Assuming you have spent some time browsing my website, you will understand that I place a huge amount of emphasis on Personal Development and creating an empowered state of mind when striving to achieve any goal, including your exercise and fitness goals. In the Complete Health Toolkit I explain the importance of having written health goals and a statement of your desired outcomes. This is essential for maintaining motivation and momentum.
From personal experience and my time spent working as a personal trainer, I also understand the importance of linking your fitness activities with your personal goals and desired outcomes. For example my goal was to compete in triathlons. Therefore swimming, cycling and running were essential. It is also very convenient that these are great ways of burning extra calories! Instead of just training to maintain my weight I now have the added motivation of improving in each of the disciplines for triathlon. Your goals will more than likely differ from mine, but this process can still be modelled.
Exercise and Fitness Principles
It is important to understand that there are tried and tested training principles which must be adhered to if you wish to improve your health and fitness. There are three which I will discuss briefly, as these underpin the training methods and programmes that I offer through The Complete Health Toolkit.
The first is ‘Specificity’. To summarise, specificity means that the types of exercise or activity must be specific to the desired outcome. For example, to improve cardiovascular fitness you need to do cardiovascular exercises. To build or tone muscle you must do muscular strength or muscular endurance exercises and to improve flexibility and posture you must do flexibility exercises. For a balanced ‘Health’ programme you should include elements of all three of the above.
The second principle is ‘Progressive Overload’. It is important to factor progression into your exercise programme. There are a surprising number of people who attend the gym on a regular basis, but never seem to make progress. They exercise at the same intensities and use the same weights, with the same numbers of repetitions. Unfortunately this does not encourage the types of adaptations that are desired through exercise.
It is a common misconception that if you do complete the same workout week after week then you will maintain your fitness levels, but unfortunately this is not the case. This is because of the principle of ‘Reversibility’, which means that if you continue with the same routine your fitness will actually decline. Your body gets used to the exercise regime and no longer responds in the way that it did at the start.
Taking all of this into consideration, it is important to vary your programme. Not only that, it is important to record your progress and push yourself to achieve a little bit more over time.
I have provided goal specific programmes and tracking documents with The Complete Health Toolkit. You can get your free evaluation copy by submitting your details at the bottom of the page.
Types of Exercise and Fitness
There are 3 key elements to consider during your exercise and fitness planning. You should consider cardiovascular exercise (elevating your heart rate), muscular exercise (strengthening and toning your muscles) and flexibility exercises (improving your posture and range of motion around your joints). Each area is important for general health and well-being, as each is specific to a different component of fitness. If your goals are sport specific (i.e. development for a particular sport) then the balance of these 3 elements may vary. This is discussed at length in The Complete Health Toolkit.
Cardiovascular Exercise and Fitness
Cardiovascular exercise is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs and enables your body to take in and pump greater amounts of oxygen. If your body is able to take in and pump more oxygen then you are less likely to get out of breath easily, you will be able to sustain physical activity for longer and your heart and lungs will generally be healthier. This is known as cardiovascular fitness.
If we look past the obvious benefits of cardiovascular exercise then there are also additional benefits when exercising at higher intensities. When you exercise at higher intensity levels, changes begin to occur within your body. Your body starts to generate more mitochondria in the muscles to deal with the lactic acid build up. The mitochondria are fundamentally responsible for processing oxygen in the muscles. To cut a long story short, your body can only burn fat in the presence of oxygen, so the greater your body’s ability to process oxygen, the greater your ability to burn fat.
We can use a scale from 1 to 10 to define exercise intensity. This is known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, where 1 is light activity and 10 is maximal effort (see image below):
As mentioned earlier, it is important to track your progress to ensure that you are increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts (Progressive Overload).
The RPE scale is an ideal method for tracking intensity of your workouts. It can also be used to determine the number of calories burned, which is another variable that can be used to track progress.
The type of cardiovascular exercise is less important than the duration and the intensity. For example, you may chose to do formal gym-based exercises such as running on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike, or using the cross-trainer or step machine. However, you may decide to do your favorite exercise class or fitness DVD. The choice of exercise is up to you as long as it elevates your heart rate and is sufficiently challenging.
Muscular Exercise and Fitness
Muscular exercise, also known as resistance training, is another fundamental component of a healthy living exercise regime. The primary benefit of resistance exercises are to improve muscular tone, which can in turn have a positive impact on posture. In addition, resistance training improves general strength and increases lean muscle mass. Lean muscle is known as active tissue because the more lean muscle mass a person has, the more calories their body burns at rest due to an increase in metabolic activity.
Resistance training is beneficial for general health as well as for more specific health related goals and improved performance in a chosen sport. I have provided extensive information in The Complete Health Toolkit and have structured the programmes depending on an individual’s goals. I have provided details on specific exercises, as well as sample programmes for general health and a number of the more common specific goals (i.e. weight loss, muscular growth, improved cardiovascular fitness, etc.). I have also allowed for progression within each of the progammes so that you can get started right away, regardless of your current level of fitness.
The basic principles still apply regardless of an individual’s goals. Resistance training must be progressive, which can be achieved by increasing overall training volume. Volume can be increased by increasing weight, increasing number or repetitions, or increasing the number of sets or number of exercises. All of the programmes that I provide in the Complete Health Toolkit are set up with formula to calculate training volume for direct comparison from session to session. They also allow for, and encourage progression.
The final consideration relating to muscular exercise is that it is important to make significant changes to your programme on an 8 to 12-week cycle. This is to avoid plateaus, which is when your muscles become used to a set of exercises and improvements are no longer made. You can identify training plateaus by comparing session training volume and looking for diminishing returns. When this happens it is time for a substantial change!
There are a number of key benefits to performing flexibility exercises. Stretching can be used to improve the flexibility of all of the major muscle groups within the body. Improved flexibility allows for a greater range of motion at the joints, enabling a greater freedom of movement. This can in turn assist with maintaining proper posture. In addition, improving the flexibility of muscles can reduce the likelihood of injury and can also be used to reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
When stretching, it is important to target each area of the body and each major muscle group to ensure that the flexibility of all muscle groups is improved, encouraging good posture.
The first classification of stretches is pre-exercise stretches. Pre-exercise stretching is conducted in order to prepare a muscle for exercise, by increasing the range of motion at a given joint.
In health related exercise, pre-exercise stretching is not essential as it is rarely the case that a joint will be required to work through its complete range of motion. Where this is the case, movements will generally be conducted in a slow and controlled manner, hence not putting the joint or muscle at risk of injury.
For sports where explosive movements are performed close to the limits of a joints range of motion, pre-exercise stretches are important. A mixture of static (stationary) and dynamic (moving) stretches should then be used to prepare the muscles. This will depend on the nature of the sport being played.
The second classification of stretches are post exercise stretches. The purpose of post-exercise stretching is to improve flexibility gradually over time, taking advantage of the fact that the muscles are warm and malleable after exercise. Post-exercise stretches are recommended for most exercisers, as flexibility is an important component of fitness.
You will find comprehensive descriptions (with photos) for all of the stretches that I recommend in The Complete Health Toolkit workbook. I have detailed stretches for targeting all of the major muscle groups, which is recommended for general health improvements. You can pick up your evaluation copy below.
The Complete Health Toolkit
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