When I was in college, all I cared about was working out for performance purposes. As a Division 1 athlete in the ACC, I was solely concerned with whether my training plan would make me a better athlete. With that goal in mind, my exercise plans were focused on improving explosive speed and pre-habilitation to keep me healthy. At the end of the day, it had much more to do with how I would perform on the field than whether or not I was training for long term health. After graduating and no longer being a competitive athlete, compensated for my performance, health has taken on a bigger role. I still care about performing well in the gym, but my exercise now needs to fuel my life, and not the other way around. With all of that in mind, here are the top 3 ways to exercise for health.
I know before I was formally trained as a coach, I did not recognize workouts as varied - they looked random. Why would we spend the entire class lifting weights one day, and then then next do a combination of push ups, air squats, and running? What was the method behind the madness?
After being educated and certified as a fitness coach, what I've learned is that workouts need to be programmed in a varied formula - but not a random formula. When I program for our community, I'm thinking about how to give each workout a different feeling while tying them all back together in a unique and effective way. Think about it like a cocktail. Looking at the ingredient list for a margarita, you may not understand why the very tart lime, earth tequila, sweet agave, and background orange liqueur work together - but they undoubtably do.
The same principle applies for exercising for health. It is my job to ensure that your workouts are varied, not random, and focused on improving all aspects of fitness - not just one.
One of the most common misconceptions I hear about getting in shape and improving your health is that it needs to be extremely hard each workout. This is simply not true.
Intensity is the secret sauce which makes exercise impactful - there is no doubt about this. However, what is intense for a twenty-five year old is not the same that is intense for a forty-five year old or a fifty-five year old. Age, gender, genetics, and exercise background will all impact the level of intensity appropriate in an exercise plan designed for health.
The idea that every single day should be as hard as possible has always confused me. First of all, do I really want to go to the gym and feel like puking every day? Honestly, no, I don't. I want some days that move slower and focus on heavier weight loads and/or improved technique. I want some days which are higher intensity and leave me out of breath at the end. The point is, to go back to point one, I want variety of both movements and intensity when I'm exercising for health.
I have been fortunate that for my entire life, movement and exercise has been a priority. My parents introduced my siblings and I to sports very early on, and I was lucky enough to find a sport I loved and had some skill at, allowing me to spend a lot of my life trying to excel in that sport. After my athletic career ended, I immediately jumped into CrossFit and that became an athletic outlet ending in the opening of a gym - so needless to say, I've been able to make health a focus of my life for as long as I can remember.
Not everyone has this same opportunity - and I recognize that.
What we all can do, however, is strive for consistency. Much like intensity, consistency is different depending on circumstances. I own a gym - so I'm here every day. However, most people don't, and that is ok! Begin with the simplest level of consistency possible. When a new person starts at Summit, one of the things I like to do is discover with them what consistency means for them. Perhaps it is just two days per week - obviously I like it to be more, but developing the habit is as important as anything. Consistency makes the gym become a habit, habits are repeatedly done, and habits create results. Exercising for health is centered on being consistent. Exercise for years - not months or days.
If someone were to ask me how to be healthy in ten, fifteen, even twenty years, I would point them toward those three words. Remember variety does not mean random, intensity is individual, and consistency is any level of commitment as long as it is followed week in and week out.
All of these definitions can change. Improvement in fitness level will lead to higher intensity. Consistency may mean five days instead of two or three. It is about making fitness fit your life, not the other way around, and doing the best possible with that situation.