Every year we get bombarded with so much health and fitness information it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. How’s a girl (or guy) to figure out the best approach to getting to a healthier place? No worries—we’ve got you covered! We actually encourage you to ignore the headlines touting the latest trend, the hottest fitness class, or the quick-fix weight loss trick you must try. Don’t let this year be a repeat of last year, where you’re tempted to try all the new “stuff” to see what sticks. This year WILL be different.
Here’s the harsh reality: There are no shortcuts to getting “fit.” However, there are lots of approaches you can take. What is important is that you know how to judge whether a program will be effective for you. When you understand more about the different components needed to see changes in your fitness level and your body, you’ll find it easier to find the perfect fitness program for you. And when you find the balance between effective and enjoyable plans, you’ll be more likely to stick with it longterm. That’s the secret sauce!
The Perfect Fitness Program Formula
There are five key ingredients in safe and effective fitness programs. First, it’s important you consistently engage in cardiorespiratory, strength, and flexibility work. You must also prioritize rest and good nutrition to see the best results.
Yes, there are official American College of Sports Education exercise guidelines; the latest were published back in 2011. These guidelines call for 150 minutes of cardiorespiratory exercise, 2-3 days of strength training, 2-3 days of flexibility training, and 2-3 days of neuromotor exercise (a.k.a. functional fitness training), alongside other movement to offset our sedentary lifestyles, every week. But please don’t let this scare you!
While moving toward the suggested frequency and duration the guidelines suggest is the ultimate goal, the perfect workout program is something that is realistic for you, right now! Quality and consistency is of utmost importance. The official guidelines are set to be updated in March of 2017 to reflect this thinking and reduce some of the intimidation factor that can be connected to these specifics.
Meanwhile, here’s our five-ingredient recipe for crafting a well-rounded, effective health and fitness program.
1. Cardiorespiratory Training
You must exercise your heart and lungs regularly, which requires you to get your heart rate up. The type of activities you choose for your cardio training is up to you; there’s not one perfect option! We do recommend varying the type of cardio you do to ensure you use as many muscles as possible, as well as different types of movement. If you can alternate activities such as running, elliptical, and biking (which all having you moving in similar ways) with workouts that encourage side-to-side and twisting movements, you’ll be better off. You should also mix up the intensity of these workouts. Some long(er) and less intense, while others should be short(er) and more intense! In some cases, full-body, functional strength training workouts can provide both cardio and strength gains—killing two birds with one stone, which is nice.
2. Strength Training
All muscles need to be overloaded from time to time. But your strength workouts don’t have to be long, multi-set grunt fests. Exercises that target more than one muscle at a time are golden, as is working your entire body whenever you can. Get at least one day of rest in between your full-body workouts and be sure you mix up the type of equipment you use to keep your muscles guessing. Body weight exercises, tubing, dumbbells, and TRX are all great choices, to name a few. Be sure to include exercises that target your core as well. Ladies: Don’t believe the common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulky. Strength training is for everyone!
3. Flexibility Training
Flexibility training does not have to be a stand-alone workout each week. But, it certainly can be. You can sneak flexibility work in between strength sets, at the end of a workout, or throughout your day. Of course, a good yoga sesh every now and then will do the body good too! Be sure to stretch all major muscle groups after cardio or strength workouts when you can. This will help offset soreness and stiffness. And your body will certainly thank you for any mobility work you can sneak in daily (e.g. arm circles, hip swings, torso rotations). Foam rolling also is something you should try to work into your routines either before or after exercise.
Rest is two-fold: Getting enough sleep and taking days off from traditional exercise (not from activity, but from workouts) so your muscles can recover are both very important. More and more research is popping up about how getting enough sleep is essential to everything from weight loss to mental function and performance. So make it a priority as best as you can. As you begin structuring your workout programs, be sure to also include days off where you focus on activity versus exercise.
Finally, the saying goes: “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” And this is the truest statement of all. You can do everything right in the weight room, log hundreds of miles on your bike, get plenty of rest, and still not see the results you’re after unless you pay attention to how you’re fueling your body. Don’t misunderstand—we’re not talking about a restrictive diet that outlaws everything under the sun. Everything in moderation! But you should work toward fueling yourself consistently with fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.
Health and wellness is a journey. Your job is to find activities and behaviors that you can sustain. That means acknowledging and finding alternative options for those things that you dislike, find cumbersome, or can’t fit into your normal schedule. Search for ways to find the joy in movement, the joy in eating healthfully, the joy in resting and relaxing. The more often you find the joy and immediate gratification from your new program, the more likely you will be to continue—and see lots of positive progress as the days add up!