Continuing the series on the essentials when beginning an exercise routine for the first time or after a long time, the focus this week is on the nature of the routine – weight training and cardio. As we have seen that while beginning a routine, maintaining regularity or frequency is more important than increasing the duration or intensity. It is also important to consider the reason for beginning or getting back to the workout, especially if it is after surgeries or other health problems.
As far as weight training is concerned –
o It is ok to begin a weight training routine in the first week itself, provided it focuses on full-body conditioning and includes all muscle groups with lesser weight and average number of repetitions (12-15)
o The first week workout could be all-body parts, three times a week on alternate days to ensure adequate rest. Avoid using body splits and advanced techniques like 2-muscles / 3-muscles per day or techniques like drop sets, pyramiding, reps until burn etc. in order to leave no room for injuries and enough room for progression.
o One or two sets with 10-15 or more repetition, depending on the muscle group worked out are adequate in the first week. For example, leg exercises usually use more repetitions due to the large musculature than chest exercises.
o It is advisable to focus on the technique of lifting, posture and the ‘form’ of the exercise while beginning out, in order to build up on it later. The form is very important to focus on the right muscles so that they develop proportionately and also to avoid muscular imbalance and postural deformities due to the imbalance.
o Most importantly, it is necessary to include a good warm-up session in order to activate the muscle fibers to work optimally. Warm-ups can be general (like a 5-minute cardio activity, walking etc.) and specific (an active stretching of the muscle targeted) and help to get the best out of the exercise and to avoid injuries.
These guidelines apply to both - men and women, who are beginning out on a workout. And for the umpteenth time, weight training is strongly recommended for women since it only strengthens the muscles, and does not cause them to bulk up!
Cardio activities are the best way to begin since they are ideal to condition the cardio-vascular and cardio-respiratory system, which form the foundation of any activity - exercise or otherwise!
Cardio activities in a gym set-up usually range from treadmill, cycle – upright and recumbent, cross trainer, rowing machine to group classes like Aerobics, Kickboxing and its variants. While in the case of beginning a home-based workout, walking is the best way to start.
o In case of the gym, walking on treadmill and cycling are great ways to start off the exercise routine, at least in the first week.
o Cardio workouts need to usually last at least 20 minutes, continuously, or cumulatively over a few breaks in between if it gets extremely challenging. The 20 minute target is required for the fat resources to takeover from the carbohydrates and other sources and begin providing energy to sustain the exercise activity. Ideally any time between 20 and 40 minutes is good enough to provide a good workout to the cardio-vascular system.
o The cardio activity needs to be steady and even-paced, in that maintaining a rate which can be sustained over a period of 20 minutes. It is better to stick to walking and use jogging as progression option weeks down the line. A speed of 4 – 6, as seen on the treadmill screen is good. Avoid using any pre-set programs on the treadmill or cycle and instead stick to the manual mode of varying speed and intensity.
o Gradually increasing intensity and Interval training while walking on the treadmill can be good options. For example, an option may be to start at the speed 4 and progress on to 6 by the 15th minute and then maintain it or switch between 6 and 5 depending on the perceived exertion.
o It is important to remember to slow down speed before stopping completely, to avoid blood pooling in the legs which can lead to dizziness. Also let the treadmill stop completely, before getting off and not get off sideways while it is still working to avoid injuries.
o Even cardio activities need a good 5-7 minute warm up using dynamic stretching prior to beginning.
o It is also recommended to measure intensity to get the best out of the workout, which will be discussed in the coming week.