Chances are you’ve heard from a friend or read in a magazine about the latest fitness trends you really must get into to get totally fit. It could be barre class, CrossFit, boot camp or SoulCycle, or one of many other popular workouts. I call it “fashion fitness,” when people become obsessed with the latest workout and swear by its seemingly magical results.
When I catch these headlines and snippets of “fashion fitness” conversation, they remind me why the idea of exercise is often daunting and anxiety-producing when it should be the opposite. Exercise science is evolutionary, not revolutionary, meaning that while we’re always adding to our body of knowledge, there are no magic bullets that easily build muscle or shed pounds. Also, exercise doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. What is effective and enjoyable for one person is not for another.
Exercise is not new. It’s about moving your body in a challenging way. At its core, basic exercise is simple in that it doesn’t require special gear, outfits or a boutique gym. An effective and safe exercise program only calls for a bit of space to move around and some appropriate athletic shoes.
Nevertheless, guidance is helpful – and important – when evaluating if an exercise program is both safe and effective as well as something you’ll enjoy and continue doing. Here are seven simple questions to ask before jumping into an exercise regimen. Don’t forget to talk to your health care professional about what you do for exercise, especially if you’re just getting started.
1. Is It Really Exercise?
The definition of exercise is straightforward: It’s any movement of the body that is challenging and regular. If you are moving and it feels physically challenging, you can call that exercise. Sure, isometric exercises like planks count, too, but you get the idea. To increase your fitness level, keep in mind that exercise must be performed on a regular and consistent basis. Marathon workout sessions performed sporadically are not ideal, to say the least.
2. Is It Balanced?
Cardiovascular exercise, resistance training, balance and coordination as well as flexibility constitute a well-balanced exercise program. Omitting one of these components, such as resistance training, can leave your overall fitness lacking and result in poor muscular strength and even muscle mass loss. It could expose you to injury because you might have poor posture or joint instability.
On a positive note, it’s relatively simple to balance your exercise program. For instance, some body-weight exercises, such as one-legged squats or walking lunges, require no special equipment and are a great way to combine both resistance and balance training.
3. Is It a Quality Workout?
“Simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.” To be effective, exercise needs to be challenging. If it feels too comfortable, for instance, you can sing to yourself, it probably isn’t enough. On the flip side, if it’s painful, it’s too much and can be harmful. Discomfort can be considered the middle ground. If you can talk, but cannot sing, during cardiovascular exercise, you’re likely in your discomfort zone, which is about right. If you can only speak a few words, you’re pushing the upper limit.
As a gauge for resistance exercise, you should start to feel fatigued after doing about eight to 12 repetitions at a challenging weight. If you can easily complete more than 15 repetitions, it may be time to increase the weight. And don’t forget to use correct form and technique.
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4. Am I Working Out Often Enough?
Exercise needs to be regular and consistent. Sorry, weekend warriors: Completing only two workouts per week is not ideal. You should be getting a minimum of three cardiovascular and two resistance workouts, on non-consecutive days, each week as a starting point. Remember, you can do cardiovascular and resistance workouts in the same session. Circuit training is a great way to combine both into one workout.
Aim for at least a total of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Remember, each workout should be a bell curve with at least a 5-minute warm-up and cool-down/stretch at each end.
5. Is It Multi-Planar?
The human body is designed to move in multiple directions, including back-and-forth, side-to-side and rotational. A good exercise program will include all of these types of movements. Here are examples: back-and-forth includes running, almost all cardio machines, squats, push-ups or biceps curls; side-to-side includes side lunge, lateral raise or hopping side-to-side; and rotational includes bicycle crunch, throwing or a golf swing.
6. Is it Varied?
Just as homes have energy systems, so does the human body. Your body has three energy systems – immediate, anaerobic and aerobic – for three types of activities. The immediate energy system allows us to jump and throw, while the anaerobic system allows bursts of intense activity, such as sprinting for up to 1 to 2 minutes. The aerobic system allows prolonged, moderate-intensity activity, like jogging.
Make sure your exercise program has a variety of activities to challenge all three energy systems effectively. This is why interval training is a great workout tool, because it can incorporate all three systems.
7. Is It Progressive?
If you are not sure, ask a fitness trainer or your health care provider: Is my exercise program safe and appropriate at my current fitness level? Does it provide appropriate progression to keep me challenged as my fitness level increases? Am I gradually increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of my workouts? It’s also important to add some variety or try something new to keep your workouts interesting but also challenging.
Some fitness apps may help you create an exercise program that best suits you. All the workouts on the Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout App I designed include these seven key exercise principles, and you can customize your own workout.
Whatever you choose to do to get fit, it’s really important that you enjoy your exercise program, whether it’s basic or has bells and whistles. What you’re after is a positive experience. No fashion fitness required!
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