IMPORTANT – consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program!
One of the most frequent questions we get asked here at Healthy U is “what are the best exercises/workouts?” Ideally, we would all be regularly doing exercises in each of the four categories described in Making Sense of all the Choices. But the practical answer really depends on your goals and your situation. There are some things we recommend everyone do if they can and there are some types of exercises that are more situationally appropriate or based on preference. We’ll discuss the different options, their pros and cons, and then help you put together your exercise game plan.
Losing Weight/Improving Body Composition
Most of the clients we work with have weight loss or optimizing body composition as one of their primary goals, so we’ll discuss first the types of exercise options that contribute directly to achieving these goals. But before we do, remember that developing healthy eating habits will still provide the fastest path to losing unwanted weight, so make that your top priority!
OK, you’ve started to get your eating practices in a good place, so what makes sense to add next? If you have a goal to lose weight/optimize body composition, in terms of best returns on time spent exercising–the most “bang for your buck” so to speak–there are two choices that stand out: weight training and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Here’s why:
Done correctly, weight training builds lean muscle mass which improves body composition and increases metabolism because lean muscle tissue burns more calories during exercising and during everyday activities.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is a short workout, usually about 15-20 minutes that alternates between short bursts of very intense repetitions (such as sprinting) and rest (such as walking or light jogging). The reasons HIIT is effective for weight loss are a little more involved than weight training:
First, HIIT deprives muscles of oxygen much more quickly than regular, steady state cardio. This forces your body to burn more fuel during the muscle repair process–long after your workout is over.
Second, it improves your insulin sensitivity, which controls the amount of glucose your body’s cells can take in. Even six hours after a strenuous session your metabolism is still primed to more efficiently process the fuel you put into your body.
Third, it helps balance the hormones that lead to weight gain, including ghrelin and leptin.
Finally, it stimulates increased production of human growth hormone, sometimes called “the fitness hormone” because it slows down aging by increasing exercise capacity, increasing bone density, increasing muscle mass, and decreasing body fat.
The Role of Other Types of Exercise Programs
Weight and High Intensity Interval Training yield many other health benefits beyond weight loss/body composition, which only adds to the reasons you should include them to your routine if you can.
Other types of exercises such as Yoga, steady state cardio workouts (such as walking/jogging), or powerlifting all contribute additional health and fitness benefits or improve specific areas of performance.
However, unless you have specific needs or goals, such as to manage arthritis (where yoga can keep joints moving and loose) or training for a ballistic sport like volleyball (where powerlifting and plyometrics can improve performance), we recommend you focus first on Weight Training and HIIT and then add other forms of exercise, based upon your time and interests.
One More Thing to Include: Stretching and Core
As part of any exercise program, we also recommend devoting some time to stretching and core strength development. Neither of these have to take large amounts of time, don’t necessarily require any special equipment, and can be done just about anywhere. Keeping your muscles limber and your core strong are healthy foundations for everything you ask your body to do, from exercising to standing at a concert, sitting at a desk, loading groceries, carrying kids, everything!