What is this thing called FITNESS ??
For most people, thinking about fitness conjures up images of long distance runners, or energetic aerobics, or even possibly muscle-bound hulks. For this reason, “fitness” has not been the highest priority when people choose what to do with their leisure time – the idea of all that hard work and sweat frightens many people away !!
But here is some encouraging news: fitness does not have to mean such physical extremes. In its simplest sense, getting fit is about being able to carry out your daily activities – including work and recreational pursuits – with as little effort as possible. In this sense then, fitness can be seen as being made up of 4 components:
- Cardiorespiratory fitness, which is how well your heart and lungs are able to support your physical activity. Sometimes called aerobic endurance or stamina, this is important to ensure that the blood supply to your exercising muscles is good and that enough oxygen and nutrients reach those active cells in your body
- Flexibility, or how well your joints can move. An inflexible person cannot easily bend or move their joints, and this can not only interfere with activities but also increase the chance of injuries
- Muscle fitness, which comprises strength, endurance, and power. This does not necessarily mean lots of bulky muscle but rather how well you use the muscle that you have, and building up enough to make your physical activities easier
- Body composition, of which the most important concern is having too much fat in your body.
Getting fit means exercising in such a way as to improve all these components. In so doing, you enjoy the benefits of that regular physical activity brings including a reduced risk of chronic disease (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, etc) while improving those parts of your life that we can all do with: lowered stress, less depression, improved sleep, and greater alterness. Overall, people who exercise regularly quite simply feel better.
Sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of hard work ….
Getting fit definitely needs you to spend some time and energy. Like most things in life, it isn’t free. But you may be surprised how little exercise you need to put in to enjoy all those health benefits as well as increased fitness. Based on the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the FITT approach to fitness development gives you a practical guideline to follow:
|Frequency||For all you busy people out there, aim for a regular exercise routine that sees you exercise 3 times a week, and builds in some activity (eg. walking at work or while shopping or for leisure) on the other days of the week. So perhaps you could start with 2 times a week in the gym, and build that up to 3-4 times a week.|
|Intensity||This is usually described as being “moderate” and can be judged by how breathless you feel: if you exercise until you are slightly breathless but can still hold a simple conversation, that is about the level you want to be at. More strenuous exercise will give you more gains, but you should not be exercising at a high intensity all the time.|
|Time||It would be great if you could build up to an exercise session that lasts 30-45 minutes. But be aware that health benefits arise with even shorter duration of exercise, and that you can accumulate these shorter periods to make up your 30 minutes-worth.|
|Type||Choose an exercise which you enjoy, or you will not stick with an exercise program as time goes on. Ensure that this exercise allows you to work the fitness components of cardiorespiratory, flexibility and muscle fitness, — and this will then take care of your fat loss and improved body composition !!|
With this in mind, let’s look at how you might exercise in a gym setting and some of the principles that will help you set your exercise goals and targets.
Each exercise session should include a gentle warm-up to get the blood circulating well to your muscles as well as to start your muscles and joints moving. This warm-up may be a short walk or jog with some stretching exercises. This is followed by two main work-outs: the “cardio”workout, and the strength workout.
The cardio workout uses the treadmill, stair climbers, cross trainers, bikes or rowing machines to give your cardiorespiratory system some exercise. In addition, you will also be developing muscle endurance as well. This workout may last from 15-30 minutes.
The strength workout allows you to be creative in using your body weight, free weights or gym strength equipment to tone and strengthen your body from neck to foot. This may last from 15-30 minutes as well, and for those of you who make the strength stations into a circuit, you can also develop cardiorespiratory fitness as well.
Some principles of your training will include:
- Progression – you should start slowly and modestly, then progressively increase the amount of exercise you do in small steps.
- Overload – the fitter you become, the greater the exercise intensity you can manage (eg. treadmill speed, weight pushed or pulled in strength training). By increasing the amount of exercise load, you will gain more fitness as you adapt to the new and higher loads.
- Specificity – you will want to be specific about the exercise you do in relation to what fitness outcomes you want to achieve. If you decide to run a 10K event, rowing will not prepare you for this. Specific strength training develops specific parts of your body.
- Recovery – it is very important to give your body time to recover especially when you are first starting your exercise program, and when you have had a hard exercise session. This helps to improve overall performance as well as reducing injury risk.
Finally, if you are new to exercise in the gym, it is a good idea to have a fitness instructor or personal trainer work with you until you are familiar with the proper techniques to use and the safe use of gym equipment. Proper posture, correct technique, and safe equipment adjustment will help you take your steps towards fitness in the best way possible.