Friday, January 25, 2008

Easy-to-use Recommendations for Exercise Programs

Cardiovascular Fitness

Exercise that either maintains or improves cardiovascular fitness and manages a healthy body composition ought to form the basis of all fitness plans.

Any activity that involves rhythmic, continuous contractions of large muscle masses (e.g. the legs) of a pace that can be sustained for periods longer than five minutes is considered aerobic in nature.

Achieving a high level of cardiovascular fitness can be very boring because of monotony. Therefore the key to staying fit is to choose to participate in activities that are fun. If you like running, run. If you like swimming, swim. If you like biking, or jump-roping, or cross-country skiing, then bike, jump-rope, or cross-country ski. Do what you like and you will likely do it often; that is the key.

As a general rule, 20 to 60 minutes of continuous activity is sufficient for most people’s fitness needs. However, in exercising for shorter periods of time a higher intensity is required to obtain the same results as longer-duration, lower-intensity exercise.


Mode or Type: Whatever you like
Frequency: 3-5 days/week
Duration: 20-60 minutes
Intensity: Moderate-Vigorous

Strength or Resistance Training

Strength is the ability to exert a force. Many of the activities of our daily lives require the generation of force (e.g. lifting heavy backpacks), so it is important strengthen the muscles responsible for generating those forces.

Strength training is for everyone, male or female, young or old. Women who regularly engage in a strength training program will not become muscular like men because they naturally lack large quantities of the hormone primarily responsible for building muscle. Furthermore, it is never too late to begin strength training. Even very old people have shown remarkable increases in strength by engaging in a properly designed program.

2-3 days of resistance training per week is sufficient to improve one’s strength. Body weight movements like pushups, sit-ups, and pull-ups are great ways to improve strength. Once you can do more than 20 reps consecutively in a set, then it’s time to either add weight or move into the gym.

1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions promote both muscle strength and tone and definition as long as the weight is heavy enough. Use the “guesstimate method” to determine the proper weight for each set. I like to compare this method to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks went through the Bears’ home trying out porridge, chairs, and beds. In each case she found that one was too much, one was too little, and one was just right. In the weight room the trick is to find the weight that is just right. To do a set of 10 repetitions choose a weight that is light enough to complete 10 reps but not so light that you can do more. Stated differently, the weight should be heavy enough that more than 10 reps is not possible, but not so heavy that you cannot complete all 10 reps.

Consider the body as 10 different parts: calves, thighs—front and back, midsection—front and back, chest, upper back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps. Choose at least one exercise for each of the mentioned body parts. Next, “chain” exercises together as pairs and perform them alternately. For example, chain together biceps and triceps, chest and upper back, shoulders and calves, midsection—front and back, and thighs—front and back. Then, if your workout consists of 3 sets of 10 reps, do one set of biceps followed by one set of triceps and repeat until you are done with biceps and triceps. Move on to the next pair of exercises. As long as you are not spending a lot of time talking in between sets, this workout should only take 15 to 20 minutes to complete.


Frequency: 2-3 days/week
Duration: 15-20 minutes
Intensity: Guesstimate
Sets: 1-3
Reps: 8-12

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