I never wanted to be a fitness cheerleader. I respect a person’s individuality and ability to make his or her own decisions. If that means they don’t want to do a little somatic maintenance, so be it, it’s really nothing to me. It’s absolutely demoralizing for me as a trainer, and for the trainee, to have to drag him kicking and screaming to the alter of fitness. I am happiest when I get to work with people who have already done some sort of personal fitness evaluation and made conscious decision to pursue a fitness goal. It’s better for all of us that way.
However, our understanding of exercise, health and fitness has changed quite a bit over the last few decades. We used to think that exercise had to be done a certain way or it had no value. You remember those days when we believed you had to do aerobics for at least 20 minutes or you were wasting your time? Or the one about you had to lift heavy weights to bulk up and light weights to “tone”? Oh, and weight training did nothing for your cardiovascular fitness? Seems like ancient mythology now, like ‘Earth is flat’ ancient.
Well I’m proud to reveal that I too have changed. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but every day I read really encouraging things about the benefits of exercise, even modalities different than the one I practice, and think, “If most people knew this, it would encourage them to be more active. I should sound some sort of alarm!”
Among the things that I find encouraging is that exercise — almost any kind, any intensity, any volume, and any length of time — causes improvement in some form or fashion. That’s a far cry from the days where factions of trainers of different exercise modalities were battling as if they were characters from — well pretty much any Hollywood blockbuster.
That means that no matter what you’re circumstances, level of health, time commitment or activity preference, you CAN do something that constitutes enough exercise to effect a change in your life. Seriously, that’s pretty exciting. What’s even more exciting is that there are exercise modalities that you only need to do for minutes a week.
Are you aware that exercise — almost regardless of the modality — has been shown to improve muscle function and appearance, help with weight loss, improves immunity, improves brain function and can protect against dementia, among other brain diseases, improves mood, and is anti-aging? It’s not just about looking good anymore.
In choosing what kind and how much exercise you want to go with, there are considerations: goals, availability of time, exercise tolerance, physical limitations, to name a few.
For me, it was 2 things: bad joints (RA) and a busy schedule. Put those two things together with a background as an athlete and the best training method for me was and is high intensity training, a/k/a weight resistance training to failure. While HIT only takes minutes a week to do, is very easily tolerated by joints, has a mindfulness (meditative) aspect to it that I love, and when done without interruption, it can also be quite cardiovascularly demanding. It’s not particularly fun, however, and suits a person with grit and a defiant personality (yours truly).
If you don’t have grit, you will after doing HIT! Because the intensity is high, it almost always requires a trainer. And let me myth bust here: HIT doesn’t mean every newbie gets blasted when they walk through the door. Trainees are taught to push the envelope of their personal tolerance level, whether that’s a lot or a little, each time they train. That’s how grit is grown!
Again, in my opinion, it’s just about the best thing you can do for your joints, if that’s an issue. So if you have no time for exercise, safety is a priority, and you either have or are willing to build a high tolerance, this is the workout for you.
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is another type of training that can be solitary or in a class (cycling), and offers brief sessions that are not repeated often (the hallmark of HIGH intensity). Essentially HIIT doing a steady state activity like running, cycling, or swimming, and on-offing sprints. This type of training is a huge cardiovascular hit and will really developed the muscles used.
The movements are repetitive, though, which can be troublesome for joints, but some activities are going to be more easily tolerated than others, so experiment. This is quick and satisfying training that will throw you down and beat you up. Studies show that it is greatly effective exercise in as little as 12 minutes a week.
Endurance training is a great way to get great cardiovascular adaptations, as well as so many other exercise benefits. This is for those folks that just want to push their endurance, and work their mental stuff out on a long run or ride.
There are obvious time constraints so this is kind of like luxury exercise. You have to have a pretty good tolerance of exercise, great joints, and an ability to push through adversity. For some, including several of my clients who do run marathons, it provides physical, emotional, and mental benefits.
Medium intensity weight training is great for those who find lifting weights enjoyable, and want to mix a little endurance in with their weight training. This is the kind of weight training you think of when you think of weight training. There’s no pushing to fight or flight as in HIT, but it isn’t for sissies.
You work sets of exercises, so sometimes it can feel endless. It should be done 2-4 times a week. Usually there is time between sets, so you don’t get into the aerobic pathway, so you may want to add a little aerobic training into this mix. If you love being in the gym, if training itself feeds your soul in addition to the benefits derived, this is the training for you.
Dance fitness like Zumba or Jazzercise are fun and social. You sweat, get your heart rate up, and have a good time. It’s less intense (anything that you can do for an hour isn’t that intense), so it needs to be repeated fairly often, 2-4 times a week. For those who think things are always better with company, and enjoy spending a little more time with their exercise, especially if it includes interaction, laughter, maybe some high kicks and booty shakes, this is for you.
Flexibility programs like yoga and Pilates offer less “cardio,” a little less weight resistance, but a TON more mindfulness and the best flexibility benefits to exercise. I hear all the time, “I’m too wired to go do yoga for an hour,” but that’s exactly the point. I addition to perfecting your body, yoga, Pilates, tai chi and the like are huge stress busters that can teach you how to be a little less wired. So if that’s something you think you need, these type of mindful activities show benefits for your heart, brain, body and are anti-aging.
For those that just can’t go for exercise for exercise sake, why not join a team sport?
Oh and by the way, more and more studies report health improvements from almost any kid of exercise begun at any time in one’s life.
So you see? There is really absolutely no excuse for sitting on a sofa eating Doritos and just waiting for your health to fall apart. It’s so easy to start reversing that clock. I hope some of the suggestions here will help get you started.