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When it comes to exercise, I am a simpleton. I don't like to waste time on theories and formulas that challenge the inner most sanctity of our physiological make-up. Years of experience have taught me that if you want to train as a high performance athlete, then a strict and strategic plan is required if you are to peak at the appropriate times and optimize your strength. When it comes to getting fit, healthy and just feeling better from the inside out, everything works if you are consistent and put the time in. Yoga, pilates, circuit training, walking, cycling, resistance training, whatever the activity, as long as it is fun, you do it regularly and are motivated to push a little farther each time, things will happen for you.
Where is Science Taking Us?
The bottom line is this: it has been proven time and time again that exercise at a very superficial level is good for us, both physically and mentally. In the past 20 years, scientists and exercise physiologists alike are discovering the intricate components of our physiology that helps us lose weight, define our bodies, keep weight on and improve our mood states. Scientists are discovering which hormones are most affected by exercise, how proteins are expressed or suppressed when a certain amount of calories are eaten or a certain amount of exercise is accumulated. Over all, scientists are discovering how our bodies work and how exercise benefits us from a cellular level.
From an easily digestible perspective (no pun intended), here are a few points that can help practically plan your exercise routine:
• High intensity exercise is a personal thing. What may be perceived as intense for me may be very easy for you. Whatever the activity, the more effort you put into it, the more benefits you get out of it. High intensity activity burns more calories during the session and hours after the session. How could you define intensity? On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most intense, you want to exercise at an 8 level and occasionally go for a 9. There is a catch though; before going really intensely, make sure you spend at least 5 minutes or so warming up your body which will make the "go hard" experience even better. Also, on your intense days, try and exercise at least 15 minutes continuously with a 5-minute warm-up built in.
• Going "hard" each time you work out will only set you back and stunt your progress. For every one to three "hard days", plan a lighter day where you do a similar workout, be it resistance training, cardio, or pilates at a lower intensity level. Rest more between exercises, use a lighter resistance and just don't push as hard. Your body will replenish and refresh itself for the next exercise session. Always going hard will leave you feeling empty, especially on those days when you are looking for a great workout, but your body just doesn't want to co-operate.
• Before making a decision of what you are going to do, plan your workout days. Don't make the mistake of planning your workout and fitting the days around the workout. Plan your days first and fit your workout sessions into your days.
• While cardiovascular activities such as cycling, running and resistance training workouts focus on different objectives, they foster the same goal: to improve health. If you only have a certain amount of time to exercise and don't know which objective to choose, then simply use the 50/50 rule and give both components equal time. If you have 20 minutes, perform 10 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of weight training. You can also split up your days so one day you commit 20 full minutes to cardio and on another day 20 full minutes to resistance training.
• Forget about the misconceptions that a workout has to be methodical, well-planned and organized with a warm-up, training session and cool-down followed by a stretching routine. While I am a believer of periodizing a program and manipulating variables such as sets, reps and weight used, these are not issues you need to struggle with when you are just getting started and hoping to keep going. You can deal with those things later on when you have been exercising consistently for 3 to 4 weeks and feel that you have a good handle on planning your time and sticking to it.
• Finally, regardless of what "science says", choose an activity that you like to perform even if doesn't burn as many calories, build as much muscle or give you the most bang for your buck. I love the semi-recumbent bike simply because it allows me to easily read as I work out. Yes, there are machines that are upright and involve full use of the body and burn more calories, but they don't give me what I want out of a cardio workout – the ability to kill two birds with one stone – to work out and read. So, with that in mind, choose something that you like to do and maximize it. Change things up, go faster, longer or increase the tension. Do what works for you. When you become fully committed to an exercise program, then you can start to use science to foster a better workout and help you reach your immediate goals. Start small and aim big.
Just do it! Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, an executive with 200 employees or a regular person who just can't commit to an exercise routine, you just have to learn how to incorporate exercise into your life. Exercising does not have to be elaborate or for a long duration. If you normally wake up at 6 AM, wake up at 5:45 AM. If you generally retire for bed at 10 PM, go to bed at 10:15 PM and get a 15-minute workout in. If you just can't do it at home, join a gym near by. If you just can't find a gym that you like, buy some equipment at home. If you just can't motivate yourself to work out at home and don't want to join a gym, hire a trainer. These are all great objections, but when it comes to your health and to improving yourself for both you and the benefit of others, the excuses really do fall short. Don't concern yourself with the big picture up front, visualize the body and health you want, but practically implement a plan that will work for you today and in the very near future and as your future gets brighter, your program can change to match your vision. Good luck!
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