Whether you’re a novice taking the first steps toward fitness or an exercise junkie wanting to get the best results, a well-rounded fitness training program is essential. You should include 5 essential elements in your program – aerobic fitness, strength/resistance training, core exercises, balance training, flexibility and stretching.
Aerobic activity, i.e., that cardio you’re doing is the cornerstone of most fitness-training programs. Aerobic activity build your cardiovascular endurance from causing you to breathe faster and deeper. This helps to maximize the amount of oxygen in your blood. Your heart will beat faster, thereby increasing blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs.
The better your aerobic fitness, the more efficiently your heart, lungs, and blood vessels transport oxygen throughout your body. There are several benefits to this. It makes it easier to complete routine physical tasks and rise to unexpected challenges, such as running to your car during a snow or rainstorm. It also pumps more blood to the muscles, which helps them heal more quickly in event of injury.
Aerobic activity includes any physical activity that uses the body’s large muscle groups and that increases heart rate. You can try walking, jogging, sprinting, biking, swimming, water aerobics and many others that includes such mundane daily tasks like vacuuming and shoveling snow.
Doctors recommend 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week or 150 minutes of moderate activity. Try a combination of interval training, biking, jogging, etc. to fill these requirements. It may seem like a lot, but spreading the minutes over 3-4 workouts per week reduces the time requirement per workout considerably.
As mentioned, you can also try high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity (around 30 seconds) with subsequent recovery periods (around 3 to 4 minutes) of lighter activity. This will yield best results if you’re in shape for it. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start with simple walks, and slowly increase your intensity by doing the same distance faster each time. You can get in shape rather quickly and then, move on to more intense exercises you’d like to do.
The fitness of your muscle groups, termed muscular fitness, is another key component of your fitness-training program. These types of exercises will help you increase muscle strength, bone density, and muscular fitness. By building lean muscle mass it can help you manage or lose weight because lean muscle mass burns more calories than deposits of fat on the body. Strengthening your muscles will improve your ability to do almost any daily activity with ease. The best programs will require you to perform strength training 2-3 times per week. If you’re more advance then, 5-6 times per week.
Almost every gym and fitness center has lots of resistance machines, free weights, Olympic weights, and other gear and devices for strength training. While a gym will have more variety of such equipment, you don’t need to invest in a gym membership or expensive equipment to reap the benefits of strength training. As an example, you can use hand-held weights such as dumbbells or homemade weights, resistance bands, books, or other heavy objects. However, if you’re trying to build large muscles, these will have their limits. Additionally, you can perform full-body exercises that can be extremely challenging such as pushups, pullups, abdominal crunches, purpees, burpees, jump-split squats, and leg squats.
Your core is comprised of the muscles in your abdomen, lower back, and pelvis. These muscles help protect your back, as well as connecting upper and lower body movements. Core strength is a key element of a well-rounded fitness training program. And, it is extremely important as you age. You likely know a many people who constantly complain of lower-back pain – this is often the result of weak core muscles.
The reason is that core exercises help train the muscles mentioned above to brace the spine and enable you to use your upper and lower body muscles more effectively, i.e., the literally tie the upper to lower body and are a mandatory requirement for performance at a high level in sports. What is a core exercise? A core exercise is any exercise that uses the trunk of your body without support, such as bridges, superman’s, planks, sit ups, fitness ball exercises, and others.
Balance exercises can help you maintain your balance at any age, but are particularly useful as you age. In fact, the older you get, the more important it becomes to include balance exercises in your programs. Why? Because balance tends to deteriorate with age; this can result in falls and fractures, which can become fatal for older adults.
Anyone can benefit from balance training because it also helps to stabilize your core muscles. Try standing on one leg for increasing periods of time to improve your overall stability. Make sure that you flex the knee you’re standing on. For a more challenging movement, try the following:
1. Stand on your left leg and bring your right foot up beside the left knee (this is your starting position).
2. Extend your right leg in front of you, straight, with a slight flex in the knee – like you’re kicking someone in the groin, hold for five seconds. Retract the leg back to starting position and hold five seconds.
3. Next, extend the leg directly out to your right side like you’re a kicking someone in the knee with the side of your right foot (again the leg is straight out) – hold five seconds in this extended position and then, retract back to starting.
4. Finally, bend forward slightly to counterbalance and push the leg behind you into an extension like you’re kicking an opponent in the groin with your heal – hold for five seconds then, retract back to starting position and hold for five seconds more.
5. Now, stand on your right leg and repeat the same motions with your left leg. It’s fun and challenging. And, if you were a martial arts student this would be a triple kick in three different directions.
Flexibility and Stretching
Flexibility is an important aspect of your physical fitness. It is important at all ages and in my view is mandatory in a fitness program. This is because stretching exercises help increase flexibility and, the more flexible you are, the easier it is to perform any activity. As you age, you become stiffer; stretching will counteract this and improve the range of motion of your joints, promote better posture, and increase blood flow, as well as relieve stress and tension when performed on a regular basis. One of the best times to stretch is directly after your workout. Your body is already warmed up and thus, receptive to stretching. If you’re going to run or perform some intense exercises during your workout, you may also wish to consider stretching prior to the workout. A time of about 5-10 minutes is sufficient. However, if you’re a competitive martial artist, you need about 20 minutes, perhaps more depending on your goals.
If you have a good trainer or have developed your own program, you’ll stretch during every exercise period. Martial arts, yoga, and related activities help promote flexibility as well – why not try them?
Regardless of whether you create your own program in our ‘My Workout’ section, develop your own, or use a personal trainer for your fitness-training program, you need to include the above elements into that program—aerobic fitness, strength training, core exercises, balance training, and flexibility and stretching. You do not need to fit each element into every exercise period, but factor in at least two for each period. This will help promote great health and fitness into your lifestyle.