It's important to exercise safely and effectively. Robin Gargrave of YMCAfit, one of the UK’s top trainers of fitness professionals, shares his tips on getting into shape safely.
You'll also find plenty of tips on building stamina, strength and flexibility, as well as diet and motivation.
There’s no right time to exercise – it depends on the individual. "You need to listen to your body," says Robin. "Some people feel rough in the morning, whereas others can hop out of bed and do a 10-mile run."
Don't exercise for two to three hours after a heavy meal. If you exercise straight after a large meal, you're likely to experience nausea, stomach cramps and discomfort.
You can have a small snack before your workout, such as a piece of fruit or a drink. Robin advises against snacks that are high in sugar, including soft drinks.
"You might get a quick energy boost, but it’ll probably be followed by a sudden energy slump." Choose starchy foods, such as brown bread or bananas, which keep your energy levels constant during exercise.
Read more about food for sport.
Warming up is essential before exercising. "Without a warm-up, your workout won't be as efficient as it could be," says Robin. "Your muscles won't be warm and will be less supple, which can increase your risk of injury."
Start with slow, gentle movements, such as walking, and gradually build the intensity, such as increasing your walking pace to a gentle jog.
Warming up the muscles and getting them ready for higher-intensity activity will need 8 to 10 minutes. "The warm-up process sends oxygen to the muscles, where it works with glucose to produce energy," Robin says. This makes the body work more efficiently, giving your workout better results.
Try this 6-minute warm-up routine.
This is any activity where the body's large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a continuous period of time. Also called endurance activity, it's great for improving the health of your heart and lungs. Examples include:
"Aerobic activity is vital for burning off calories, weight management and general health," says Robin.
Try this 10-minute home cardio workout.
Read more about different types of aerobic activity.
Strength-training activities, such as weight lifting, involve short bursts of effort. Strength training burns calories and builds and strengthens muscle. Benefits of strength training include increased bone density, strengthened joints, and improved balance, stability and posture.
"It increases your ability to do everyday tasks without getting so tired," says Robin. "The more muscle mass you have, the easier it is to burn calories, even when the body is at rest."
Read about more muscle-strengthening activities.
Stretching helps to improve flexibility, balance and posture. To stretch properly and safely, slowly stretch the muscle just until you feel resistance. Resistance is the point at which you feel a slight pull. It should not be painful. Stop and hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing up and down.
During the stretch, breathe deeply and regularly. Don’t hold your breath. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before you stretch. The best time to stretch is after exercise, when your muscles are most supple.
Immediately after your workout, take time to cool down. This gradually lowers your heart rate and allows your body to recover. It may also help to reduce muscle injury, stiffness and soreness. Walk or continue your activity at a low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s then an ideal time to stretch, and you're more likely to improve your flexibility.
With moderate-intensity aerobic activity, whether it’s heavy gardening or cycling, you're encouraged to do a little every day. Adults should do 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. Children aged 5-18 should do 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity every day.
It's important to rest when you do vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running. The body repairs and strengthens itself between workouts, and over-training can weaken even the strongest athletes.
It’s important to drink fluid during any exercise that lasts for more than 30 minutes.
Water may be enough for low-intensity exercise up to 45-50 minutes.
For higher-intensity exercise of 45-50 minutes or more, or lower-intensity exercise lasting several hours, a sports drink can help to maintain energy levels and its salt will improve hydration. Choose drinks that contain sodium (salt) when exercise lasts longer than one hour, or in any event when large amounts of salt will be lost through your sweat.
Make sure your exercise regime includes activities that you like doing, rather than what someone else tells you to do. Exercise with a friend or friends, so that you can keep each other motivated.
"Set new challenges to keep yourself stimulated," says Robin. "And keep going. It's always hard at first, even for elite athletes, but it does get easier."
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