The Definitive Guide to General Fitness
Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Similar to healthy eating, fitness is just as much about health and well-being as it is about losing weight.
You may be surprised to hear that a small amount goes a long way. Even just 15-20 minutes of movement a few times a week can help your body to cure diseases, and will significantly boost your energy.
The key to success is consistency. It may be difficult at first, but it’s amazing how quickly you’ll start to see benefits which will empower you to endure. Let’s talk about how to get started.
Where To Begin?
The first and most important part of your fitness journey is choosing something that you enjoy. Because consistency is so important, the best way of ensuring your exercise routine develops into a habit is by setting yourself up to look forward to your workout, rather than dreading it.
If you choose running as your activity but you hate running, your efforts probably won’t last very long. If you choose dancing and love to dance, however, you’re setting yourself up to view exercise as an enjoyable activity rather than a forced aggravation.
Some basic starting options: Walking, dancing, biking, intensive household chores, gardening, yoga, running, training videos on YouTube, fitness group classes, and so much more.
Check Your Health
The last thing you want to do is injure yourself. Especially if you’re not used to exercising, you should take precautions by meeting with a doctor or personal trainer to discuss your health and any old or new injuries that could be aggravated by exercise.
This will help you understand your limitations, plan a routine around any injuries, and optimize your workout so that you get the most out of your efforts.
Is your fitness routine aimed at weight loss, overall health, to gain energy, or to feel better in general? Setting a positive intention with your routine will go a long way.
Moreover, establishing realistic goals will help you achieve confidence in this new and unfamiliar task. Just like how a shopping list helps to navigate the chaos of a supermarket, a fitness plan helps you picture your workout, making it much easier to tackle.
Once you’ve mapped out your goals, try to create attainable steps that are easy to follow. Do not try to climb a mountain - literally or metaphorically - on day one. Relax into it. Your body and your mind will get stronger each day.
Once you’ve built a steady routine, you can slowly add new exercises, more reps, and longer workouts to your schedule.
Plan a Routine That You Can Stick To
You’ll have to carve time out of your day to make this work. Pick a time, whether it’s mornings, afternoons, or evenings, and try to stick to that timeframe each day. This will help exercise become a routine, rather than some sporadic thing you can’t quite fit into in your day.
In fact, studies show that forming a workout habit is key to losing weight and keeping it off.
No matter how you structure it, planning your fitness routine at the same time each day will significantly help in forming a habit.
The Basics of a Fitness Routine
For those who are completely new to fitness, there’s a general routine that should be followed for safety and to achieve maximum results. Let’s dive in.
Warming up your body is crucial to avoiding injury and optimizing your workout. It helps to get your heart rate up and increase body temperature, as well as prepare your muscles for the movements you’re about to do. A warm-up should last 5-10 minutes.
Similar to how an engine needs time to warm up before it works at maximum capacity, your body needs time to warm up before it can sustain endurance. It also works wonders mentally as it gives you time to prepare for what’s to come and get into a healthy mental mindset for the rest of your routine.
Some warm-up options: Light cardio (walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, jumping jacks), dynamic stretching/movement stretching (big arm circles, touching your toes then reaching to the sky, etc.)
*Avoid static stretching, which is holding one stretch in the same position for ~30 seconds, during a warm-up. This should only be done after a workout.
Once you’re warmed up, move into your routine. These should be the exercises you’ve mapped out as your goal for that day/week. We’ll talk about the types of exercises and workouts you can do in detail later on in this guide.
Now that you’re finished pushing yourself, you need to allow time for your heart rate to slow down gradually. Cooling down also helps to prevent muscle soreness, allows you to catch your breath, helps to avoid injury, and gives you a chance to relax. A cool-down should last 3-10 minutes.
If you went for a run, walk a bit after. If you were lifting heavy weights, lift lighter ones at the end. Essentially, do variations of what you’ve been doing, but slower. Then, you should do static stretching, which is staying still and holding one position for about ~30 seconds.
Some cool down options: Static stretching (i.e. bending over and touching your toes), deep breathing (like the yoga savasana pose where you are lying on your back, arms to the side, and freeing the mind).
Common Types of Exercise
There are countless ways to exercise and they each have benefits and drawbacks. The best fitness encompasses a bit of each type for a balanced workout, similar to how a balanced diet includes many food groups on one plate.
In most cases with fitness, too much of one thing will show. For example, strength training with a lack of cardio can form bulgy muscles. On the flip side, too much cardio with a lack of strength training can lead to a lean and scrawny figure.
Unless you’re planning to be a bodybuilder or a marathon runner, you’ll probably want a balanced body. The ideal routine will blend many types of exercise together, either in one workout or throughout one week.
Here’s a snapshot of the most common types of exercise you can do.
These are periods of continuous movement. Aerobic exercise is a key element in most workout routines and can occur at any stage of the routine.
Benefits: Aerobic means ‘with oxygen’. It’s cardiovascular conditioning, meaning it keeps your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy by circulating oxygen steadily throughout these organs.
Some examples: Running, swimming, walking, dancing, jump roping, biking, elliptical, and several gym classes like Zumba, spin and kickboxing.
Strength training involves exercising one or many muscle groups against an external resistance. Because strength training can be so demanding on your body, it’s best not to do it every day. Incorporating it into your routine every other day is far more beneficial and safe.
Benefits: Resistance training helps to increase strength, improve your balance, invigorate your bones, and lose weight. It’s also great for avoiding injury, improving coordination, managing disease, boosting energy and elevating your mood.
Some examples: Weight lifting with free weights or machines, resistance training with resistance bands or by using your own body, push-ups, planks, squats.
These are repetitive body movements that occur at an aerobic pace by using your own body as resistance. No equipment or weights are used with calisthenics, so these exercises can be performed anywhere.
Benefits: Helps build muscle without the possibility of tearing that weight lifting can inflict. It also helps to burn fat, fast, by raising your metabolic rate and significantly increases endurance.
Some examples: Lunges, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, triceps-dips.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is short bursts of intense movement followed by short recovery periods. These bursts and rests are repeated continuously throughout the entire workout. Generally, the intense movement should last for ~45 seconds, and the rest should last for ~1 minute.
Warning: You should only do HIIT once your body is in shape. Do not start with this type of exercise if you’re brand new to working out.
Benefits: Great for cardiovascular health, improving muscle and skin tone, and building lean muscle mass.
Some examples: Sprint then walk, lots of reps quickly with a heavier weight followed by slower reps with a lighter weight, jump squats followed by a rest, butt kicks followed by a rest.
Balance or Stability
Balancing is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the action of doing strengthening exercises that help to keep you upright, and often involve lifting one foot/leg off the ground.
Benefits: Strengthens muscles and improves coordination, helps to prevent falls, prevents back pain via a strengthened core, and helps to prevent future injuries.
Some examples: Yoga, pilates, tai chi, standing on one leg with the other beside you, standing up and sitting down from a chair without using your hands/arms, walking heel to toe as if on a tightrope.
We touched upon this above, but flexibility involves static and dynamic stretching poses to ensure a healthy range of movement in your joints.
Benefits: Aids in muscle recovery, helps avoid or fix bad posture, improves balance and helps to avoid future injury.
Some examples: Yoga (less intensive types), dynamic stretching (movement stretching to warm up), static stretching (still stretching to cool down).
How Much Exercise Should You Do?
It’s less than you think. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. That’s 30 minutes 5 times a week. Not too bad.
However, even though that’s the minimum requirement for great health, anything is better than nothing. Again, it’s about starting slow. Maybe you’ll work your way up to this minimum, maybe you won’t. As long as you’re moving several times a week, that’s good enough to attain a positive general fitness and health level.
The Bottom Line
Make exercise enjoyable. Dreading exercise is natural, but combining it with something you enjoy helps to beat the aversion. Always listen to your body. Take it slow; you’ll be amazed at how fast your body adapts to this new routine. You may actually start craving it.
But, don’t expect to see results right away. Like everything good in life, it takes time.