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 Training & Fitness Programs: Fit Or Fat?  

These improvements resulted from two months of basic exercise, so these men must have been in pretty good shape to start with, right? Actually only a small percentage of the participants began the program with a desirable body composition. The rest started with varying levels of overfatness.

As presented in Table 1, the men were divided into five categories based on their initial body fat assessment: (1) less than 15 percent fat; (2) 15-19 percent fat; (3) 20-24 percent fat; (4) 25-29 percent fat; and (5) 30 percent fat or more. The participants' beginning bodyweights averaged about 20 pounds heavier in successive categories, ranging from 169.9 pounds to 247.9 pounds, and body composition improvements were greater in successive categories, ranging from a 1.1 to a 6.3 decrease in percent fat.

As illustrated in Table 2, the men who began the program with higher percent-fat scores lost more fat weight and gained more lean weight. Since this finding was consistent category by category, it seems that excess fat did not limit the effects of the exercise program. In fact, the results of this study indicate that people with more body fat may experience more improvement from a basic exercise program than those with less body fat.

A parallel study of 749 women divided into five initial percent-fat categories produced similar results. That is, the women who began the program with more fat generally achieved better body composition improvements.

So does exercise work for people who are overfat? Yes, and it works much better than dieting. Unlike dieting, which reduces lean weight, exercise programs that include strength training add lean (muscle) weight, which increases resting metabolism and burns calories all day long for better weight control. Unlike dieting, which cannot be continued very long, exercise can, and should become a permanent part of your lifestyle. Unlike dieting, which requires attention all day, exercise requires only an hour of your time two or three days a week. And unlike dieting, which subtracts something good from your life (food), exercise adds something good to your life (physical activity).

While dieting alone is not recommended, a sensible eating plan combined with a basic exercise program is probably the best way to attain and maintain a desirable body weight. The American Heart Association guidelines of a diet composed of 10 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 60 percent carbohydrate provides heart-smart nutrition with limited fat calories. This sustainable nutrition program, combined with a regular strength and endurance exercise, can contribute to better health as well as improved body composition.

The exercise protocols in our studies are consistent with the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine. The endurance training program consists of about 25 minutes of continuous treadmill walking or stationary cycling at approximately 75 percent of maximum predicted heart rate. The strength-training program consists of eight to 12 repetitions of 12 exercises for all major muscle groups. Every repetition is performed at a slow movement speed through a full movement range.

The participants perform the exercises (Leg Extension, Leg Curl, Leg Press, Double Chest, Super Pullover, Lateral Raise, Biceps Curl, Triceps Extension, Low Back, Abdominal, Neck) in the general order of larger to smaller muscle groups. Exercise intensity is increased gradually by means of a double-progressive training system in which the participant alternately adds repetition and resistance. For example, if you do eight repetitions with 50 pounds, continue to use this resistance until you can perform 12 repetitions. Then, increase the weightload by 5 percent to 52.5 pounds. When 12 repetitions can be performed with this resistance, increase the weightload to 55 pounds.

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 About The Author
Wayne Westcott PhDWayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......more
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