What’s the ‘Best’ Exercise Program?
Whichever one you are willing to do!
As a fitness professional I am often asked, “What’s the best exercise program?” It is not uncommon for me to answer, “The one you will do!” This is because the most carefully crafted, scientifically sound, endorsed-by-experts, whiz-bang-wonderful program is as useless as last Christmas ’s treadmill gathering dust in a corner if it is not followed. And not just followed for a day or a week or a month, but sustained. This column looks at what it takes to formulate a sustainable fitness program. First, let’s recap from previous columns the three elements of fitness that need to be included in everyone’s plan.
• Cardiovascular capacity: Keeping your heart healthy and your body able to meet daily challenges.
• Strength: Maintaining muscle tone, muscular endurance and combating muscle wasting.
• Flexibility: Retaining full range of motion in each joint. Highly protective.
Keep in mind we are talking about fitness and exercise. Your total health includes so much more: diet, rest, medical care, balance, weight management, etc. That said, what might a representative fitness program include, and how would it be structured? Note that I said representative. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all fitness regimen. When designing programs for my clients, unless they have very specific needs or physical “issues,” I will frequently structure a gym-based program that looks something like the three-segment program presented here.
It is important to note that the following program emphasizes two of the three fitness elements (strength and flexibility) and is meant to be performed three times per week. If you work at a rapid pace you will receive a degree of “cardio” fitness from the strength segment, but in most cases, to meet minimal cardiopulmonary health requirements you should budget two days of at least 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. That could be fast walking in your neighborhood, time on cardio equipment at the gym, swimming, biking, etc.
SEGMENT 1: WARM-UP
Warm up body core temperature, legs and the midsection core muscles (both front and back). Note that this is a warm-up—you are not actually training the muscles involved, just preparing them for the work to come.
1 10-12 minutes on cardio equipment of your choice (elliptical, bike, treadmill, etc.). Work hard enough to break a sweat. 2 One quick set of 30 repetitions on an abdominal machine that provides weighted resistance. 3 One relatively light set of 30 weighted repetitions on a machine designed to work the lower back. Total time: about 15 minutes.
SEGMENT 2: FLEXIBILITY/STRETCHING
Never stretch a cold muscle. That is one of the r easons why the warm-up segment comes first. Because you will be doing two different strength workouts (an upper-body day and a lowerbody day), you will not need to stretch each muscle group each of the three days you perform this program. On the days you work upper body in the gym, just do the upper-body stretches. On leg day, just do the lower-body stretches. Easy, right?
1 Upper-body day: Stretch deltoids (anterior, medial and posterior shoulder muscles), pectorals (chest), lumbar back (spinal erectors), latissimus dorsi (back muscles), trapezius (neck muscles), rotator cuffs, biceps and triceps.
2 Lower-body day: Stretch hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lumbar back (stretch the lower back before every workout) and calf muscles.
You can find a stretch for each of these muscles on the Internet (example: Google “latissimus dorsi stretch”), or ask a gym professional for guidance. Hold each position one time for a minimum of 30 seconds. Total time: about 10 minutes.
As previously mentioned, you will alternate working upper-body muscles in the gym on one day and lower-body muscles on another. This means that one week you will hit legs twice, upper body once. The following week it will be the other way around. In our next issue I will explain how to structure the strength segment (which should take about 45 minutes). From warm-up to final gym set, you will spend about 70 minutes total.
Tony DiCosta is a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and fitness writer. As a competitive physique athlete in the Masters Divisions, Tony has been the Over-60 Florida state champion and holds numerous regional and international titles.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL FITNESS REGIMEN.