The Ultimate Guide To Exercise
Starting an exercise program at any age can make a significant difference to your health, longevity, moods and day to day life.
Many people know that exercise is essential for health but either aren’t quite sure of what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
As a result, they often fail to take action – action which would help to catapult them forward as far as their overall quality of life is concerned.
There are so many benefits of exercise, which we’ll be talking about shortly, that you simply can’t ignore if you’re wanting to live a healthy, enjoyable life.
In the coming sections, we’ll go over everything that you need to know about exercise so that you feel prepared to start your own exercise program.
• What is exercise?
• The different types of exercise
• The benefits of regular exercise
• The popular exercises you can do for each muscle group
• How to create an exercise plan
• The best exercises to use to lose belly fat
• The optimal way to exercise to lose weight
• The best tips to see quick and effective results from your exercise program
As you’re about to see, exercise really doesn’t need to be as complex as you might have made it out to be in the past.
Let’s start with some information on what exercise is.
What Is Exercise?
Exercise is virtually anything that gets your body moving.
Walking – even if it’s just to the fridge to get a drink can be considered exercise of sorts.
If your body is moving, you are exercising – simple as that.
That said, walking to the fridge isn’t necessarily going to be enough exercise to really bring about many health benefits.
But, if you were to get up and walk to the fridge 20 times a day, that might start to have some benefit.
As a general recommendation, most people should be engaging in 10-30 minutes of exercise every day.
This exercise – or ‘movement’ if you wish to call it, should vary in levels of intensity according to the physical capabilities of the individual itself.
Generally, the shorter the amount of time spent exercising, the higher intensity it should be in order to create beneficial changes in the way your body functions.
While some people will be able to engage in sprint training for instance, a very intense form of exercise, others may find that a brisk walk is enough to really push their body.
And this is fine. You need to learn what works for you. One of the most important things that you must know when it comes to exercise is that there is no one-size-fits all. Exercise can be what you make of it.
Overall, exercise can be grouped into three different categories of movement.
These include aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise, as well as flexibility exercises.
Let’s briefly go over each.
Aerobic exercise literally means ‘with oxygen’. It’s exercise that is performed at a level that triggers your body to require more oxygen to keep up the pace.
Aerobic exercise begins at a moderate intensity level, typically anywhere from about 50-80% of your maximum heart rate value (which is typically determined by taking the number 220, and subtracting your age).
Because your body is able to use oxygen effectively while doing this form of activity, you can carry on doing it for longer.
Aerobic exercise can last anywhere from two minutes all the way to hours on end in the case of a marathon.
Some examples of activities that utilise this form of exercise include jogging, walking, cycling at a steady pace, or playing a game of golf, or tennis.
In contrast to aerobic exercise, there is anaerobic exercise. This is a form of exercise where you are not able to utilise oxygen while the exercise is being performed.
This is due to it being at such a high intensity level that your body simply can’t keep up with demands and as such, alternative energy pathways are utilised (namely, the ATP-CP and Glycolytic systems).
Anaerobic exercise is exercise that is very intense in nature and only lasts for a short duration, anywhere from 10 seconds to 120 seconds.
Beyond that point, aerobic exercise would kick in if you were to continue and the intensity of the exercise would significantly decrease.
Examples of anaerobic exercise would include sprint exercise training (running as fast as possible for 15 seconds for example), performing weight lifting activities, as well as some sports such as football, soccer, or hockey where you have brief bursts of very intense exercise with active rest periods (or resting altogether).
This form of exercise is typically only performed by those who have a base level of fitness, otherwise they will simply not be able to reach the level of intensity needed to carry out this form of exercise.
Finally, the last type of exercise is flexibility exercise. This form of exercise is done to help increase the range of motion you are able to work through, so in essence, will help increase your performance on both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
It is any form of activity that has you lengthening the muscles, slightly further than you normally would to the point of minor discomfort as you feel a non-painful stretch in the muscle tissue.
Flexibility exercise should never hurt in terms of feeling a sharp pain and should always be performed very slowly to avoid injury.
This form of exercise doesn’t increase your heart rate like the two previous forms will, however that does not mean it’s not beneficial for your health.
Most people tend to lose flexibility with age, meaning their joints and muscles become stiffer as they get older.
Unless they work on it, this can severely limit their range of motion and the activities they are able to undertake as the years pass by.
Flexibility exercise is typically performed after aerobic or anaerobic exercise when the body is warm and able to move through the greater range of motion more easily.
It should never be performed cold, so even if you aren’t doing it after another exercise session, you should still be focusing on doing it after a brief warm-up.
Engaging in regular exercise sessions – preferably a mixture of these three types of exercise is important for keeping your body fit and agile, for improving your quality of life, for keeping your muscles and bones strong, as well as for warding off disease.
Let’s now go over some of the primary benefits of exercise…
What Are The Benefits Of Exercise?
When it comes to exercise, the benefits are numerous –so let’s focus on some of the main benefits that you need to know about.
The type of benefit you get from exercise is going to vary depending on the exercise being performed.
Aerobic exercise, for instance, gives slightly different benefits than anaerobic exercise does, and flexibility training gives an entirely new set of benefits.
This is why the best case scenario is to form an exercise plan that includes activity across all three areas of exercise.
Let’s look at some of the key benefits to focus on.
• Improved Heart Health
Regular exercise has been shown to improve heart health and blood circulation to and from the heart.
Remember that the heart is a muscle and needs to be ‘exercised’ accordingly.
Those who engage in regular physical activity will not only have stronger hearts, meaning the heart is more capable of pushing blood around the body, but they’ll also experience lower cholesterol levels and plaque on their arteries, which may decrease their risk-factor for heart disease, one of the leading killers in today’s world.
• Improved Bone Strength & Density
Next, a regular physical activity program will also help to improve bone strength and density.
Any form of weight baring activity (resistance training) will force the bones to strengthen in preparation future similar tension, similar to the way muscle respond to repeated tension.
This can then help prevent stress fractures from developing down the road as well as lower your risk factor for osteoporosis.
The best type of activity for improving bone strength is weight training because in addition to your own weight, you now have increased resistance.
• Improved Muscular Strength
As your bones get stronger, you’ll also experience an increase in muscular strength as well.
This too is highly relevant when performing anaerobic type of training, namely resistance training.
As you improve your muscular strength, you will then see carry over benefits to other activities you are doing in daily life, making those activities seem that much easier.
Additionally, you may also be able to build more lean muscle mass added to your frame, which then improves your overall appearance, while also increasing your resting metabolic rate, making future weight control easier.
• Improved Balance And Agility
Balance becomes especially important as you grow older, because without it, it becomes very hard to do day to day tasks.
By engaging in regular exercise, you can help maintain balance better for longer, improving your quality of life in your later years.
Those who are participating in sports are also going to be very interested in balance training as it will help them become more stable on their feet, able to withstand changes in direction as well as any attacks they may have from other plays (in contact sports).
• Improved Range Of Motion
As noted in the flexibility section, you’ll also experience an increased range of motion when doing regular exercise training.
This can reduce your risk of injury, both while exercising and not, while also helping improve your performance in any exercise you choose to do.
When you feel physically limited in the range of motion you can take, you will notice that all exercises feel more challenging, so working to keep this up is important.
• Improved Circulation
Regular exercise training is also important for improving your circulation levels.
As you get your heart rate up, more blood, nutrients, and oxygen will be pumped through to all cells of the body.
While circulation is typically not a concern in younger individuals, as you get older, having poor circulation can be more predominant.
• Improved Endurance/Stamina
With regular training, especially aerobic training, you’ll see an increase in your endurance and stamina levels.
This can mean you are able to continue to exercise for longer periods of time without fatigue setting in as early.
As this improvement happens, you’ll also notice that you stop becoming as fatigued in day to day lifestyle activities as well.
If right now you feel that you are winded after walking up a flight of stairs for example, with regular exercise training, this could be reduced significantly.
• Improved Weight Control/Management
Another big benefit that most people realise that comes with regular exercise training is improved weight control and management.
Exercise burns calories and the more calories you burn, the more calories you can eat (and not gain weight).
Or, if dieting and using a reduced calorie intake, the more calories you burn, the faster weight loss progresses.
Those who make exercise a regular part of their lifestyle tend to not only see greater weight loss results if they are trying to lose weight, but also tend to notice they can keep the weight off longer and more easily if they continue exercising into the future.
While nutrition can never be overlooked, exercise does tend to offer some preventative benefits against weight gain.
• Improved Insulin Sensitivity
Another benefit of exercise is the improved insulin sensitivity that you receive.
This means that your body will be able to handle the carbohydrates you consume better, shuttling them off for use as muscular fuel, rather than converting them to body fat storage.
In addition, it can also help lower your risk factor for diabetes, as one of the traits of those who suffer from diabetes is insulin resistance.
• Improved Blood Pressure
Lower blood pressure is yet another benefit that regular exercise will bring.
If you are suffering from high blood pressure, either due to genetics or due to your diet (and possibly lack of exercise), starting an exercise program can help you gain control over this.
That is important as high blood pressure is linked to a number of diseases including heart disease and stroke.
• Improved Mental Health
Those who engage in regular exercise training can also expect to see benefits as far as their mental health is concerned.
They’ll experience less stress on a daily basis, they’ll sleep better, and they tend to be more confident in their body and what they can achieve in life.
Regular exercise can also keep the brain physically healthy as well by increasing blood flow and causing the release of endorphins, which are ‘feel good chemicals’ that can lower your risk for depression.
In fact, one of the common recommended treatments for those with depression is a regular exercise program.
• Improved Immune System
Regular exercise will also have positive benefits on your overall immune response as well.
Your immune system is responsible for keeping your body healthy and feeling its best, fending off invading bacteria and viruses, as well as for making sure that you recover quickly from the daily stressors of normal life.
When your immune system is down, you’ll tend to feel more run-down, fatigued, and come down with colds and flu’s more often as well.
Exercise can help you combat these things.
So there you have some of the biggest benefits that an exercise program will bring.
These benefits will begin appearing after just one day of exercise, so don’t think that you need to exercise for years in order for them to be seen.
Every little bit you do will add up and start giving you great benefits as far as your health is concerned.
The Most Popular Exercises
Wondering which exercises you should be doing to see best results? No matter what your goals happen to be, some exercises do deliver better results for your training time invested.
Remember that if your goal is to learn how to build muscle, the best exercises are going to be those that allow you to overload the muscle with as much weight as possible.
It’s this overloading stress that causes the muscle fibres to break down, which, after rest and nutrition, will then be built back up stronger and larger again.
It’s this breakdown and rebuilding process that allows you to build muscle successfully.
And, if fat loss is the goal, the same exercises that allow you to lift a maximum amount of weight will also help you burn the most calories, so again, they are great for fat burning purposes as well.
Here are the exercises, by muscle group, that you should be doing.
Keep in mind this list of exercises is by no means conclusive as there are many other exercises that can be performed for these muscle groups.
Also remember that you don’t always have to be using weights to work the muscle group.
If you prefer not using plate or free weights, you can also use resistance bands, which will provide the resistance for your muscles to work against just the same and can be great for easing beginners into resistance training.
Steps To Creating An Exercise Plan
Now that you know the most popular exercises to perform, how do you go about structuring an exercise plan?
The first step is to establish how often you should exercise.
How many sessions you do per week will depend on both your current fitness level as well as your time availability.
While you should aim to get 30 minutes of movement most days of the week, actual structured exercise sessions do get different recommendations.
Beginners will want to stick with around 3-4 sessions per week, each one lasting around 20-40 minutes.
Intermediate exercisers can bump this up to 4-5 sessions at around 30-60 minutes per week, while more advanced exercisers may be doing 5-6 workouts per week at 60-90 minutes each.
Keep in mind that not all of these should be very intense sessions. A mixture of high intensity, moderate intensity, and low intensity sessions should be performed.
All individuals should always make sure that they have at least one day off each week for rest and recovery.
No matter how fit you are, this should be a standard in any plan.
Once you have your total exercise time allotment sorted out, you then need to figure out how to structure these sessions.
You should aim to strength train at least twice per week, perform cardiovascular exercise at least twice per week, and add some flexibility training in every day that you do your exercise program.
Keep in mind that you can perform aerobic and strength training exercise on the same day, and if you do so, it’s usually thought to be better to perform strength training first and aerobic training second.
The only exception would be if you were training for some type of aerobic event, in which case you may wish to do that training first instead.
When it comes to planning a strength training workout, you’ll want to be sure that you have a good balance of exercises for all muscle groups, as well as the proper number of sets and reps for each exercise.
Your rep range will vary based on your goal, but you should aim for 5-8 reps for strength gains, 8-12 reps for strength and muscle size results, and 12-15 reps for endurance/stamina training.
Be sure that you also always allow for at least 48 hours of rest between working any one muscle group in a strength training session.
So a good approach for an intermediate exerciser may be a set-up like the following:
Monday – Strength Training and Flexibility Work
Tuesday – Cardiovascular Training and Flexibility Work
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Strength Training and Flexibility Work
Friday – Cardiovascular Training and Flexibility Work
Saturday – Strength Training and Flexibility Work
Sunday – Rest
For someone who is more advanced, you might also consider twice a day sessions.
This would mean that you do one form of training (typically cardiovascular training) at one time – in the morning say – and then come back for another type of training (strength training or sport specific training) later on in the day.
This is quite a common set-up for athletes who are at high training levels and who simply can’t place all their training in one session or it would simply run too long.
Doing this is fine if you are of the fitness level to do so, but do make sure that you are eating well between sessions to promote maximum recovery for the next session ahead.
And, even with such a schedule, still make sure that you have at least one day off each week completely for rest and recovery.
This is vital to prevent overtraining syndrome from taking place.
If you are wondering how to stick to an exercise program, there are many motivational strategies that can help out.
These would include setting proper short term and long term goals, getting a workout partner/buddy, having an accountability partner that you check in with from time to time, investing in a few sessions with a personal trainer who will keep you accountable, setting up a home gym to ease time restraints, as well as making sure that any program you do is one that you truly enjoy.
If you don’t feel excited about doing the workout that you have created for yourself, you’ll be hard pressed to stick with it.
Remember that there are many ways to obtain a high level of fitness, so you should never feel like you have to do some form of activity that you truly don’t enjoy.
Get creative and come up with something that you get excited about doing each and every day that comes your way.
How Diet And Exercise Work Together
In addition to a regular exercise program, to achieve the ultimate health and weight control benefits, you need to factor in your diet as well.
In terms of weight control, diet will account for about 80% of the results that you see.
If you aren’t eating right, it won’t matter how much you exercise, you just won’t see the results that you’re looking for.
What Are The Best Exercises To Lose Belly Fat?
When speaking of exercise, one question that many people have is: what are the best exercises to lose belly fat?
First, know that you will never lose belly fat unless your diet is designed properly, so start there for optimal results.
Then, when looking at exercises, you’ll want to focus on exercises that work as many muscle groups at once.
Many people often mistakenly believe that some form of crunch is best for belly fat loss, but this isn’t the case.
If you take squats for instance, your abdominal muscles will be working hard to help stabilise your body during the exercise, therefore your abs will be worked to a large degree.
And, because squats are so intense and also work the lower body as well as some of the muscles in the upper body, you’ll burn up a high number of calories in each set that you perform.
This calorie burn then helps you achieve greater overall body fat loss, including fat loss in the abdominal region.
All of these will have a much higher calorie burn per minute compared to any crunch or abdominal exercise.
In addition to that, anaerobic cardio based activities such as high intensity interval sprint training have been shown to be extremely effective at reducing belly fat.
This means sprinting at a nearly 100% pace for 15-60 seconds and then coupling that with active rest periods that are about twice as long.
This is then repeated 5-10 times, making up a 20 minute session, which a warm-up and cool-down added on.
This form of cardio, more than any other form of aerobic cardio training, is going to help you reduce your belly fat fastest.
Don’t fall for trap that abdominal exercises are the best way to lose belly fat as this simply isn’t true and far too many people waste their time doing these moves with little to show for it.
What Are The Best Exercises To Lose Weight?
When it comes to losing weight, you can simply refer to the exercises for losing belly fat above as the same principles apply.
Remember that you cannot spot-tone your body – meaning you can’t pick and choose where you are going to lose weight.
Weight loss is a fully body process and it will take place over time as you slowly get leaner all over.
When it comes to losing weight, be it belly fat or the fat off your thighs, arms, or back, you need to do one thing: achieve a calorie deficit state.
This means you are burning off more calories than you consume on a daily basis.
Now, you can either achieve this by reducing your food intake (decreasing calories) or you can increase your total calorie expenditure, through the exercise you do (increasing calories).
Usually a combination of both is best.
The two best types of exercises to help increase your total calorie burn include:
1. Heavy Compound Exercises – Bench Press, Squats, Deadlifts, Rows, Pull Ups, Push Ups, Walking Lunges, Shoulder Press
2. Interval Cardio Training – Running, Interval Sprints, Cycling, Swimming, Skipping
If you combine these two forms of exercise together in a single plan, you will have the best approach for overall fat burning.
As you structure these together, focus on keeping the weight heavy so the exercise is challenging as well as the rest periods on the shorter side.
You may want to structure your strength training session as a circuit workout, which means performing one exercise after the next until all the exercises have been performed, then rest.
This type of set-up tends to work very well for boosting your total calorie burn while also increasing your resting metabolic rate so that you continue to burn fat – and calories – for hours after the session is completed.
Exercise Tips For Faster Results
When most people start an exercise program, one thing they want is fast results.
While you should never expect overnight results, you certainly can speed up your progress by taking a few smart tips in mind.
• Always focusing on the mind-muscle connection, thinking about what you are doing during the exercise and not letting yourself get distracted by others around you
• Doing a proper warm-up so that you are able to give 100% effort to each exercise session you perform
• Fueling your body right before the workout with a balanced mix of protein and complex carbohydrates so that you have enough energy to perform optimally
• Balancing both strength and cardio training, never relying exclusively on just one type of exercise
• Changing up your exercise routine regularly so the body never gets stuck in a plateau where it stops responding. This can be done by adding new exercises, using a new piece of equipment, or simply changing your hand or foot placement while doing a certain exercise (such as moving from traditional bench press to a close grip bench press)
• Reducing the amount of rest time you take between sets when weight lifting to increase the intensity of the session
• Using a workout buddy when doing weight lifting to help spot you during your exercises so that you can lift more weight
• Staying well hydrated during the workout session (as little as 1% dehydration can decrease your performance!)
• Making sure to lift weights using a slow and controlled movement, never allowing momentum to come into the picture (which will reduce the much-needed tension on the muscle)
• Choosing a cardio exercise form that you truly enjoy – which then means you will be better able to stick with it
• Monitoring your form at all times and making sure if you ever find yourself moving out of good form, you correct yourself immediately
• Use a workout journal to track your progress, making sure each successive session you do is better than the last in some way (more reps, more sets, less rest, more weight, etc.)
• Changing your entire workout program around every 8-12 weeks to give your body something new and fresh to challenge it
So where should you go from here? In order to rep the benefits that exercise has to offer, follow these steps:
1. Identify your current fitness level and set some goals on what level of fitness you’d like to achieve
2. Think about what types of exercise you enjoy doing and make a list, separating them into the three different categories
3. Pick at least one exercise from each category that you will begin performing
4. Write out your weekly workout schedule, making sure that you schedule at least one day in for rest and have at least 48 hours of rest between weight lifting for any one muscle group
5. Come up with 2-3 ways that you will help ensure you stay motivated to workout (seeing a trainer, finding a workout buddy, getting a home gym, etc.)
6. Designate a time each day that you will do your workout sessions (write this in your day diary so that you aren’t as tempted to skip it or double-book yourself)
7. Start exercising!
8. After one week, evaluate the program. Are you enjoying it? Are you seeing some results? Is there anything you want to change? If so, make those changes
9. After one month, evaluate again.
10. After 2-3 months, consider finding/creating a new workout program
11. Continue on for years to come
Exercise should never be something that you avoid but rather, something that gets you excited about being healthy and living life to the fullest.
Once you are able to find a form of exercise you enjoy and start seeing the benefits it brings you, you’ll find its much easier to stay the course.
If you’ve fallen off workout programs before, chances are it was because you either didn’t have the right program for yourself, or didn’t have the support of others. Don’t go at it alone.
If you can get a workout buddy or support team behind you, it will make a difference in your end results.
Remember to have fun throughout the journey. Exercise is meant to improve your quality of life and a big part of that is being happy on a day to day basis.