The Right Exercise For You

For a lot of people the motto of no pain, no gain is synonymous with exercise. If they aren’t covered in sweat and feeling like they are about to collapse they feel they haven’t worked out hard enough. This is also common with people who are just starting to train. They go from no exercise in years to training three, four or five times a week, when they can barely walk up a flight of stairs they think have got the training intensity just right.

People exercise for a variety of reasons, but if we are looking at it from a physiological perspective, exercise is about adaptation. Through exercise you are causing a stress to the body and asking it to make the necessary changes. If the exercise is too much for you then it is just like any other negative stress to your body (no matter how healthy you think Sweat Factory is for you).

With this in mind, I am always trying to encourage people to be doing exercise that is appropriate for them. Yes you can set goals, yes you can challenge and push yourself…but to get the benefits of exercise you have to be able to recover and adapt from the exercise you are doing. To help guide you in picking an appropriate level of exercise, body temperature and pulse is an invaluable tool.

Body temperature is a fantastic way of gauging metabolism. I know most people think of metabolism as being the rate of which you burn calories, but it actually much deeper than this. It is an assessment of how effective each of your cells is at producing energy, also known as cellular respiration. When cells are producing energy effectively they also produce heat and this is why body temperature can be such an effective tool when looking at metabolism.

The ideal body temperature range is between 36.7 and 37 degrees C (or 98 to 98.6 F). Anything below indicates that the body is running at a lower metabolic rate and is not creating and using energy effectively.

Pulse is a great indicator for stress hormones and metabolism. When stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increase, so does your pulse. This is useful to keep nutrient rich blood flowing to the big muscles, heart, lungs and brain – allowing you to run or fight the proverbial lion. This is effective in getting you out of a life and death situation but, but definitely not a state you want to be in all of the time.

Pulse links into metabolism due to stress hormones relationship with energy regulation. Stress hormones really are all about mobilising energy. When someone is in a lower a metabolic, state they have difficultly producing adequate energy and regularly run out of it, they have to lean on the stress hormones as a crutch to prop up energy supply.

An ideal pulse rate is between 75 to 85 beats per minute. Above this and it is a fair indication that you’re pumping out adrenaline and cortisol. Lower than this and it shows that the body is in a low metabolic state.

When used together, pulse and temperature are a window into how the body is functioning. Unfortunately it is not always as simple as I have made out above, things are rarely that black and white in health. For example you can have a person with a body temperature of 36.7 degrees C, that on the surface looks healthy, but it is really being driven up by inflammation. Or you can have someone with a pulse of 50 or 60 beats per minute but they are still pumping out lots of stress hormones. Rather than creating lots of confusion with the plethora of variations, let’s just focus on how it can be used as a tool with exercise.

Before doing some exercise, take your body temperature and pulse. Thirty minutes following your work out take your body temperature and pulse again. The ideal situation is that thirty minutes after exercise the body is back to its pre-workout numbers*.

What tends to happen when people train too hard is that there body temperature will be colder after the workout, often accompanied by cold hands, feet and/or nose. The pulse rate will also have increased, often dramatically. For some people this means a pulse in the 90’s or above, for others it just means that the pulse is 10 or 20 beats higher than their normal resting rate.

In physiological terms the body is colder because it is lower on energy. Your cells don’t have the nutrients they need to produce energy and so there is no warmth. The pulse is high due to the increased stress hormones, which are released to find energy to feed to your cells and meet the recent demands.

So what should you do in this situation? Nutrition is the best place to start. Next time you do the same work out, try having a bigger meal beforehand and see if this helps. If that doesn’t work, try a bigger meal beforehand and a bigger meal after you finish the workout. If this still doesn’t work, try taking in something while working out. The best option is a drink that provides carbohydrates and protein, my preference would be something like orange juice and gelatine with a sprinkle of sea salt. If after all of this your pulse and temperature is still out after the exercise, you know that the exercise is too much for you and you need to back off and try something less stressful on the body.

Sometimes you don’t need to go through all this to work it out. If you are waking up with a temperature around 36 or below you should be taking it pretty easy on the exercise front. Your body will thank you much more for some simple yoga, Pilates, Qi Gong or Tai Chi rather than thrashing it out at spinning or circuits.

I am a big fan of exercise and think it has many health giving properties. But these only come from picking an exercise that is appropriate for you and where your health is at. Don’t listen to celebrity trainers who tell you with their workout will help you will drop a dress size in a week. Don’t listen Men’s Health who will tell you how to get abs in four weeks. Listen to your own body, it will tell you exactly what it needs and what it can take.

*I would also suggest taking your body temperature and pulse first thing in the morning before getting out of bed and then 20 minutes after breakfast. Both of these give a great indicator of your base level of health and how your body is running.

This article originally appeared on the Frame blog here

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Chris Sandel is the founder of He is a nutritionist, working with clients on a one-on-one basis, as well as creating online trainings and products about health and nutrition. He is the author of The Health Trap: Why "Healthy" Eating Isn't Always Healthy which is available on Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

Chris has three free emails series. One is on how to quit dieting. One is on simple tests you can do at home. And the other is his take on the world's healthiest foods.

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