Fitness is one of those terms you can often hear just about anywhere: in the media, on the street, during a conversation with friends, and just about anywhere else. Even though it gets used and abused a lot, how much do we actually know about it? Can any one of us define what fitness really is?
Paraphrasing the National Federation of Professional Trainers Handbook, fitness is the ability to perform everyday activities with vigor, with some spare energy left to be able to react in case of an emergency. Body fat percentage should be around 18% for men, and 25% for women, and lungs, heart and body should be strong.
Then there is the medical perspective. I have a good friend who works as a Nurse Practitioner and runs a website called the Nurse Salary Guide. Her ideas on health and fitness are so far removed from my own. She talks about heart fitness and lung fitness more than what most trainers mean. But that’s another blog post!
If you were to really get into it, fitness could be broken down into four separate aspects, which are:
Cardio Respiratory Conditioning
Or simply put, your lungs and your trying to keep up with the pace set by your muscles during exercising. When you run out of breath while running, your cardio respiratory system can’t keep up with your muscles.
If you are in good shape, you have good cardio endurance, which will make you feel more energized. But, that’s not the only reason for doing cardio. You will also lose weight, reduce fat content inside your body and burn excess calories.
If you are keen on building your cardio respiratory endurance, here’s what you need to do:
Intensity: cardio workouts should be performed between 60 and 70% of your maximum heart rate if you want to achieve optimal results in a reasonable timeframe.
Activity: always pick an activity which engages large muscle groups, such as quads. The bigger the muscle, the more calories you will burn. Some examples of such workouts would be running, swimming, cycling, and many others.
Frequency: 3 to 5 times in a week.
Duration: no less than 15 minutes, and no more than 60 in a single day.
If follow this program, you will be able to see the results as soon as 6 to 8 weeks.
Muscular endurance is categorized as your muscles’ ability to carry out contractions over long periods of time. For example, if you were to do exercises, such as crunches, for an hour, that low intensity performance would be called muscular endurance.
In order to improve muscular endurance, you need to do the following:
Intensity: use 40 to 60% of your weight capacity, perform sets of 20 to 25 reps.
Activity: perform three circuits of three different exercise such as pushing, pulling, squatting or pressing.
There are two different types of muscular strength: dynamic and static. Dynamic strength refers to your ability move a certain weight with your muscles. Dynamic strength comes into play while doing bench presses or curls.
Static strength, on the other hand, only takes into account the weight you are able to hold with your muscles without moving. Such exercises would be planking, or doing a bridge position. Both types are needed in everyday life, since you are bound to get stuck doing something physical sooner or later, so it’s better to be ready for it, instead of getting injured.
To avoid injuries, adhere to this program:
Intensity: 80 to 90% of your weight capacity, sets of 4 to 6 repetitions.
Activity: perform exercises where your muscles are contracting, but your body remains stationary, or dynamic workouts, such as push-ups. Also, try to choose exercises which require you to perform compound moves which require you to engage several muscle groups, not just individual muscles.
Frequency: two times a week tops, you should give your muscles a chance to recover.
Obsessed with cardio endurance and muscular strength, people often forget one of the most important segments of fitness. That segment is flexibility. Basically, flexibility is your ability to achieve a full range of movement with your joints and muscles, while feeling no pain in the process.
You can test yourself by touching your toes, while keeping your legs straight as you bend down. If you can’t do it, that means you are not flexible enough and you need to work on that. Flexibility is important, because it reduces the chance of injury, and because it will allow you to have a full range of motion even in your old age.
Some areas which you should target are your lower back and your hamstrings, since those two are the most prone to injuries.
Improving your flexibility starts with this:
Intensity: pull on your muscles gently, so you don’t feel any pain. If you start to feel discomfort, ease up and a bit, and try again. You can’t rush flexibility.
Activity: nothing more than your basic stretched for all the joints and muscles in your body.
Frequency: before and after your exercise routines.
Duration: you should stretch between 10 and 15 minutes. If you are working on improving your flexibility, you can stretch a bit longer.
The Perfect Fitness Routine
The National Federation of Professional Trainers recommend the following routine:
Warm Up: 5 to 10 minutes of stretching and low intensity activities such as walking or cycling.
Weight Training: 25 minutes, 3 sets of 20 to 25 reps. Consider the following types of exercises: pushing, pulling, leg pressing and squatting. Perform a total of 9 sets, or three circuits.
Core/Ab Workout: 10 minutes. Any exercise that engages these muscles will do.
Aerobic Activity: 20 minutes. Choose aerobic exercises which will raise your rate up to 70% percent of its maximum, such as jogging, running, swimming, and so on.
Cooling Down: 5 to 10 minutes. Stretch out, especially those muscles which were targeted during this routine.
Now, this routine is pretty flexible, and you can choose between the following exercises to come up with the best combo for yourself: chest press, triceps extensions, pull downs, rows, curls, squats, leg extensions, and leg curls, among others.
Now you know … don’t you?