These highlights are from the Guide to Getting Fit by Western Aesthetics.
The first and perhaps most insidious misconception that people may have is that thinking fitness is an achievement, or an event that will happen if you do enough pushups or run enough miles.
Fitness is something that you have to incorporate into your life, and you must understand that it’s something you will have to continuously work at as long as you’re still living.
Make it fun, pursue activities you enjoy that promote fitness like sports, hiking, tennis, martial arts, dance, etc. If you do this you’ll find that getting in shape is easier to maintain and more enjoyable, since being fit will help you better perform the activities you love.
Muscles are broadly made up of two types of muscle fibers, termed fast twitch and slow twitch. Slow twitch fibers are more fatigue-resistant, are activated aerobically, and generally used for long duration activities such as running or biking, and for things like postural control. Fast twitch muscle fibers are used for quick, explosive-type movements and are activated anaerobically, and are typically what is primarily engaged when performing strength training exercises. A molecule called adenosine triphosphate (or ATP) provides the energy for muscular contractions.
The aerobic metabolism process utilizes oxygen to produce large quantities of ATP, allowing the muscle to work for longer. The byproduct of the anaerobic glycolysis process is lactate, which builds up in your muscles and causes the familiar burning sensation you may be familiar with when lifting weights.
When you work out a muscle and it grows larger, this is called hypertrophy. It is a complicated process, but very simply it is not that the number of muscle fibers increases, but rather the cells themselves grow larger (and some other minor effects like the addition of protein filaments).
The specific number of reps in a given set varies between person to person and exercise, and you can set it to be whatever you like, though typically 8-10 is a good number to maximize strength.
Broadly, we can break the muscles of the body down into several groups which will allow you to better plan your workouts. Generally these are arms (or arms and shoulders), chest, back, legs, and core.
Arms & Shoulders Muscles: Biceps, triceps, forearm muscles, upper and middle trapezius, deltoids. Exercises for Arms & Shoulders Muscles: Bicep curls, triceps extensions, skull crushers, lateral raises, shrugs, front raises, overhead press, diamond pushups.
Chest Muscles: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor Exercises for Chest Muscles: Bench press, cable flies, dumbbell flies, inclined bench press, declined bench press, pushups
Back Muscles: Latissimus dorsi, middle and lower trapezius, posterior deltoid, rhomboids Exercises for Back Muscles: Pull-ups, lat pull downs, bent-over rows, upright rows, reverse fly
Legs Muscles: Quadriceps, hamstring, gluteus maximus, hip adductors, hip abductors, posterior calf (gastrocnemius, soleus, etc), anterior calf muscle (tibialis, peroneus, etc) Exercises for Legs Muscles: Calf raises, squats, deadlifts, leg extensions, leg curls, leg press, lunge and weighted lunge, wall sit
Core Muscles: Abdominals, external obliques, internal obliques, quadratus lumbar, transverse abdominis, lower erector spinae (iliocostalis lumborum) Exercises for Core Muscles: Sit-ups, crunches, leg raises, stiff-legged deadlifts, plank and side plank, bicycle crunches, woodchops, v-ups
A typical week might look something like:
Monday – arms
Tuesday – legs
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – chest/back
Friday – Core
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest.
Common examples of cardio activities are jogging/running, aerobics, cycling, swimming, cross country skiing, dancing, kayaking, jumping rope, martial arts, stair climbs, kickboxing, and rollerblading.
You might notice that some of these exercises (like running, jumping rope, kickboxing, etc) are high-impact, that is to say they involve abrupt impacts of the body against something else.
Because of the continuous and repetitive nature of cardiovascular exercise, it’s important to balance high-impact activities with low-impact activities, as focusing solely on exercises that cause impacts to the body can degrade your joints and bone structure over time.
Try balancing running with swimming, or kickboxing with cycling. This not only helps work different muscle groups, it also will help you prevent injuries. If you are just starting out, doing cardio for two to three times a week for 30 minutes each period is a good place to start. Over time, you can increase the duration of your workouts as well as the frequency, but to start 30 minutes is a good place.
Learn how to measure your pulse with your fingers, and look at the tables that exist to determine your target heart rate training zone. Then adjust your workouts so that your peak heart rate during the exercise falls within this zone.
At the beginning of each workout, it’s usually wise to start with a warm-up, and end each one with a cool-down period.
An example circuit might be 20 pushups, 15 box jumps, 20 situps, and 20 jumping jacks. You would do each of these as fast as possible with no rest between, then when complete rest for 1 minute, then do the whole circuit again, or possibly twice more.
Circuit training tends to be very intense but also short in duration, as after you’ve done a few circuits you will likely be exhausted. They can be great if you are pressed for time, want to push your high-intensity limits, and/or you want a quick mix of strength training and cardiovascular exercises.
Plyometrics are another type of exercise that somewhat blurs the line between strength training and cardio. Also known as jump training or plyos, these exercises seek to increase power, so the amount of energy a muscle can quickly deliver in a short time. The muscle contractions tend to be “explosive” in nature, and typically involve repeated jumping.
Calisthenics are a form of strength training that generally involve large muscle groups, and typically are performed rhythmically and with little equipment. Floor exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, and unweighted squats are all examples of these.
You can stretch your abdominals and core, your lower back, your neck, your triceps and biceps, pectoralis muscles, back, obliques, and of course all the various muscles in your legs including glutes, quads, hamstrings, calf muscles, hips, and groin. Even adding 10 minutes to the end of your workout to stretch your muscles will improve your flexibility rapidly.
As Alexis Carrel once said, ‘Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.’