What is The Best Exercise for You?
By John Fell
If we only have a few hours a week for a structured exercise program, what is the most effective use of that time?
Should we go for a run, lift weights or stretch?
The answer of course, depends entirely on you. Any medical conditions or injuries you have, your current level of fitness, your goals, age, etc.
Here are a few tips to help you sort out what is most important for you.
MOVEMENT QUALITY BEFORE MOVEMENT QUANTITY
Can you touch your toes while keeping your legs straight? Lift both arms up next to your ears with your elbows straight? Interlock the fingers of both hands behind your hips and raise your hands away from your backside while keeping your chest out? Stand with your back to a mirror, feet together, then turn your torso to the left far enough to see your right shoulder in the mirror, while keeping your legs straight? Repeat on the other side – are they the same? Squat down to touch the floor with your knuckles with your feet together and your heels on the ground?
If the answer is no to some or all of these, prioritise mobility exercises over strength and power moves. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lift any weights. It just means that five minutes stretching at the end of a workout isn’t enough. We need adequate range of motion and the ability to stabilise the joints through those ranges before we significantly load them with heavy weights. Building fitness (strength and power) on top of a faulty foundation (limited flexibility and stability) can lead to imbalanced forces being transferred through joints and subsequent injury.
A combination of active mobilisation exercises that use bodyweight or light resistance to load the joints as they are moved through their full range of motion and static stretching is the best mix to improve your mobility. Approach this with the mindset of consistency, not intensity. Connective tissues (like the tendons that attach your muscles to your bones) receive much less blood supply then our muscles and so take longer to adapt. Connective tissue injuries (tendinopathy, cartilage tears, ligament strains) are much more common than muscle tears because the condition of the tendons and other passive structures of the joint are so often neglected at the expense of muscles.
Weight training programs that are focused on relentlessly increasing the weight and constantly “shocking” the muscles by always changing the exercises are great for growing bigger muscles. The problem is, they may lead to muscle development outpacing connective tissue development. That’s a little bit like having a car with a big powerful engine and weak suspension system and dodgy brakes. If you use the power available, it’s only a matter of time before an accident (injury) happens.
The key to effective mobility training is to be consistent and patient. With weight training, expect to feel and see better muscles in a matter of weeks. Where as with mobility gains, it’s best to think in terms of what can be achieved in a few months.
BALANCED, USABLE STRENGTH
If you are moving well already, make sure you are building some conditioning onto the great base of optimal movement. There is a large and ever growing body of scientific research to support benefits of strength training for our physical and mental health.
Even if you have some major flexibility limitations, strength training should still make up a significant portion of your week. Just move within the range you have and keep working on your mobility as either a separate part of the same workout or as a completely different workout. If you are short on time, it is possible to do your mobility work while you are binging on a Netflix series… so now there really is no excuse 😉
When beginning your strength program, you may need to isolate certain areas that are currently weaker, in order for them to catch up and provide balance around the joint. Abs, glutes, upper and lower back muscles, deep neck flexors, rotator cuff, rear shoulders, etc. This is where your RISE Coach will provide guidance and tailor a program specifically for you.
Once these weaker areas catch up, it’s a good idea to load your body in as many “life like” ways as possible. Remember that when we are strength training we are conditioning the nervous system just as much as the muscular system. Our brains don’t think in terms of individual muscles, but rather a series of movement patterns to achieve a certain task. A good strength training program challenges the entire neuromuscular system with functional movement patterns that will help us move through life with more ease and less effort.
Here are some basics to include in your strength program; squatting, stepping up, hinging from the hip, pushing, pulling, twisting, hanging and carrying.
CARDIO INTERVAL TRAINING
The heart is the most important muscle we have. The best bang for your cardio buck is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Short sharp bursts of intense effort, followed by brief recovery periods have been scientifically proven to achieve similar benefits to those achieved by long, endurance based cardio sessions (calorie burning, fat loss, increased metabolic rate after exercise) but in much less time. And HIIT has been proven (in over 50 studies and counting) to not only reduce blood sugar levels but improve insulin resistance more effectively than in traditional continuous exercise.
4 Minute Interval – Run on the spot for 20 sec. Stand still for 10 sec. Repeat for a total of 8 times. Lift your knees higher on every repeat effort. In 4 min your heart will be well and truely pumping!
10 Minute Interval – On a stationary bike, pedal as fast as you can for 8 seconds. Then pedal slowly to recover for 12 seconds. Repeat for a total of up to 30 times.
20 Minute Interval – After a jogging warm up, sprint as fast as you can for 15 seconds. Then jog slowly or walk for one to two minutes. Repeat this pattern for 20 minutes.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
The perfect exercise week for you should include a mixture of these three elements depending on your needs and goals. And remember, this structured exercise is hugely supported by lifestyle factors such as incidental activity (walking to and from work, etc), healthy eating, hydration, stress management techniques and adequate sleep.
If you’d like help putting the jigsaw pieces of your perfect puzzle together, we’d love to help.
I’ll leave the last words to two of our world class RISE Coaches, Ed Armstrong and Tommy Cochrane.
Ed – I am so passionate about helping educate people not to fear strength training. Strength doesn’t have to mean lifting weights that are so heavy you can barely control them. There is also a huge misconception that strength training will make you bulky (not the look that most ladies are after!) However, I guarantee that resistance training will actually help you build the body you are after.
Not to mention help slow the ageing process…and who doesn’t want that!
Tommy – I love helping people move well because I know it will enhance every other aspect of their lives. From their health to their love for others to their unbounded gratitude for the bodies they get to play in each and every day.
It’s a beautiful gift to share my love & passion for movement with others. May it be the doorway through which your awareness and love for life is ever expansive
And that’s an Exercise Amen from the rest of us too!
Until next time,