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This is a recent page covering our interest in fitness - an interest Peter was rather forced into using it because he suffered a fractured arm and damaged shoulder following an accident. He had an intensive programme of Physiotherapy, which he was determined to continue but it became clear that he also needed to improve his general fitness which had deteriorated seriously when he was partially immobilised and could not hike, swim or any of the other outdoor activities which we did. It tries to bring together a number of areas which will be of interest to anyone starting to improve their fitness. It looks at how we critically assessed our overall objectives then endeavoured to get a sufficient understanding, both scientifically and practical to enable us to select appropriate criteria and time scales to lay out a feasible fitness programme and obtain the equipment we felt was necessary. In particular it looks at how we developed a mission statement then chose specific qualitative targets against which one could record and assess progress.

At this point we have to make the statement that we can take no responsibility for anything that you do based on this page and that you should consult a doctor before starting any serious programme of exercise and it is essential if you are old or have any existing medical condition - we actually did so to get a baseline from which to measure progress.

The discussions that we have had whilst developing our thoughts and this page have generated so much interest that we have decided to upload it although it is still under development. Much repetition needs to be removed and the structure is evolving - it will probably be broken into a number of shorter pages. In the meantime I have put links above to the current section to provide a simple index. Any feedback is welcome.

Mission Statement and Motivation

Mission Statement a greatly overused and abused term but we could think of no better title for a top level description of our motives.

To discover what is required, practical and reasonable to extend our life expectancy as much as possible and to audit our current and desired physical activities in order to reach and maintain an appropriate level of fitness to be able to carry out those activities.

It is important to look at ones own motivation - many of those who say they are interested in Fitness and much of the literature has a different but slant where physical appearance plays the major role and bodybuilding and weight loss are equally valid end objectives. Kristy, who we owe a lot for building our initial interest in fitness, we suspect would have completely different motives and agenda - she had won a significant reputation in body building competitions in South West Australia before she joined the training staff on the Queen Elizabeth 2.

The Queen Elizabeth 2

Click for larger image Out interest in Fitness started almost by chance. We had booked a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth (QE2) to the Falklands before Pete's accident and we knew from previous cruises that the QE2 had an excellent well equipped gym, although we had never used it. Peter therefore got a quick check over by his Doctor in addition to a discussion with his physiotherapist out about exploiting this opportunity. The QE2 gym has lots of equipment and opens from 7 in the morning to 8 at night so there are no excuses not to use it. There were several professional trainers there to give advice. Throughout the day there were classes: In the morning Total Body Conditioning and Fitball conditioning, and in the afternoon Aqua Aerobics and Balance/Stretch and Relaxation. In addition to the free group training sessions, there were also personal sessions. The first time it seemed important for Peter to have some professional instruction so we committed to 3 hours of Personal Training with Kristy for both of us.

This was all a bit of a shock to the system as we had never been in a gym before. On our first session we were shown the equipment, used the bike and treadmill, and Kristy promised individual training programmes, which responded to Peter's shoulder problem, to be collected on the next session. The second session was much more hard work. The warming up with treadmill and bike was OK but it was followed by a cross trainer which was harder. The aim was to use up 100 calories before being allowed to stop in a target time of 7.5 mins! There was restricted work on the machines with weights for Peter, but there were lots of stretching exercises. Kristy was exactly we needed and drove us mercilessly - we had to jog between machines and had 'homework' to do in the cabin, and extra material to read before appointments. We were however benefiting so much that he booked another set of 3 classes. By the end of the cruise we had a regular morning routine of cardiac work and exercises before breakfast as well as Pete's time working on his arm - he must have been spending 2 hours a day in the gym for most of the cruise! We also had a session on use of 'Fit Balls' which included one to take away with us.

We have continued to make extensive use of the the gym on the QE2 on our cruises - our thanks also go to all those who have trained us and kept us going in the right direction since that initial time.

Back Home

Once we were back home the first time we took a long hard look at what we should do to continue the good work. One obvious way forwards was to join a gym but that turned out to be very expensive and inflexible especially as we spend enough time away from home to make it poor value. It would also have involved a lot of travel as there was no gym closer than 7 miles away. We therefore decided to continue at home and we subsequently bought ourselves a cross trainer (elliptical trainer) for Christmas. We also had to look very closely at our motivation and what our main objectives were. In Pete's case the short term motivation for continuing was fairly clear - to get back to the condition as he was in before the accident as soon as possible, 4 months of life had already been wasted and a cross trainer also exercised the arms.

To be more specific after the accident the lack of ability to even walk any distance had led to his weight rising from the 170-175 pound range to closer to 185 pounds. Before the accident a walk of 10 miles along undulating Guernsey cliff paths with many climbs from water level back to 250 feet had little effect on the following day and there was adequate strength to handle anchors and sails whilst sailing and locks and bridges on the canals.

None of the above are quantitative other than weight so we searched in books to find some criteria to set targets, lay out an exercise programme and record progress. To proceed without a programme would be like holding a meeting without an agenda and to fail to identify targets would be ending a meeting without agreements and minutes - such a meeting might as well not take place. Of course, some of our targets and our programme evolved as our understanding improved and it was only when we were writing this page that we managed to put our mission statement so succinctly. It is our hope that telling others of our reasoning and progress will speed their progress down similar paths and help them avoid much of the hype.

But What is Fitness?

There are four main components of health which are addressed in varying factors by exercise and other fitness related programs. The most obviously related to health and life expectancy is weight where there are well agreed dangers in being overweight although that is only part of the story and one really needs to look more at the percentage fat and where it is positioned - I will refer to 'Body Composition'. The second is cardiovascular health (heart and circulation) which is addressed by sustained exercises which raise the heart rate known as 'cardiovascular exercise' often abbreviated to just 'cardio' or 'aerobic exercise'. Walking, jogging, cycling, rowing and swimming for periods of over 15 minutes to a level which raises the heart rate are examples of such cardiovascular exercises which strengthen the muscles of the heart, increase it's capacity and improve the circulation.

The other two components of health addressed by exercise programs have a less obvious effect on life expectancy but are nevertheless important - they are exercises to develop strength and to develop flexibility. Exercises to develop muscular strength are often refered to as 'resistance exercises' ie working with weights, machines, resistance bands or using ones own weight. Exercises to develop flexibility are often 'stretching' exercises. Exercise programmes such as Pilates develop both both strength and flexibility along with other benefits such as improved posture.

The difficult problem was to put the above into a quantitative form so one could set some targets - I, for example, wanted to know what I should aim for as a weight and body fat percentage and how to measure them. I had also been doing 'cardio' exercises on the cross-trainer and bicycles on the QE2 but what targets were meaningful - should it be a target of so many calories burnt per day or should it be time spent at a certain work level or pulse rate. Most high specification gym machines can calculate calories expended from what you are doing(in some cases you need to input your weight) and give a pulse rate readout. As far as my arm went my initial target was to get the flexibility and strength to match the other arm but, after the initial stages, I had to work both arms together so I was chasing a moving target! There is also the important question of what is a safe level to avoid damage and everything, including expectations, is related to age and background.

I spent considerable time looking at books and on the Internet trying to get answers to these questions which initially seemed to so basic that I expected no problems in finding answers but that was not the case. It turned out to be a slow gathering of common denominators and consensus backed by going back to basic research papers. This finally led to my looking for the criteria used by areas where a high level of fitness is essential in carry out daily work and via coastguards to a whole goldfield of well documented and scientifically based work for the US armed forces. Staff working for the US Department of Defence and many other government bodies such as NOAA and the US coastguards have a annual or biannual assessment with real sanctions for those who do not measure up. These are described in more detail below.

Body Composition - Weight, Fat Percentage and Shape

This is the first area I looked at as it was clear my weight had come up but I did not have any real criteria for what it should be. There are however several well accepted calculations which are used for screening and identifying those where further calculations are required. The best known is the Body Mass Index which is the persons weight in Kgs over the square of their height in Metres. This has the advantage for screening of being largely independent of weight, sex and age. What is really important from the health point of view is the percentage fat but this can not be measured directly and the acceptable range does vary slightly with age and is very different for men and women.

In most large, long-term, well-designed studies, the lowest morbidity and mortality rates occurred in adults at weights that yielded BMIs (in kg/m2) between 19 and 25. Best body fat percentages averaged between 12% and 20% for men and 20% and 30% for women. The generally accept definition, including that for UK statistics) is that one is normal if the BMI is between 20 and 25, overweight if the BMI exceeds 25, Obese if it exceeds 30 and Morbidly Obese if it exceeds 40. There are many Body Mass Calculators on the web if you can not be bothered to calculate for yourself.

Body fat is difficult to measure accurately but a indications of the acceptable range and how it varies with age and sex can be gained from the recommended limits used by BUPA during their more comprehensive health assessments where they use more sophisticated and potentially more accurate techniques than available to normal people:

Body Fat Percentage limits used by BUPA
Age Men Women
18-30 12-18 20-26
31-40 13-19 21-27
41-50 14-20 22-28
51-60 16-20 22-30
61+ 17-21 22-31

This is only part of the story as the detrimental effects of having a high level of body fat are very dependent on where the fat is distributed. The higher up the body the fat-containing tissue is located, the greater the risk of suffering heart trouble, diabetes, gallstones, varicose veins and other diseases. Therefore, it is more dangerous if fat deposits are located around the waist and chest close to vital organs, than on the thighs, hips or bottom.

A standard measure used to determine fat and it's distribution is the waist to hip measurement which is often refered to as the apple/pear indicator for obvious reasons - it is more urgent for an overweight apple-shaped person who has a spare tyre around their waist or a pot-belly to take action to lose this excess weight. The acceptable ratio is very different for men and women and targets for men are 0.92 with 1 being a danger sign whilst for women a target is 0.72 and the danger sign is at 0.80. There are also Shape Calculators to save you effort but the arithmetic is fairly trivial in this case! An even simpler indicator of fat percentage and distribution is used by BUPA in their simple health screens is the ratio of waist measurement to height which should be less than 0.50

Assessment of Body Fat

The simplest and some of the most accurate methods for estimating body fat percentage come from the US Department of Defence. These were developed because twice each year, all DoD personnel (support as well as front line) must pass a fitness assessment. The initial stage is weight for height screening (ie Body Mass Index). Those with body weights exceeding that allowed for their height then have their body fat content estimated. A high level of body fat is only acceptable, if that level does interfere with measured athletic performance against age and sex related standards (Running/swimming times, press-up and crunch numbers and a stretch). Repeated failure to meet these health standards after remedial programs can result in disciplinary action, impaired promotion prospects and even discharge. The serious consequences in failure to meet body fat standards place considerable importance on the accuracy and validation of the estimators used.

Each of the different US services initially provided data on thousands of their own people and service specific equations were initially derived for both men and women by comparison with underwater weighing. A variety of measurements were evaluated and the best results were obtained with equations that utilised height along with waist and neck circumferences in men and waist, hips, and neck circumferences in women. The definitive work for the Navy was by J. Hodgdon. and M. Beckett (Prediction of percent body fat for U.S. navy men and women from body circumferences and height. Reports No. 84-29 and 84-11. Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, Cal. 1984).

While there were multiple equations derived from the various service data sets, the Navy circumference method is the most commonly employed because among the different equations, they gave the best correlation to underwater weighing. Simple calculators based on this method are found on many health fitness related web sites. Either Body Fat - U.S. Navy Circumference Method calculator I or Body Fat - U.S. Navy Circumference Method calculator II will give you a quick indication of your Body Fat Content.

In the 1990's, the military went further and combined the data sets and provided the results in a tabular form in Hodgdon, J. A. and Friedl, K. 1999. Development of the DoD body composition estimation equations. Report No. 99-2B. San Diego, CA, Naval Health Research Center. I recommend printing the relevant section of table so you can work out the waist measurement you need to achieve for an target Body Fat. If the link fails a search for the title of the paper using Google should find a copy.

Technological advances have now made it feasible to examine bone density in humans and it is now feasible to use a more complete four-compartment model (fat mass, bone mass, water mass, and remaining fat-free mass) rather than just an underwater weighing. This gives an exact determination of body fat content against which the Accuracy of the U.S. Navy Circumference Method has been independently assessed by the Naval Health Research Center in 2001 and results indicate that the Navy's circumference-based equation is equal or superior in predicting body fat to other commonly used methods and algorithms - it has a standard error estimate of just over 3.12% fat for men and 3.16% fat for women.

Setting Body Composition Targets

Peter's normal height and weight before his accident gave a BMI of 24.5 which tended to creep up a little on long sedentary holidays, it however reached close to 26 after the restriction of exercise after the accident. There seem to be many uncertainties in the definition of 'healthy range' and the fact that the UK government uses 25 as an upped limit made me think that it would be much safer to include a safety margin. I chose a margin of 10% giving an initial target for BMI of 22.5. An equally valid and slightly more demanding target would be the middle of the acceptable range of 19 to 25 ie 22 or just under depending on whether one regards an arithmetic or geometric mean to be appropriate. With height known (5ft 10.5 inches) an initial target weight of 159 lbs was simple to calculate. I say initial because it may need to be revised down to as one converges on other, more demanding, targets than BMI.

The same principle was applied to Body Fat Percentage and a target of 18% was chosen. Initially this was considered to be a target using measurements from our fancy Tanita electronic scales which use biometric impedance to estimate body fat and with readings taken at Tanita's recommended time for maximum consistency and accuracy, namely late afternoon well after the last meal. Fat can be also be estimated using simple physical measurements as covered below - that gave an associated target for waist measurement of 35 inches (assuming ones neck does not change appreciably).

These three initial targets (Weight 159, Fat 18% and Waist 35") were set within 2 weeks of our return home from the QE2 and had not been changed 8 months latter when this page was first written although by that point it had become clear that the Fat Percentage via waist measurement needs a lower weight than the BMI target.

Meeting Body Composition Targets.

To reduce weight it is clear that the calories taken in as food must be less than the calories expended ie cut back on food and/or increase ones exercise. The effects of cutting back on calories eaten is not as simple a story as one might expect as the body adapts and the wrong weight may be reduced. A crash diet without exercise is quite likely to remove a lot of water and also to reduce muscle tissue as well as fat. Reducing muscle also reduces the calory input needed much more than reducing fat so as soon as one ends the diet the weight returns and ends up at a higher level.

In contrast exercise not only burns plenty of fat but potentially increases muscle reducing rather than increasing the calories needed to cut even. Cardiovascular exercise (which is covered in more detail below) is very effective at burning fat whilst working in the range 65% to 75% of maximum heart rate. In the range 75% to 85% there are increased cardiovascular advantages but there is an increased percentage burn from proteins. In both cases the greatest efficiency of the exercise in burning fat occurs after the 15 minute mark. A cross trainer is good for getting a high calory burn as arms are exercised as well as legs but it took many months of exercise before we could maintain a calory output of 800 calories for half an hour. Even bending the rules to include the warm-up and cool-down periods 500 calories from a 45 minute cardiovascular exercise session seems to be the maximum realistic - the initial target set by Kristy, our trainer on the QE2, was 250 calories a day. 250 calories a day sounds very little but if done 5 days a week for a year one could take off about 20 lbs without any change in diet and will have hopefully increased muscle rather than lost it.

Trying to lose weight by exercise alone is however almost as unlikely to work as by dieting alone and the essential components of a weight loss or weight management program include a calorie reduction of 300-500 calories per day along with an appropriate level of exercise until the desired level is reached. Initially weight may fall quite rapidly as excess water is lost but a steady reduction of 2 to 2.5 pounds a week is about the maximum which should try to sustain.

More on Cardiovascular Exercise

Virtually the first thing we did after returning from the QE2 was to look at buying a Cardiovascular exercise machine. We had used Bicycles, Treadmills and Cross Trainers (otherwise known as elliptical trainers) in the QE2 gym but the crosstrainer stood out as the best for us because it gives a very high workout as the arms are used as well as the legs and is low impact on the joints as there is no contact form running as on the treadmill. It is easy to get an 800 calory an hour workout on a cross trainer whilst that is more difficult on a bicycle and it involves jogging on a treadmill, with associated risk of damage to knee and other joints.

The cross trainer we bought was from Horizon, one name used by a well known firm that also produces professional equipment. It seemed well built and the model we got the Andes 100 was half price in a sale making it, at under £200, remarkable value. It has relatively simple monitoring and a mechanical setting for levels rather than the sophisticated readouts of calories etc and complex programs of work that one gets from much more expensive models. It does have a timer, rpm, elapsed distance and speed (in fairly arbitrary units). It also a heart rate monitor which is 'Polar' compatible which also has hand sensors one can grip for a quick reading. We note that the current and more advanced Horizon Andes 150 and 200 which seem to be based around the same mechanical structure are now available from Argos at£ £499 and £599 respectively.

Heart Rate Monitoring

In order to get the most benefit from cardiovascular exercise one needs to exercise at the right intensity and Heart Rate is the only accurate measurement of your intensity or your exertion level. It is possible to measure it without any equipment whilst one is still but it is near impossible for most people to do so whilst exercising. A Electronic Heart Rate Monitors (HRM) is the easiest and most accurate way to continuously measure your heart rate. It consists of a display looking rather like a watch worn on your wrist, and a transmitter that you comfortably wear against your skin and around your chest. The transmitter picks up the signals of your heart, and sends them wirelessly to the display on your wrist. The original and best know manufacturer is a firm called Polar and a lot of home equipment, and most of the cardio machines that you find in gyms, will already have Polar technology built into it. That means that all you have to do is wear a Polar transmitter and the machine can track your heart rate during your exercise as well as it displaying on the wrist display. We again got a basic model for £30 from Argos, the Polar A1 (now replaced by the F1 at £39) which displays HR continuously and also times ones period of exercise and gives an average at the end. Above that the levels of sophistication increase but at a cost, we now have a second Polar monitor, the F5 which cost about £60 but provides considerably more useful information.

Cardiovascular Exercise - Appropriate Levels

Basic levels and times required: For cardiovascular exercise to be effective firstly it needs to be for a reasonable length of time - it seems to be commonly accepted that the minimum time is 15 minutes with the major gains accruing after 20 minutes. The accepted optimum time is 30 minutes and one should allow time to warm up and cool down if one is working at the higher end of the intensity scale. This should be a minimum of three times a week. The level is measure by ones heart rate and the target ranges are worked out relative to ones maximum heart rate. The maximum heart rate (MHR) used is normally not measured but is worked out from age - the standard accepted formula is 220 minus age although when sex is taken into account 226 - age is sometimes quoted. I initially found and used his higher figure and continued to use it although I would advise anyone starting to always err on the side of caution. One should (must) never work above 85% of MHR for any period of continuous exercise - 60-70% of MHR is suitable for weight loss, building endurance or recovery, 70-80% of MHR is good for improving cardiovascular fitness and the level between 80% and 85% is only for short intervals in a programmed workout.

The need for variation: If you are trying to improve your overall fitness it is accepted by athletes that one will need to vary ones workouts as the body adapts to routine and you may have hit a plateau. Variety is the key and one needs eventually to focus on different workouts on different days with endurance days at an easier pace than usual (60-70% MRH) followed by a shorter workout another day staying close to 80%. Many machines have programmes for interval workout like hill repeats and one can do the same oneself using intervals where you accelerate for 1 minute then slow to recover for three minutes and repeat.

Cardiovascular Exercise - Setting a Programme and Targets

On the QE2 we had been set targets of an average calory burn of 250 calories a day (not counting warm up or cool-down) whilst on-board. We mainly used the bicycles where there was an additional requirement to keep above an RPM of 80. There was also the requirement of a period of intense work on the cross trainer where we were set the target of being able to burn 100 calories in 7 minutes 30 secs (ie at 800 calories and hour) and at an RPM of not less than 65.

We initially did not have specific targets for improvement when we got our own machine as we did not know what was achievable and how to measure it! The ensuing story was complex and the following goes into in more detail than is probably necessary. First was a period of getting to understand the machine and how it compared to what we had been using.

We went through a number of iterations on how to set a sensible workout and progressively make it more demanding. Firstly I have always done a warm-up and cool-down and that has not been included as part of measured period. Secondly the time of exercise has always been more than 25 minutes and the averaging function on the Heart Rate Monitor has been used for the first of 25 - 30 minutes to give a reasonably continuous set of measurements to evaluate progress when combined with the Level set on the machine and 'average RPM' during that time. The Level has only been increased twice since the very initial period when one seemed to be improving fast but probably this was more a matter of technique and development of leg and arm muscles rather than benefits to the heart. It would have been nice to have a machine with at least a relative readout of Calories or some other measure of work. It is worth noting that the speed is very significant as the effort expended goes with the square of the speed on our machine as the magnetic drag used on our machine is proportional to RPM and the 'distance' is also proportion to RPM.

It took several months before I could maintain the desirable minimum speed of 65 RPM which corresponds to a very fast pace whilst walking. If you are using a bicycle then one should aim for a little over 80 RPM which is the lowest efficient pedaling rate. The other constraint was Heart Rate where I was aiming for an average of about 75% of maximum. I tried both controlling the speed to match the desired heart rate and selecting a speed which experience showed would get close to the average I wanted. As ones performance does vary a little from day to day the choice of adjusting to the Heart Rate seems slightly preferable - often I worked on an increasing rate during the exercise period. Again I tried both using distance in a fixed time versus time for a fixed distance as the performance measure for a given average pulse rate - I have tended to measure times for a fixed distance recently as it allows one to chose the level of workout (ie pulse rate average) whilst maintaining the overall work more constant.

Overall there has been a very slow but consistent improvement - higher speeds for longer times at lower heart rates and a couple of step changes in level. It is difficult to be quantitative as weight also comes into the equation as one is obvious not having to work quite so hard as ones weight falls - that is why many gym machines ask you to enter your weight. Ignoring the reduction in weight it looks like an overall improvement, since we bought the cross trainer, of 20% in rate of energy expended kept up for 40% longer at a more controlled pulse rate. The recovery time is subjectively much quicker but we need some way to measure that qualitatively. The other improvement is in resting heart rate, again we did not make measurements initially so it only subjective but it is not not unknown for Pete's to be down to under 60 perhaps a fall of 15. If I was starting again I would measure the resting heart rate every morning after waking up and before getting up using the finger on the neck method and recording it along with weight and fat percentage.

Energy expenditure by 160 lb Person Walking and Jogging

We chose a cross-trainer for cardiovascular exercise but many will want to walk, jog or run either in the open or on a treadmill. The following table will help one to understand how the energy expenditure walking and jogging on the level and on a slope varies with speed. Note that strictly the Calories used in nutrition and fitness are kcalories in SI units.

Energy expenditure in Calories/Hour
160 lb Person
Speed mph Slope in Percent
  0 2 5 10 15
2.0 192 234 297 402 506
2.5 221 274 352 483 614
3.0 250 313 407 565 722
3.5 279 353 463 646  
4.0 309 392 518 727  
4.5 599 647 717 835  
5.0 658 710 787 919  
5.5 716 773 860    
6.0 774 837 937    
6.5 832 900 1002    
7.0 890 964 1074    
7.5 949 1027      

The figures are those used by a well known manufacturer of treadmills to convert from speed and slope to calories used with the machine set for a 160 lb person. The energy expended walking and jogging is proportional to the person weight ie a 200 lb person will expend 200/160 times as much energy. You should be aware that the machine assumes that at or above 4.5 miles per hour the person is jogging. You will note that the energy expenditure has increased considerably for jogging over running on the level but the increase with slope is less as the hill climbing is assumed to be more efficient when jogging. If one does the full calculations the efficiency of the body assumed by fitness machines in converting energy to height gain is about 25% walking and 50% when jogging. I am still seeking a scientific basis for the figures used by fitness machines - 50% efficiency converting stored energy to useful work seems high to me and higher than I recall cyclists using for their calculations.

A useful figure derived from the above is that when walking every 1000 foot climb uses an additional 200 calories for a 160 lb typical male and 150 calories for a typical 120 lb female over a flat walk of the same length.

The importance of Warming up, Cooling Down and Hydration

It is important to slowly warm up muscles before working at a high rate and that includes the heart. One should normally allow at least 5 minutes for warming up at a progressively increasing level of cardiovascular exercise before either continuing cardio at working level or doing resistance or stretching work. This increases the blood flow and readies the muscles for work. The warm-up may also need some loosening up and stretches of the muscles which one is going to work to get the blood flow up - for example swinging of the arm before the stretches and work with resistance bands. At the end of the warm up period ones heart rate should just be entering the 'working zone' of 65% of MHR.

At the end of a period of cardiovascular work one needs to slow down progressively to allow the heart to slow down and the waste (lactic acid etc) to be removed from the muscles. The cool down time is related to the level and length of the workout but a sensible rule of thumb is a progressive reduction of heart rate over about 15% of the workout time till it is just below the working zone ie. under 65% of MHR. The recovery time is a useful indicator of fitness which we need to investigate further. Another important part of the cooling down activities after cardio work is to do stretches on the major muscles used whilst they are still warm.

At the rate one is working during Cardiovascular work one will be losing a lot of water just to cool the body down. One should drink extra, preferably 30 minutes before exercising, and during and after exercising. By the time the body feels thirsty 2% water lose can occur. While dieting or exercising one should drink at least 8 glasses of water in addition to any alcoholic or caffeine based drinks to flush out the extra waste products from the burning of fat and hard worked muscles.

Resistance or Strength Exercise

We used the machines available on the QE2 to develop strength and they were a very effective and safe way to develop some of the major muscles. Such machines are designed to separate out and develop specific muscles, in other words bodybuilding. This has disadvantages as real life does not separate the use of muscles and if one strengthens the big muscles without the matching small muscles providing stability one can damage oneself. In the same way it is very important to ensure symmetry in exercises providing movements in both directions on a limb to reduce the chances of damage.

We have not been seriously into strength work at home other than for the arm for which we bought a small set of weights to work the arm including the minor 'rotator cuff' muscles which he does when well warmed up by the cardio exercise. Free weights are arguably the best way to develop strength and Pete has now bought a bigger set of weights to compliment the strengthen exercises he does do using body weight - push-ups for the upper body, squats and lunges, for lower body and curls and crunches for the abdominal muscles. We feel it is now time to include some extra resistance work in our programme because any reduction in weight tends to come from muscle mass as well as fat. One can not afford to lose too much muscle and strength - it tends to reduce with age so it is important to do something to build/retain enough strength to carry out the activities one is used to.

Sets and Repetitions

When training with weights or resistance bands for serious muscle building it is usually suggested that you repeat the 'action' a number of times (repetitions) and then rest briefly and do the same once or twice more. Typically one would do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each of 8-10 different but complimentary exercises and then leave the muscles to recover and strengthen for several days before the next time. Any more frequently and damage outweighs the benefits - even the benefits of several sets is marginal over a single set. As the muscles strengthen then one increases the number of repetitions before increasing the weight and starting again with a smaller number of repetitions. One should be working to a level where one only has the strength do one or two more repetitions when one stops. It is clearly not advisable to 'lift' at ones limit for a single repetition or to attempt a 'lift' which can not be achieved with good form as one is open to damaging oneself.

Many people feel you can not make progress without pain but one has to differentiate between good pain where one has worked hard which goes very quickly and bad pain where one has done damage and one may have to wait days or longer to allow sprains and damaged muscles to repair and recover. A certain amount of professional training will help one to learn to how to tell the difference between good and bad pain. Working at a level where 8 or more repetitions are possible with good form reduces the chances of damage even if one does a few repetitions too many. Everybody is slightly different but the following table is an indication of how the 'load' relates to repetitions and allows one to estimate the maximum one might be capable of without the risks of trying it out. It also confirms that it is time to change the 'load' up by about 25% when one can complete 12-15 repetitions and that steps of 50% in weights is really too much needing a change from 25 to 4 repetitions.

Repetitions 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 15 17 20 24 30
Percentage of Maximum 100 95 93 90 87 85 83 80 77 75 67 65 60 55 50 45

Stretching and Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through the full range of motion and is important as lack of flexibility is associated with an increased risk of injury. There are a wide range of exercises available to gradually increase flexibility by stretching the muscles that have shortened with time and allow greater flexibility. Peter had many such exercises for his arm - after being inactive for a period motion is seriously impaired and a proper programme of resistance exercises to strengthen and stretching to restore movement. He continued these adding the other arm as the movements and strength equalised so is hopefully he may end up better off than before!

In particular it is important/essential to include stretches on any muscles one has been working hard in cardiovascular exercise or resistance work. After working on the cross-trainer I do stretches for the leg muscles which would end up shorter and wider as they develop with exercise, like a steak cooking. The first is pulling the leg back up behind one with the same arm until a tension is felt. Initially I could not even reach the foot and had to use a towel looped down to foot. Now I can easily reach the left foot and bring it up to touch the buttock showing how much one can improve flexibility. The second involves the matching stretch on the calf muscles - One leg forwards and bent, the other back with the toe on the ground and stretching back until the tension can be felt in the front. Such stretches are held for 20-30 seconds and at a level of light pain which should stop within seconds of releasing the tension.

Core Stability

An in term one will hear and see used is "core stability" - this refers to the importance of the abdominal muscles (the core of the body) in initiating and keeping control over most of the muscular activities. Carrying out exercises in a way which improves the core stability and strengthens these muscles one of the essential themes of Pilates and many other exercise programs. Posture, correct initiation and full control of actions, including breathing - "correct form in the jargon" - both in exercises and in real life activities is important and reduces the risk of damage, in particular to the back.

An Assessment of Overall Fitness

The best overall research backed and thoroughly developed assessment of overall fitness that I could find is that originated by the US Department of Defence and specifically in the form implemented by the Navy. Twice each year, all US Navy personnel (support as well as front line) must pass a fitness assessment. The initial stage - which I have refered to above - is a weight for height screening (ie Body Mass Index) Those with body weights exceeding that allowed for their height then have their body fat content estimated. The second stage is a physical assessment of fitness and failure to meet either of these standards on a regular basis can result in disciplinary action, impaired promotion prospects and even discharge. The serious consequences in failure to meet these standards place considerable importance on the accuracy and validation of the process. The US Navy assesses physical fitness by a carefully selected factors using well specified and easily evaluated athletic activities judged against age and sex related criteria to categorise them into satisfactory, good, excellent and exceptional ranges with divisions of low, medium and high in each range. For full details and the tables needed to evaluate ones own performance see DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY OPNAV INSTRUCTION 6110.1F (Search the in particular using Google for 6110_1f.pdf or "OPNAV INSTRUCTION 6110.1F") or try University of Minnesota Naval Reserve Officers Training Core - Physical Readiness or http://navyrotc.berkeley.edu/resources/regs/pfa/6110_1f.pdf The following descriptions of the factors evaluated and the associated physical activities (Running/swimming times, press-up and curl-up numbers and a stretch) have been translated from America to English and précised and the drawings are as close copies of the originals that I could draw.
  1. Cardiovascular endurance. Cardiovascular endurance or aerobic capacity is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to working muscles. It is associated with the ability to carry out strenuous work throughout the workday without undue fatigue. Run/walks and swimming performance of a moderate length are suitable indicators of aerobic capacity.

    • Cardiovascular Endurance Test: The time to complete a one and a half mile run/walk or a 500-yard/450-meter swim is measured.

  2. Muscular endurance. Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain muscle contractions over a period of time without undue fatigue. Curl-ups and push-ups are indicators of muscular endurance. No single endurance test measures the endurance of all muscles and two representative exercises are selected: curl-ups serve as a measure of abdominal muscle endurance while push-ups indicate upper body muscular endurance. In particular curl-up exercises, when performed properly, are important in developing abdominal muscle tone. Adequate strength and endurance of the abdominal muscles are an important element in the prevention and treatment of lower back injury, which is associated with the ability to perform common pushing, pulling, and carrying tasks.

      Curl-up Test consists of counting the number of a specified type of curl-up which can be completed in 2 minutes.

      Click for larger image

      • Start lying flat on back with knees bent, heels about 10 inches from buttock, arms folded across and touching the chest and hands touching upper chest or shoulders with feet held to floor by a partner.
      • Curl body up, touching elbows to thighs while keeping hands in contact with the chest or shoulders.
      • Lie back, touching lower edge of shoulder blades to floor.

      Push-up Test: The number of Push-ups which can be completed in 2 minutes is used as an indicator of upper body muscular endurance.

      Click for larger image

      • Begin in the "front-leaning rest" position, hands placed on floor directly beneath the shoulders, both feet together on the floor with the back, buttocks, and legs straight from head to heels throughout the press-up.
      • Lower the entire body as a single unit by bending the elbows until the upper arms, shoulders, and lower back aligned and parallel to the floor.
      • Return to the starting position by extending the elbows, raising the body as a single unit until the arms are straight.

  3. Flexibility. Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through the full range of motion. Lack of flexibility is associated with an increased risk of injury. Although no single test measures the flexibility of all joints, the sit-reach event serves as an important functional measure of hip region flexibility including the lower back and back of the legs.

      Flexibility Test: This is a simple pass/fail test

      Click for larger image

      • Sit on floor legs extended, knees very slightly flexed, feet together, and toes pointed up.
      • Reach slowly forward and touch toes with fingertips of both hands simultaneously and hold for one second to pass.

A Collection of Tips, Books and references


The following tips are either things we do or wished we had done.

Web Sites

As well as those linked in the text the following may be of interest:


What have we bought?

Monitoring Equipment: We have invested in a number of pieces of equipment to allow us to carry out some basic exercises at home and, in particular, to do allow us to so safely and to assess our progress. The two most important items, which we believe anybody serious about getting fit should purchase, were a set of Tanita electronic scales which are capable of also monitoring body fat and a Polar heart rate monitor. Both were basic models but we chose ones made by the manufacturers who developed the original measurement techniques. Both the Tanita scales and the Polar heart rate monitors (A1 and F5) were bought from Argos but similar models are widely available.

Cardiovascular Equipment: The major item was an cross trainer (elliptical trainer) was manufactured by Horizon, a major manufacturer of both professional equipment (sold under a different name) and home equipment. This has received a lot of use since we bought it, Pete uses it most mornings at home for about 45 minutes, and it has proved very satisfactory other than not having any absolute calibration. It has Polar compatible heart rate monitoring system which has proved fully compatible with the Polar monitoring sensor belt. Our Horizon Andes 100 was bought half price as an end of line - if we had known how much use it would get we might have bought one which had readout of calory burn and a number of built in programs simulating walking up and down hills etc. The top range models have feedback mechanisms using the heart rate monitoring to adjust the loads to exercise at the optimum level which is a good safety mechanism. Some even have simulated displays to show the sort of terrain you are supposed to be walking, running or cycling over which is a gimmick too far for us.

Resistance (strength) training equipment: We have only bought the minimum of aids for strength training. We have set of small dumbbells really for use Pete's arm and a resistance band - a length of rubber with a handle at each end. In general free weights are better than fancy machines for exercise as the machines tend to be carefully designed to exercise a particular muscle but that is not what happens in real life and one also needs to develop the coordination and strengthen the minor muscles that stabilise the actions. To this end we also bought a 'Fitball' (Swiss Ball) - they are blown up balls circa 2 feet in diameter which you use as part of the exercises, sitting or lying on it whilst exercising forces far more muscles into use to maintain stability. We have more recently bought a larger cheap set of free weights (Argos again) which are not used a tremendous amount yet - they have weights which seem to be concrete filled vinyl. They are too clumsy for some exercises and we would recommend the more expensive ones with cast iron weights that are more compact and allow them to be used closer to the body.

The Bottom Line
What have we achieved?

This will bring together the various targets and objectives we set at various time that have been covered in earlier sections. First it is worth reiterating the overall objective or Mission Statement:

To discover what is required, practical and reasonable to extend ones life expectancy as much as possible and to audit ones current and desired physical activities and to reach and maintain a level of fitness to carry out those activities.

The above sections have identified and quantified a number of factors relating to fitness which should extend our lives and allow us to enjoy life to the full. Where possible these have been quantified into specific targets and programs of action.

An unexpected additional achievement has been the interest this page has generated and the number of visitors it is attracting (circa 6000 a year) - if our reasoning and progress inspire and help a few of you progress whilst avoiding some of the hype, it will have been worth our while documenting and sharing our experiences.

Pete's Specific Targets

Now we look at the specific targets Pete set at the start of the program and what has been achieved after about two years. In most areas real progress was made in a few months and, despite fluctations in life style on holidays etc, improvement is still taking place slowly but steadily in most areas. The initial measurement and what we can now achieve is in brackets.

Body Mass Index: 22.5 (25 -> 22)
  Weight: 159 (182 -> 154)
Body Fat Percentage: 18%   (Tanita 21.5% -> 17%)
  Waist: 35" (37" -> 34.5")
Body Fat Distribution:   Waist/Hip ratio: less than 0.92 (.95 -> .90)
Flexibility:   Touching toes (about -4" -> +2")
  Meeting hands up back to over shoulder: (fail -> easy)
  Lift leg to buttock: (huge failure -> left easy - right just)
  Energy burn: 800 cals/hour for 30 mins on cross trainer at 75% MHR average (about 800cals/hour for 7:30 with peak of over 90% MHR -> about 850 for 35 minutes at 75% MHR average )
  Jogging (Additional Target): 2 miles at 6 mph at less than 85% MHR average (N/A -> 2.2 mls at 6 mph with slope of 1% at peak of under 90% MHR)
  Recovery rate: Should have been measured and specified
  Resting pulse rate lying down: Should have been monitored (about 75 -> 55-65)
"Military Fitness Assessment": Target to achieve the Minimum Satisfactory Level for sex and age
  Sitting toe touch: pass/fail (pass)
  Push-ups: 19 (None -> 13-17 range)
  Curl-ups: 29 (N/A -> 14-29 range)
  1.5 Mile Jog: 16:45 (N/A -> best of 14:57)

Before You Leave

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