Fitness Basics

Wayne Pallas By Wayne Pallas, 31st May 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Exercise & Fitness

Unless you are a fitness professional, you may only have a vague idea of how to get fit, but if you understand the basics of effective exercise, you will be able to organize your exercises effectively to accomplish your goals.

Essential Elements

In his book, “Ratio”, chef Michael Ruhlman breaks down common recipes into their essential elements. After years of research, he determined the very most basic recipes for cakes, soups, sauces, breads, etc., and then described these basic recipes with ratios. For example, the basic recipe for cookies is 1:2:3 or 1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, and 3 parts flour. From this basic recipe, you can make any kind of cookie imaginable. Similarly, effective exercise can be broken down into four essential elements: appropriateness, consistency, form/technique, and variety.
Your routine should be appropriate to what you intend to accomplish. For instance, bicep curls will not help strengthen your legs, and squats will not help your arms/upper body. Those examples are pretty obvious, but I've had people recommend an exercise with the comment, “This is a good one!” I have often wondered what the exercise was good for, and what the criteria were for being “good”. For every machine you use or exercise you perform, you should be able to answer the question, “What is this movement helping me do?”
I talked with someone the other day about people who visit the gym only once or twice a month. Perhaps they are working out outside the gym, but if not, their monthly visits are not accomplishing much. A certain amount of consistency is important, if you want to meet goals. As a general rule of thumb, you should do a significantly intense workout every two or three days.
Form and technique are crucial. Doing a movement incorrectly not only prevents progress, it can lead to injury. Proper resistance (weights), and repetitions allow for correct form. If you are moving too much weight or doing too many reps, your form will deteriorate due to fatigue. Improper technique can lead to kinetic chain dysfunction, improper body movements that inhibit mobility.
Finally, make sure you vary your program. Doing the exact same exercises over and over can lead to overuse injuries. Runners are notorious for suffering overuse injuries because they typically avoid doing anything else except running for their workouts. I know because I made this mistake for years!
If you make sure all four of these elements are covered, there are an amazing number of movements you can do that will help you move better, lose weight, and/or improve your appearance. While any activity is better healthwise than a sedentary lifestyle, your workouts should be performed deliberately and thoughtfully, if you expect to experience constructive change. Effective exercise will help increase your level of fitness, and prevent injury.

Components of a Complete Exercise Program

If the purpose of your workouts is to move better (functional training), you should ideally incorporate a variety of moves that challenge muscle groups as opposed to individual muscles. Variety is an important key to improving overall fitness, which I define as the ability to effectively move weight.
With all the choices of equipment in a typical gym, it can be daunting to organize a good functional fitness routine. I have outlined below what I believe are the important aspects of a complete, functional workout. It doesn't mean you have to do everything in every workout, but you should try to cover each at least once a week.

Warm-up: Warm-ups should last about 10 minutes to ensure your muscles are properly prepared for exercise. Warm-ups also help you focus mentally. You should warm up before every workout.

Isometrics: Isometrics are typically overlooked in most workouts, but they perform an several important functions: they activate all muscles in various groups (i.e.- primary movers, secondary movers, and stabilizers), they correct muscle imbalances, and they help prevent injury from overusing individual muscles.
Isometrics give you a foundation for every other move you do because they help you gain strength, and keep your muscular system balanced. They are very practical because you can do isometrics almost anywhere. No special equipment is needed!

Resistance and Cardiovascular training: This is the one area most people focus on in the gym. There are nearly an infinite number of exercises you can do with weights, body weight, and cardio routines, but the underlying principle here is to emphasize full body moves or exercises that involve at least several muscle groups simultaneously. Vary amount of resistance/weight, speed of movement, and use of machines, free weight, body weight. Five reps should be the standard, but you can occasionally vary reps from one to ten. More than ten reps is not an effective way to build strength.
Resistance and cardio build on your fitness foundation and set the stage for plyometrics. The stronger you are, the more helpful plyometrics will be.

Plyometrics: Plyometrics are explosive movements that generate power as opposed to strength. Unless you are highly trained, you should limit plyometrics to 10 minutes at most during each workout. A little plyometric exercise goes a long way!

Cool down: Everything listed above involves muscle contractions. During your cool down, you should focus on muscle relaxation. Muscle fibers can only contract and relax, but they need to be able to do both well in order to achieve maximum fitness. Stretching and foam rolling fall into this category. You should cool down after every workout.

The Physics of Fitness

In physics, work is defined as force multiplied by displacement. Suppose you bench press 100 pounds once. The amount of work done would be equal to lifting 50 pounds twice because half the weight lifted twice the distance equals the same amount of work. Eustress workouts take advantage of this property by increasing repetitions and decreasing weight.
What does the word, eustress, mean? Eustress and distress are opposites. Distress is bad (or destructive) stress, and eustress is good (or constructive) stress. Eustress workouts are less intense, but produce results comparable to more stressful workouts because the volume of work done is similar. Performance increases with an increase in resistance, repetitions, or both until the stress is so intense (distress) that it decreases.
An example of a eustress workout might be a circuit of bench press, crunches (on a machine), and squats. If your current limits are 100 pounds for the bench press, 50 pounds on the abdominal machine, and 100 pounds for squats, then you might take the weight down to 70 pounds (70%) for the bench press, 30 pounds for the abdominals, and 70 pounds for the squats. Finally, you would do 10 sets of 5 repetitions of each exercise. By the end of the workout, you will have done a total of 50 repetitions for each exercise.
With lower weights, there is less risk of injury, less chance of using poor form, and significant results because overall you are doing the same amount of work as you would with fewer reps and higher weights. It's all physics.

Are You Overtraining?

In the early '90's, I was running well: placing in my age group in races, setting personal bests in several distances, and training hard. The faster I ran, the harder I pushed myself to run even faster. Finally, my times started getting slower. My solution? More training!
But that didn't work. Eventually, I had to back off on the intensity, because it had become counter-productive. I had pushed myself past a reasonable limit into overtraining, and I experienced the consequences.

Here are some symptoms of overtraining:

1. Lack of energy. You feel tired all the time, and workouts have become a duty instead of a pleasure.

2. Muscle fatigue/soreness that won't go away. Without proper recovery time, muscles do not have a chance to rebuild. If you continue under these conditions, you risk injury.

3. Irritability/depression. The constant fatigue, muscle discomfort, and lack of pleasure in your workouts can seriously affect your mood.

So how do you recover from overtraining? Many variables contribute to proper, effective training, and it is a challenge to find the correct balance.

Here are some helpful hints:

1. Start by taking some time off from working out to evaluate your training program. What is causing the problem?

2. Listen to your body. It will tell you when it's ready to resume exercise.

3. Consult an experienced athlete, personal trainer, or medical professional.

4. Do something different. If you're a runner, add some biking workouts, and vice versa. Do you spend a lot of time on the treadmill? Allot some of your time to a rowing machine or elliptical instead.

The bottom line: work smarter, not harder!


Basics, Exercise, Exercise Moves, Exercise Tips, Fitness, Important, Strength, Weight Loss

Meet the author

author avatar Wayne Pallas
I am a retired public school teacher. I have degrees in music, mathematics, education, and several personal training certificates.

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author avatar pramalkumarsamanta
31st May 2015 (#)

Thanks for a nice article.

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author avatar Wayne Pallas
6th Jun 2015 (#)

Thank you for the comment! There will be more articles coming shortly...

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
1st Jun 2015 (#)

Thanks for the useful tips Wayne, exercise should also be holistic like how we should treat our ailments. I have seen some overdoing running exercise to the extent they damage their knees - siva

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