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Total Fitness Program Components
What You Really Need To
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...
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:
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.
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
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!
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
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!
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
Preliminaries: Dos and Don'ts
Exercises: Upper body
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
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
Exercises: Lower 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)
Seated leg lifts (quads, hip flexors)
Hip extensions (hamstrings, glutes)
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)
Doing the Work
Weighted crunches - (abdominals)
Standing weighted side bend (obliques)
Stretching And Relaxation
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
Don't skip the stretch and drive home -- you might take on the shape of
your car seat!
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
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!
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
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.
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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