumping out a lot of waste products. You need to keep hydrated so you don’t get dehydrated and hurt yourself.
The last thing you want is to get a heat stroke because you were exercising in the heat with no water.
Here’s an example of a routine that I like to do. It’s pretty basic and should work well for most people.
Warm up for 5-10 minutes
Do some stretching and dynamic warm up routines
Squats: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Lunges: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Calf Raises: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Push-ups: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Sit-ups: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Use light weights: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Bicep Curls: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Tricep Extensions: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets of 15 repetitions (Rest for a minute in between each set)
That’s it for today. See you soon!
Sources & references used in this article:
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The use of virtual patients to teach medical students history taking and communication skills by A Stevens, J Hernandez, K Johnsen… – The American Journal of …, 2006 – Elsevier
A survey of green mobile networks: Opportunities and challenges by X Wang, AV Vasilakos, M Chen, Y Liu… – Mobile Networks and …, 2012 – Springer
The role of knowledge management in the innovation process by M Basadur, GA Gelade – Creativity and Innovation Management, 2006 – Wiley Online Library
Statistical identification of encrypted web browsing traffic by Q Sun, DR Simon, YM Wang, W Russell… – … IEEE Symposium on …, 2002 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
Empowerment takes more than a minute by S Lyubomirsky – 2014 – Penguin