Want a stronger core or more endurance?
There's an exercise plan for that.
By Linda Melone, CSCS
Whether you want to hit a golf ball farther or hit the beach looking good, exercise can help you get where you want to go. It’s just a matter of tailoring your fitness regimen to the outcome you’re looking for.
A well-rounded exercise plan includes aspects of cardiovascular fitness and strength training for overall tone, along with flexibility and core strength. The following workout plans and tips are designed to help you reach various goals safely.
Going the Distance
Striving to run a marathon or triathlon or even finish a 5k or 10k requires aerobic endurance, the ability to remain active for a long period of time. It also takes planning, especially if you’ve been sedentary until now. You’ll need to balance five program variables: exercise mode (walking, swimming, biking, etc.), training frequency and exercise intensity, duration and progression.
It’s best to keep it simple when you start out, says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist, marathoner, triathlete and author of Swim, Bike, Run—Eat (Fair Winds Press).
“First decide on a number of times per week that’s reasonable to you, aiming for three or more non-consecutive days. And plan on some variety,” he says. For example, if you enjoy walking mix it up by doing biking, swimming or other cardiovascular exercise on alternate days.
Then start with 20 minutes—or even 10 minutes, suggests Holland. “And progress slowly, no more than 10% per week, which pertains to either distance added or intensity. Too much too soon is the reason behind most injuries.” So if you’re currently walking or jogging a mile, add only one-tenth of a mile each week.
It also helps to keep track of your progress by clocking your time or distance. “You should feel less tired and be able to walk farther as you build up your stamina,” says Holland. Using a heart rate monitor also works well. In order to find your best zone for your goals and activity, calculate your maximum heart rate. The following formula offers a rough baseline:
220 – Age = maximum heart rate (MHR)
For endurance training, calculate 50% to 65% of your maximum heart rate if you are a beginner, 60% to 75% for intermediate-level exercisers and 70% to 85% for established fitness fans. For example, if you’re a 45-yearold beginner with no known health issues, your maximum heart rate is approximately 175 beats a minute. Between 50% and 65% is 87 to 113 beats per minute; this is your starting point for cardiovascular activity.
Pumping Up Your Core
A strong core helps you safely perform just about every activity of daily living, even more so if you enjoy sports such as tennis or golf. Your core muscles wrap around your trunk like a corset and work in a coordinated effort to keep your pelvis, lower back, hips and abs working together in sync. This not only prevents injury but also gives you better stability and balance.
To develop core strength, it is important to focus on the body from the inside out, says Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist with the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org). “Areas like the transverse abdominis (deep abdominals) are often overlooked when doing core strengthening. These important muscles stabilize your body against movement, protecting it from injury.”
Use these exercises to help strengthen your core. Perform each for two sets of 6 to 12 repetitions depending on how much time you have and your current fitness level.
Standing Scapular Stabilization
In a staggered stance with one foot in front of the other, hinge forward from the hips and allow the arms to hang straight below the chest. Pull your shoulder blades down and back before starting the movement. Once the shoulder blades are set, maintain their position then raise the arms straight out away from the body in a Y shape. Perform the same movement with the arms forming I, T and W shapes, all while maintaining the position of the shoulder blades. The four letters (Y, I, T, W) make up one rep.
Plank Shoulder Mobility
In a plank position, with elbows and/or hands directly under the shoulders, maintain a straight body line from head to feet. Without allowing the shoulders to come forward, squeeze the shoulder blades together in the back and drop the chest downward. While maintaining a neutral spine, press through the elbows and/or hands and push the chest back up, allowing the shoulder blades to separate at the top of the plank.
Lateral Abdominal Stability
In a bird-dog position (on hands and knees with opposite arm and leg extended), keep the trunk stable and move the arm and leg out away from the midline of the body (laterally).
Do not allow the hips to shift or back to arch.
Lying face-up on the ground, extend the legs and dig the heels into the floor with toes pointed upward. Engage the legs and lift the hips upward; avoid locking out your knees. With the hips off the ground slightly, raise one leg off the ground 2 to 6 inches. Slowly lower the heel back to the floor and repeat with the other leg.
Staying Shapely and Toned
Developing overall muscle tone requires resistance training based on the overload principle, which states that a greater-than-normal stress or load on the body is required for training to take place. Once the body adapts to a particular level of stress, you must continue to increasingly challenge the muscle for it to keep changing. This change may include increased muscle endurance or, in this case, growth, which appears as muscle tone, where the muscle appears defined even at rest. (Don’t worry, ladies: Women’s bodies don’t contain male hormones in the amounts needed to produce bulging biceps or tree-trunk thighs.)
“Depending on your fitness level, perform these five exercises both as the warm-up and the workout,” says Crockford, who adds that if you are able to complete two sets of 10 to 12 reps, you are ready for an additional challenge.
Start with your feet a little wider than your hips, feet angled out slightly. Then keep your shoulders back and your head up as you use your legs to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, keeping your heels in contact with the floor throughout the movement, before coming back up. Don’t lean too far forward.
Start from a standing position, step forward and down with either leg into a 90° bend while keeping your upper body straight; do not let your knee travel forward of your toes. You can also do a reverse lunge by stepping backwards.
Start on the floor with your hands next to your shoulders, arms extended with a straight back, and up on the balls of your feet. Then bring your chest down towards the floor without letting your back sink before rising back up again. If you don’t have sufficient arm strength, do push-ups from your knees while maintaining proper form.
Pull (Scapular Retraction)
Lie on your stomach with arms outstretched overhead, palms facing one another. Engage your abdominals and pull your shoulder blades back and down as you bring your arms up to form the letters I, Y, T, W and O.
Begin by kneeling on your right knee with your left foot on the ground in front of you, knee bent at a right angle, and your torso upright. Engage your abdominals as you clasp your hands together in front of you and slightly above your head and, keeping your arms straight, rotate your torso as you bring your arms down and to your right side. Repeat for the desired reps and switch sides.
Defined as the range of motion around a joint, flexibility requirements vary for different sports and activities. Being inflexible increases the risk of injury, making improvements in range-of-motion an important part of any fitness program. Even if you initially feel stiff, regular stretching, the use of a foam roller or practicing yoga can help over time.
“Yoga is a great starting point for people, as poses offer modifications,” says Ashley Turner, star of the Element: 5 Day Yoga DVD (Anchor Bay). “And most classes allow students to utilize blocks and other props to assist with poses as they gain flexibility.” Turner recommends the following basic yoga program for beginners.
Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor. (If you have tight hips, try sitting on a block, pillow or blanket.) Bring right fingertips to the ground by your right hip, inhale as you bring your left arm up toward the ceiling and as you exhale, walk your right fingertips to the right. You should feel a stretch along the left side of your body. Hold for five to eight breaths and then switch sides. As you switch sides also reverse the cross of your legs. Aim to stretch a little deeper on the second round, maybe bringing your elbow to the floor.
Start in tabletop position, with your knees on the floor directly under your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling as you drop your belly toward the floor (cow pose). As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling (cat pose). Keep hands and knees in position and continue for 10 to 20 breaths as you alternate cow pose on the inhale and cat pose on the exhale.
Downward Facing Dog
Begin on your hands and knees with your hands directly below the shoulders and your knees directly below the hips, toes tucked under. Spread the fingers as wide as possible with the index and middle finger pointing forward. Draw the navel in and lift your knees away from the floor, pressing the hips up and back to where the wall and ceiling meet behind you. Straighten the arms and legs until your body forms an upside-down V. Lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling while pressing your heels down toward the ground.
Make sure that the inner edges of your feet are exactly parallel. Keep your gaze relaxed, head between your upper arms, navel engaged and thighs lifted off the kneecaps. If you are very tight, bend your knees to relax the stretch through the backs of your legs. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths.
Regardless of your fitness goals, keep in mind that recovery is key to preventing injuries, says Michael Shepard, MD, sports medicine specialist with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California. “Training that involves dramatic increases in weight can lead to serious injuries,” he warns.
Going to the gym and mindlessly pedaling an exercise bike or throwing some weights around isn’t going to get you where you want to go. Executing a fitness plan tailored to your goals will.
Supine Pelvic Tilts
Looking for more ways to work on your core? Here’s a suggestion from the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org/acefit), which says that weak core muscles result in “unhealthy muscle imbalances and pelvic rotations changing natural body mechanics, resulting in injury.”
Starting Position: Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on floor. Your arms are out to your sides in a "T" position, palms facing up.
Downward Phase: Exhale. Using your abdominal muscles, press your lower back into the floor. Do not lift your hips or let your tailbone roll up off the floor. Hold this position briefly.
Upward Phase: Inhale. Tip your pelvis in the opposite direction, creating an arch in your lower back (increasing the space between the back and the mat). Do not lift your hips or let your tailbone roll up off the floor Hold this position briefly before returning to your starting position.