Balance is one of the four components of fitness along with cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Good balance is essential for all types of movement. Research shows that balance exercises can help reduce falls and fall-related injuries as we age. Studies also show that balance training may reduce ankle injuries.
Unlike cardio and strength training, there are no specific guidelines for balance training. The American Heart Association recommends that older adults that are at risk for falls perform balance training three or more days per week, but balance training is beneficial to all age groups and fitness levels. The American College of Sports Medicine classifies balance exercises under the term functional fitness training or neuromotor exercise and recommends incorporating the training two to three days per week.
Balance training doesn’t have to be an isolated form of exercise. Because it plays a role in other parts of your workout, you can easily incorporate it into your regular exercise routine. Try standing on one foot while you perform shoulder presses or arm curls. Single leg squats or squats that move to a leg lift will also put the focus on balance. Try to perform a quadriceps stretch without holding the wall or a chair. Additionally, Tai Chi and yoga are forms of mind-body exercise that target strength, flexibility, and balance.
Foam rollers, balance boards, and stability balls are examples of equipment that is often designed specifically for balance training. If these tools are of interest to you, consider consulting a trainer or an instructional guide to ensure you use them safely and effectively.
Improving your balance can also take place outside the gym. Standing on one leg while folding laundry or brushing your teeth are easy ways to squeeze in training. When out for a walk, try walking a beam, the curb, or even a line on the ground to challenge your balance.
Aim to incorporate some type of balance training into your workouts a few times each week. Additionally, stay mindful of balance throughout your daily activities. The more you focus on balance, the more aware you will become of how it influences movement and your progress as you work to improve it.
A personal trainer is a certified fitness expert that can help you tailor your exercise to meet your fitness goals. While having a trainer is not a requirement to start exercising, a trained professional can help you exercise more safely and efficiently. If you’ve been on the fence about whether to seek out the help of a trainer, here are five ways you can benefit from this relationship.
You feel unsure of yourself at the gym.
The gym can be an overwhelming place. Unfamiliar machines, a lack of experience, and a room of fit people can be enough to make you want to turn around and go home. A trainer can help you overcome these discouraging feelings. He or she will show you how to navigate equipment and use it correctly to build the confidence you need to step up and grab a set of weights.
You have a long-term fitness goal.
When you sign up for a distance race or a fitness challenge, it can be difficult to know where to begin with your training. A personal trainer can help you evaluate your goals and create a timely program that will prepare you for your event.
You’re recovering from an injury.
When you return to exercise after an injury, safety is the number one priority. It’s important to ease back into exercise to gradually increase your strength and reduce your risk for injuring yourself again. A trainer will evaluate your current fitness level to find the best place to start. He or she can also provide alternative exercise ideas to help you avoid aggravating an old injury.
You skip workouts.
Hiring the assistance of a fitness professional means a commitment to exercise. If you often skip workouts, the financial investment and scheduled meetings involved in working with a trainer will help hold you more accountable.
Repeating the same workout over and over can cause you to lose interest in exercise. Your workouts need to be exciting and challenging to keep you motivated. A trainer can provide new ideas for exercises and a creative program that changes as your fitness improves.
In a circuit training workout, you move quickly from exercise to exercise with each one focusing on a different muscle group. Circuit workouts include cardiovascular exercises, strength training exercises, or a combination of both. This type of training can be done with free weights, machines, or with no equipment at all. Circuit training is most often timed, so you might do squats for 45 seconds, take 15 seconds to switch exercises, and then do jumping jacks for 45 seconds. Creating a circuit that lasts 10 minutes is ideal because you can repeat 2 to 3 times for a full 20 to 30 minute workout.
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
DOMS is the muscle soreness you feel 12 to 72 hours after exercise. All types of activities can produce DOMS, and it affects both new and advanced exercisers. This type of muscle soreness is not a result of lactic acid build up, but rather due to the repair process for the microscopic damage to muscle fibers that occurs during exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that one of the best ways to reduce DOMS is to progress slowly with a new exercise program and give your muscles time to adapt. DOMS fades in 3 to 5 days leaving the muscle prepared to handle the exercise once again.
Dynamic stretching is stretching with slow and controlled movements. This is different than static stretching, which involves holding a stretch to elongate the muscle. It also should not be confused with ballistic stretching, or bouncing during the stretch, which could cause injury. Dynamic stretching is recommended as part of a warm-up prior to exercise. It heats up the body by increasing blood flow and elongates the muscle with each controlled movement. Examples include, arm circles, leg swings, knee lifts, and butt kicks.
An isometric contraction (or isometric hold) occurs when you are using a muscle, but there is no joint movement or lengthening and shortening of the muscle. According to the Mayo Clinic, isometric exercises can help you maintain strength and are especially beneficial when recovering from injury when movement is painful. A plank and wall-sit are examples of isometric contractions.
Overload is a strength training principle stating that in order for the muscle to grow stronger it must be challenged beyond what it can currently handle. This is why it is recommended that you lift a weight that makes it difficult to complete the last 2 to 4 repetitions of each set. This requires that your muscles grow stronger to complete the workout. Once the muscle adapts to this load, it’s time to increase the weight again.
Strength training is described with terms like repetitions and sets. Performing the exercise one time is one repetition. For example, one bicep curl is a repetition. A group of repetitions is a set. A set can be made up of any number of repetitions, often 2 to 20, depending on strength training goals.
Target Heart Rate
Your Target Heart Rate is a zone or range used to measure exercise intensity and ensure you are improving cardiovascular fitness. When you are in your Target Heart Rate Zone, your heart rate will be 75 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. When you first start exercising, you may be unable to work at this intensity, but this zone should serve as a goal for improving fitness. You can determine your range by using the MyFoodDiary Target Heart Rate Calculator.
VO2 Max is a number that measures fitness level based on how efficiently you use oxygen during exercise. It reflects the amount of oxygen that your body transports and uses during a workout. The more fit you are, the higher your VO2 Max. Regular cardiovascular exercise that keeps your heart rate in your target heart rate zone improves VO2 Max.
Health experts recommend that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Adults should aim for at least 35 minutes of moderate-intensity activity daily for weight loss. This need for regular exercise provides an opportunity for families to be active together. Instead of simply exercising alone, make exercise a priority and create a family activity calendar.
Make it big and bold.
Create your calendar on a dry erase board or poster board, and place it in a prominent place in the house. For each day, list the activity you will do as a family. Making the calendar visible to everyone will help the family make exercise a top priority.
Allow everyone to choose activities.
Give everyone in the family a chance to add his or her favorite activities to the calendar. When everyone is invested in the process, the willingness to participate increases. Every month, encourage each family member to come up with at least one new activity they want to try together. The more variety there is, the more excitement there will be about being active as a family.
Think outside the box.
Your active time does not have to be reserved for structured exercise like walks or bike rides. Dance competitions, scavenger hunts, and backyard circuit workouts will get your heart rate up, and you’ll be surprised how quickly an hour will fly by. Take advantage of local trails with a nature hike, sign up to walk or run a 5K as a family, or create games for the pool. Grab the soccer ball or basketball and head to the park for a family game. The goal is to make exercise fun for everyone.
Sticking to an activity schedule is an accomplishment that should be celebrated and rewarded. An afternoon movie, a healthy cooking class for kids, new books, puzzles, educational games, and new sports gear are all rewards that support a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Your motivation soars when you first commit to a healthy lifestyle, but jumping into challenging workouts without training can put you at risk for burnout and injury. It’s important to gradually increase your physical activity so you stick with your workouts. There are a variety of ways that you can slowly build your fitness to reach your long term goals.
Tracking your exercise time makes it easy to gradually add more physical activity. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 30 minutes 5 times per week. The 30 minutes can be broken into segments of at least 10 minutes spread throughout the day.
If you are new to exercise, 10 minutes at a time may be all you can handle. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t complete a 30-minute walk right away. Start with an amount of time that is challenging, but that does not leave you exhausted. After two weeks, try adding 1 minute to each session. If that is too much, add 30 seconds. If it’s too little, try adding 2 minutes. Stick with that time for 1 to 2 weeks and then use the same process to add more time.
If your goal is to compete in a road race, distance is likely your top priority. Whether you are walking, running, or biking, begin with a distance that is comfortable, but that also lasts at least the recommended 10 minutes. You might start with a 1-mile walk or run. Each week gradually increase your total distance by about 10 percent. This is the amount recommended for a safe and gradual increase as your fitness improves.
The intensity of exercise can make significant changes in your fitness level. Intensity applies to all types of exercise and it can be adjusted in many ways. With strength training, it may involve the amount of weight lifted, the speed of the repetition, or the rest time between sets. During cardiovascular exercise, the intensity can be varied by speed, inclines, and resistance on machines, like elliptical trainers or recumbent bikes.
Begin with an intensity that is comfortable until you become familiar with an exercise. Then begin to adjust the intensity so that the exercise challenges you more. Increase the weight of your dumbbells, or add intervals to a treadmill walk by increasing your speed or incline. These changes will give you the ability to exercise harder and longer.