Exercise

EXERCISE; BEFORE YOU BEGIN, THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

A healthy exercise program that will achieve the most lasting and healthy lifestyle requires a combination of strength training (resistance training) along with a cardiovascular exercise program and some form of flexibility.

By focusing on the benefits of exercising first, the physical appearances will follow. As our motto goes, this will add years to your life and life to your years. You will find that, as you become more fit by improving your muscular and cardiovascular abilities, your metabolic rate will be increased thus burning more calories, and we all know the benefits of that. It helps to have a fitness goal, keep track, and be patient while progressing to that goal.

NO PAIN = NO GAIN — WRONG! If something hurts, then don’t do it. Some pain is expected following a workout routine, but it should not hurt during.

Always put more emphasis on your weakness and not your strengths.

Some of the major factors you must consider when beginning a workout program are: Where am I going to work out? What time am I going to work out?

If you have a home gym, you must commit to doing your work out and eliminate all distractions such as phones, computers, children, and spouses. When going to a gym, you must budget your time so that you are not rushed. Find a time that works best for you and make it a routine. My gym experience has been that early mornings work best for me. Sometimes it is difficult to get motivated, but you will never regret being done with your workout and have the day ahead of you. Also, most morning exercisers generally are there to workout, not socialize, unlike the after-work crowd. But if you are not a morning person, you will need to find a time that works for you. Just stay FOCUSED AND BE CONSISTENT.

MAXIMUM HEART RATE

There are numerous methods of improving your cardiovascular endurance.  My advice is to find one that you enjoy.  20-30 minutes three times a week is suggested as a minimum, and your heart rate should be at 70% of your estimated maximum heart rate for the majority of the activity.

HEART RATE CALCULATOR

Your maximum heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. So, a 50 year old’s estimated maximum heart rate would be 220-50=170.  And 70% of this, 119, is the target heart rate that a 50 year old should maintain for maximum benefit.

Cardiovascular Exercise

To better understand the concept, let’s break down the word cardiovascular.  “Cardio” refers to the muscle called your heart.  Your heart is your most important muscle in your body and is, unfortunately, often the most underworked. “Vascular” refers to your veins and arteries.  They supply oxygen and nutrients to the cells of your body and work to carry off waste products. “Exercise” refers to physical activity intended to keep a person fit and healthy and includes aerobic exercise and strength training.

HERE’S WHY:

  • Cardiovascular endurance helps us to avoid fatigue
  • It can also help us to reduce stress levels
  • Another obvious benefit is weight loss: while the body is working beyond its normal state, it must utilize energy stored in our fat cells thus breaking them down
  • Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise benefits your heart by making it a more efficient pump
  • It benefits your lungs by improving oxygen intake
  • It benefits the entire body by providing improvements on the cellular level

While doing cardiovascular exercise, the body is forced to perform in an anaerobic environment, meaning with little or no oxygen. Under these conditions, it will produce more oxygen carrying red blood cells–increasing the blood output from the heart and enabling more blood to reach the muscles due to improved circulation–just to mention a few of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise.

YOUR CARDIOVASCULAR PROGRAM

When choosing the right method for your cardiovascular exercise, first take a look at what is available.  If you are already a member at a health club or gym, then the choices could be numerous.  Many of the machines are terrific for elevating heart rate, which is your primary goal.  So choosing a machine that will keep your interest for 20-30 minutes is imperative.

Most cardiovascular machines work with little or no impact, meaning you are not pounding the ground resulting in increased risk of injury.  Another benefit of cardiovascular machines is that you can read, watch TV or listen to music while exercising.  Biking is another excellent form of cardiovascular exercise which can be performed both indoors or out.  Swimming is also an activity that can be enjoyed year round and is great for working the entire body as well as the cardiovascular system. Running or jogging is not my favorite mode of exercise because of the extreme amount of force the body must absorb during impact with the ground.  Feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine and even your internal organs take a beating.

It is also important to remember that, as with weight lifting, it is good to make a change every 3-4 months.  Switching up routines helps to keep exercising more enjoyable and every type of exercise works a different muscle group giving you a more balanced physique.

Strength Training

Strength training is an important part of your fitness program and can be defined as the process of exercising with progressively heavier resistance to build muscle tone and strength.  The most common form of strength training is lifting weights.  Weight lifting can include free weights, machines, elastic bands, body weight or any other form of resistance.

When properly performed, a regular strength training program can provide significant benefits and improvement in your overall health and well-being, other benefits include:

  • Increased strength and toughness of bone, muscle, tendon and ligament.
  • Increased bone density. By stressing your bones, strength training increases bone density.
  • Control your weight. As you increase your lean muscle mass you reduce your body fat and burn calories more efficiently resulting in weight loss.
  • Improved joint function.
  • Reduced risk of injury. Building muscle helps protect your joints from injury and contributes to better balance.
  • Boost your stamina. As you get stronger, you won’t fatigue as easily.
  • Manage chronic conditions. Strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, including arthritis, back pain, depression, diabetes, and obesity.
  • Sharpen your focus. Some research suggests that regular strength training helps improve attention for older adults.
  • Use it or lose it. Muscle mass naturally diminishes with age and strength training helps preserve and enhance your muscle mass at any age.
  • Builds anaerobic endurance and size of the skeletal muscles.

BEGINNING YOUR PROGRAM

Before beginning your actual strength training program, you should do 2-4 weeks of general exercises to “wake up” your muscles. A simple beginning workout program should consist of working all the major muscle groups, maybe even begin with a few yoga classes a week. Start with light weight, full range-of-motion exercises that will prepare you to move on to greater resistance. This will also demonstrate to you your strengths and weaknesses. 

Remember, some muscle pain is expected. You may be sore following your workout for the first couple of weeks of training due to the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles but this will dissipate.  Joint pain should NOT be expected. If you experience joint pain on a regular basis consult with your physician. 

YOUR STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAM

As mentioned earlier strength training is the process of exercising with progressively heavier resistance, which means now we need to step it up.  You will want to find a weight with which you can comfortably do 12-15 reps before fatigue (fatigue is when you just can’t do one more).  Initially you will want to perform 2 sets of the same exercise. As it becomes easier to perform the two sets of 12-15 reps, increase the weight until you fatigue again at 12 reps.

You may want to increase your sets to 3, but no more, using the first set as a lighter weight to loosen up, and the following 2 sets to work the muscle.  Remember our goal is to be fit, toned and flexible and to have efficient muscles.  Our goal is not to “bulk up” which occurs when utilizing heavier weights, less reps and more sets to completely fatigue the muscle.

Start your initial workouts with weight machines because they are much more stable.  Then move on to the free weights or dumbbells which help to build your coordination and strength.

Good form is more important that the numbers on the weights.  Each exercise is specifically designed to work a specific muscle or muscle group.  By “cheating” or transferring weight to another muscle group, you will limit the effectiveness of your weight training. This usually occurs when to much weight is being used for a lift and you must change your form to be able to do the lift.

Strength training should be a 2-3 days-a-week process and never on consecutive days. Always drink plenty of water.  Training can become monotonous and boring if you don’t change it up and vary your routine every 2-3 months. As we will be discussing, there are several different exercises for the same muscle group which keeps your routine new and exciting.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE EACH TRAINING SESSION

Always begin each training session with some cardiovascular or aerobic exercise.  This raises your heart rate, dilates blood vessels and increases your internal body temperature.  5 to 10 minutes of “warm up” should do.

One thing to remember is that when a muscle strengthens it becomes shorter.  It is imperative to stretch each muscle group before and following your workout.  I like to use the “rest” time between sets to stretch the muscle I just worked out.

SETS AND REPS

When working out, two things need to be understood: “sets” and “reps” or repetitions.   Reps are the number of contractions and relaxations while performing an exercise.  Sets are the number of groups of reps you perform.  So you may perform an exercise 10 times, rest, do 10 more–this would be stated as 2 sets of 10 reps.

Flexibility

If you choose to apply only one fitness activity, please let it be flexibility. Flexibility programs will increase your range of motion, reduce your risk of injury, improve posture and give you a great feeling of well-being.

There are two types of stretching that we will be discussing here: static stretching and dynamic stretching.

It is important to remember before performing any stretching exercises to start with 5-10 minutes of warm up exercise to increase your blood flow and your heart rate. This includes brisk walking, jogging, exercise machine, or simply jumping or running in place.

Static Stretching

Static stretching is used to stretch muscles while the body is at rest.  They are long hold stretches that lengthen the muscle.  Generally, the position is held for a minimum of 20 seconds and up to 1 minute to get the full benefit of the stretch. When preformed regularly, static stretching will increase your range of motion allowing you to move with more fluidity and reducing the risk of injury. 

Static stretching should be performed on a daily basis and following your workout for best results.  Static stretching is the passive hold of a position placing the muscles of a limb or the torso in stretch and maintaining that position via gravity or a supporting structure.  No muscle activity is required.  The force should be applied for 20-60 seconds 2-3 times.  This is the most effective method for increasing flexibility on a daily basis.  Research has shown that static stretching after an workout will reduce soreness, improve blood flow and decrease recovery time

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretches are your pre-workout stretches and should become part of all aspects of fitness.  As with all pre-athletic activity, a brief warm up is required:  5-10 minutes of brisk walking, jogging or use of a cardio machine such as a stationary bike or treadmill.  The goal is to elevate your heart rate and increase blood flow to the major muscles. 

Dynamic stretches use one muscle group to stretch another.  It incorporates smooth repetitive motions designed to move a joint thorough its full range of motion.  With each action, an increase in range of motion should be noticeable. An example of this is to kick your leg forward then backwards without stopping, smooth long motions. Don’t force the stretch, but simply let the inertia or energy applied create the motion to gently push your body to the fullest extent of your range.  10-12 repetitions of each exercise are adequate. Unlike static stretches, dynamic stretches end position is not held.

PLYOMETRIC EXERCISE

So just what is plyometric exercise? A muscle that is stretched before a contraction will contract more forcefully and more rapidly in direct relationship to how rapid the stretch is. Or another definition is any exercise that enables a muscle to reach its maximum force in the shortest amount of time.

 Plyometric exercise has become mainstream with trainers of all sports. Most athletes can benefit from plyometric training and the significant improvements in explosive power required by sports.

A WORD OF CAUTION

Plyometrics is not inherently dangerous, but the highly focused, intense movements used in repetition does increase the potential level of stress on joints.  Any impact exercise can increase the risk of injury if you don’t follow certain safety precautions.  Therefore safety precautions are a strong prerequisite to this particular method of exercise. Plyometrics should be done at the end of a workout and generally preformed until exhausted.

MEDICINE BALL

One of the most common devices used for plyometric training is the medicine ball.  Medicine balls are weighted basketball size spheres ranging from 2-25 lbs.  They are used for rehabilitation and strength training with an emphasis on increasing explosive power in athletes.  Working out with a medicine ball enables a muscle to reach maximum force in the shortest time possible and releasing that energy into a specific direction.

There are many exercises that use or utilize the medicine ball. Some of these exercises can be performed alone while others require a partner or a rebounding surface.  Exercise with a medicine ball will not replace strength training but, when used properly, it will enhance the strength you have achieved and help utilize it in every aspect of fitness.

Pilates

Over the last ten years, the Pilates method of exercise has come into the fitness mainstream.  Pilates helps to lengthen and strengthen your muscles while building a uniformly developed body. This method focuses on core strength, or the core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support for the spine.

Demanding integration of breath control, flexibility, strength, precision, and body awareness, Pilates uses the core muscles as the power center. The main goal of Pilates exercise is to create a mind-body connection, so that the body will move with economy, control, and balance.

Some of the benefits of Pilates fitness program are:

  • Improves mental and physical well-being.
  • Increases flexibility and strengthens muscles.
  • Strengthens your core which is essential to a healthy back and good posture.
  • In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breathing and alignment of the spine. And also aim to strengthen the deep torso muscle.

Pilates incorporates hundreds of exercises which can be performed using only a simple mat, chair, foam rollers, stability ball and a host of other basic affordable equipment.  No weights are used, just your own body weight.

Stability Ball

The stability ball is often used in physical therapy, athletic training and for exercising.  Also known as a Swiss ball or balance ball, the stability ball is a large inflated rubber ball that can be used alone or with free weights. They are called stability balls because their round shape forces you to stabilize your core muscles to avoid unwanted movement during your exercise.  The core, abdominal and pelvic muscles are responsible for overall body stability and are the primary focus of stability ball exercises. A strong core is important for injury prevention, especially of the lower back, and is the foundation of your entire body. 

 As an addition to your fitness program, stability ball exercise is a great change of pace from traditional weights, benches and machines. Stability balls are very versatile and can be used in conjunction with dumbbells and/or resistance bands. The number of possible exercises they offer is nearly limitless. As an alternative piece of exercise equipment, the stability ball should be a part of any home gym.

Bosu Ball

The BOSU balance training device is a half of a stability ball with a base.  It can be utilized with the ball portion up or down depending upon the exercise you choose.  This is a terrific device to improve balance, coordination and muscle tone.  A variety of exercises can be performed with the purpose of balancing left and right halves of the body.

The word or acronym BOSU actually has two meanings. “Both sides up” refers to the BOSU balance trainer itself and “both sides utilized” refers to the BOSU approach to exercise.  The purpose of the “both sides utilized” principle is that by alternating bilateral coordination you will achieve a balance of your left and right side thus eliminating a dominant side.

Core Training

One of the most important aspects of fitness is your core. The core of the body consists of the pelvis and several muscle groups which attach to the pelvis including abdominal, gluteal, thigh, hamstring, spinal, and many other smaller assortments of muscles. These muscles are responsible for the stabilization and mobility of the pelvis, shoulder girdle and the spine, allowing for movement of the lower body and providing a solid base of support.

 Any movement of the extremities must first begin with the core muscles anticipating the movement and making the appropriate adjustments to either provide stability or mobility depending on the requirement.The core is responsible for transferring energy from the ground to the upper body and to the arms. A strong core is probably the number one way to eliminate lower back pain, the most common injury in our society.