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What’s the best workout?

Asking ‘what’s the best workout’ is going to elicit a different answer depending on who you ask.  Personal trainers may encourage cardio but emphasize the benefits of weight training. Endurance athletes will probably promote the benefits of long duration exercise.  Professional athletes will probably cite their diversified workout routines and cross training.  The reason this question gets such varied responses is because it’s not specific enough.

If you say to your trainer ‘I want the best workout’, the response should be ‘what are your goals?  If not, get a new trainer, preferably one with a degree in kinesiology or exercise physiology.  So, let’s make this question specific.  What’s the best workout for

  • Losing weight: The key to weight loss is burning calories.  Choose exercises that minimize impact so you don’t stress your joints and get injured.  You’ll benefit from any extra exercise, so even if you don’t have 30 minutes a day, just do your best to stay more active.  Of course, the more time you spend exercising at a moderate intensity, the more calories you’ll burn.
  • Being healthier: As you’ve probably heard, we’re advised to get 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity per week. Moderate means that you’re warm and a little sweaty.  To “be healthier”, we’re talking about a level of exercise at which your body experiences physiological benefits.  Generally, research suggests that means about:
    1. Cardio – 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week
    2. Strength Training: 8-10 exercises, 8-12 reps per exercise, 2 days/week
    3. Daily: take about 10,000 steps per day (or more)

Building muscle: Engage in cardio, but focus on weight training. Strength trainers should:

  • Use a moderate load (about 75% of the maximum amount you could lift if you only had to do it once).  So, if I could bench press 100 lbs, I would exercise using 75 lbs. of weight.
  • Don’t exercise the same muscle groups on consecutive days.
  • And, in most cases, stop the protein shake. Eat food, not lab synthesized stuff.

Running a race: Cardio training! It doesn’t matter what type of training initially, but when you’re a few months out from a big race, you should always follow a schedule in which you alternate shorter and longer runs. The length of the run should increase as you train.  Cross training is great, but running should be your focus.

Minimizing aging: There is clear evidence that bone mineral density (which is directly related to bone strength) begins to decline at age 30.  30! That’s it.  So, if you don’t want to fall and fracture a hip when you’re 70, engage in some weight bearing exercise now.  Try to do about 1-3 sets of 8-12 exercises each, lifting about 70% of the maximum amount you can lift if you were going to do it once.  Do this 2-3 days per week, at minimum.

Most importantly, choose an exercise routine that you enjoy.  The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to stick with it!

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