The key to a balanced fitness plan is to 'keep it simple'. Mind you, simple can still be exciting. Keeping it simple and balanced means ensuring that your plan helps you build stamina, increase strength and develop your core. Besides, when the plan is simple and complete, it's easier to stick to exercising.
Cardio the conventional way: Doctors and fitness experts recommend 30 – 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 – 4 times a week to keep your heart healthy. This includes walking, jogging, running and cycling. Start slow and as your fitness builds week on week, set yourself new goals. For example, you may only cover 2 – 2.5km in the first week, aim to increase your distance the next week. Alternate it with increasing your pace the following week, keeping the distance the same. So you finish in a shorter time. Walking is the best exercise as it has the least jarring effect on the joints; it is a great method to lose weight and works your entire lower body. For those who are able to run or jog, the same routine can be followed 3 – 4 times a week. Never overdo, as your muscles need time to recover. You can alternately use the cross trainer to build stamina. Doing the same thing every day brings monotony and your muscles get used to doing a certain action. So it's good to challenge them once a while. Always stretch after a walk or a run to avoid injuries and soreness.
Exercise while you socialise: Those who find walking boring can try aerobics and dances like Zumba, Salsa or Bollywood, which are high energy and fun. They too are an effective way to burn calories and build stamina. Such exercise forms are good options for those who don't like to work out alone. Working out with a buddy or in a group is one of the best motivators to exercise.
For those who like to push and challenge themselves, spinning is a fantastic option. Spinning classes are high-intensity cycling classes conducted in a fitness studio with various light and music settings to create an energised atmosphere. An instructor guides the class through an hour of steady tempo variations and climbs. Almost all major gym chains offer spinning classes [you can even find dedicated spinning studios in major metros].
Cardio exercise should always be complemented with a weight training routine. Many fail to realise how important it is to do weights. Weight training is not just for body builders and athletes, it is essential to maintain your bone density whilst you're losing weight; walking and controlling your diet can cause a decline in bone mass and density. Therefore, make weight training an essential part of the mix. Weight training also improves metabolism. It helps strengthen bones, tendons and muscles. Another benefit of weight training is that you continue to burn calories long after you have stopped working out; the same is not true for a cardio routine.
While training with weights, work on different muscle groups on different days for best results and to avoid fatigue. Most gyms have an initiation period during which they assign a trainer to you, who takes you through the various exercises you need to do. He helps you with the correct form and number of repetitions. Be extremely careful when lifting and setting down weights and observe correct form to avoid injury. Be honest about your fitness levels with your trainer and if you feel discomfort, stop immediately. For those working out at home, invest in a set of dumbbells or resistance bands.
Be it the traditional Hatha yoga or the recent Power Yoga or Bikram Yoga, yoga, in general, is a great addition to your exercise plan. Its benefits include stimulation of glands, relaxation, and improved respiration. The advantage of yoga is that it can be taken up at any age and can be practised anywhere. For those who enjoy a more vigorous session, power yoga is the best form to take up as it engages the entire body and is the equivalent of a cardio routine. There are also easier forms of yoga that focus on breathing and light stretching that are calming and relaxing. You could either learn in a group or get a personal trainer.
It's important to understand that just following any one of the fitness options is not sufficient as it leaves your exercise regime incomplete. Plan your fitness programme in a way that it gives you stamina, strength and relaxation too.
While planning your fitness schedule, don't forget to include time for rest and recuperation. Working out back-to-back without adequate rest leads to fatigue and reduced performance.
You can alternate between a 'tough' week followed by an 'easy' week that gives your body time to relax and recover from the strain and also minor injuries, if any.
Make sure you get sufficient sleep on the days you are training. Though you work out your muscles in the gym, you actually build them when you are asleep.
Do not exercise if you are unwell. Keep one day in the week free, without any exercise plans.
It's great to be committed to your exercise regime, but let it not become an obsession.
— Team CW
This was first published in the May 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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