We care about your heart, not your heart rate…

June 25, 2017

At Generate, we’re in the business of longevity and vitality. While many fitness centers say physical health is the key, we believe that optimal health includes physical, emotional, social and intellectual fitness as well.

Although our clients are different from one another, they all want to be strong, happy and healthy so they can enjoy their lives to the fullest and continue to be vibrant and active in their golden year. I call this reverse aging and who doesn’t want that?

We are not in the business of quick weight loss or counting calories. We are not in the business of numbers, whether it be your weight, your waist circumference or your heart rate (more on that later!). Will you burn calories in our HIIT and Spin classes? Of course. Will you lose weight or body fat by taking Zumba and Circuit classes regularly? Absolutely! While healthy food choices are an important piece of the puzzle, we have heard many success stories from members who have lost weight, reversed high cholesterol and blood pressure levels and even turned around Type II Diabetes.

Many of our classes will help you increase strength, endurance and overall physical fitness, but our focus is fun.  I figure if you enjoy it, you’ll keep coming! 🙂 We also offer opportunities to nurture your body and spirit with Restorative Yoga & Meditation, stimulate your intellect with Book Club (truth be told this may be a slightly more social than intellectual endeavour!) and develop strong social ties with small class sizes, social events and by supporting each other’s efforts.

If this convinces you to join – YAY! If not, read on. 🙂

The science behind H.I.I.T.

Due to the recent popularization of “high intensity interval training” in the fitness industry, many new franchises have popped up to capitalize on this training method. Researchers discovered that cyclists who engaged in one minute sprints at 90-95% of their maximum speed, with two minutes of active rest in between, would burn MORE calories in thirty minutes than cyclists who spent 45 minutes on the bike at a constant 70-75% effort. In addition, the cyclists who performed the short, hard intervals showed an increase in metabolic function for hours following the exercise session— resulting in what researchers called the “after-burn.”

By working anaerobically during the intervals, these exercisers put their bodies into an oxygen deficit. The body works to combat this deficit after the exercise bout, an effect called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (commonly referred to as EPOC). This increased metabolism burned an additional 500 or so calories when the cyclists were at complete rest. The cyclists who exercised at a moderate intensity, for a longer time, did not experience elevated metabolic activity.

The Orange Zone & Heart Rate Training

Orange Theory Fitness has capitalized on this phenomenon. Their website highlights that their theory is based on the principles of high-intensity interval training, EPOC, and the “after-burn.” They promise that the hour-long workout and the focus on the “orange zone” of heart-rate training will combine with the “after-burn” to torch 500 to 1,000 calories. They promise to burn tons of calories to achieve drastic weight loss. While they are not wrong that running intervals on a treadmill for an hour will burn calories and challenge the cardiovascular system, their insistence on their magical orange zone (defined by OTF as around 84% of an individual’s maximum heart rate) is overly simplistic.

To work properly, heart-rate training must be based on the individual. Data must be gathered to accurately determine an individual’s resting heart rate and maximum heart rate. OTF estimates this data using age: 220 minus the person’s age is an ESTIMATED maximum heart rate of an average individual. The only method to truly determine an individual’s maximum heart rate is to test it during a maximal stress test. It’s brutal! Even some highly trained athletes do not achieve their true max during these tests because they are so physically and mentally challenging. OTF does not assess an exerciser’s true maximum heart rate, so right off the bat, all of the “individualized data” used in their classes is based on a very rough estimate.

The percentage of one’s maximum heart rate increases linearly with the percentage of VO2max during aerobic exercise using the large muscles of the legs. So, when you have accurately entered your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate (also varies drastically from person to person but that explanation is for another time!) into your heart rate monitor, the percentage heart rate displayed while you walk, run, or bike is a very good picture of what percentage of your VO2max you are utilizing.

But what about when you row on the erg, drop to the floor to do a Burpee, or perform an overhead press? A physiological principle called The Pressor Response renders that heart rate reading meaningless. When you use the smaller muscles located closer to your heart (chest & arms for isntance), heart rate increases based on the size of those muscles and their proximity to the heart—NOT based on the linear relationship with VO2max. So if my heart rate monitor tells me that I am working at 85% of my max when I am running 8 mph, great! But then it tells me that I am working at 95% when I have completed five slow and controlled push-ups. Am I working harder from a cardiovascular perspective during the push-ups? No. That reading cannot be used.

Orange Theory Fitness boasts three distinct sections to their workouts: running on the treadmill, rowing on the water erg, and strength training using free weights and TRX during the strength and core portion on the floor. Due to The Pressor Response, their reliance on heart rate training cannot be used during two-thirds of that time (rowing + strength). But their theory, and their focus on that orange zone, persists throughout the entire class. The goal is to spend as much time as possible in the orange heart rate zone in order to burn as many calories as possible. The entire premise is based on shaky science that is full of holes.

The Science Behind OUR Theory

The idea behind Generate comes from my personal experience as a lifetime fitness enthusiast, my work as a cardiac nurse and my fascination with Blue Zones after reading an article in National Geographic by Dan Buettner about 10 years ago.

Back in my early twenties at my “fitness peak” I was at the gym every day, sometimes up to 4-5 hours, lifting weights, logging the equivalent of 10+ CN Tower climbs on the dreaded Stairmaster, bench pressing my body weight and teaching a bazillion step classes (oh and shhh! training mercilessly for the National Aerobic Championship). At the end of the day, I could barely walk up the steps to my apartment, I was going to a chiropractor every week and I was GAINING weight!! I also was falling asleep everywhere, including during a date at Phantom of the Opera!!

Enter Sara, my beautiful daughter…when I found out I was pregnant, I snapped out of my “fitness” obsession and started eating properly (lots of fruits & veggies), teaching fewer classes and walking and swimming. I had never felt better in my life!

After she was born, I continued to teach but lower impact and fewer classes and more weight lifting. We spent lots of time outside gardening and playing at the park. We continued with our fruit & veggie centered diet and I easily maintained my weight at 25 pounds LESS than my crazy, exercise-filled, pre-baby days.

While I was working as a nurse in the cardiac floor I noticed some disturbing commonalities with many of my patients. Most had diets full of processed food and very little fresh fruit and vegetables, and sadly this trend continued in the hospital! Daily physical activity was almost non-existent and most were stressed out and many had very little social support and few visitors during their stay. Around the same time, I came across an article in National Geographic on Blue Zones; areas in the world where many people live into their 100s leading active, productive and healthy lives. What did they have in common? Not exercise!!! Wait. What? I thought exercise was the fountain of youth? Turns out there is way more to longevity than getting your heart rate up for an hour every day.

So I kept working and kept percolating and kept teaching on the side for fun until one day it was time. I started planning Generate, a different kind of place to encourage you to move in many different ways and to focus on having fun instead of judging yourself by the mirror or a number on the scale. No TVs so you can take a break from the endless stream of stressful world events. No diets or supplements, instead, gentle encouragement to eat more “real” food and more fruit & veggies from the farmer or the market (Windermere & Annette Wednesdays 3-7pm – get there early for organic strawberries) and Supper Club! Sleep is important too – which is why we close at 9pm – go to bed!! Friendships are also important and I see many being nurtured here everyday…people do notice if you skip a class! We celebrate with each other, birthdays, weddings, babies, dance recitals and grieve the loss of our members and friends together.

As far as a purpose, I am pretty sure I have found mine. 🙂 It’s a pretty long experiment but here’s to you making it to triple digits!

Portia Albrecht

PS – For more info, check out the resources below:

John Mackey of Whole Foods talking about his new book, The Whole Foods Diet.

The Secrets of Longevity from Nat Geo.

Article on Blue Zones from Nat Geo.

Article on the diets of the longest living people on earth by Scientific American.

More resources on healthy eating and exercise from Nutritious Movement. You are how you move!