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Monday, 2 October 2017

The three pillars of health and fitness (pt 2)

By Pete Ryan

Part 2  Exercise

(This is part 2 of a 3 part series about achieving optimal health find parts 1 and 3 at the bottom of this article)

We looked at nutrition last post, so now it is time to move on to exercise. Many people get confused about exercise, should they do cardio or strength, is it best to try bodyweight, machines or use a barbell? Then there is the question of how many days a week, how long you should train, should you do a warm-up.  Some gurus will give you specific answers to these questions, unfortunately a lot depends on your goals and there is no generic answer.

Then first question has to be your goal.  If your goal is to become a bodybuilder or participate in a sport, then your training has to be focused on that goal. Writing a detailed program for various sports is outside the scope of this article, but if you are interested in something specific feel free to leave a message below and I will try to get you an answer or at the very least point you to a few places where you can find the answers you need.  For general health and fitness the first thing you have to choose is how often can you absolutely exercise, even if the week doesn’t go great? Do not be the person that works out for 6 days a week for 2 weeks, then doesn’t exercise again for 6 months.  Think of consistency as being king. 1 day a week, done every week without fail, will be better than one or two brief 6 day a week sessions each year. Ideally you should do some strength work and some cardio. What you do isn’t important if you are just after fitness, you can also combine them at times to get both cardio and strength from one session if you are really pressed for time.

In some cases you can include leisure into your cardio training, hiking, canoeing, swimming and other leisure activities can count towards your cardiovascular health, just as things like heavy lifting and carrying can be classed as some strength work. These activities are all good, but you should really try and get some focussed exercise in both strength and cardio if you want to reach optimal health and fitness. For cardio, you can run, bike, swim or do another activity, but always with an eye on peaking and improving your performance. When hiking for leisure you should stop, enjoy the view take a picture for Instagram or whatever you enjoy doing, but when you are working on improving cardio that should be your focus.

The same with strength, when you are moving furniture you should rest, not fatigue yourself too much, keep up a pace where you can continue easily for a long time as you carry and load stuff, but when doing an activity specifically to improve strength, then you need to focus on that goal and work into extreme fatigue at times, lifting with a drive and a focus that will exhaust you during the session.

Where to start depends on where you are right now.  For a cardio-based activity I would suggest starting well below your limits, start easy.  If that means run between one pair of lampposts and then walking the next set for 10 minutes, then start with that, if that mean just a 5 minute walk, then start there.

For strength you can use bodyweight, machines, free weights, bands, chains or whatever you like.  It doesn’t really matter, but like the cardio you should be interested enough in the protocol to want to do it and keep it up.

Here is a quick example of a routine you could start with:

  •       Dumbbell bench press 3 sets of 10reps
  •      One arm bent over row 3 sets of 10 reps
  •      Overhead press 3 sets of 10 reps
  •      Lat pulldown 3 sets of 10 reps
  •      Goblet squat 3 sets of 10 reps

That will be short and get you started.  Do that one to three times a week and after 8 weeks you will notice a difference!
Start with a weight you can do easily and then slowly increase the weight you are lifting.
Be patient, cardio does usually come faster than strength, but both may take you time to improve.  This is not a race. It is not one of those 8 week challenges where people become super buff, your goal is to improve your health and fitness over the long haul, for life, so consider that.  You have years of improvement ahead of you, so enjoy the process.  Many people can take a decade or more to reach their genetic potential (longer if you begin when you are older), but on the plus side that means that in 10 or even 20 years you will look and feel better than you did before you started. That is a real bonus!

Also remember goals can and will change. Many guys start with the idea of looking better, then drift towards strength, then finally move towards overall health as they get older.  Woman often start by wanting to get skinny, then drift into strength or building their bodies before finally moving towards overall health as they get older. Whatever sex you are you will find there are also sports or activities that entice you to give them a go, that is totally fine and you should give yourself permission to explore any that intrigue you. If you enjoy kettlebells or obstacle course racing feel free to really explore them and move in that direction for a while. They may or may not be optimal for health, but you can always move back into a more healthy direction later if you need to. The main importance is to find something you like and to stick to it, and repeat as often as you like while always looking to find new things.  The one limiting factor is to stick to a routine for a while before changing it, unless there seems like a high risk of injury, if injury seems high then change the routine immediately, it is rarely worth getting injured in any activity. 

That is all there really is to exercise, if you need more pointers pop over to and download “Introduction to vegan fitness and health” this has some more details about introducing both cardio and strength training into your weekly routine.

Part 1 - Nutrition can be found here
Part 3 - Recovery can be found here

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