6 Elements of a Balanced Exercise Plan by Jennifer Searles
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We all want to make sure we're doing the right stuff when it comes to exercising. There's nothing worse than being unsure about what you're supposed to be doing in the gym... we want results, and we don't want to get hurt, right? When designing an exercise plan, it's important to have a balanced routine. Leaving one element by the wayside can hinder optimal results and even set the stage for injury. By following the 6 elements of a balanced exercise plan listed below, you ensure that you will get the body you want and the good health to go along with it.
1. Cardio Fitness
Most people know that cardio or aerobic fitness is a key element in a balanced exercise plan. It's cardio that helps burn calories, thus, helping you shed unwanted fat. Aside from the aesthetic value of cardio fitness, it also helps improve lung and heart function. The more efficient your Cardiovascular system is, the better it can pump blood containing oxygen and nutrients to your muscles for optimum efficiency in everyday activities.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, 5 days per week. You can also perform 15 minutes of high intensity sessions 5 days per week. Stick to exercises that utilize the larger muscle groups such as walking, jogging, cardio machines, even housecleaning and vigorous yard work. As long as your movin' and sweatin', you're getting some good cardio work done. For a good cardio fitness workout, your heart rate should be anywhere between 60-85% of your maximum heart rate.
2. Muscular Strength
Muscular strength is another element of a balanced exercise plan that people tend to know is important. By building strong muscles, our bone density can improve, which helps ward of risk of osteoporosis and other bone disorders later in life. Plus, when you strength train, a by-product is sexy sculpted muscles that turn heads. Increased muscle mass can also help keep you lean! Muscle mass burns more calories than fat, therefore, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.
Aim for a minimum of 2 days of strength training per week. Gyms are equipped with a variety of machines and free weights to use for a balanced weight training program, but if a gym is not an option for you, there are plenty of ways that you can get your dose of strength training at home. Use water bottles or bottles filled with sand as weights. You can also invest in an inexpensive set of resistance bands, or use body weight as the resistance. Pushups, lunges, body squats and abdominal crunches are all exercises that can be done at home and are great for increasing muscular strength.
3. Joint Stability and Balance
The stronger your joints are, the better equipped your body is to handle the stresses of regular weight training and functional activities in everyday life. Along with strong joints comes increased balance. The better your balance is, the more functional you are. Without proper balance and joint stability your exercise plan will suffer as will your progress. Great exercises for joint stability can be easily worked into any regular exercise plan a number of ways. You can perform standing exercises on one leg to promote ankle and hip stability. Performing weight training exercises on an unstable surface such as a bosu ball or dyna disc will also help improve joint stability and balance. Just be sure to use lighter weights than you normally use since you will be more unstable.
4. Core Stability and Strength
Just as joint stability and strength is a key part of a balanced exercise plan, so is core stability and strength. With a strong core, you minimize back and spine injury risk when performing weight training and many other everyday activities. The muscles of the core are broken down into two systems. The movement system (latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, iliopsoas, hamstrings, hip adductors, hip abductors, rectus abdominus, and external obliques) and stabilizers (transverse abdominus, internal obliques, lumbar multifidus, pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, and transversospinalis). Both systems need to be trained to ensure a strong and stable core and minimize injury.
Movers are trained by anything that causes your spine to flex or rotate. Crunches, back extensions and twisting crunches are exercises that can be used to keep your movement system strong. The stabilizing system is worked by performing isometric type exercises such as various types of planks.
If you are doing cardio and training with weights, you are flexing the muscles, therefore, they need to be stretched. Without proper stretching, your muscles will have a decreased range of motion... a perfect recipe for injury and inefficiency in your exercise plan. Being flexible enables the muscles to fire more efficiently and helps them to perform a movement through it's full range of motion. When you can move through the proper range of motion, any exercise becomes more efficient. The better the efficiency of an exercise, the better the results.
Contrary to what most people think, one shouldn't stretch before exercising as the muscles are not warmed up, and you risk pulling the muscle being stretched. Warm up for 5-10 minutes doing light cardio activity or dynamic movements such as bodyweight lunges or bodyweight squats. You should always stretch after you exercise. If it's a non-exercise day, stretching after a light warm up will do the trick to increase flexibility and keep you on track with your balanced exercise plan.
Without proper nutrition, a balanced exercise plan, is well, unbalanced. You need to be sure that you are feeding your muscles the proper nutrients so that they can recover and be functional for following workouts. Muscles are made of proteins, therefore, it makes sense to be eating enough protein to help nourish them throughout the day. Choosing low-fat protein sources such as egg whites, chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, low-fat dairy and protein powders will help to keep muscles properly fed and the bodyfat at bay. Make sure you have a protein rich meal every 2-4 hrs to endure proper recovery. Muscles need carbohydrates also, so by choosing low-glycemic whole-food sources such as yams, brown rice, oatmeal and low-sugar fruits, you are setting the stage for optimal muscle building and balance in your plan.
There You Have It!
Creating a plan is simple. Utilize the 6 elements above and you are sure to have a balanced and sound exercise plan. It's not necessary to work all the elements into every workout, but by incorporating them throughout the week, you will be on your way to a body that is healthy, functional, sculpted and ready to take on anything life throws its way.