Diversity In Your Exercise Program

Written by Michael Dermansky – Senior Physiotherapist – MD Health

If you’re a runner, it’s easy to do the same thing every time for your exercise program, go for a run.  If you like doing Pilates classes, it’s easy to do the same class on Tuesdays and Fridays at 6 pm and feel that you have done your exercise for the week.  But is it effective? Are you really getting the benefit you think you are getting from your exercise program or can you be getting better outcomes, faster?

The answer is you can do better and the method is through diversity.

There are two major elements to an exercise program that makes it effective and this can’t be achieved if you do the same thing, week in, week out.

Firstly, there must be an element of progressive overload.  When you exercise, especially for the first time, you are doing an activity that is more than the body is usually used to.  As a result, under the surface, your nervous system receives new stimulation that causes it to form new motor patterns in the brain and nerve-ending connections within the nerves.  In the muscles, there are minor tears that your body repairs to make you a little bit stronger than you were before you started exercising.  However, if you don’t slowly increase your load as you continue to exercise, your body can easily cope with the activity level so has no need to adapt further and results will easily plateau.

The key is to slowly and steadily, increase your exercise load every time (a bit heavier, a bit faster, a bit further) in order to give the body a reason to adapt and continuously progress and improve.

Secondly, the elements of the exercise program are extremely important and this is where diversity has the most impact.

Strength Training

This should be a foundational element of any exercise program, no matter if you want to be a great runner, a triathlete, a netball player or just be strong and healthy for life.

For many years, the importance of strength has been underestimated and we now know that all sports people need regular strength training as long as they wish to participate in any sport.

Strength training provides support for the joints and allows the muscles to take on the load required for sports and everyday life activities.  If muscles are not strong enough, you will find that tasks are just harder than they should be and you risk injury as they provide protection and support for the joints.

In addition, strength training stimulates the activity of the bone-forming cells in the body, the osteoblasts, and is extremely important for improving and maintaining bone density throughout the lifespan.

Strength training also:

  • Improves the metabolism and management of normal blood glucose levels
  • One element you can control in improving brain function
  • Is extremely important in managing and maintaining your weight by raising your basal metabolic rate

A good, structured strength training program, twice a week that is progressively overloaded and adjusted is a great foundation for anyone’s fitness routine.

Cardio Training

Cardio training is the key to improving your heart health and your fitness level.  This is more than just going for a gentle walk or jogging at a comfortable pace, but pushing yourself so that you are somewhat puffed during your workout so that you struggle to maintain a conversation during exercise.

Just like strength training, cardio training needs to be targeted and specific to be effective.  Interval training that works for you at your:

  • Aerobic threshold – The point at which you can no longer fully break down glucose in your muscles and lactate starts to accumulate in your bloodstream.  This point occurs when you struggle to exercise and have a conversation with your workout buddy.  Running or cycling for bursts at this level for a few minutes at a time helps you challenge and work at your aerobic threshold and gives you time to recover for the next round.
  • Anaerobic threshold – At this point, you can no longer maintain a steady level of lactate in your bloodstream and you will struggle to say more than one or two words without taking a breath.  This kind of training aims to push and improve your aerobic threshold, giving you that explosive speed.

However, just like strength training, progressive overload is important.  Building on your training by adding one more interval or a bit faster each time will help improve your fitness level with a steady improvement in performance.

If this is overwhelming, it is a great time to get the advice of a qualified exercise professional or running coach. Click to Tweet

Power Training & Plyometrics

The next level of performance is achieved with power training and plyometrics.  This involves using your muscles as explosive springs, such as jumping, bounding, and hopping.

Power training is the speed element of strength training and is extremely important for fast-paced sports such as AFL, netball, soccer, and rugby.

However, this kind of training puts an extreme load on the muscles, tendons, and joints and must with done only when you have built an excellent base of strength and strength training continues to be part of your program.

If you are to undertake power training, I strongly recommend this is performed under the supervision of a qualified exercise professional or strength and conditioning coach.

Light Exercise

Exercise doesn’t just have to be hard and fast to be effective, but the strategic mixing of light exercise is very important for a complete and well-balanced exercise program.

After a hard workout day of strength and cardio training, a light training session (that is performed at a conversational pace) is important for recovery.

When you do hard exercise, the body and muscles are stimulated and there is some breakdown that occurs.  Your natural cortisol levels (a natural stress hormone) rise and a muscle breakdown by-product (creatine kinase) increase in the blood.

Light exercise gives your body time to recover, reduces your cortisol levels, and aids in the breakdown and reduction of creatine kinase in your bloodstream.  Adding light exercise, such as a gentle walk, speeds up your recovery and allows you to train harder and more effectively in your next training session.

In addition, if you are aiming to lose weight, light training allows you to burn more energy without compromising your recovery and raising your cortisol levels (prolonged raised cortisol affects your glucose metabolism and retains your body fat).

Diversity in exercise is not just a nice way of mixing up your program, but an essential part of progress and achieving your desired outcomes from your training program.

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