General Fitness Training Program
The UK National Health Service (NHS 2012) recommend that adults should try to be active daily and do at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
What are the aims of a fitness training program?
The training aims to improve your fitness level by developing your balance, coordination, flexibility, strength and endurance. To achieve this, we need to exercise outside of our comfort zone; otherwise, we maintain our current fitness level. If you can hold a conversation with someone while walking or jogging on a treadmill, you are not outside your comfort zone, and all you will achieve is burn a few calories.
What do I need to do before I start this training program?
If you have not exercised before regularly, I would check with your doctor that it is safe for you to undertake a regular training program.
How often should I train each week?
An approach to a week's training could be to exercise on 2 or 3 days with a rest day between them, e.g. exercise on Monday and Thursday or Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Do I train at home or join a gym?
The article on Home Gym or Gym Membership considers the advantages and disadvantages of training at home or joining your local gym. I belong to a local gym as I do not have space to accommodate all the expensive training equipment.
What will a typical gym session comprise of?
Each exercise session will last approximately 1 to 1½ hours and comprise 5 units of exercise - warm-up unit, strength unit, a flexibility, balance, coordination and core unit, an endurance unit and a cool-down unit.
What is in a warm-up unit?
A warm-up unit aims to prepare your body for the other session units. It should comprise 5-10 minutes of gentle aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, cycling or rowing) followed by some dynamic stretching exercises - e.g. Arm Swings, Hip circles and twists, Lunges and Ankle Bounce. An explanation of these exercise and other exercises are detailed on the dynamic stretching exercises page. The gentle aerobic exercise on this occasion should be well within your comfort zone, and I refer to the speed you should be working at as "talking pace" - you could hold a conversation with somebody while exercising. This unit will last between 10 and 15 minutes.
What is in a strength unit?
This can comprise 4 or 5 dumbbell exercises, e.g. Standing one leg heel raises, One arm dumbbell rows (alternate), Seated one arm triceps extension, Incline seated dumbbell curls (alternate) and Incline dumbbell bench press. An explanation of these exercise and other exercises are detailed on the dumbbell exercises page. Perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise using weights where you are near failure to complete the exercise on the last repetition of each set. The strength unit can focus on the upper body as the endurance unit will strengthen the leg muscles. This unit will last between 15 and 20 minutes.
What is in the flexibility, balance, coordination and core unit?
The unit comprises of a selection of upper body conditioning exercises - e.g. Sit Ups (upper abdominals), Back Arches (Back), Transversus Abdominis (Abdominal), Hip and Leg raise (Gluteals and hamstrings). An explanation of these exercise and other exercises are detailed on the upper body conditioning exercises page. All the exercises to be done smoothly and slowly to develop balance and coordination. Start with ten repetitions of each exercise and over time increase the number of repetitions - the focus is the quality of movement, not the number of repetitions. This unit will last between 10 and 15 minutes.
What is in an endurance unit?
The endurance (aerobic) unit should comprise of a 20 to a 40-minute activity of rowing, running, jogging, cycling or cross-trainer. It could consist of a mix of these aerobic activities, e.g. 10 minutes of jogging, 10 minutes of cycling and 10 minutes of rowing. During this activity, you should be working at around 70% of your maximum heart rate and having to concentrate on your breathing - no chance of holding a long conversation with anyone.
What do I do in the cool-down?
A cool-down unit aims to remove waste products from the muscles, realign muscle fibres and re-establish their normal range of movement. This unit should comprise a 5-minute gentle jog or cycle followed by some static stretching exercise you hold for 10 seconds, e.g. Chest Stretch, Shoulder and Triceps Stretch, Hamstring Stretch, Calf Stretch, Hip and Thigh Stretch and Quadriceps Stretch. An explanation of these exercise and other exercises are detailed on the static stretching exercise page. This unit will last between 10 and 15 minutes.
What do I need to take with me?
Take a drink. It does not need to be a fancy sports drink, plain water is fine. Take a mouthful of your drink at regular intervals throughout your training session - e.g. every 5 to 10 minutes. Also, take a towel to wipe down the equipment after you have used it.
How do I prevent boredom?
To prevent boredom, vary the exercises you do each week and consider listening to your favourite music as you exercise.
Do I need to do any other exercise or activity work?
I would consider going for a 20 to 30-minute gentle walk (this could be shopping) when you are not at the gym. This will help develop your aerobic fitness, balance, coordination and general strength. If you have a dog, problem solved - take it for its walk(s) each day.
What does a typical week look like?
Two gym sessions a week:
Three gym sessions a week:
How long before I see an improvement in my fitness?
In general, it will be anything for 4 to 6 weeks before you start to see an improvement in your general fitness. You will begin to notice that you can perform more repetitions of an exercise, the dumbbells are getting heavier and the endurance sessions getting longer.
Do I need to keep a training diary - if yes, what do I record?
YES - record what you did in the session, e.g. exercises, sets, repetitions, weights, duration of the aerobic session, what is comprised, how you felt before and after the session, and any niggling injuries/twinges you are becoming aware of. The diary helps you to monitor how your training is going and the progress you are making.
I hope this will help you get started on your journey to improving your fitness level. If you use a gym, speak to the instructors for more ideas to vary your training and perhaps get some personal one-to-one training when the instructors can access your strengths and weaknesses and provide a more suitable program just for you.
If you are not convinced that exercising is worth the effort, then read of the benefits of exercising page.
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