Behind the question “what exercise should I do?” is the hope that there is a quick fix program that will allow someone to quickly get into shape. I hate to break it to all of you but, there is no such system. Anyone claiming to have discovered a short cut and wants to sell it to you has only discovered a short cut into your wallet. Be wary.
“What about P90X and other “fast acting” exercise regimens?”
I am well aware that certain programs are incredibly intense and will therefore trigger metabolic changes faster than others. Heck, if we all had to hike 60 km per day for the next 3 weeks, we’d all be a bit less chubby. The problem with the “new” type of programs like P90X or Insanity is that they are, for most people, unsustainable. You may get through the first 90 days, but can you live the program as a 365 day per year lifestyle? Most cannot. Injury or burn out will get most of you.
This does not mean you won’t ever be able to become super fit. It just means the most successful way to get there will be the gradual one. See my “easy does it” article on ideas to slowly increase your fitness levels. It is certainly not the only way to do it, but it does provide you with a blueprint. But the principle is to ease the body into fitness instead of trying to make up for lost time by going nuclear and tearing your body apart.
In regards to what type of exercise to perform, this is a more difficult question to answer. Everyone is very unique. What works for one individual may not work for another. And if you factor in our personalities (not just our bodies) you have to realize that just because your body likes an exercise, your mind might not. And if you hate something, you will probably psychologically burn out and stop doing it. Interestingly, it seems that what fits your body almost always fits your mind, so this should not be a problem for most of you.
Another question that needs to be answered is “what are your goals?” If you are training to improve your performance in a specific sport, you will need to ask the advice of those who regularly train athletes of your variety. If you are like most people, you simply want to look and feel better. In that case you could benefit from what I would label a “basic fitness and aesthetics” type of workout. Essentially this incorporates a variety of different types of exercises ranging from endurance cardio to heavy weight lifting. Always consult a professional trainer if you have no exercise background just to make sure you are not lifting improperly and hurting yourself.
Here is a brief example of this “basic” program:
– once per week, do a 40 to 60 minute cardio type of workout. Whether this is cycling, swimming, running or a boot camp or exercise class, the intensity should be something you can maintain for at least 40 minutes. Also, the system it most challenges should be your cardiovascular, so it should be a constant motion class, not 40 minutes in the gym pulling weights around.
– once per week do a 20 minute high intensity training program. Crossfit is one such method but you can do your own high intensity circuit using body weight exercises or weight lifting circuit. The point is, you are again in a (mostly) constant motion scenario (i.e.: no rest between exercises) for 15 – 20 minutes. So the intensity should be quite high and prevent you from going more than 20 minutes.
– once per week do a heavy lifting workout. This should last approximately 30 minutes and only cover 2 muscle groups. You’ll want to chose weights that you can safely lift (do not overdo it!) and have a professional show you good technique. You should always have a spotter with you on heavy days. Chose a weight that allows you to perform 6 to 8 reps. Do about 3 to 4 sets for each exercise before moving on. Only do 3 types of exercise for each of the two body parts you choose to train that day. Take about 60 to 90 seconds rest between each set. Your goal is not to sweat as much as possible, but to lift as heavy as you safely can for two body parts. This triggers your strength development, which is a unique affect on the body. Always rotate which body parts you place in this “heavy lifting” category so you can rest your body and develop it thoroughly.
– twice per week do a “bodybuilder’s” workout. Whichever muscles you did not work on your “heavy lifting” day, spread it out over the two “bodybuilding” days. So, let’s say you did chest and back on the heavy day, you can break up the two bodybuilding days as follows: day 1: legs and shoulders, day 2: biceps and triceps (I would do some core exercises on each of the 5 exercise days). “Bodybuilding” type workouts use weights that allow you to hit the 10 to 20 rep ranges. And you will do 3 to 4 different exercises for each of the two body parts. This means about 12 to 16 sets per muscle group.
– once per week do a “body awareness” workout. The goal of this workout is not to sweat or change your physique, but to learn to feel and use your body. Yoga is a great way to achieve this and will help you become more flexible as well. Professional trainer Ido Portal has some great body awareness routines for you to use. You want to challenge your balance and coordination with these types of workouts so you can increase your ability to master your movements and increase your range of motion.
Again, nothing is set in stone. If you are not happy with the above workout, find something that works for you. Even if it is simply playing a sport in a recreation league. The basic goal is to get and stay moving and to start at your level of fitness. With the above program, either slowly layer in the days until you have worked up to 6 days per week or lower the intensity dramatically to prevent over training.
Best of luck!