I’ve talked about needing variety in your life to benefit your health. Fitness is a big part of it. It’s important to include diversity in your workout, including the types of exercises you do and when you do them. Why? Combining cardio, strength, core and flexibility exercises into your routine will maximize your results and reduce your risk of injury.
If you work out regularly, it can become easy to fall into the habit of doing the same routine every time. When you perform the same exercises often, they become easier over time. Eventually, your workouts won’t offer you much of a challenge and your fitness level will plateau.
To maintain a healthy routine, vary your workouts and activities, and cover five essential elements of fitness: cardio, strength, core, balance, and stretching/flexibility.
As a reminder, check with your doctor before jumping in if you’re new to working out, had an injury, or are coming back to it after a period of inactivity.
Cardio can help you improve conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
I’ll start with cardio because it’s probably my least favorite. It needs to be done at a moderate to difficult intensity level for at least 30 minutes. Breathing heavily and only being able to speak a few words at a time means you’re there. How much cardio is needed depends on the source, but since it’s for heart health and builds endurance, I aim for five days a week. I also start my workouts with it (well after stretching but I’ll get to that one) because it warms up my muscles.
If your cardio endurance is low and 30 minutes is too long, start with 10-minute spurts of cardio three times a day, and build up your endurance that way.
Your workout should be fun! There are tons of cardio exercises to choose from, including walking, jogging, biking, swimming, dancing, skipping, Zumba and more. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is another option that balances cardio with strength.
For the best results, mix it up from time to time. It will also help you from getting bored.
Strength training results in strong muscle and builds stronger bones, decreasing and helping to prevent your risk of injury.
It’s also referred to as resistance training or muscle conditioning. It involves applying a force, such as weights, on the major muscle groups (biceps/triceps, chest/back, shoulders/lats, quads/hamstrings) in a series of repetitions for a number of sets. It helps build your muscles in balance.
Over time, your muscles adapt to a routine. To continue to strengthen your muscles, you need to introduce something that is progressively more challenging, such as heavier weights or resistance bands.
The resistance should be hard enough that you can keep your form but feel your muscle getting fatigued after a number of repetitions. If you feel like you could go on forever, you’re not using enough resistance, and there is potential for injury.
Weights, bands and machines are the typical options. But don’t limit yourself. You can use your body weight by doing pushups, pullups, planks, squats, lunges, and tricep dips. In a pinch, use containers or water bottles for bicep curls, shoulder presses, and chest flies.
Don’t work the same muscle groups consecutive days in a row. You want to give them time to repair before working them again.
Improving your core strength helps further your overall strength, stability, and balance. They’re also crucial to good fitness.
Your workout may not be entirely balanced if you only focus on cardio and strength training that targets your arms and legs. Although those do give your core a workout, especially as you hold it to stabilize your body for strength training, it’s important to ensure the muscles in your stomach, pelvis, and lower back are also a focus.
Vary your workouts to keep your core muscles strong, just as you would with other types of training.
Planks are one of the best ways to work your core. You can increase the difficulty by adding movements like legs lifts, arm lifts or a combination. Crunches, sit ups or bridges are other ways you can work your core. Yoga, Pilates, and weight machines that target core muscles are other options, as are a Bosu ball and resistance bands.
Without good balance, you’re chances of falling or becoming injured increase, which could put your other workout plans on hold.
Balance is a part of fitness that many people overlook. Especially as you age, or after an injury, proper balance becomes increasingly important. Having a back injury, I can attest to this. I had to focus on balance first before getting to dive into improving my strength.
There are many ways to improve your balance. Yoga is probably one of the most popular options. You can take a class to practice in a group setting, or do it on your own. When I started, I liked doing yoga in class because it motivated me with others around. Now, I like doing it on my own a few times a week either when I wake up or before I go to bed.
There are simple exercises you can do almost anywhere to help improve your balance. Standing on one leg for an extended period or calf raises (raising up and down on your toes) are some examples. I sometimes do calf raises while I’m cooking. Part of it is because I also want to bulk up my calves!
Flexibility can help you avoid injury, and improve range of motion and ease of movement.
Stretching and other flexibility exercises are cornerstones of a complete fitness routine. The best way to maintain and improve flexibility is to stretch your muscles when you workout. For example, include yoga sequences in your workouts. You can also use stretches to target each major muscle group, including your arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, back, legs, and hips.
I do some before working out and some after my workout, and the intensity varies depending on the muscle groups or cardio program I’m doing that day. I make sure that I focus on each muscle group.
Some things to remember when stretching: Each stretch should be at least 10-20 seconds long. Deep breathing is key when you do it because it can diminish muscle soreness and enhance the recovery phase of your workout. It’s also a great stress reducer!
How’s your routine?
Check out your current routine and see if any of these elements are missing.
Consider working with a personal trainer to help you build a program to suit your needs. I found my personal trainer invaluable in helping me reach my goals.
Do you have any other ways you challenge yourself to improve your workouts?