With the world currently facing an obesity epidemic, it is more important now than ever to exercise.
Exercise provides multiple benefits. It strengthens your immune system. It can reduce blood pressure and improve circulation throughout the body. Exercise is the most effective way to control and improve body composition and exercise is also an effective antidote for stress.
It is important to distinguish between physical activity and exercise. Physical activity refers to any bodily movement where energy is expended through the contraction of muscles. This includes a complete spectrum of activity ranging from very low intensity movement to maximal exertion. Exercise is a component of physical activity. The difference between exercise and physical activity is that exercise is structured and the main objective is to achieve, maintain and improve physical fitness. An effective exercise program should therefore aim to improve our ability to perform within the context of health.
Activities such as running, cycling or swimming, which are most commonly used by many for the purpose of exercise, uses muscle, but it doesn’t build muscle. Although it has its benefits, these activities fail when it comes to strengthening and developing muscle.
The foundation of any effective exercise program should always be strength training. Far too many people have misconceptions about the proper ways to burn fat – in the sense that most people are afraid to weight train, as it will make them “bulk up”. Yet the truth is, you need to have and build your muscle in order to burn fat. Muscle is the engine in which bodyfat is burned. You should do everything you can to maintain it lifelong.
There are many methods of strength training. Examples include weight training, circuit training, isometric exercise, gymnastics and plyometrics. Strength training may be done with minimal or no equipment, for instance bodyweight exercises. Weights and weight machines are most commonly used in strength training.
Weight training increases bone mineral density, strength and muscle mass, helps lower blood fats, and combats obesity and diabetes. Weight training produces a positive hormonal response, which keeps the body healthy and strong at any age.
Athletes can improve sports performance through an effective exercise program by developing greater strength & power, more flexibility, a higher level of aerobic capacity and preventing injuries common to many sports. As a world class athlete in the sport of swimming, I have experienced a wide spectrum of training modalities. Elite-level swimmers usually swim between 40 to 60 kilometres in the pool per week comprising of speed, endurance, power and technique training. As training methods for elite swimmers continue to evolve, strength and conditioning development is becoming ever more important for elite swimmers. With all things equal, a stronger, more powerful swimmer will be a faster swimmer.
My personal recommendation for anyone simply aiming to maintain and improve their health and fitness is a minimum of three workouts per week consisting of weight training, some cardiovascular activity and stretching. A good workout should not take longer than 60-75 minutes, which in the context of health and wellness is a very small price to pay. More frequent workouts can be done to enhance fat-loss, as long as recovery is not compromised.
Make sure to get professional help when starting weight training. For a beginner, this could take 3-6 months. Good exercise form will prevent injuries and ensure that you derive the maximum benefit from an exercise. Focus on compound movements such as the squat, press, deadlift and chin-ups, which engage multiple muscle groups during the movement.
Three important variables of strength training are intensity, volume and frequency. Intensity refers to the amount of work required to achieve the activity, and is proportional to the mass of the weights being lifted. Volume can be estimated in total exercises, sets and reps during a session or week’s training. Frequency refers to how many training sessions are performed per week.
These variables are important because they are all mutually conflicting, as the muscle only has so much strength and endurance, and takes time to recover due to microtrauma. Increasing one by any significant amount necessitates the decrease of the other two, e.g. increasing weight means a reduction of reps, and will require more recovery time and therefore fewer workouts per week. Trying to push too much intensity, volume, or frequency can result in overtraining.
Intensity in your training is crucial if you want satisfactory results. By training at the right intensity, you can optimally overload the muscle and start the muscle-building process. The most common way to increase the intensity is to increase the amount of weight on a particular exercise. This should be done progressively. Although training with intensity is hard and requires a high degree of motivation and determination, it is definitely more productive.
For optimal results, your exercise program must be periodized. This refers to varying your training through the manipulation of volume, intensity, prioritization, frequency, duration and type of exercise. Periodization prevents stagnation and ensures long-term progress.
Endless hours spent on the treadmill or stationary bike is unnecessary. Although cardio is an important component of exercise and fitness development, it is nutrition that has the biggest impact on lowering your bodyfat percentage. You can’t out train a bad diet. The quality of your food acts as the bridge to your fitness goals. Weight training places stress on the body that generates increased demands on the entire biological system. A sound nutrition program will ensure that your body responds favourably to exercise.
Exercise demands time, energy, and a strong commitment. Consistent, effective workouts done over time will produce positive results. For optimum health, exercise is simply not an option.