It’s July. We’re an equal distance between our New Year’s Resolution and the start of the next year.
Most likely, those who kept their resolutions are close to achieving success. But for the rest of us, it’s NOT too late to start a fitness and conditioning program and finish the year strong.
We’re not talking about losing weight; we’re talking about becoming the best version of fitness you can be. Often, that starts with a conditioning program.
Conditioning is defined as the act of bringing something into a desired state of use. When that definition applies to your body, it means becoming physically fit enough to do the activities you want to do.
Each person defines fitness based on his or her occupation and hobbies. Though the definitions may be unique, reaching your goal requires attention to three fundamental areas of health.
Nutrition, activity and rest must be in balance to reach your fitness goals.
The first aspect of fitness to address is often the most difficult: nutrition. Notice we said “nutrition,” not “diet.”
While it may not be easy to overhaul your eating habits all at once, it is easy to start replacing high-fat, sugar-laden foods with fruits and vegetables. Start with one food at a time. Instead of reaching for the doughnut, reach for an orange.
The balance of fat and carbohydrates you need is dependent on the type of activity and fitness level you are seeking to achieve. Your food choices need to contain enough calories for the body to function properly and fuel your activity, but not more calories than your body needs.
There are some general guidelines to follow when eating for fitness.
- Eat whole foods as often as possible. Eating fruits and vegetables in their natural state retain the highest number of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
- Eat a lean protein snack protein before and after working out to help muscles recover and grow.
- Instead of eating large meals three times a day, plan to eat six small meals every few hours to maintain a continuous source of energy and increase your metabolism.
- Limit the amount of fat, sugar and processed foods you eat.
- Choose water flavored with berries or cherries instead of soda.
Fueling your body with nutritious food gives your body the tools it needs to function better no matter what you choose to do in your life. But it may have a few side effects. You may find you have more energy, feel better, sleep sounder and you may even lose a few pounds.
Activate your muscles to increase fitness.
As a society, our activity levels have changed substantially. Just two or three generations ago, before there was a car in every garage, weight-bearing and aerobic activity were required for daily living. There was no need for the government to make exercise recommendations. But, with the advent of modern conveniences and technology, our lives have changed.
Today, we must schedule activity in our day.
Your conditioning program should include activities and exercises that:
- Improve your heart rate
- Help you breathe easier
- Increase muscle mass
- Build bone density
- Improve your balance
- Enhance flexibility
- Increase core strength
A well-planned conditioning program can address all of these issues. For the best results, you may want to work with a sports medicine specialist, fitness coach or personal trainer to identify your goals and create a workout routine that helps you reach them. Your plan will likely include five types of exercise movements.
- Aerobic activities move muscles throughout your body. Walking, jogging, running, swimming and biking are examples of activities that will get your blood pumping and strengthen your respiratory function. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends people take part in aerobic activities for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Walking, jogging, running and playing tennis also fit the bill as weight-bearing activities, which can increase bone density and strength.
Lifting weights, even one to two pounds, or using the resistance of your own body also increases bone density and strengthens muscles. Since muscle cells need more energy than fat cells, weight training also helps many people reshape their bodies. Studies show participating in strength-training workouts twice a week improves health, movement and the quality of life for people of all ages.
- Balance training helps people stay nimble on their feet – more importantly, it prevents falls and fractures.
From simply standing on one foot to becoming strong enough to balance on a BOSU ball (a stability ball cut in half and mounted on a flat platform), balancing activities engage muscle fibers throughout the body. Using balancing equipment can increase the effectiveness of a workout by as much as 70 to 84 percent in some muscle groups.
Adding just ten minutes of balancing exercises three times a week improves coordination and confidence.
- After the muscles are warm, it’s a good time to add flexibility training to your workout.
Talk to a sports medicine specialist, personal trainer or a physical therapist to identify which exercises will give you the most benefit. If you sit at a desk all day, your needs may be significantly different from the person who spends all day standing on their feet.
Adding ten minutes of flexibility exercises each day will lengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion.
- The last part of a well-rounded conditioning program focuses on core strength. Planks, side planks, bird-dog poses and modified curl-up exercises strengthen the abdominal muscles, obliques, the latissimus dorsi and other muscles that support the spine.
Many basic yoga poses draw on the core strength of the body. Working with a sports medicine professional or a certified yoga instructor can help you learn proper form. Once you develop the right technique, you can start incorporating additional movements to add strength and flexibility to your entire body.
As you create your conditioning plan, you will want to consider the third part of fitness – rest.
Fitness requires rest.
You know your body needs rest to recover. When you are in a conditioning program, your body needs three types of rest to achieve success.
#1. Rest during your workouts.
Workouts may be structured in several ways. Some require continuous movement for a certain amount of time. Others stipulate how many times a set of movements are completed. No matter which structure your workout follows, you need a rest period between each effort.
It’s more than the time you get a drink, shake it off or take a deep breath and wipe off the sweat. It gives your muscles a break.
During your rest period, you may also want to follow the advice of an article in Men’s Health, 3 Ways Rest Can Positively Impact Your Workout and stretch the muscles opposing those you’ve just worked. It seems to boost strength and endurance.
Sean Hyson, the article’s author, also encourages readers to rest the right amount time. He quotes recommendations from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA):
If your goal is muscle gain: 30–90 sec. rest
If your goal is strength: 2–5 min. rest
If your goal is endurance: 30 sec. or less
Resting during your workout is necessary for health and recovery.
#2. Rest between workouts.
All training programs, whether they focus on conditioning for general health or a summer of marathons, should have periods of rest built into the schedule.
In general, the harder a muscle group works the longer it needs to rest. A 40-minute, weight-bearing leg workout may require a day of rest, whereas a 90-minute workout may require two days of recovery.
But that doesn’t mean you stop moving. Many conditioning programs schedule aerobic activities and weight-training exercises on alternating days, six days a week, to rest specific muscle groups while improving cardiovascular function and supporting overall health.
The seventh day, of course, should be a complete day of rest for the entire body.
#3. Sleep offers ultimate rest and recovery.
Much has been written about the importance of sleeping between seven to nine hours each night for health and wellness. While that is a dream for most people, it is a goal to work toward during a conditioning program.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is critical for brain function as spinal fluid clears away waste products. Sleep gives your heart and lungs a break as your heartbeat and breathing slows. Sleep also gives your body the opportunity to release hormones that repair the fibers of your muscles and joints.
But for many sleep is elusive and may require a few lifestyle changes.
Practice good sleep hygiene for the best rest.
- Sleep hygiene is the process of preparing your body and your mind for sleep. If you’re committed to a conditioning program, you can congratulate yourself on already addressing two crucial factors: nutrition and activity.
- What we eat does affect how we sleep. Mid-afternoon coffee, tea or caffeinated soft drinks may seem like a pick-me up when you hit an afternoon slump, but they are also liable to keep you from drifting off at bedtime. Sleep.org recommends you avoid consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening. A nightcap may help you fall asleep initially, but as your body turns the alcohol to sugar, you may wake up with a sugar-rush a few hours later. It’s best to avoid alcohol completely or have your last drink three hours before you hit the hay, especially if you have problems staying asleep.
- Stop eating at least three hours before you go to bed. Eating a large dinner late in the evening is not conducive to a getting a good night’s sleep. Your body needs three to four hours to digest food.
- Time your workouts. Working out too close to bedtime may not help you go to sleep. Some people are energized by intense workouts, others are exhausted. To figure out what works best for you, keep an exercise and sleep journal for a few weeks to decide the best time for you to exercise.
If that sounds daunting, the National Sleep Foundation has found some of the answers for you. Consider these facts from sleep.org.
- People who hit the treadmill at 7 am, slept longer, deeper and stayed in the restorative sleep phase 75 percent longer than people who worked out at other times,
- Working out after work may be the answer for insomnia. Exercise raises your body temperature for four to five hours. As your body temperature begins to decline at 9 or 10 pm, your level of drowsiness increases.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, a strenuous cardio workout at 9 pm may not be as relaxing as yoga or flexibility training.
- Prepare your mind for sleep. Avoid stimulating conversations, arguments and the blue glow of televisions, monitors, phone screens or video games for at least an hour before you turn out the light. Reading, listening to music, meditating or praying can quiet your mind and help you go to sleep sooner.
- Prepare your bedroom for sleep. Here are four simple things you can do to create a restful room.
- Remove all electronic distractions.
- Cover your windows with light-blocking shades or curtains.
- Keep the bedroom clutter-free.
- Turn the thermostat down to 67 degrees or lower.
For the best sleep, turn your bedroom into a sanctuary instead of an extension of the office.
Nutrition, activity and sleep are three critical parts to every well-balanced conditioning program.
Whether your goal is to be healthy enough to go on a bike ride with your grandchildren, join a high school biking league or compete in an Ultraman marathon, a well-rounded conditioning program can get you there.
Finding a qualified coach, certified trainer, sports medicine specialist or physical therapist to provide support and encouragement is a major step on your journey toward fitness. These professionals can also help you assess your eating habits, create an activity and exercise plan and offer suggestions to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.