People often have different fitness goals. Some people train to lose weight and inches (often around the waist). They are heavier than they want to be, and this extra weight is accompanied by extra size. Other people have a goal of gaining weight. These people are most often men who are naturally thin, who want to gain muscle. Exercising and eating right can build muscle, burn fat, and create an overall more attractive appearance. Still others exercise for the unseen benefits that it provides. These benefits are often twofold. The first benefit is the increased ability to do whatever it is that particular exercise trains. For example, a person who is a competitive runner will increase his or her time by running often. A competitive MMA fighter will benefit from strength and endurance training. But an arguably more beneficial effect of exercise is the low blood pressure, increased heart health, increased bone density and other systemic improvements it provides. A good exercise program will include a mixture of cardiovascular training, strength training. Diet is also important.
The world of exercise includes a lot of misconceptions. Often, people think women shouldn’t life weights because they will get huge and bulky. Some people use exercise as an excuse to eat extra calories and wonder why they don’t lose weight. Some men think they are “hardgainers” and can’t gain muscle. Other people assume that people training for endurance sports, such as marathoners, should avoid strength training. Another common misconception is that thin automatically equals healthy.
Unless you’re training for the actual Olympics, a balanced program is almost always the best course of action (and even Olympic athlets cross-train). This is because the human body is quite an adaptable machine, and needs the wide variety of a balanced program in order to keep every part healthy.
Cardiovascular and endurance:
For many people, some sort of cardiovascular training is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “exercise”. Cardiovascular training and endurance training are two sides of the same coin. Running long distances employs the slow-twitch muscles, which, when trained, can work for many consecutive hours. Slow twitch, or type I muscles, use fats and carbohydrates as fuel. But, in order to convert fats and carbohydrates to useful energy, the muscle requires a large amount of oxygen. The heart must therefore work hard during training that employs slow twitch muscles.
Examples of training that work these systems include running, biking, swimming, or active sports. Fitness dance classes such as Zumba, or exercises such as yoga also provide some benefit, depending on the intensity of the exercise. Benefits of cardiovascular training include the obvious ones such as heart health. High impact training such as running also benefits the skeletal system if not done to excess, by increasing bone density.
But cardiovascular training is not the only component in a good diet and exercise plan. While just running is certainly better than living a sedentary life, it’s possible to do it to excess, if other exercises are not thrown into the balance. Female athlete triad syndrome is one example of this. Characterized by extremely low body weight, sufferers of the female athlete triad are often long distance runners or other athletes who focus heavily and exclusively on endurance training. The result is bone density loss, low energy and loss of menstrual cycle. While this is an extreme example, it demonstrates the importance of a balanced program.
While cardiovascular and endurance training uses mostly slow twitch, type I muscle fibers, strength training employs fast twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers use ATP and glycogen as fuel, which is stored in the muscles themselves. This means that the fuel is readily available, and that the muscle can there for work very quickly and strongly. However, because of the limited supply of this fuel, the muscle cannot work for long periods of time.
Examples of athletes using primarily fast twitch fibers include strength sports such as weight lifting, shot put and high jump, but also speed sports such as sprinting or football. Benefits of strength training include the obvious increased strength, but there are other benefits as well.
Weight lifting is a good way to put stress on the skeletal system without the impact of something like running. So, bones get stronger without ruining knees and other joints. Weight lifting also has the benefit of boosting the metabolism for a few hours after the exercise, meaning that you’ll burn more calories just sitting around than otherwise. Finally, there is evidence that short bursts of high intensity activity (such as interval sprints or heavy weight lifting) provide more of a benefit to the heart than long, grueling marathon training. They also take much less time.
Drawbacks to weight training include possible muscle imbalances, if one works only half the muscles in an opposing muscle group. For example, hundreds of pull ups combined with very little pushing exercises can result in poor posture as the shoulders start to round. Weight lifting can also be more dangerous. A spotter should always be employed especially for movements such as the bench press, which can trap the lifter if something goes wrong. Also, poor form can result in injury much more easily when strength training. For example, deadlifting with a rounded back can result in a serious back injury. Finally, strength and speed training is hard. While endurance training is a matter of simply keeping moving at a slow pace, strength or sprint training must be intense for benefits to manifest.
Even the best combination of strength and endurance training can be hamstrung by a poor diet. A poor diet is detrimental for two reasons. One is that a poor diet is simply counterproductive to many fitness goals. For example, sometimes people with a weight loss goal will “cheat” and reward themselves with a candy bar after a run. However, it’s possible to completely negate the calorie deficit running provides by eating a few candy bars, meaning that weight loss will not happen.
The other reason a poor diet can hurt a workout program is by interfering with the workout itself. For example, eating a high fat diet immediately before an intense lift or long run will almost certainly result in an upset stomach. Foods high in processed sugars, while providing an initial boost to energy, sometimes result in a crash that creates a feeling of weakness that can cause an endurance athlete to cut his workout short.
The best diet for someone who exercises intensely is not highly different from the best diet for a sedentary person. Fresh vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains should form the bulk of the diet. For someone who wants to increase endurance but not lose muscle mass, extra calories can be added in the form of healthy fats, such as are found in nuts and seeds. Fruits are a good source of quick energy while on a long run or bike ride. Avoid sweets and saturated fats (such as fast food). Keep dairy to a minimum.