Last week, we looked at quick workouts. Now let’s look at structured workouts — the ones that you actually have to make time for. Every workout you do should have a goal, a purpose. If you’re just at the gym watching the clock, with no particular focus, you are wasting valuable time.
As we have already learned, different types of workouts work on different aspects of fitness — aerobic fitness, strength or flexibility. So the first thing you need to do is decide what your main fitness focus is. But even then, it’s important to ensure that your overall regime is balanced.
For example, even if your goal is to improve your stamina, you should still do a little strength training and stretching to supplement it. Don’t get too hung up about your training focus if you’re starting from scratch and simply want to build up your overall fitness — your structured workouts can combine all three ‘S’s: strength, stamina and suppleness.
How? Well, let’s look at the anatomy of the ‘perfect’ workout …
The Workout Warm-Up
Every decent workout starts with a warm-up. This gets the body primed for activity, by raising body temperature, heart rate and making muscles more flexible. Start by taking each of the major joints (the neck, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles) through its full range of motion — for example, roll the shoulders all the way around, bend and extend the knees fully, circle the ankles. This helps to lubricate the joint surfaces so that movement is more comfortable, smooth and safe. Don’t swing or yank your limbs, though — keep everything very gentle and easy. Next, perform some gentle aerobic activity for about 5 minutes. This could be brisk walking, easy cycling, jogging or stepping. Now you’re ready to get going!
The aerobic section of your workout should last 20 to 50 minutes (beginners should start at the lower end of the time span and work upwards), and needs to be done at a pace that makes you feel warm, breathless and a bit sweaty. On a scale of 1 to 10, you should be working at your own personal 5 to 7 out of 10. You should still be able to hold a conversation.
The good thing about using the 1 to 10 scale is that as you get fitter, you’ll actually be working at a higher intensity for the same effort level. In other words, you might still be working at, say, 6 out of 10 but the actual pace or intensity will be greater. Don’t make the mistake of sticking at the same level of intensity even though you’ve become fitter – otherwise you won’t make progress. Remember also to gradually increase the duration as exercise becomes easier. At the end of your aerobic workout, cool down gradually rather than stopping suddenly. If you aren’t doing any strength training, remember to stretch afterwards, too.
The goal here is to work all the major muscle groups of the body: the chest, back, buttocks, legs, arms, shoulders and abdominals. Sounds as if it could take all day? Don’t worry, for the first few weeks of strength training you’ll see results from just one exercise per body part — and one set of each exercise. However, don’t waste that set by using weights that are so light that you can do endless repetitions!
In order to see changes in your muscles strength and tone, you need to use a weight that you can only lift 8 to 12 times, so that the last couple of repetitions (reps) are quite tough. As you get stronger, you can introduce additional or alternative exercises for each body area, or increase the weights, reps and sets. It’s best to ask a personal trainer or gym instructor to show you which exercises to do and how to do them correctly. Even a full body strength workout need only take 20 to 30 minutes.
The last piece of the jigsaw is to do some stretching. This is really important, even if you’re not bothered about improving your flexibility, as the muscular contractions involved in strength training and aerobic exercise shorten muscle fibres, and they need to be restored to their normal resting length to prevent them tightening up and, over time, shortening permanently.
Stretch each of the major muscle groups (remembering to do both sides, where appropriate) — taking each stretch to the point of tautness rather than pain and holding for 15 to 30 seconds. Your stretch routine should take around 10 minutes.
So you see, you can build stamina, strength and suppleness all in under an hour! Make time for three workouts a week and you’ll soon be well on your way to a fitter body, better health and bags of energy.
To your success!
Featured image source: Ebony