People who have exercised regularly in the past but have not exercised vigorously for several months, or even years, sometimes try to start a new exercise program where the old one left off. This can be dangerous because their muscles have deconditioned – even though their egos may have remained intact – greatly increasing the chance of injury or extreme muscle soreness. It’s important to start out slowly so the body can adapt to the new strains that exercise places on the body.
If you experience any sharp pain while performing an exercise, stop immediately. Double-check the description of the exercise to see whether you were performing it correctly. If it was performed properly yet you still felt pain, omit that exercise from your conditioning program.
Following are some tips to help you develop an overall conditioning program that combines four cornerstones of athletic conditioning: flexibility training, endurance training, strength training (including balance and core training), and plyometric training. All four types of training will be discussed and illustrate in detail in the chapters that follow.
Flexibility is the key to injury prevention. Strength, endurance, plyometric, and balance and agility training have a tendency to tighten the muscles, so it’s essential to stretch the body back to a balanced state.
Most gains in flexibility come when stretches are preformed after such training. Be sure to take time at the end of each workout to properly c ool down by stretching. You should perform the flexibility portion of your fitness program as often as possible, even if the other parts of the program are not performed as frequently.
Endurance training includes such activities as running, cycling and jumping rope. By alternating these various cardiovascular exercises, you challenge your body to meet many different types of movement. This can help avoid plateaus in training, in which your body no longer develops at the desirable rate you’ve been experiencing.
In designing the endurance (cardiovascular) portion of your program, start slowly and progess to higger intensity in a methodical manner. Start with 10 to 20 minutes, two or three times per week, and add 5 to 10 minutes per session each week or add an additio0nal day.
Many people gauge the intensity of their cardiovascular routine by their heart rate, using a target heart rate to monitor whether they are exercising at an ideal intensity level. Generally speaking, when you exercise at 60 percent of your theoretical maximum heart rate or above, desired physiological adaptations occur. Exercising at 100 percent of your maximum is not recommended. A range of 65 to 85 percent of the maximum heart rate is a safe range for most people. Anyone with medical concerns should consult a physician before establishing a desired heart rate for cardiovascular exercise.
To determine a target exercise heart rate, you can use a very simple equation, although the only factor taken into account is your age. Subtract your age from 220. The resulting number represents your theoretical maximum heart rate. Multiply that maximum heart rate by the desired exercise percentage (intensity) that you select (most likely between 65 and 85 percent) to find your target heart rate. For example, the theoretical maximum heart rate for a 40-year old paddler would result in a target exercise heart rate of 126. This is the simplest way to determine a target heart rate.
A better equation, the Karvonen Method, takes both a person’s resting heart rate and age into consideration in determining the target heart rate. The best time to take you resting heart rate is in the morning, before getting out of bed. Count your pulse for 1 minute. This is your resting heart rate. The equation is as follows:
Maximum Heart Rate (220-Age) – Resting Heart Rate x Desired Percent + Resting Heart Rate = Target Exercise Heart Rate
For example, a 50-year old woman with a resting heart rate of 63 beats per minute wishes to exercise at an intensity of 75 percent of her maximum heart rate.
220-50 (age) = 170 (maximum heart rate)
170-63 (resting heart rate) = 107
107 x 0.75 (desired percent) = 80
80 + 63(resting heart rate) = 143 (her target heart rate)
Use of a measurement known as the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a more subjective way to determine your desired intensity level. Simply put, on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being very easy and 10 being maximal effort), how intensely do you think you are exercising? To determine your own personal target zone, warm up and then build to a sub maximal yet challenged effort after a few minutes of endurance activity, such as paddling, or running. Your heart rate at that point will be your target heart rate and will be between 5 to 8 on your REP scale. Ideally a person should exercise between 5 and 8 on that scale.
Using both the Karvonen formula and the rate of perceived exertion may be a wise course of action. A combination of both approaches can provide a more accurate estimate of the correct intensity level for your endurance training.
Strength, Balance, and Core Training
Strength training consists of relatively short bursts of muscular force that last between 1 second and 2 minutes. This type of training helps build size and strength in the muscles and conditions them to store more energy for immediate use. One or two days per week of strength training is considered a maintenance routine that produces little change in strength levels. Three or more days of strength training brings about physiologic al changes. Strength training sessions may range from 10 minutes to 2 hours or more depending on the training protocol. I generally recommend 30 minutes to 1 hour, three to five days per week, to begin to experience the physiological benefits of this kind of training.
Balance training is performed on unstable surfaces, such as stability balls, wobble boards, balance boards, and foam rolls. The benefits of this approach include enhancing strength and coordination in the small stabilizing muscles of the body, enhancing kinesthetic awareness (the mind’s awareness of where the body is in space), and improving the body’s sense of balance. Be sure to master executing the traditional strength training exercises with proper form and control before advancing to performing the same exercises on the balance apparatus.
Core training involves the strength exercises that focus on the muscles of the trunk (the abdominals, obliques, lower back muscles, and so forth). Most exercises will incorporate flexing, extending, rotating, or side bending the spine, or a combination of movements performed in conjunction with upper and lower body motion. The purpose of core training is to strengthen the muscles that protect the back while at the same time allowing force to transfer from the center of the body down through the legs and up through the arms with the least restriction. For example, in order to carve powerful turns in the slopes, the arms and shoulders must work with the legs to initiate and complete a turn; if the muscles that surround the trunk are weak, the turn will be weak because upper and lower body forces are not well connected.
- When performing strength, balance, and core training exercises, start by executing 1 or 2 sets of each exercise selected.
- After exercising for a week, increase the sets from 2 to 4 per session.
- With most exercises, perform between 8 and 15 repetitions in a set.
- If you cannot do an exercise with proper form for 8 repetitions, chances are the weight is too heavy.
- If you can do an exercise with proper form for more than 15 repetitions, the weight is probably too light.
- For exercises that do not incorporate the external resistance of weights (such as dumbbells or barbells), you can magnify the intensity by increasing the repetitions. Among these non-weighted exercises are abdominal and lower back exercises, push-ups, and pull-ups. Each set can include 10 to 30 repetitions.
It’s a good idea to change you list of exercises on a regular basis fo that your muscles don’t get too accustomed to the same movement. The more variety you add to a strength workout, the greater the variety of demands you place upon the muscles – with the advantage that it forces them to adapt in multiple ways. Try changing the list of exercises each week or every other week. It’s OK to repeat some of the same exercises, but be sure to alternate at least two or three of them.
Plyometrics are exercises primarily consisting of hops, leaps, jumps, and bounds. The repetition of these actions brings about some of the most powerful muscular reactions the body can manifest. The basic theory behind plyometrics can best be explained by what happens during a physical examination at the doctor’s office. The doctor takes a little rubber hammer and taps your leg just below the knee cap when you are sitting on the examination table. The knee-jerk reaction causes your leg to kick forward. What has occurred is a rapid stretching of the tendon and muscle, one so fast that the body’s natural response is for the muscle to contract (shorten) to prevent injury to the connective tissue. This contraction becomes even more powerful when more force is applied.
Each time a person hops, jumps, leaps, or bounds, the return to the ground creates that same stretch-shortening reflex. The ensuing reaction is a powerful muscular contraction. The more this response is trained the greater the power potential that exists. One measurement of such power is the vertical jump test. It is easy to perform and can be a fun way of seeing marked improvement. Standing beside a wall, rub some chalk on your middle finger. With you feet flat, reach as high as possible and make a mark on the wall. Rub more chalk on your middle finger, and then jump and touch the wall as high as you can. Measure the distance between both marks. This is roughly your vertical jump. Standards for this test vary from one association to the next, but a measurement of 15-20 inches generally is considered above average. Measurements greater than 20 inches are considered excellent.
Because of the intense ballistic nature of these exercises, they are not recommended for those new to training and conditioning. Following are two ways to gauge whether you’re ready for plyometric training:
- Successfully perform 5 repetitions of the squat using 50 percent of your body weight on a barbell.
- Successfully perform 5 repetitions of the single-leg squat.
During plyometric training, each time you return to the ground is called a contact (repetition). Beginners should start with 2 sets of 5 to 10 contacts for each chose exercise and not let the total number of contacts exceed 60. Intermediate-level workouts should include 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 contacts (not to exceed 100 contacts). For advanced workouts, perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 contacts and do not exceed 150.
Chapter 7 provides detailed sample workout programs, including exercises for flexibility, endurance, and strength. One program is a ten-week plan for use at a gym or health club; the other is a ten-week program that encompasses the same conditioning goals but can be carried out at home.