Tune Up Your Workout

From mere minutes a week to hours each day, just how much exercise the average person needs to stay fit and healthy remains the topic of heated debate. In 1996 the United States surgeon general told us that everybody needs thirty minutes of daily exercise, while last month a report from the Nation Academy of Science called for an hour a day of physical activity (See related article). This is in sharp contrast to the twenty minutes a WEEK advocated by some slow motion exercise enthusiasts.

Opposing view points and uncertainty is in no way confined to how long we should train, but also spills over to how we should train. Is it most important to lift weights or jog, and what about flexibility exercises- is it necessary to stretch? Indoor or outdoor, machines or free weights, yoga or calisthenics - the choices are endless, and so is the confusion and misinformation.

New and sometimes improved guidelines will always emerge, and the experts will usually disagree on most of them. But when it comes to taking care of your body, the best advice is stay middle-of-the-road, using a fitness plan that's been proven to work over a long period of time. Anything that's too extreme is probably just hype, a waste of time, and potentially dangerous.

Before jumping in feet first, take a close look at what you want exercise to do for you. This will make choosing the type of exercise you do most often a very simple process. A balanced program that addresses all the elements of fitness is important. However, within certain established guidelines, you have a choice and a way to control how exercise affects your body.

What do you want most from your exercise program? I want to:

  1. Burn fat - most efficiently accomplished through aerobic activities such as walking, jogging or swimming, but also achieved through the acquisition of lean muscle mass as seen with strength training. Read more about increasing muscle mass to burn fat (See Related Article)
  2. Build muscle - the best way to build muscle and change the shape of your body is with strength or resistance exercises like squats, bench presses, or push ups performed with a progressive resistance
  3. Build strength and endurance - the most effective way to build lasting strength and endurance is with an intelligently applied combination of aerobic and strength training
  4. Improve overall health - achieve and maintain overall health and reduce the risk of certain diseases with a the proper mix of aerobic, strength and flexibility training
Workout Tune Up Guidelines

A fitness plan consisting of some aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises is put together in a logical sequence, with varying degrees of duration, frequency, and intensity assigned to each area. It's imperative that you take the time to learn about, and develop a functional understanding of each one.

For example, you need to learn how often, how long, and how hard you should walk, jog, or swim in order to get optimum fat burning results, and careful consideration needs to be given to whatever strength training is incorporated into the program.

Strength, or resistance training is a powerful tool that will make your body grow stronger. It's really the only way to change your physical shape. If not done right, strength training will be ineffective or worse yet, harmful. When resistance exercises are done at an extreme level, or improperly performed, illness or injury is likely. The key to successful strength training is to learn how to challenge your muscles in a safe manner.

Flexibility exercises can balance the effect of powerful muscle contractions encountered during more intense aerobic or strength sessions. The addition of a solid flexibility program enhances physical fitness, as it increases overall strength, power and performance.

It's important to include at least a small amount of each type of training. Your aerobic exercise schedule can range from as few as two days to as many as six days per week, while strength training can run the gamut of a two to four day program. The restorative effect of stretching allows it to be performed almost every day.

It's vital that you back up exercise with sensible eating. No amount of working out can overcome the pitfalls of a diet based in fat and sugar and devoid of necessary nutrients. Here again, stay with a middle-of-the-road philosophy and proven methods of success. Avoid starvation and extreme yo-yo diet plans that just don't work. They wind up robbing you of lean muscle mass, making weight loss even harder to achieve.

The Debate Continues

The debate over how much and what type of exercise is most important lingers on, but meanwhile stick with the proven, time tested basics. Do what has worked day in and day out, over months, years and even decades, and don't pay attention to the latest hype. But this might requires a little effort on your part.

Gather as much information as possible, so you can make your own informed decisions on how to exercise. Speak with a local area trainer who has a reputation for getting results, or you can do some research on your own by simply reading and sifting through sea of current health and fitness literature.

The exercises, methods, and routines, as presented in The Firefighter's Workout Book, provide you with clear, concise, easy-to-understand guide to all three elements of exercise, along with an entire chapter on sensible eating. This puts all of what you need to get in great shape in one place, and it comes with a flexible program that can be customized to meet your needs.

No matter what program you choose to follow, remember the basic principles.

Aerobic Exercise
Examples: Walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling
Effect: Burns fat and builds endurance
Needs to be repeated: 2 to 6 times per week for 20 to 30 minutes in the target heart rate zone

Strength Training
Examples: Squats, bench presses, push ups, sit ups, leg press
Effect: Improves muscle tone, builds strength and endurance, burns fat via increased muscle
Needs to be repeated: 2 to 4 times weekly for 20 to 30 minutes in a system that works the entire body

Flexibility Training Examples: Stretching exercises, yoga training
Effect: Creates permanent elasticity over the body's soft tissue, increases range of motion
Needs to be repeated: 2 to 7 times weekly for 5 to 30 minutes in a system that works the entire body

Stick to the basics and avoid extremities of any kind. Learn for yourself what's real and works, and what's false and just plain bull. Read information from credible sources and speak to local experts that you're sure are trustworthy. Base your program on solid principles not the latest infomercial or ab gadget. Getting in shape is nothing something that you do overnight. Be sensible, have patience, and stay focused on the day-to-day small steps, and your body will transform.

The Firefighter's Workout Book contains over 50 illustrated exercises and routines, including strength, aerobic and stretching programs for every level of fitness.