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Total Fitness Program Components

What You Really Need To Do Is...

If you ask ten people about exercise, chances are you'll get ten different answers.  The reason for this is that a lot of different programs work just fine for a lot of different people.  The differences aren't so much in the exercises performed, as in the arrangement of those exercises into an individual program.  Of course, you get the "aerobics bigots", the "weight-lifting bigots", the "running bigots", and a whole slew of people who believe firmly that being a one-trick-pony as far as exercise is concerned is the only way to go.  And of course, they have proof, in that they are real fit, so it must work for everyone.  Nonsense.

What Really Works
... is a mix of exercise, both aerobic and weight-bearing, plus a good dose of proper nutrition and plenty of rest.  And with that, here is a plan you can use and modify to suit your own level of fitness, and your own personal goals...

Aerobic Exercise
Start out by understanding what "aerobic exercise" is.  It isn't just wearing a leotard and hopping around to Fabulout 50s tunes with Richard Simmons, or buying a step and following a Gin Miller video.  Although those two are forms of aerobic exercise, they are not all there is to it.

Aerobic exercise is simply exercise which primarily uses aerobic pathways to provide energy to the muscles involved.  It is typically "endurance" exercise, in which the heart rate is elevated to 70 to 85% of age-predicted Maximum Heart Rate (MHR), and held there for 20 to 30 minutes continuously.  Strength training also elevates the heart rate, but not in the same way.  Don't let anyone tell you that weight-lifting (including the new "Pump" classes) is aerobic -- it isn't.  You should do aerobic exercise 3 or 4 times per week.  The Aerobic Exercise part of the plan is:

  • Warm up for about 10 minutes before starting the exercise.  Walk, jog in place, move both lower and upper body.
  • Begin your aerobic workout, and get your heart rate up.  You can tell when you're just about at the correct level by trying to talk.  If you can say a few words before you have to take a breath, that's just right.  If you must gasp for each word, that's too hard.  If you can recite a lengthy poem, or sing a song, you're not working hard enough!
  • Maintain the workout at your Target Heart Rate (THR) for a minimum of 20 minutes.  If you can go for 30 minutes, so much the better.
  • Drink water during your workout - about 6 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes.  Drink even if you don't feel thirsty.  If you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrating.
  • After the workout, cool down for about 5 minutes, or until your heart rate goes below 120 beats per minute (20 beats in 10 seconds).  Now take some time and really stretch those muscles.  Stretch each group for at least 20 seconds, preferably longer.  It'll feel great!
Now, here is a list of aerobic exercises.  It is by no means all-inclusive, but has lots of things to choose from.  You may like some other sort of workout, and if so, do it!  Pick something you enjoy.  Don't obsess on it -- do something else from time to time, just to give your body a break, and to cross-train.
  • Walking - walk indoors, outdoors, on a treadmill, whatever you like.  With friend(s), or alone.
  • Jogging - same
  • Running - same
  • Rowing - on the machine at the club, or in a rowboat or shell on your private lake.
  • Swimming - in pool, river, lake, or ocean
  • Hi-lo aerobics - at the club, or rent or buy a video
  • Step aerobics - same
  • Boxaerobics - same
  • Cross-country skiing - don't stop!
  • Ski machines - at the club or in your home
  • Stair-climbers - same
  • VersaClimber or clones - my favorite!  Butt-kicking, aerobic in the Extreme!  In the club or at home
  • Rock climbing - the real thing!  Make it a long climb!  (This is also really good muscle work!)
  • Ellipticals - If you like 'em, go for it!
  • "Gliders", "Riders" - if you're very deconditioned, or have need of a gentler exercise mode, these are for you!
Weight-Bearing Exercise
Everyone needs to do some weight-bearing exercise.  Everyone.  Pumping teensy cute little pink weights in the aerobics room is not enough.  You need to lift heavy, too.  Yeah, you.

"Lifting heavy" involves picking up weights which are a significant fraction of your own body weight, and, in some cases, some multiple of your body weight.  To become and remain fit, you don't have to do a lot of it, but you do have to do some.

We Don't All Agree...
As becomes immediately obvious every time you pick up the newspaper, fitness professionals don't agree on any one "best" approach.  The latest "Pump" and "Spinning" fads, full-page newspaper ads from companies claiming "New Research" "proving" that anaerobic exercise "consumes up to 500% more calories than aerobic exercise"... what are you, the exerciser, to think about all this?  Let's start by assuming that there is some truth in claims for exercise varieties.  How that truth works for different people, however, can vary all over the map.  Single clinical studies generally prove very little, and no one study, even one done by a respected institution such as Tufts, should be taken as conclusive proof of anything.  So where does that leave us?  With common sense, perhaps.  And with that, here is a commonsense approach to weight-bearing exercise...

Preliminaries:  Dos and Don'ts

  • Do precede your weight workout with a light warmup and stretch session of about 10 minutes.
  • Do choose weights or selectors for all exercises which will cause significant fatigue in fewer than 15 reps
  • If you feel that a muscle is about to fail, Don't continue the exercise.
  • If lifting free weights, Do be certain to use an experienced spotter!
  • Don't continue a set with lower weight if you fatigue or fail sooner than 15 reps.
  • If you find that you can do more than 15 reps without failure or significant fatigue, Do  increase the weight next time.
  • Do only one set of each exercise
  • Do each exercise only two times per week, or at 72 hour intervals.
  • Don't spend your life in the weight room!
Exercises:  Upper body
  • Bicep curls  (biceps)
  • Kneeling triceps kickbacks (triceps)
  • Bar dips (triceps, pecs, lats)
  • Bench Press (triceps, anterior delts, pecs)
  • Wrist curls (forearms)
  • Bent-over rows (lats)
  • Lat pull-downs (lats, biceps)
 Exercises:  Lower body
  • Squats (hamstrings)
  • Seated leg lifts (quads, hip flexors)
  • Hip extensions (hamstrings, glutes)
  • Lunges (quads)
  • Toe raises (tibialis anterior)
  • Heel raises (gastrocnemius - upper calf muscle)
  • Prone leg lifts (glutes)
  • Side-lying leg lifts - lower leg, weight added (hip adductors - inner thigh)
  • Side-lying leg lifts - upper leg, weight added (hip abductors - outer thigh)
Exercises:  Trunk
  • Weighted crunches - (abdominals)
  • Standing weighted side bend (obliques)
Doing the Work
  • Choose a program from the above which suits the areas you want to make stronger.  You may wish to consult a Certified Personal Trainer to assist you with this.  (You shouldn't try to do all of these in one session!)
  • Vary your workout.  You need to know that doing identical exercises in endless repetition, will eventually cause you to "plateau", and will also probably bore you silly.  Mix and match from the above to avoid this, and don't continue the identical set of exercises, in the same order, for more than six or eight weeks at a time.
Stretching And Relaxation
After each workout, you should take some time to do some serious stretching.  Your muscles are warm then, so that is the best time to do lengthy stretches.  Take at least 10 minutes to cool down and stretch out, but don't start the stretch until your heartrate gets below 120 BPM.  Stretch each muscle group for at least 20, and preferably 30 or more, seconds.
  • It's better to move slowly during the stretches, than to "bounce"
  • Extend stretches as far as you can, even to mild discomfort, but never to pain!
  • Try "holding" a stretch at it's tightest position, then relaxing, then pulling it back into stretch.
  • There is almost nothing better than a massage by an experienced therapist, after a workout!
  • Calm music and dim lights help many people relax after exercise.  Try it!
  • Don't skip the stretch and drive home -- you might take on the shape of your car seat!
Sleep is an extremely important part of total fitness.  If you are deprived of it, you will never perform at your best level, and severe lack of sleep can actually be dangerous.  Everyone needs different amounts of sleep, but it's fair to say that the averages run between six and nine hours per night -- much less, and your performance suffers because your body hasn't had enough rest to regenerate tissue, or to do all it's little "cleanup" chores.  Insufficient sleep can also prevent you from getting enough REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement -- dreaming), which can lead to problems, as well.

Many people find that too much sleep can also make you feel tired, drowsy, and irritable.  Sleeping far beyond the average, can also be an indication of a physiological, or sometimes psychological, problem.  If you consistently sleep for lengthy periods, it might be wise to talk to a physician about it.

And be sure to take some time off from exercise, even though you love it!  It's great to just kick off your shoes and give your body a break for a week, once in a while.  And, yes, you might lose a little bit of ground, especially if you don't watch the diet a bit more closely; but the benefits to be gained from the respite will probably help you regain any lost ground in just a few days, so don't worry about it!

Proper Nutrition
A big part of any fitness program is nutrition.  I'm not an RD or degreed Nutritionist, so I'm not going to give any specific recommendations here, but these general guidelines are good ones for most of us:

  • No matter what the latest fads are, for most people a diet high in complex carbohydrates, low in simple sugars, alcohol, and fats, works exceptionally well, when coupled with a suitable exercise plan.  You should obtain less than 25% of total caloric intake from fats, less than 25% from protein, and about 50% - 70% from complex carbs.  And for those carbs, be sure they are low GI (Glycemic Index), and you won't have the "insulin spiking" problem.  Fructose instead of white sugar.  Fruit juice instead of soda.  Whole-wheat instead of regular pasta.  And so on.
  • Get out of the "3-meals-a-day" habit, and into the habit of eating small amounts of food all day long.  Watch the actions of virtually all of the other hominids with whom we share the planet, and you will see that pattern of eating is the overwhelming favourite.  You're never _really_, _really_ hungry, so there isn't nearly the temptation to chow down on the heavy stuff at supper.  Just watch those ratios, and the total caloric intake.
  • In general, most supplements other than some extra antioxidants and, perhaps, a multivitamin if you're not going to be able to eat properly, (women should be sure to get sufficient calcium!) are just a money sink.  If you're a power lifter, or a competition athlete, it might make some sense to pop some pyruvate or creatine triphosphate, but for most of us, they're just an expensive zero.  Our bodies manufacture quite enough of both, to sustain us through our workout.  Similarly, stuff like chromium picolinate does precisely nothing to improve the fat-burning capacity of non-diabetic people.  The bottom line for most of us is, don't bother with supplements unless you have deep pockets and a lot of wishful thinking going for you.
  • As I have said many times in the past, don't deprive yourself continually of things you enjoy eating.  An occasional candy bar, or couple slices of garbage-can pizza, aren't going to instantly leap onto your hips or gut.  And if you stop thinking of those things as "rewards" for being so "good", not eating them, then the tendency to overindulge when you do eat them, will be much less.
  • Drink water.  Lots of water.  Drink water whether you're working out and sweating, or not.  It's the best drink in the world for you.  "Sports Drinks" are another money sink, unless you're participating in a marathon or other very lengthy competition, where you need to maintain electrolyte balance.  An hour of aerobics, or a half-hour of weights, isn't going to severely deplete you unless something else is wrong with your diet.  Generally speaking, if your sweat still tastes salty at the end of your workout, you're probably just fine with plain water.
And, finally...
Be good to yourself.  Cut yourself some slack once in a while.  If you need to fix something about your body, remember how you got there, and that it's going to take some time to accomplish the change.  Get some testing done periodically, no more frequently than six- to eight-week intervals, so you'll have real benchmarks, and can actually assess how your program is working for you.

Stay off the scales during the week.  Weigh yourself only on Saturday morning, right after waking and first elimination, buck naked.  The rest of the time, the scales should just be used as a floor ornament.

Use common sense.  If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is an outright lie, or at best, a half-truth (like the "Lose 40 Pounds In A Month!! -- Ask Me How" bumper stickers).  There are tons of people out there, both in daily life and on the Web, attempting to prey on our insecurities.  Common sense is your best weapon against them.  Get fit the proper way, and you will stand a much greater chance of remaining fit for life.

And above all, make your fitness program an enjoyable experience.  Life is much too short to have it any other way.

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