Physical fitness is a state of health and well-being and, more specifically, the ability to perform aspects of sports, occupations, and daily activities. Physical fitness is generally achieved through proper nutrition, moderate-vigorous physical exercise, and sufficient rest.
- Cardiovascular/aerobic exercise.
- Anaerobic exercise.
- Joint flexibility.
- Muscular endurance and strength.
According to the President’s Council On Physical Fitness, being physically fit means, “having the energy and strength to perform daily activities vigorously and alertly, with energy left over to enjoy leisure activities or meet emergency demands.” Your heart, lungs, and muscles should be strong. Your weight and body fat should be within a desirable range. For women, fat should not exceed 25% of their body weight. For men, fat should not exceed 18% of their body weight.
To determine a level of physical fitness, the Council breaks fitness into 3 measurable parts: Endurance, Strength, and Flexibility. Endurance is defined as “the ability to keep moving for long periods of time.” There are two categories of endurance, Cardiorespiratory and Muscular. Cardiorespiratory is the ability of your heart and lungs of supply muscles with nutrients and oxygen. Aerobic exercise like biking, jogging, and swimming can be measured for speed, duration, and distance.
Building endurance promotes higher energy levels. Aerobic exercise also burns calories and fat to keep your weight under control. A fit cardiorespiratory system lowers your risk of death from heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary disease.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM, the following principles should be applied when developing an exercise prescription to enhance cardiorespiratory fitness:
1. Type of Activity: The activity must use large muscle groups and must be maintained for a period of time.
2. Intensity: The average conditioning intensity for healthy adults is from 60-70% of their functional capacity, referred to as maximum heart rate. Monitoring a target heart rate training zone during exercise is a good way to measure intensity
3. Duration: The duration of the exercise will depend on the intensity of the exercise. Usually activities of lower intensity, such as walking, can last longer than a high intensity exercise like running. Aerobic fitness can also be accomplished by alternating high and low level activities as in walking between brief periods of jogging. The ACSM recommends 15-60 minutes of continuous or discontinuous aerobic activity.
4. Conditioning Frequency: The aerobic activity must be performed from 3 to 5 days a week.
5. Rate of Progression: In the first 6-8 weeks of exercise, significant conditioning effects will occur. The fitness professional will have to adjust the intensity and duration of the activity if progress is to continue.
There are three stages of progression in the aerobic or endurance phase of the exercise prescription:
1. The Initial Conditioning Stage… During the first 4 to 6 weeks, low level activities of 10-15 minutes, at 60-70% of maximum heart rate, are recommended for the average healthy individual. You should also include some stretching and light calisthenics, such as abdominal work.
2. The Improvement Conditioning Stage… Initially, there is a slight increase in exercise intensity. Thereafter, duration of the activity is increased every 2 to 3 weeks. The ACSM warns that older individuals may take longer to adapt to increases in conditioning.
3. The Maintenance Conditioning Stage…Usually after 6 months of aerobic training, the average individual has achieved their goal of general fitness and just wants to maintain. The ACSM states that aerobic conditioning can be accomplished in as few as three, 30 minute workouts a week, training at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. The second type of endurance one must develop to be physically fit is Muscular Endurance.
The President’s Council defines Muscular Endurance, as the ability of your muscles to perform contractions for long periods of time. The number of curl ups one can perform, is a measure of abdominal endurance. Strength is another measure of fitness, and is categorized into two types:
1. Static Strength: How much weight you can hold in place.
2. Dynamic Strength: How much weight you can move.
It is desirable to be strong in order to perform heavy work with less chance for injury. Maintaining strength is more difficult with age and the increasing loss of lean weight. According to the ACSM, strength can be increased through static contractions, as in isometric exercise, or by low repetition exercises. Three sets of an exercise in a 5-7 rep range, will initiate optimal strength gains, when performed three times a week.
The final measure of fitness is Flexibility. The President’s Council defines flexibility as your ability to move muscles and joints through their full range of motion. One way to measure flexibility is to see how close you can come to touching your toes with your legs straight.
Flexibility of muscles and joints will help prevent injury and maintain mobility as you age. Of particular concern, is flexibility in the posterior thigh and lower back. Lack of flexibility here increases your risk of chronic lower back pain.
It is important that stretching is done slowly with gradual increases in the range of motion. The stretch should be sustained from 10 to 30 seconds, and should not cause pain. Stretching exercises need to be performed at least 3 times a week. It is safer to stretch muscles that are already warm. Stretching is best performed after an aerobic session or between sets of resistance exercise. The development of Speed, Agility, and Coordination will also enhance overall physical performance. It is also important to do the exercise relative to the area you wish to improve. Exercise is specific to the activity being performed. If you wish to grow stronger, you will have to lift heavier weights. If you wish to be flexible, you will have to practice stretching, etc.
Unfortunately, due to all the fads, gimmicks, and goofiness that is floating around these days, it seems as though the list of unproven “myths” is growing by leaps and bounds. Hopefully this will be a good place for you to start…
Exercise can erase my bad eating habits…
This one is pervasive and unfortunately a myth. “You CAN NOT out-exercise a crappy diet,” Wiedenbach says. “Your eating has to be in check. About 80% of what you look like is based on diet.” It’s a calorie game, and he says people often overestimate the amount of food they burn in a hour-long session. He suggests sitting down, doing the math, and figuring out your weight-loss goals.
I can just tone my muscles…
More often than he can count, Wiedenbach hears women say, “I just want to tone.” But he says it’s the wrong way to look at it. “You can only lose fat. Your muscles are already toned or you wouldn’t be able to move around. They’re just not visible because of the layer of fat covering them.” First and foremost, he advises fixing your diet. Then target the trouble areas, and lift weights at intense, about 85%, muscle capacity.
Women need different exercises than men…
Despite what the relationship books say, when it comes to fitness, men and women are from the same planet, says Wiedenbach. Both sexes have the same body structure but different hormonal make-ups, he says, which may mean a difference in muscle strength but does not mean they should work out any differently. “Men tend to focus on abs, chest and arms, and women tend to focus on gluts and legs,” he notes. “They’re each forgetting one half of their bodies.”
Women should lift lower weights and do higher repetitions than men…
This myth is particularly common because women worry that lifting weights will bulk them up. However, Wiedenbach says, “Without chemical assistance, women cannot achieve extraordinary muscle growth.” Because women’s testosterone is lower, they likely won’t be able to lift as much weight as men, he says, but the typical three-pound lady dumbbells won’t work because the resistance is too low to create change in the muscle. He recommends everyone doing six to eight repetitions with a weight that challenges them.
You should always stretch before exercising…
“Stretching is something many people just do because they feel they should or someone told them to,” Wiedenbach says. The conventional wisdom is that stretching elongates the muscle and helps prevent injury. Conversely, he says that stretching before a workout will weaken the muscle by 30%, and the reduced tension may increase the risk of injury. His advice: Do warm up by walking before cardio or doing light weights before intense training, and do stretch after a workout.
I can reduce fat in one area…
“I am sorry, but spot reduction does not work,” says Wiedenbach. It all comes down to that pesky layer of fat obscuring those perfectly toned muscles. No matter how many crunches they do, someone with 20% body fat will never have abs like someone with 8% body fat, he says. To lose weight quickly, you’ll need to burn as much fuel as you can with intense exercises like squats, dips, pull downs, dead lifts, and shoulder presses while following a strict diet.
I’ll burn only fat at my target heart rate…
Wiedenbach says that while cardio equipment often features graphs listing target heart rates for fat burning, the body is too complex for them to be accurate. “The only time when you burn fat exclusively is when you are asleep,” he says, and then it’s not all that much considering that, well, you’re sleeping. He believes interval training, a mix of low and high intensity, will produce the best results.
I’ll burn more fat on an empty stomach.
While this statement might technically be true—in the morning the body is deprived of nutrients so it will tap fat stores–Wiedenbach says it is the wrong approach. “Working out on an empty stomach burns more muscle, which defeats the purpose of any fat-loss diet. I also believe that working out in a fasting state is sub-optimal, since the lack of nutrients will not allow for peak performance.”
Now some good news! There are some very proven, unquestioned things about exercise and fitness that are known. We have tried to put together a very useful list for you to begin with. Let’s get fit…
You Can Work Long, or You Can Work Hard
But you cannot, we repeat, cannot, do BOTH! It is imperative that your training program/system match your goals…that your individual training sessions meet the needs of those goals.