We used to say “no pain no gain” when it came to exercise, but today we know that it isn’t necessary to hurt yourself to get stronger and fitter. On the other hand, improving your fitness does require that you venture beyond your comfort zone – even if it’s just a quick trip!
Exercising aerobically at higher intensities benefits your cardiovascular system by increasing your aerobic capacity and endurance. Research also suggests that higher-intensity aerobic exercise not only burns more calories during the activity, it keeps the metabolism elevated longer afterward. Hence, by substituting one or two higher intensity interval sessions per week for your low-to-moderate-intensity aerobic workouts, you may elevate your cardiovascular fitness while decreasing your weight.
Training Interval training is defined as performing repeated bouts of higher intensity exercise interspersed with intervals of comparatively light exercise. For example, when walking on a treadmill you might raise the incline and/or the speed for 1-3 minutes to push yourself and then lower it for 1-3 minutes for an active recovery, repeating this pattern for several minutes. Be sure to warm up and cool down for at least 5-7 minutes before and after your interval session. Click here for some additional ideas for incorporating interval training into your workouts . When performing aerobic interval training, gauge your intensity level by taking the “talk test”. During the hard efforts, you should be able to talk but hear your breath in your speech. You should not, however, have enough wind to sing! During the recovery intervals you should remain aerobic but your breathing should return to a more comfortable level. If you’re new to interval training, try just a few minutes once a week during your regular aerobic workouts and gradually build up from there. Eventually you’ll find that your regular workouts feel easier as your cardiovascular fitness level increases.
In addition to pushing the envelope aerobically, if your goal is increasing muscle mass and muscle strength you must apply the principal of progressive overload. This is managed by increasing the amount of weight you lift to fatigue while decreasing the number of times you lift it. Keep in mind that you don’t need to add a lot of weight at a time. Incorporating small, incremental increases – one pound at a time – is a safe, effective way to build stronger muscles, tendons and bones without risk of injury. For each exercise you do, pick a weight that you can lift at least eight times, but not more than 12 with proper form. Perform one-to-two sets and be sure you incorporate rest days between strength sessions.
If you’re having trouble pushing yourself on your own, try a group exercise class. You may find you work harder and longer when someone else is giving the orders and others are working hard alongside you. Or, alternatively, consider pairing up with an exercise partner – preferably one who will push you a bit, but no too much.
Pushing yourself in your workouts is an important means of challenging yourself to increase your fitness level. Be sure, however, that you have been performing consistent, quality aerobic, strength and flexibility workouts before stepping things up to the next level and then do so very gradually. Finally, always check with your physician before increasing the intensity of any aspect of your exercise program.