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Starting from the baseline

The challenge begins with physiological testing to measure challengers' fitness levels
Physiologists Alison Quinlan, left, and Paula McFadyen take readings on Ashleigh Triplett at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence.

The first step was easy — except for the snorkel-style mouthpiece, says Times Colonist Health Club Challenger Ashleigh Triplett.

"The mouthpiece — definitely 100 per cent uncomfortable," said Triplett, 28, as she finished up the physiological testing at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence this week.

The scientific testing is the first hurdle as the five challengers embark on their 12-week Health Club program.

It's a package of fitness training, nutrition advice and counselling worth about $3,000. The five contestants, selected from more than 300 applicants, will complete their training at community health centres around Victoria. And every step of the way, the Times Colonist will chart their progress.

An estimated 350 At Home Challengers will also participate, and qualify for some great prizes, by following the tips in the paper and at

Triplett will conduct her training at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence on Interurban Road. At 280 pounds, she is hoping it will be a first step to a new, healthier lifestyle.

Paula McFadyen, physiologist with the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific, is responsible for conducting the tests, whose results will be forwarded to each challenger.

Those results will also be forwarded to the trainers and nutritionists as those specialists work up a personalized plan for each of the five Health Club participants.

The first step in the tests performed on challengers is a measure of their at-rest metabolic rate, the amount of calories they burn a rest.

"What we are looking for is if [the challengers] did nothing else in a day other than lie down, how many calories would the body use to sustain life," said McFadyen.

"The nutritionists are going to be very interested in the resting metabolic rate."

To take this resting measurement, the challengers are first told to lie down and be calm. Attached electrodes measure their heart rates. Meanwhile, a clamp is attached to the nose and mouthpiece, something like the ones used for snorkelling.

That mouthpiece comes with a two-way valve, allowing air to enter and exit. Exhaled air goes through a hose to a cart with instruments to measure the amount of oxygen consumed.

"I just leave them there, quietly lying down with the mouthpiece in and the cart just collects the data for 30 minutes," McFadyen said.

Once those measurements are collected, the next step is measurements and body-composition estimates.

To start, height and weight are recorded. Next, McFadyen said, calipers are used to measure the thickness of the folds of skin at eight sites on the body: biceps, triceps, shoulder blade, top and front of the hip bone, thigh, calf and the abdomen. "Everybody loves that one."

Finally, tapes are used to measure circumferences of the upper arm, at rest and flexed, waist, hips, thighs and calves.

Those measurements can be used to estimate things such as percentage of body fat.

The scores give the five challengers a baseline for measuring their progress — for example, they can compare the sum of all skin-fold measurements with the results of tests performed at the end of the 12 weeks.

"In the lab, we really try to get people to focus on the sum of their eight skin folds and watching that change over time," said McFadyen.

The final tests to be performed are aerobic tests.

In these, challengers are put on treadmills or stationary bikes while hooked up to metabolic carts to measure oxygen use, heart and respiration rate.

At first it's easy, said McFadyen. The goal is to figure out a workload someone can perform all day. Afterward, using three-minute intervals, the intensity levels are increased, with measurements taken four more times.

McFadyen said the target is an intensity level where the maximum amount of fat is burned. Almost counter-intuitively, that level is likely not especially intense, because a body will burn carbohydrates when fuel is needed faster.

"We get a graph of the fuel utilized during the five workloads," she said.

"It helps the trainers to know the heart-rate training zone during those workloads as well as their fuel utilized and oxygen consumption."

For challenger Dennis Guevin, who will be training at Crystal Pool, it was the aerobic fitness tests on the treadmill that gave him the greatest surprise.

Guevin, a 52-year-old former offensive lineman with the B.C. Lions now carrying 370 pounds, said he is nowhere near as fit as he once was.

"The only thing that surprised me was running out of energy and getting tired before I thought I should," he said.

"But Paula [McFadyen] was there and she was really supporting [me] the whole time."

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A well-balanced fitness program will address the five primary components of fitness: aerobic fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility, and body composition. While we will discuss each of these components over the coming weeks, we will begin with a focus on aerobic fitness.

Aerobic fitness challenges the cardiorespiratory system, plays a role in preventing various diseases, and improves body composition, exercise capacity and recovery. The cardiorespiratory system involves the heart, blood vessels and lungs, and delivers oxygen to many tissues in the body. Many exercises challenge the aerobic system, including walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing, stairclimbing and hiking. According to newly released guidelines from the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, you should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

To amass 150 minutes throughout the week, you should aim to achieve 20 to 60 minutes, three to five times per week. Performing aerobic exercise on a daily basis is also acceptable if you vary the intensity throughout the week.

A critical aspect of program design is intensity monitoring. Often individuals accumulate many minutes of aerobic activity throughout the week but may not see results if they are not exercising at an appropriate intensity. There are many methods of measuring intensity, including heart-rate monitoring. You can measure your heart rate manually or you can purchase an inexpensive heart-rate monitor. To measure your heart rate manually, find your pulse on your wrist (on the same side as your palm) or on your neck and count the beats in 10 seconds during and/or after your exercise session.

To determine your target heart rate range, use the following formula:

Lower limit: (220 - age) x 60%

Upper limit: (220 - age) x 90%

For example, the target heart rate zone for a 50-year-old is:

Lower limit: (220 - 50) x 60% = 102 beats per minute (bpm)

Upper limit: (220 - 50) x 90% = 153 bpm

In other words, a 50-year-old would perform aerobic exercises between 102 to 153 beats per minute. Heart-rate monitors will read your heart rate in beats per minute. If you are taking your heart rate manually over 10 seconds, you will need to divide your lower and upper limit by six to get the number of beats over that timeframe. For our 50-year-old participant in the example, the 10 second target heart rate would be 17 to 26 beats (102/6 = 17, and 153/6=25.5).

The lower and upper limits in our example were set at 60 and 90 per cent, respectively. This is a general range for a target heart-rate zone, so choose about a 10 per cent range within the broader framework of 60 to 90 per cent. If you are new to a fitness program, begin at the lower end of the target heart-rate zone, or approximately 60 to 70 per cent. If you have a good base of fitness, you will find more challenge at a higher intensity zone between, for example,

70 to 80 per cent. If you are a more advanced participant, you can work

in the upper end of this range, or

80 to 90 per cent.

Remember, these are general guidelines. You should always listen to your body, especially since these formulas are based on age-predicted calculations and may not work for everyone.

Ask yourself how hard you feel you are working on a scale of 0 to 10.

0 = rest with no elevation in breathing

1 = very easy active rest

2 = somewhat easy active rest

3 = low-level activity with no significant change in breathing

4 = low-level activity with a slight elevation in breathing

5 = moderate-level activity, but still within your comfort zone

6 = moderate-level activity, but still within your comfort zone

7 = vigorous activity that is starting to move outside your comfort zone; maintaining a conversation would start to feel challenging

8 = vigorous activity outside your comfort zone, but you could maintain a very short conversation (ie. can only say a few words)

9 = very vigorous activity outside of your comfort zone; unable to maintain a conversation

10 = all-out effort with exhaustion

No matter which monitoring method you choose to use, ensure you are working at an appropriate intensity so that you will see results. Stay tuned next week when we will unravel some of the myths regarding intensity training and the fat-burning zone.

— Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence