The idea of reaching 10,000 steps on a daily basis is daunting for many people. In the US, one count averaged daily steps at 4800, and in Australia the average hits around 7500 steps per day. That’s a bit of time on your feet – but still well below the 10,000 steps that gets tossed around a lot. It bears asking:
How much do you risk by not hitting your 10K target?
Less than the publicity would make you believe. As it turns out, there’s no real scientific basis for the recommendation of reaching 10,000 steps. Rather, this number likely originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, either as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer, or based on the name of a pedometer brand. As an aside, it’s reallllly convenient for such a nice round number to be the magic number we need for health. Our bodies don’t often work on such easy numbers!
That said, the number of steps you take every day does have an impact on your overall health. Numerousstudiesshowthat the more steps you average on a daily basis, the healthier you’ll be. This tends to mean that you’ll enjoy a longer life span, with a higher quality of life, than if you average fewer steps on a daily basis. Somewhat frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum number you do need in order to achieve health benefits; We just know that the more you do, the better your health will be. As for getting steps just walking around, rather than going for a walk to workout (or other exercise, for that matter)? Interestingly, health markers and life expectancy seem to be strongly linked with just being on your feet more, as a designated workout or not.
In one recent study, the biggest decreases in risk of death occurred when inactive women became more active – even if it was nowhere near the 10,000 mark! Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the daily step count of about 16,000 older women over the course of a week, and found that in the 4 years following the study, those in the lowest step count group were also the most likely to die. This was found even at the relatively low end of the step count spectrum: women who averaged approximately 4400 daily steps had lower mortality rates than those who took about 2700 steps a day. A higher number of daily steps saw an additional decrease in overall death rates, up through about 7500 steps daily.
So don’t sweat the 10K mark – just get up and get moving!
Using an elliptical machine or cross-trainer is a close substitute for walking or jogging on a treadmill or outside. Your body should move in roughly the same way, whether you’re walking around during day to day life, cruising on the treadmill, or turning the pedals on an elliptical machine.
When you walk, jog, or run, your heel leaves the ground as your back leg powers you forward. This same movement is used with an elliptical trainer. The main difference (obviously) is that you don’t actually go anywhere. To get your workout in and heart rate up, you still have to move the pedals, which requires the same “push” from the back leg that you use to move yourself forward when walking or running. (If you’ve tried using the crosstrainer with your heels stuck flat, it’s probably felt kind of awkward, yeah? That’s why!)
That doesn’t mean that you should spend your whole workout without your heel on the pedal – that would be like walking around on your toes all the time. Your heel should lift at least slightly as you bring your back leg forward, and be in contact with the pedal as your leg moves from in front to behind. How much acutal “lift” you get will depend on the machine you use, as some have a more oval-shaped pedal track, which will require more heel lift, and some will have a more circular pedal track, which might have little lift, or even just a shift of your body weight onto your toes.
The heel lift is part of your normal stride or gait. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle in efficient walking, running, or crosstraining. Lifting your heel as your back leg prepares to swing forward helps connect your foot and ankle with the other muscles in the back of the leg, and through the back to the opposite arm (using an opposite arm-leg swing pattern helps us stay balanced and not falling over). The muscles of your calf contract to lift the heel and push the foot into the ground, working in a coordinated pattern with the other muscles used in your stride pattern. Changing the way you move one part of your body (or prevent movement) can greatly impact many other body parts, and may predispose you to higher stress and strain on your soft tissues and joints.
I’ve answered a similar question over at Quora if you want more info. But your best bet? Let your body move naturally. If you’re not in pain during or after your workout, you’re likely ok!
Have your own question about your health and fitness? Submit it to email@example.com get a clear answer on how you can move easily and feel great.
Live in an apartment that has a gym in the building? It’s so convenient… for you and everyone else! An apartment or home gym workout is gold, for convenience. On the other hand… One of the challenges in getting a good workout in an apartment gym is that they are usually small, can be crowded, and the equipment is sometimes of questionable value.
Most apartment complexes with gym facilities have a treadmill, a stationary bike, and sometimes an elliptical or crosstrainer machine. There’s one of everything and that one is frequently in use, especially if you’re working out before work or after hours. But why tie yourself to the same old gym equipment? Here are some fresh workouts that you can use for cardio or aerobic exercise, without slaving away on the treadmill… In fact, you can stay away from the cardio machines entirely.
These workouts are travel friendly as well, allowing you to keep on top of training even when you’re away from home. Perfect for hotel gyms or even your hotel room if you’re happy to travel with an exercise band (the superband referred to below). And of course, great for home workouts too!
Body Weight Circuit
Jumping jacks/Star jumps
Side to side hops
Plank shoulder taps or Plank shift
Complete 2-5 rounds of 10-15 reps per exercises. See it in action here!
Super Band Workout
Superband front squats
Superband shoulder press
Superband bent over row
Superband monster walk (side-to-side and front-to-back)
Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!
Bent over row
Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!
With any and all of these exercises, remember that:
Only perform exercises that you can do safely and pain-free. If you aren’t used to moderate or high intensity exercise, chat with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You can test your Exercise Readiness with this quick questionnaire.
All of these workouts are flexible. If you like or dislike certain exercises, you can swap them out, or just add others in to create more variety. Choose your own adventure!
If you’re keen to workout on your own? Keep yourself going with this additional recommended reading:
Working out: If you’re not in the habit, it’s not always fun to get started. Good news though! Lots of everyday activities, hobbies, and recreation can count as physical activity, which has a big impact on maintaining good cardiovascular and metabolic health, prevents and helps manage joint pains, and can help with weight loss or management, if that’s your goal. You might not get 100% of the physical benefits that a big gym session would provide, but as it turns out, it’s the small amounts of day-to-day movement that are really important, so get moving!
Incidental Exercise At Home
Vacuuming and mopping: Push, pull, push, pull – it’ll get your heart rate up. Bonus points: Swap arms halfway through to help maintain balance in left side-right side movement ability. If your back gets sore, stop, place your hands on the back of your hips, soften your knees and gently extend your back to bend backwards.
Window Washing: Will have you moving your shoulders and arms in a low-stress way you’re not used to, which is great for reducing injury risk and maintaining joint mobility. Aim to swap arms frequently to help maintain left side-right side balance (see above).
Gardening / Yard work: The most common heavy lifting of around-the-house exercise. May including lifting, carrying, and placing heavy objects, reaching or stepping in movements that are less common, and generally being on your feet all day. Like vacuuming, if you’re finding you’re stuck in a single position for a longer period, stop and give your body a break by doing the opposite of that movement.
Washing the car: Reaching, stretching, and squatting down. Keeps you moving!
Playing with the kids: Might involve running around after them – good cardio. Might involve getting down and up off the floor – good joint mobility. Might involve staying down on the floor – good opportunity to give the hips a little bit of a stretch.
Carrying kids around: Even small kids get heavy pretty quickly! Carrying the kids around adds to the cardio effect of walking and moving around, but it also create poor posture as you shift your torso and hips to carry more comfortably. Make sure you swap sides, because your body does best with equal stress and effort.
DIY home maintenance: The other heavy lifting you might do around the house, DIY work often has you moving into different positions that you might during the course of a normal day. Moving through different positions is great for maintaining flexibility and joint health, and can keep posture good and pain at bay.
Incidental Exercise At The Office
If you have an office job, you know how challenging it can be to maintain any amount of movement. Haven’t we all looked up from email to realize that we haven’t moved in three hours?
Getting coffee: Adds steps to your daily step count. Two bonuses on this: Coffee (or tea, or your beverage of choice) does actually count towards your daily hydration goals. (Even though it has a mild diuretic effect, you drink more liquid than you’ll excrete.) More hydration means more bathroom breaks, and therefore even more steps.
Fidgeting: The subconscious movement that your parents might have scolded you for actually burns calories. It will not amount to much extra, but it does count.
Taking the stairs: One of the most bang-for-buck activities you can do, as it gets your heart rate high and gives the big muscles in your legs a bit of a workout. Pro tip – Minimize knee pain risk by stepping with as much of your foot on the stair as you can.
Standing around, i.e. Serving customers, using a standing desk: Simply maintaining a standing position takes almost twice as much energy as sitting does, and can reduce stress and strain on through the front of the hips and the lower back. All standing, all the time has it’s own set of problems though, so your best bet is to alternate postures.
Get away from the desk, i.e. make your own copies, have face to face conversations: More steps, more steps, more steps. Plus, in-person conversations can be just as fast as email (and sometimes a lot clearer!).
Incidental Exercise Out and About
Going out and doing stuff makes a big difference to your levels of physical health and fitness. Why spend your free time sitting around?
Grocery shopping: Again, more steps. Walking is good! Bonus: If you’re not getting much, use a hand basket and carry your groceries for some added strength training. This goes for any sort of shopping, really.
Riding a bike: You don’t have to ride like you’re on the Tour de France to get some good for your body. Go for a cruise to help keep your legs strong and get some cardiovascular work in.
Hiking: A great way to gently challenge your joints and muscles, since the paths aren’t even and smooth. Being out in nature is an amazing way to boost your happiness quotient too.
Going for a walk: Doesn’t have to be fast, or far. There’s something about the rhythmic nature of aerobic exercise that makes it a meditation in movement, so you get some de-stress time as well as some gentle cardio work.
Playing in the pool: Fun! The pressure from the water gives your body something to work against, but it’s not so much resistance that it actually seems like work. Explains why you’re always more tired than you expect when you jump out.
Backyard games: Play with the kids. Set up teams for horseshoes or a beanbag toss. An easy game of touch football. Keep yourself on your feet and moving as much as you can. Your engagement will increase your enjoyment!
So, what can you plan into your day tomorrow to boost your movement time?
With the popularity of high intensity workouts like Crossfit, F45, or bootcamps, it might seem like going for a walk isn’t much of a workout at all. If you’re looking to increase your fitness and improve your health, is it worth your time?
Actually, yes – especially if you are interested in health benefits more than getting lean and ripped.
Going for a brisk walk is moderate intensity exercise for most people, and can even count as vigorous exercise if you aren’t normally active. A meta-analysis (a research paper pooling and organizing other research to better understand and apply results) reviewing 32 studies has shown that a brisk walk at least a few times per week will improve your health. Significant improvements in aerobic fitness were found, as well as decreased BMI, body weight, body fat percentage, and measurements of waist circumference – all of which are strongly linked to high risk of cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure also showed a significant decrease following a program of regular walking.
The benefits of weight loss and lower body fat are well-discussed: Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic health conditions. But those are things that may or may not happen in the future. What about right now?
While the health and fitness improvements found in the reviewed studies weren’t so great that the participants ended up with six-pack abs, the average increase in fitness was about 10%. This is enough to make a noticeable difference in how easily you can manage to do daily tasks, or how much energy and stamina you might have to get through a busy day. This means that by the time you get to kick back and watch some TV before heading to bed, you’ll actually get to watch the entire episode of your favorite show, rather than falling asleep on the sofa. Overall, better fitness means more energy for the day to day things that matter to you, which in turn means a better quality of life.
These benefits improvements took place in as little as eight weeks of regular walking, with the most people in the studies walking 30 minutes, three to five times per week as part of an organized program. You don’t have to “start exercising” to make walking worthwhile though. A few 8-10 minute walks per day can give the same benefits as a single 30-minute session, which in real life might mean walking around the block in the morning and evening. (An additional benefit of “starting small” is that often you just need a nudge to get going. It’s easy to extend once you’ve gotten out the door – or onto the treadmill.)
Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that health and fitness improvements aren’t all-or-nothing. Instead, they happen on a continuum, and in fact any movement has a positive impact on your fitness levels and health risks, and therefore your quality of life. It doesn’t have to be high intensity to be worthwhile; your own brisk walking pace will be just fine. So whether you have five minutes to spare, or fifty, it’s all worth doing – what are you waiting for?
Murtagh, E. M., Nichols, L., Mohammed, M. A., Holder, R., Nevill, A. M., & Murphy, M. H. (2015). The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Preventive Medicine,72, 34-43. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.12.041
Great question from one of our personal training clients in Taringa this last week:
Should I do my workouts in the morning or the evening for better weight loss?
When it comes to working out, most of us want to maximize the results we get, so it would make sense to work out when your body can make the most of it. Popular belief in the personal training and body building worlds holds that cardio first thing in the morning is a great fat burner, perfect for losing weight and toning up. How true is that?
The answer: Somewhat.
There is evidence that morning exercise can set you up for better fat burning (and improvements in other health markers) throughout the day, meaning that over the course of the day, you may burn slightly more fat than you might if you were relying solely on evening exercise. Why am I talking about fat burning if you want to lose weight? Body fat loss is far more likely to be what achieves your weight loss goal, than overall weight loss. Body composition is what determines how lean and toned you look, and from a health perspective, lower body fat levels are associated with lower levels of health risk; fat loss rather than weight loss can significantly improve your health.
Any exercise you do will have a positive impact on your body fat levels, regardless of what time of day you do it. But both morning and evening workouts have their own benefits. Several factors are in play here:
Exercising leads to a slight to moderate increase in metabolism during the “recovery period”, or the time after your workout when your body is busy replenishing cellular energy stores and making repairs to tissues. Because of this, exercise in the morning may provide a slight advantage by adding to the normal amounts of energy used during your daily activities. Overall, you may see a small increase in overall energy (calories) burned during the day. It’s important to note that this difference will be minor, especially if your morning workout is low to moderate intensity, and will not be enough to make a huge difference to body weight and body composition in a short or even moderate/medium time frame – this is for playing the long game.
Some studies have shown an increase in fat burning tendencies after exercise in the morning compared to exercise in the evening, though other studies have found no differences. This also appears to be dependent on the types of fats in your diet, with unsaturated varieties being more easily used than saturated fats. This can be particularly useful if you’re exercising for heart, cardiovascular, or metabolic health.
Exercise intensity and the resulting hormonal and immune responses (generally thought to be related to the physical stress of exercise) both influence the use of fats versus carbohydrates in providing energy at a cellular level. In normal physical function, these responses are influenced by the time of day as well as how you exercise. Many physical responses to exercise are amplified in the evening; Evening exercise appears to increase the body’s hormonal and immune responses, which in turn can lead to higher release of fat molecules into the bloodstream – basically, leading to increased breakdown of fat stores. It’s important to note, however, that increased breakdown of fat stores does not necessarily mean increase fat burning, as these molecules may continue to circulate in the blood without being used.
Given that the hormonal responses to exercise are heightened during the evening hours, you may wish to consider how these might impact your sleep. One normal exercise response is to increase levels of your “fight or flight” hormones, making you more alert – rather than ready for bed. If you already have sleep challenges, you may wish to avoid evening exercise.
Exercise at any time of the day is can be followed by a decrease in blood pressure. While this response is larger after evening exercise, there is evidence that the blood pressure decrease after morning exercise is more consistent. It may also be more valuable if you are prehypertensive or have high blood pressure. As part of normal body functions, you experience a temporary rise in blood pressure in the mornings; the decrease in blood pressure following morning exercise can return these morning “spikes” to more normal levels.
Evidence exists for both morning exercise and evening exercise to be more effective in fat burning and weight loss, and there are mindset and motivation effects of morning exercise that are hard to look past. For example, if you hit the gym in the morning, will that make you less likely to grab that pastry from the office kitchen for breakfast? Regardless of the science and the mindset effects, your work outs, your ability to lose weight, and your health will all stand to make the most improvements on your own timeline. The most effective workout time is going to be the time when you feel best prepared for it.
For more information:
De Bristo, L. C., Rezende, R. A., Da Silva, N. D., Junior, Tinucci, T., Casarini, D. E., Cipolla-Neto, J., & Forjaz, C. L. (2015). Post-Exercise Hypotension and Its Mechanisms Differ after Morning and Evening Exercise: A Randomized Crossover Study. Plos One,10(7).
Kim, H., Ando, K., Tabata, H., Konishi, M., Takahashi, M., Nishimaki, M., . . . Sakamoto, S. (2016). Effects of Different Intensities of Endurance Exercise in Morning and Evening on the Lipid Metabolism Response. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine,15, 467-476.
Kim, H., Konishi, M., Takahashi, M., Tabata, H., Endo, N., Numao, S., . . . Sakamoto, S. (2015). Effects of Acute Endurance Exercise Performed in the Morning and Evening on Inflammatory Cytokine and Metabolic Hormone Responses. Plos One,10(9).
Votruba, S. B., Atkinson, R. L., & Schoeller, D. A. (2004). Sustained increase in dietary oleic acid oxidation following morning exercise. International Journal of Obesity,29(1), 100-107.
Shameless plug time!
If you’re interested in exercise for weight loss and better health, we can help. HealthFit Coaching offers exercise physiology, personal training, nutrition coaching, and our signature Complete Coaching package in the Brisbane suburbs of St Lucia, Sherwood, Chelmer, Oxley, Indooroopilly, Taringa, and Toowong, or online at your convenience.
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To improve cardiovascular fitness, you need to challenge your cardiovascular system. Simply put, that means moving your body in a way that increases your heart rate and makes you breath harder. Of course, you can get fit without a gym membership, but the variety of cardio machines under one roof can make your cardio workout a little more enticing. Make sure you get the best cardio workout by picking the machine that will work best for you. That mean safe and keeping you pain free, effective, and maybe even enjoyable!
Stair Climber / Stair Stepper
The rundown: The stair stepper (or stair climber) is exactly what it sounds like. Generally the “stairs” take two forms: A treadmill-type “staircase”, or a set of foot plates that moves up and down.
The stairs are tough! Prolonged stair climbing will quickly elevate your heart rate, especially with a faster speed. But “tough” is all relative – you have control over speed or resistance to make the workout somewhat easier or harder. And don’t feel bad about giving yourself plenty of breaks throughout the workout. It will make it easier to get through the session and you’ll lose little or no benefit from it.
The stair stepper can be good for keeping your joints healthy. You need use a bigger range of motion, as each step will require more bend in the hips, knees, and ankles to lift your leg and take the “step”. This greater range of motion can help keep joints well lubricated and mobile.
Provides a nice added strength boost for the lower body. Because you have to take bigger steps, the muscles in your lower body will work harder. This means you’ll develop more strength in the major muscle groups in your legs (your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves).
The stair stepper may not be the best choice if you have existing knee pain, though that doesn’t automatically rule it out, either. Use a foam roller or trigger point ball on your quads (front of thigh) and glutes (butt and sides of hips) prior to taking your first step up. Loosening tension through these areas will take a lot of pressure off of the knees.
Getting tired? DON’T lean on the arm railings – this takes away much of the “work” and can put your body in an awkward position, which can lead to physical stress through the joints of your spine and upper body, and can long-term set you up for injury. If you feel the need to lean, take a 1-2 minute break instead, either by slowing the machine way down, or by hopping off and walking around.
The Verdict: The stair stepper is one of the most effective cardio machines at the gym, because the movement is inherently high demand. Plus you get the added bonus of strength building through the lower body and large ranges of movement.
The rundown: This machine guides you through low-impact movement that’s a cross between running and cross-country skiing.
Many machine have optional arm bars. Use them! Adding in upper body movement will lead to a larger increase in heart rate than just using the stationary handles. More muscles moving = higher heart rate and more calories burned.
This is generally the closest you get to running and still keep in low-impact (actually, no impact). If your elliptical machine has an incline setting, give yourself a boost here for a greater range of motion, which can help joint health.
Because you generally keep your feet connected to the foot plates, the gliding motion can sometimes lead to discomfort through the joints, especially if you’re already holding tension through the muscles of the hip and thigh (muscle tension can sometimes create more twist and torque through joints).
The Verdict: Excellent if you like to run but don’t feel comfortable with the impact any longer. If you choose an elliptical workout, get your upper body involved to maximize your results.
Stationary cycle / Spin bike
The rundown: Another low-impact cardio machine, stationary cycles and spin bikes can give you a great workout with minimal joint stress, provide you set the bike up to suit your body. Because you can set the resistance, you can somewhat turn your cycle workout into a strength builder as well.
These bikes can still lead to joint stress and strain, even without the impact. To prevent joint pain, make sure the bike settings are adjusted correctly for your body. Seat height should be set so that your knees are slightly bent when straight out, and the distance between the front of the seat and the “handlebars” is about the same as the distance from your elbow to your fingertips. This will minimize your risk of knee pain or lower back pain, though again, the risks are small!
Increase the resistance to simulate riding up a hill. This can be an excellent way to build strength in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Variable resistance and the smooth motion of the pedal stroke means that stationary cycles and spin bikes are great in almost every situation, from knee surgery rehab to cross training for high level sports.
Leaning too heavily on the handlebars/arm bars can result in a lot on tension buildup through the neck and shoulders. During your ride, sit up straight frequently and shake out your shoulders and arms to keep everything loose.
The verdict: Great for use in almost every situation, as the speed and resistance can guide smooth movements with minimal physical stress. Make sure you know how to set the bike up for your arm and leg length to keep yourself comfortable and pain free.
The rundown: This machine is one of the most frequently mis-used, which is a shame. It can offer a really phenomenal workout!
Out of all the standard cardio equipment you find in a gym, this piece has the highest potential for a high intensity workout. Good rowing technique requires a powerful push with the legs, and a pull with the torso and arms, meaning that almost every muscle in the body is working hard.
This machine also allows you to set your own speed and resistance, so the workout doesn’t have to be crazy challenging. An important note though: make sure you have enough resistance to work against, especially with the leg push part of the movement – without this, there is a greater risk of losing control of the movement, which can lead to physical stress and injury.
One of the most common complaints with using the rowing machine is a sore lower back, and/or neck and shoulders. This happens when you lean too far back as you pull the handle, and when you pull the handle too high. At the end of the pull, you should be leaning back only slightly, and definitely not more than about 45 degrees, and the handle should be pulled in towards your bellybutton.
You might want to start small with this machine. Because there is a lot more upper body involvement, many people tire quite quickly. Interval training is a great option on the rower, or just start with 5 minutes’ work and combine it with another type of cardio.
The verdict: Once you’re comfortable with the technique, this is a really excellent option for a big workout in a short amount of time – big being relative, of course!
Treadmill (Walking, Jogging, or Running)
The rundown: The most well-known of the cardio equipment, you can walk, jog, or run in a controlled environment.
The tread can be a little bit more joint friendly than concrete, as it provides some cushion to help decrease the impact of each step. But that and the movement of the tread make it less work than walking or running outside. Get all of the benefits: Use a little incline to cancel out the “give” of the tread. A 1% incline is roughly equal to the work of walking on the ground, without the loss of cushion.
Don’t lean on the hand supports or arm railings. If you aren’t using your arms, your missing out on natural body movement and extra calories burned. This is especially true if you’re walking at a high incline, holding the handles and leaning backwards – you’re missing out on a lot of the benefits, and it’s not particularly safe on the off chance that your phone rings and you absentmindedly let go. THE ONE EXCEPTION: If you need some help with balance, by all means, hang on. Help maintain good body mechanics by keeping your hands somewhat in front of your torso, and away you go.
One of the benefits of using a treadmill is that you get your workout without going anywhere, so if you get tired, you get to just stop and get off. BUT. Please let the tread come to a complete stop before stepping off. Those videos you see off people flying off the back of the treadmill? I’ve seen that happen in real life and it’s not fun.
You’ll find most of these cardio machines in most gyms, but this isn’t a complete list of the equipment you might have available, nor is it a complete list of pros and cons. Always chat to a personal trainer or exercise physiologist about which cardio workout will be right for you and your specific situation.
Have questions about what exercise physiology can help you with? Get in touch!
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The short answer: Functional training is exercise that mimics and prepares you for the movements you make in everyday life.
The longer answer: Will depend on who you talk to! Functional training can have as many definitions as there are trainers.
In exercise science, functional training refers to an exercise or training program that will keep you physically capable of meeting the demands of daily life. Programs are designed around your day to day activities and include exercises that develop strength, endurance, and mobility in the same movement patterns that your daily activities use. As an exercise physiologist, I see functional training programs as those meeting your physical needs, whatever they are, which of course leaves a lot of room for variation. For instance, the program for an avid runner might include specific exercises to increase running speed, or to help the body better absorb impact. A program for a stay-at-home parent with young kids might be focused on maintaining good hip mobility to help with getting down and up off the floor, and on building upper back strength and core strength to help balance out the changes in posture that happen when you carry kids around. In other words, true functional training is really specific to YOU.
How does this mesh with functional training programs provided by different gyms and personal trainers?
Functional has been a fitness industry buzzword for a while now, but it’s often not clear what you might get in any given functional workout. Early functional training programs were focused on neuromuscular training exercises, generally involving moving with your eyes closed or balancing on a stability ball to challenge balance or reaction times. One might think of this training as developing the finer points of physical coordination and movement.
More recently, Crossfit and other fitness and training companies like F45 have grabbed onto the “functional” term, though these workouts have moved far away from challenging the finer points of movement. I’d argue that this current crop of functional training providers actually provide cross-training, as the workouts are changed on a daily basis with an emphasis on developing a broad base in strength, power, and cardiovascular endurance. These are all elements of fitness that are needed for high quality functional movement and for good health in general.
When I compare them to the movements of daily life though, I find them somewhat lacking – from a true functional perspective. Heavy squats, battle ropes, box jumps, chin-ups, sprints, and other exercises are common components of these workouts. But when in day to day life do you find yourself needing to jump up onto something as high as your knees?
How much do the differences between functional personal training or gym programs and other functional programs really matter?
They might not matter at all. It really depends on how much you feel like you need a specific, individualized exercise plan. Some people will be fine with the generalized, cross-training style “functional” training, namely those who already have a moderate level of fitness and good movement control. True functional training provided by an exercise physiologist or a personal trainer with significant additional training in movement assessment and movement quality is the right choice for you if you:
Are starting physical activity or exercise for the first time, or after a long period off
Have a history of joint pain or injury
Have a long-term health condition, especially if this impacts your movement ability and physical capacity
Want to refine your movement technique to prevent injury and maximize progress
You will always be the best judge of what will work best for your lifestyle and your body. If you want to focus on functional training that supports your everyday activities, think about what movements are required, and look for exercises (or professional guidance) that will help you replicate those movements with just a little more intensity.
HealthFit Coaching provides in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane. HealthFit Coaches specialize in providing individualised functional training for general fitness and long-term health conditions. Contact HealthFit now for an obligation-free phone call to find out how we can help you be healthy, fit, and happy.
Depending on your workout or the type of physical activity you do, you can gain muscle strength, cardiovascular and aerobic endurance, improve your flexibility and joint health, or help maintain other components of good physical function like balance and coordination. The most common components of exercise programs are resistance training, cardio or aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Since they all provide different benefits, it’s essential to include a balance of these different types:
Resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training): Resistance exercises are those that train your body to produce force against some sort of resistance, whether that is your own body weight, resistance bands, traditional dumbbells and barbells, or a multitude of other training equipment.
Moving against resistance stimulates your muscles to develop size, optimal length and muscle tone, and contraction ability, as well as the coordination to be able to complete daily tasks with ease. These characteristics can promote good posture, reducing the risk of injury and poor health, improve body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean body tissue), enhance movement abilities, and generally boost self-confidence and self-esteem.
Resistance training can be further broken down into training programs that are focused on developing maximal muscular strength and power, muscle size, or muscle endurance. For most people with non-athletic goals, development of muscle size will provide the greatest all-around benefit for lifelong muscle health. It’s important to consider that the training benefits are directly related to the amount of work you put in – regardless of the training focus, if you aren’t training with enough effort, no benefit will be seen.
Cardiovascular training (also known as aerobic training or endurance training): This is exercise or activity that is made up of repeated, often rhythmic movements that use the large muscle groups of the arms and legs. These types of exercise usually don’t require much or any special training or practice, and are often done for an extended period of time – though “extended” is all relative. (If you’re just starting out with aerobic exercise, extended might only mean five minutes.) Some of the most common examples include walking and running, cycling, and swimming, though many other activities also fall into this category.
Cardio exercise helps your heart to beat more efficiently, in turn using less energy to move oxygen and nutrients, and keeps the blood vessels healthy and able to respond to the demands that movement can place on your body. This decreases wear and tear on the heart and the blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as the risk of sudden conditions like a heart attack.
Flexibility or Stretching and Joint Mobility Training: These exercises have two specific but closely related training goals. Flexibility exercises are designed to promote optimal length in the soft tissues surrounding a joint or a series of joint, which will allow the joint to move freely within its available range of motion. Flexibility training targets the muscles and connective tissues around the joint. Joint mobility refers to the ability of the joint itself to move freely. Joints can become stiff with lack of movement, which can stiffen the connective tissues within the joint, or can lose movement ability when the flexibility of surrounding muscles and connective tissues decrease. In order for a joint to be mobile, the soft tissues surrounding it must be flexible, and in order for the soft tissues to develop or maintain flexibility, the joint must be able to move freely. Both of these components are important in maintaining good posture and movement ability – key components to an active, pain-free lifestyle with low injury risk.
Flexibility can be developed by traditional static stretching exercises, which involves moving to the point of moderate stretch and holding that stretch for at least 30 seconds (the minimal amount of time required to create a lasting change in flexibility). Dynamic stretching is a better option for joint mobility training, as it’s performed by moving into a stretching position, holding it for a few seconds, and then backing off. By combining this stretch with a greater degree of joint movement, you can develop and maintain optimal joint mobility. Spending time on both static and dynamic stretching will give you the best results.
Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility are the three most commonly discussed components of a balanced exercise program. But there is another component that is often overlooked, yet is perhaps the most important component of exercise and activity, especially when it comes to maintaining good functional movement throughout your entire life. Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Neuromuscular training at the end of the week!
Looking for the best in-home personal training and exercise physiology program? Look no further. HealthFit coaching provides exercise programs that are real-life ready – flexible enough to work with your lifestyle without sacrificing your health and fitness goals. Take the first step to lifelong health and fitness – Contact HealthFit Now.
This is a tough question to answer, actually. It’s certainly a question that needs an individual answer, as each person has their own unique needs, abilities, and goals.
Spend any time in a gym, or reading a health and fitness magazine, or really in any way having an interest in fitness or weight loss, you’ll probably have heard the term “cardio” being tossed around. But what exercise is actually the best pick for you?
Cardio is short for cardiovascular, and refers to the normal increase in heart rate that occurs with it. This whole body exercise is characterized by repetitive movements that use many or all of the large muscle groups in the body, and is often considered full-body exercise. By increasing your heart rate, you’ll help your heart to beat more efficiently when working out and when at rest, so it will take fewer beats to deliver the blood, oxygen, and nutrients that your body needs. Long term, this is less wear and tear on your heart and body.
Walking, running, cycling, and swimming are common types of cardiovascular exercise, but there are many others that provide the same effect and benefit. Most of the time, you can do one or any combination. We’ve listed some of the benefits and drawbacks of some of the most common types of cardio exercise to help you figure out what type might be best for you.
No gym requirement / travel friendly – you can go for a walk pretty much anywhere.
Low impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Low intensity, so if you go walking for exercise, you’ll be able to maintain it for a longer time than almost any other type of cardio exercise.
Easy to add into your day, as you can sneak in a walk at lunch or get off the bus a stop or two early and add some steps to your total count.
Low intensity, so doesn’t raise your heart rate as high as other cardio options (this can also be a benefit, if you have a health condition that requires you to maintain a lower heart rate)
Takes the longest to build fitness, and has a lower maximum benefit than other cardio options, though will still be enough to provide health benefits for most people.
No gym requirement / travel friendly – running can be done almost everywhere.
Needs minimal equipment, just a pair of shoes you are comfortable in.
Variable intensity without significant loss of benefit – whether you run fast or run slowly, you’ll reap the rewards.
Relatively quick increase in fitness levels – regular sessions will give you a big boost.
Physically demanding to start with – many people struggle with fitness and endurance levels when they start.
High impact forces for the body to deal with, which can cause joint issues for some, though this can usually be easily prevented with good recovery methods like massage and stretching.
Higher injury risk, especially for overuse injuries of the lower body (calf strains, plantar fasciitis, knee pain), though you can easily decrease injury risk with the correct combination of recovery methods and strengthening exercises for your body.
Low impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Less fitness needed to start cycling for exercise, especially compared to running.
Often feels like less physical work than it is – unless you have a lot of hills on your ride!
Cost of bicycle and equipment purchase (i.e. helmet, etc.), though you don’t have to set yourself up with the fanciest gear just to go out for a ride.
May increase chances of lower and upper back pain, depending on the specific set up of your bicycle. This is often caused by gripping handle bars too tightly, or being hunched over the bars for long periods without a break.
If road riding, may need to share the road with cars and other vehicles.
No impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Uses more upper body than other cardio methods listed here, which increases the energy cost of the exercise and makes your body work harder in a given period of time.
Different strokes allow you to focus on different movements, providing variety and preventing boredom.
Water can provide support for the body, which can help exercise for longer period when starting out and building fitness.
A relatively short workout (in time spent, or total distance covered) can provide as much benefit as longer land-based workouts, due to the higher use of upper body muscle groups (as above).
Cost of pool membership, if you don’t have a pool readily available at home or work.
Convenience of pool location – convenience has repeatedly been shown to make or break exercise efforts. If you have to go out of your way to do something, it’s less likely that you’ll do it regularly.
Swimming can be physically demanding to start with – many people struggle with fitness and endurance levels when getting started.
Can be particularly hard on the rotator cuff and other shoulders muscles if swimming a lot, though this is easily managed with good recovery methods like self-massage or remedial massage and stretching.
This is by no means a complete list of cardio exercises, or of their benefits or drawbacks, but it may help you decide what might be best for you. And if you want an expert opinion on what will be best for you, you can meet with a HealthFit Coach in person if you are in Brisbane, or via Skype or Facebook messenger anywhere in the world.