Types of Exercise
By now you know that exercising is good for you. You may have also heard of the many types of exercise such as aerobic, anaerobic, high intensity and many others. In this section we will go over each type of exercise, explaining how it is done, who should do each exercise, how often and the best way to incorporate each type of exercise into your schedule.
Exercise types can be categorized in many ways. One way is to distinguish them based on their cardiovascular intensity, meaning how hard they are on your heart, lungs and muscles. The main three categories on this section are:
Anaerobic & Threshold: together about 20% of weekly exercise time.
Aerobic: About 80% of weekly exercise time
Aerobic is easy to moderate effort, where your heart and lungs are able to deliver oxygen to your muscles to meet their demands. You do not burn a significant amount of energy in short durations and therefore aerobic exercise is not great for weight loss unless you become an endurance athlete and exercise for more than an hour. However, this level of effort is great for your heart and helps reduce your blood pressure. Aerobic exercise is also less taxing on your body. Some examples are an easy run, jog, bike, swim or even hiking. In the gym you can use the rowing machine, elliptical or stair master. If you are a beginner, start with 30 minutes and increase by 10% each week. Remember, these activities require an easy effort, and as a rule you should be able to have a normal conversation with the person next to you without becoming short of breath. If you are using our heart rate zones, you should be in zone 1-2. So, avoid the temptation to speed up or catch up with peers faster than you.
Threshold is a narrow window where you are exercising hard enough that your heart and lungs are able to deliver just enough oxygen to your muscles to keep up with the demand, but barely, so you are working harder than the aerobic stage. Since threshold is still mostly dependent on oxygen, you are able to maintain this level for some time (depending on your fitness level but can be anywhere from minutes to hours). At this stage you are working harder than the aerobic stage, hence you burn more calories. You should be able to talk but only in short sentences, and it feels somewhat uncomfortable to talk. Unlike the aerobic stage, you certainly should not be able to maintain a conversation. If you are using heart rate zones, this is zone 3.
Anaerobic is when you are pushing yourself to the limits, as hard as you can go. You are working so hard that no matter how hard the heart and lungs work, they cannot keep up with the muscle demand. Hence, muscles start using oxygen alternatives for their metabolism. You may have heard the term "lactic acid." Lactic acid is the byproduct when muscle cells do not have enough oxygen to keep up with energy expenditure and use alternative sources. It is what causes that mild to moderate burn in your muscles. Anaerobic exercise is only done in very short segments, seconds to minutes, with long recovery times in between. We recommend that you only do these segments once you have exercised for some time and have a good base for physical fitness. Start with very few reps (3-5) and no more than once a week. Anaerobic exercises are great for weight loss and increasing your fitness. But again, these intervals are very taxing on your body and should only be done once you have gained some experience. The popular high intensity exercises (HIT) you may have heard of mostly depend on this anaerobic stage to cause significant weight loss.
So, how often should you exercise in each category? There are no concrete answers and you may find different opinions based on whom you talk to. But one of the most well established and researched methods for exercise is the 80/20 rule. Studies of elite athletes have shown that most of them spend 80% of their time in the easy, aerobic zone and only 20% of their time in the more demanding threshold and anaerobic zones. This finding has also been validated for amateur and non-elite athletes. The basic idea is that you stimulate and challenge your body 20% of the time, however, it is during the easy exercise period (the other 80%) that your body actually starts to change and improve. Too much hard exercise actually leads to muscle damage and loss of fitness. So, spend most of your time exercising easy and slow, focusing on your form and technique and just enjoy yourself. The other 20% of the time, it's go time! And remember, the percentages refer to your weekly, or even monthly total exercise time. For more personalized planning please contact us; we are happy to help you or refer you to a vetted and certified coach. You may also post on the forum for help from other members.
In the table below, we have provided a sample weekly schedule to get you started.
You can replace running with any other activity you want; the main emphasis here is the intensities and durations.
You should start each exercise with at least 5-10 minutes of warm up (easy jog) and finish with a cool down (5-10 minute easy jog).
You should spend a few minutes stretching and doing mobility maneuvers at least 3 times a week AFTER you are done. This can be as little as 5 minutes duration.
You should also do 2-3 sessions of core/strength training. If you are short on time, you can do this at a separate time of the day or week, or if time is really limited, just pick two of the days, cut the run short and do the strength/core workout instead. In the chart, the ' stands for minutes, and the " represents seconds.
The zones of training mostly apply to cardiovascular exercises such as running, biking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, cross country skiing or any other cardiovascular exercise. But in addition to cardiovascular exercise, it is also important to discuss two other important types of exercises:
Strength exercises that use body weight or external weights to strengthen your muscles.
Core exercises that strengthen the core muscles; this group of muscles mostly involves your abdomen and back and is very important for maintaining your posture and balance.
Strength and core exercises are very important. They help stimulate muscle and bone well being, improve your posture, reduce risk of injury and joint pain, and are also important in weight loss as they tend to reduce fat and increase muscle. You should include 2-3 days of strength and core training in your weekly schedule. These sessions can be as short as 15 minutes and can be done at home. In fact Babak does this while he is playing with his kids at home, cooking, or at the park. He even uses the kids as extra weight! These exercises are best done at the end of a cardiovascular workout when your body has warmed up and is more flexible. Never start a weight lifting session without first warming up for at least 5 minutes as this can lead to muscle damage.
Sample strength and core exercises
3 sets, each 10 reps
3 sets, each 10 reps
Squats or lunges using dumbbells/kettlebells
Any ab work out using a balance ball
Shoulder press using dumbbells or kettlebells
These are just a few samples to get you started; if you need help you can contact us for coaching, seek help from friends or a trainer, or just post on the forum to get assistance from fellow healthierlife members.
How often to exercise:
This is a completely individualized decision. For maximum benefit, exercise at least 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day, but it certainly is not all or nothing. There is some research that shows exercising more, to a certain extent, can improve your health, but if you are short on time, 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day, is still very good and yields the full benefit of exercising. It's also very important to stay active the rest of the day (see stay active section). You can always exercise more if you have the time or desire or you are training for a specific event. And make sure you always take at least one day off to rest your body. Resting is as important as exercising when it comes to improving your health and strength. And if you want motivation or ideas to get started, be sure to check out our event calendar for virtual or local events. You can also post on the forum to start your own group.