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Tune up your workout

Ditch the hype, stay middle-of-the-road for best results

M. Stefano | 2002

From just minutes a week to hours a day, exactly how much exercise the average person needs to stay fit and healthy remains the topic of discussion. In 1996 the United States surgeon general told us that everybody needs thirty minutes of daily exercise, while last month a report from the Nation Academy of Science called for an hour a day of physical activity. This is in sharp contrast to the twenty minutes a week advocated by some slow motion exercise enthusiasts.

Opposing view points are in no way confined to how long we should train, but also spills over to how we should train. Is it most important to lift weights or jog, and what about flexibility exercises - is it necessary to stretch? Indoor or outdoor, machines or free weights, yoga or callisthenics - the choices are endless, and so is the confusion and misinformation.

New and sometimes improved guidelines will always emerge, and the experts will disagree on most of them. But when it comes to taking care of your own body, the best advice is stay middle-of-the-road, using a fitness plan that's been proven to work over a long period of time. Anything that's too extreme is probably just hype, a waste of time, and potentially dangerous. But before jumping in feet first, take a close look at what you want exercise to do for you.

What do you want most from your exercise programme?
  • A. Burn fat
    - most efficiently accomplished through aerobic activities such as walking, jogging or swimming, but also achieved through the acquisition of lean muscle mass as seen with strength training. Read more about increasing muscle mass to burn fat
  • B. Build muscle
    the best way to build muscle and change the shape of your body is with strength or resistance exercises like squats, bench presses, or push ups performed with a progressive resistance
  • C. Build strength and endurance
    the most effective way to build lasting strength and endurance is with an intelligently applied combination of aerobic and strength training
  • D. Improve overall health
    achieve and maintain overall health and reduce the risk of certain diseases and injury with a the proper mix of aerobic, strength and flexibility training

    Workout guidelines
    A successful fitness plan consists of a variety of aerobic, strength, and flexibility training. It's imperative that you take the time to learn about, and develop a functional understanding of each one. For example, you need to learn how often, how long, and how hard you should walk, jog, or swim in order to get optimum fat burning results. Strength, or resistance training is a powerful tool that will make your body grow stronger. And it's really the only way to change your physical shape. If not done correctly, strength training will be ineffective or worse yet, harmful. When resistance exercises are done at an extreme level, or improperly performed, illness or injury is likely. The key to successful strength training is learning how to challenge your muscles in a safe manner.

    Flexibility exercises can balance the effect of powerful muscle contractions encountered during more intense aerobic or strength sessions. The addition of a solid flexibility program enhances physical fitness, as it increases range of motion, strength, power and performance.

    It's important to include at least a small amount of each type of training. Your frequency of aerobic exercise can range from as few as two days to as many as six days per week, while strength training can run the gamut of a two to four day program. The restorative effect of stretching allows it to be performed almost every day.

    It's vital that you back up exercise with sensible eating. No amount of working out can overcome the pitfalls of a diet based in fat and sugar and devoid of necessary nutrients. Here again, stay with a middle-of-the-road philosophy and proven methods of success. Avoid starvation and extreme yo-yo diet plans that just don't work. They wind up robbing you of lean muscle mass, making weight loss even harder to achieve.

    Knowledge is power
    Gather as much information as possible, so you can make informed decisions on how to exercise. Speak with a local area trainer who has a reputation for getting results, or you can do some research on your own by simply reading and sifting through the sea of current health and fitness literature.

    Aerobic Exercise
    Examples: Walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling
    Effect: Burns fat and builds endurance
    Repeat: 2 to 6 times per week for 20 to 30 minutes at target heart rate

    Strength Training
    Examples: Squats, bench presses, push ups, sit ups, leg presses
    Effect: Improves muscle tone, builds strength and endurance, burns fat via increased muscle
    Repeat: 2 to 4 times weekly for 20 to 30 minutes in a system that works the entire body

    Flexibility Training
    Examples: Stretching exercises, yoga
    Effect: Creates permanent elasticity over the body's soft tissue, increases range of motion
    Repeat: 2 to 7 times weekly for 5 to 30 minutes in a system that works the entire body

    Stick to the basics and avoid extremities of any kind. Learn for yourself what's real and works, and what's false and just plain bull. Read information from credible sources and speak to local experts that you're sure are trustworthy. Base your program on solid principles not the latest infomercial or ab gadget.

    Getting in shape is not something that you do overnight. Be sensible, have patience, and stay focused on the day-to-day small steps, and your body will transform.





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