Cardio. Some people LOVE it, and some people HATE it. Let's start off by first just explaining that all cardiovascular exercise is, is any exercise that raises your heart rate. So while some people automatically think you have to go running to get any "cardio", that is completely false. You can get great cardiovascular benefits from doing all kinds of exercise other than just jumping on a treadmill or elliptical machine. Even lifting weights provides some raise in heart rate, making it somewhat cardio in nature. A good kettlebell workout can get your heart rate racing without ever doing any of the classic cardio exercises most people think of. So there honestly is no reason to ever go running if you hate it, just for the sake of getting in your cardio. However, there are many people out there that like that typical feeling of a "runner's high" after a good long cardio session, or people who just prefer a lot more jumping around and sustained high heart rate without using weights or any other type of equipment. I actually love to use certain cardio drills in my own workouts simply for the enjoyment of mixing things up. I like to do a lot of different things in any given workout so I do not get bored, and my enjoyment level stays high. Mixing in different cardio drills does that for me. But that's just me. You need to do what works best for you and will keep your workouts enjoyable for you.
So let's talk about a few of my favorite options! Burpees are a great drill that will no doubt get your heart rate up there. There are many ways to modify a burpee as well. You can always leave out the pushup part and just go back up after kicking your feet out into a plank. Not only is this great cardio, but your getting upper body strength and core work as well. Some of my other favorites I use regularly: high knees, mountain climbers, speed skaters, jump squats, box jumps, jumping jacks, jump rope, jumping lunges, and sprints. These are great ways to get your heart rate up, and also add some fun variety to your workouts.
This portion of the exercise regime is most often neglected by so many people who workout regularly. The importance of moving well, being flexible, and having good overall mobility is SO key when it comes to quality of life in general, and also to help your other workouts go so much better, prevent injury, and allow you to see better results.
Not only is it wrong to ignore this part of exercise, it's also imperative that it is done safely. Overstretching, or stretching in unsafe ways can actually cause more damage than good. It is important to always have some kind of general warm up before doing any static stretching. Doing some simple joint rotations and dynamic movements are helpful in providing joints with synovial fluid, and some brief aerobic activity is also helpful to increase the body's core temperature and get the blood flowing through the muscles. When you try to stretch muscles without a proper warm up, or end up overstretching, this can result in microscopic tearing of muscle fibers and connective tissue. This can also increase the time it takes for you to gain greater flexibility. When a muscle is being lengthened, it is not just the muscle cell being elongated, but also the fascia or connective tissues that surround and penetrate the muscle. When we stretch, up to 40% of the actual stretch is coming from elongation of its fascia. With too much stretching, the fascial tissues lose the ability to recoil, and the elasticity of these connective tissues disintegrates and becomes less functional. Muscle tone can also become so stretched to the point of even having unstable joints. So make sure to have your muscles warmed up properly first, and be careful!
That being said, I personally find yoga and mobility exercises to be the best ways to gain flexibility rather than just static stretching. Of course injuries can happen with any kind of movement, but gaining flexibility with flowing movement like yoga and certain mobility training exercises seems to be a bit easier on the muscles and I feel that it is a bit safer than simply holding a long stretch. People tend to push too far, or too long, or end up with injuries from doing static stretches on cold muscles.
Yoga is not only great for mobility and flexibility, but so many more amazing benefits as well. Stress relief, mindfulness, and a sense of well being in general can be achieved with regular yoga practice. I know that every time I leave a yoga class or finish a practice on my own, I feel so good, so refreshed, and just comfortable all over. Truth be told - I did NOT like yoga the first few times I tried it. I found it awkward, uncomfortable, and I just wanted it to end! But with regular practice, I eventually learned to incorporate proper breathing with the movements and also get better at what I was trying to do. I have grown to enjoy yoga so much that I eventually became certified as a Sport Yoga instructor, and have loved sharing it with others as well. I am not the most flexible person by any means, and this is why I desperately needed (and still need!) regular yoga practice. Yes, there may be times in yoga (depending on what type of yoga you are doing) that postures and stretches are held for long periods of time, but this should be done safely after the muscles have been warmed up appropriately. And listen to your body! If something hurts or really doesn't feel good to you during yoga, there is no shame in not doing that pose. It's your practice. That time is for you. Don't do something that doesn't feel good or is causing you pain or misery.
There are so many mobility exercises that can be done as adjuncts to weight training or other regular exercise to enhance your progress and help you stay safe and keep your muscles and joints healthy. You need to be the one in charge here. Only you know what joints and/or muscles feel tightness (or even pain at times) and may need some extra work. If you are working with a trainer, they should be able to do assessments for you and let you know where your weaknesses are, and then provide you with some proper ways to increase mobility in those areas. Many of us have tight hips, shoulders, hamstrings and calf muscles. Some simple mobility drills done on a regular basis can greatly help with these issues.
Strength training is so beneficial and so important for so many reasons. Many women think that strength training is not for them because it will make them "bulky", and when they're trying to lose weight or get thin, to them this may seem counter intuitive. Let's squash this right off the bat. Men will get bigger and more bulky when they lift weights because they have much more testosterone than women. That is a normal response in the male body, but not for women. Yes, we've all seen pictures of women body builders who actually have gotten pretty darn huge, but this is NOT from your typical everyday strength training that most women are doing.
A good strength training routine will help anyone (male or female) have a better body composition (meaning your percentage of fat and muscle). When you have more muscle in your body, you are actually creating a better metabolism. It takes more calories to maintain muscle than fat on an everyday basis. Sometimes women don't even realize that they actually don't need to lose any weight at all to feel and/or look better. It can simply be a matter of your body composition and finding a better balance of muscle and fat. It is possible to not change your weight whatsoever yet feel and look so much better with added muscle. Five pounds of muscle is much more compact and shapely than five pounds of fat. You may actually become tighter and smaller, rather than bulky. Your overall shape will improve, and not to mention your body mechanics in your everyday life will be so much better with a body that has more muscle. When your body mechanics become better, then everything you do gets easier, and you instantly help decrease your chances of injury in your daily activities. That's huge for everyone, and especially nurses!
Decreasing your risk for disease is another huge benefit to weight training. People who do weight training decrease their risk for diabetes and heart disease especially. It makes your body more sensitive to insulin, decreasing your chance of insulin resistance. Weight training will help increase your HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease your LDL (bad cholesterol), and also help lower blood pressure. Not to mention, weight training is a GREAT way to decrease stress and anxiety. I always say if I am upset or angry about anything, nothing fixes that quicker than some heavy deadlifts! There is something so energizing and empowering about picking up something heavy and getting out all your stress. This can greatly improve your mood!
Lifting weights is so important for bone health as well. How do you make something stronger? Put some stress on it and force it to resist that pressure. That's what happens to your bones when lifting weights. This is so important, especially as we age. And speaking of aging, do you know that after the age of 35 most people will lose 5% of their muscle mass every ten years if they don't do anything about it? Sarcopenia is the term for age related muscle loss. It is inevitable, unless you fight against it.
Weight training, or resistance training I should say, does not actually have to include weights at all. You can do some great resistance training exercised using just your body weight alone. Any exercises like pushups, pullups, squats, lunges and planks are just a few examples of body weight exercises that build muscle. You can also do band assisted exercises to create more resistance, and if desired, you can eventually add dumbells, barbells and/or kettlebells to greater increase your resistance.
Many gyms, of course, are loaded with all kinds of machines for weight training. While I'm not going to say these are "wrong" or to avoid them, I would say that using body weight exercises and/or free weights are more functional for helping improve everyday movements. Machines do more for isolating specific muscles and giving the ability to make them bigger and stronger, yet they do not train complete human movement patterns (primal movement patterns) that are necessary to move well. Using free weights also allows you to activate more stabilizing muscles as you exercise, and these muscles are important in everyday movements! Just some food for thought. Now get out there and LIFT!!!
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.