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Commonly Asked Questions about Exercise

Can I exercise if I am sick?

If you have a fever, chills, or you are nauseous, you should not exercise. Your body needs rest! If you have a runny or stuffy nose or other mild cold symptoms, exercising at a pace that is comfortable to you is fine. You will want to consider the health of others around you though. It is in their best interest if you exercise outside or at home.

Can I exercise if I smoke?

It is safe to exercise if you smoke tobacco, however, you will experience less endurance and poorer physical performance than individuals with a similar fitness level but who do not smoke. Smoking causes difficulty breathing due to constriction of the bronchial tubes, which are the pathway for air to enter the lungs. In addition to this, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke takes up space on red blood cells which carry oxygen to tissues. If this space is occupied by carbon monoxide, then less oxygen will be carried in the blood to working muscles. Your heart will have to work harder to do the same amount of physical work.

If you choose to quit smoking, exercise has been proven to be a helpful part of the process, with individuals experiencing greater success at quitting when on an exercise program.

Which is better to do first in a workout, strength training or cardio exercise?

For the general population, choosing to strength train or do cardio exercise first is dependent on the individual and their goals. Consider these factors:

  • If you like strength training but don’t enjoy cardiovascular exercise as much, you may want to do cardio first in your workout so you don’t skip out on it.
  • If you find that doing cardio exercise is challenging for you, improving that may become the primary goal, thus you would focus on cardio first in a workout.
  • If you find that strength training isn’t your strength, it may benefit you to focus your energy on accomplishing that first, then do cardio exercise afterwards.
  • If you goal is to build a lot of muscle, strength training may be better to do first, especially if you are lifting heavy loads, so you can devote your energy toward maintaining proper and safe technique.
  • Individuals with a little more exercise experience may find they like to alternate between strength exercises and cardio.

Will doing lots of core exercises help reduce fat around my mid-section?

Muscle cells and fat cells are totally different types of cells. They do not change into each other. The body utilizes fat for energy systemically, meaning from the entire body, not just from certain specific locations. This means side bends, sit-ups, and other core isolating exercises will not spot reduce fat around the midsection. Same goes for other areas of the body that may have more fat than we would like. We can’t do extra triceps exercises to make additional fat there go away.

Many of the common exercises that are considered to isolate the core do not have much of a metabolic effect. You won’t be burning a lot of calories during or after performing core isolating exercises. The best way to reduce body fat is by creating an overall caloric deficit through consistent exercise (including doing strength training and cardio) and consumption of nutritious foods. The biggest “bang” for your time in regards to strength training and increasing metabolism is to perform movements that challenge large muscle groups.

Is a sports drink good to drink during exercise?

During exercise lasting less than 1 hour, drink plain water. If you are performing endurance exercise for longer than 1 hour, a sports drink with the proper amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes may be beneficial. See the “Fuel for Exercise (Nutrition Basics)” section under “Getting Started” for recommendations.

How helpful is drinking “pre-workout” before a work out?

The most helpful “energy” providing ingredient in pre-workout is caffeine. According to many registered dieticians, pre-workout should not be necessary before a workout. If you are consistently tired before a workout, you may want to consider looking at other aspects of your lifestyle that may be causing you to be tired. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you consuming higher performance foods and eating them at the proper times throughout the day? Are you allowing enough time between workouts for recovery? If you really need a pre-workout boost, consider a cup of coffee, which can contain between 80 – 120 mg of caffeine.

What is that side stitch pain I get when I am doing cardio?

It is still not fully understood, but the side stitch or cramp type feeling you get in your side is possibly due to tension in the diaphragm, a muscle that is used during inhalation. The cramp is only temporary and will ease up if exercise intensity is decreased for the duration of the workout. It occurs less often as fitness improves.


If I build up muscle then stop exercising, will it turn into fat?

Muscle cells and fat cells are very different from each other. It is not possible for one of them to change into the other. Muscle cells and fat cells can change in size though.

When is the best time of day to exercise to burn the most fat?

There is no “best” time of day to exercise that causes more fat to be utilized for energy. They key to fat burning is to avoid consuming sugary foods before a workout. Review the “Fuel For Exercise (Nutrition Basics)” section under “Getting Started” for guidelines on consuming helpful pre-workout and post-workout foods.

Another key to fat burning is consistent work toward improving overall fitness, including both aerobic and strength. The more aerobically fit you are, the more your body will utilize fat for energy during and after exercise. In regards to muscle mass, the more you have, the higher your metabolism will be. A higher metabolism means you will be burning more calories at rest and lower intensity activities because muscle has a higher energy demand than fat at ALL times.

What is the “fat burning zone” all about?

On some pieces of cardio equipment you might see different settings called zones, including a zone labeled “fat burning”. The problem working in a “fat burning” zone is that it does not typically improve fitness very much. You will be working at an easier intensity. This is certainly fine to do, but it takes a lot longer to burn as many calories as you would if you were working at a somewhat hard intensity for a shorter time period. Working at a lower intensity in the “fat burning” zone has minimal effect on keeping metabolism elevated after the exercise is done. More intense exercise brings about greater adaptation of physiological systems. The result of this adaptation is that the same exercise at the same workload will feel easier. After more intense exercise, metabolism remains elevated. This effect is called EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Review the section on “Energy Systems” found under “Exercise Physiology Basics” to learn more about how metabolism remains elevated after more intense exercise.

While working in the “fat burning” zone is acceptable, don’t let it mislead you into thinking that it is the only intensity where you will burn fat!

I just don’t have time to exercise much right now. Is there any hope to lose weight?

Research consistently demonstrates that even small bouts of exercise are effective at improving health! Can you set aside 5-10 minutes to go for a walk or climb some stairs? Maybe you can do a few body weight squats and sneak in a couple sets of dead bugs. Any movement is better than none! There is also a lot of value in being physically active throughout the day, even if it isn’t technically considered exercise. Finding ways to be more physically active can mean parking farther away and walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and sneaking in any other movement that you can throughout the day. Where else can you find ways to be active in your normal daily routines?

Another key piece to weight loss is focusing on proper nutrition. Many fitness professionals believe that diet has about 2/3 and even up to 3/4 of the role in weight loss. Keep in mind the definition of diet is NOT about food restriction, but the kind of foods you habitually eat. Meals and snacks should be a balance of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Consuming foods that have helpful nutrients and fiber are important. Read nutrition labels and be aware of sugar content. Choose water over other sugary drinks. Reviewing the “Fuel for Exercise (Nutrition Basics)” section under “Getting Started” can provide additional information.

Will consuming more protein help me gain more muscle?

Consuming additional protein without proper exercise, specifically strength training, will not help build more muscle. You must place stress on the muscular system in order for it to adapt and build back up. This stress means consistently strength training with the goal of fatigue achieved by heavier weights and thus few repetitions. Consuming optimal amounts of protein will benefit your body in combination with the strength training. See the “Fuel for Exercise (Nutrition Basics)” section under “Getting Started” for specific protein recommendations.


I have an injury. Can I still exercise?

Always check with your doctor first, but depending on the injury, it may be safe to continue exercise. Fitness faculty can help you make modifications to your workout so you can remain active and keep working toward your fitness goals. For example, if you have an ankle sprain, you can still do a lot of other exercises that work the rest of your body. In fact, research consistently shows that continuing exercise during recovery after an injury or surgery can help with healing processes, benefiting the immobilized or injured area by preventing strength loss to the extent that it would be if the individual was sedentary during recovery.



A Guide to Physical Fitness Copyright © by Jen Hilker. All Rights Reserved.

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