x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Defining moments

'Scary machine', 'muscle confusion', and 'buffness'...not exactly science but all a part of going to the gym.

I don't know the names of most of the machines at my gym. They are intimidating, hulking and insect-like. Other people are intimidated as well; most of the time the machines stand idle in the workout room. The people who do use them are hulking and intimidating in their own right. Most other gym-goers head to the elliptical trainers and treadmills, and spend their workout plodding away.

I'm one of those people watching TV on the elliptical trainer, but I've made a plan to try a new "scary machine" every few weeks. It's my own version of a "muscle confusion" workout, which is based on the idea that changing exercises over a training period makes it difficult for the body to adapt to a single workout and plateau at a certain fitness level. The term was coined by Tony Horton, a Hollywood fitness trainer who created a training guide to maximise "buffness" in 90 days.

Buffness is not a technical term, but there is no better word to describe Horton's focus on muscle definition rather than the health benefits of exercise. His first workout training series was called Beachbody, and it was followed by Great Body Guaranteed. Horton also has made workout videos such as the Power Half Hour and the Power 90 Extreme, the latter of which emphasises muscle confusion. One does six days of workouts per week for 13 weeks. For most weeks, days two, four, and six are for cardio, while days one, three, and five are strength training. Day seven is an optional stretch day. (Horton may have been a statistician before he was a fitness trainer.)

The video series explains it all, but I know from the outset that a six-day-per-week workout schedule is overambitious. Still, shifting from one machine to another after 10 or 15 minutes is a good idea. And the fitness trainers are there to help you figure out how the machines work. In science news, there is more evidence that exercise benefits cardiovascular health and recovery from heart failure. In new studies presented at the European Association of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, which took place in Stockholm this month, exercise was shown to improve markers of heart disease in patients following coronary artery bypass surgery. Exercise was better than stent angioplasty in improving event-free survival rates in coronary patients.

In heart failure patients, who are usually only given palliative care, it improved markers of disease. The study from Leipzig, Germany, suggests that moderate exercise for 10 to 20 minutes four times daily for four weeks can improve the function of cells lining the circulatory system. Heart failure is the most prevalent chronic cardiac condition, as well as one of the most difficult to diagnose and treat.