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Effective Fitness

How to be “Successful in producing the desired or intended result”

When I was a tutor with YMCA, one of the key elements for passing your NVQ Fitness Course was to be “safe and effective” – safe, obviously as you need the exercises to help improve your fitness and not put your body at risk - but also, that the exercises you do are “effective” in producing the fitness result that you want. Nowadays, you can log online and copy anyone – regardless of their qualifications, and often with the belief that if they look “good” then then must know what they are doing. Maybe I am still too stuck in my tutor ways, as I sometimes are horrified by what is being taught. Anyway, I digress. This article is about harnessing the facts, in order for you to achieve effective (and safe) fitness.

1. Each muscle in our body is laid out in a specific pattern. Muscles tend to work together in groups and there is usually one muscle that takes up the majority of the effort when doing an exercise. To work effectively, try to move in the direction of the muscle fibres by “lining it up correctly”. That means taking a moment to correct posture before executing the movement. You can do this by thinking of the bone points of the skeleton or by looking in the mirror. A sit-up is a good example of this, with the main agonist (working muscle) being the rectus abdominis, which starts at the rib cage and attaches to the front of the pelvis. It is bound with fibrous tissue for extra strength, giving it the “6-pack” look when

body fat is lean. To work effectively, load the muscle with the weight of the upper body and draw the rib cage to the hips. However, I often see the head being pulled forward, and this muscle is not connected to the head and neck, and whilst this will cause some training effect, it is limited and can be detrimental (the “safe” bit) to the neck vertebrae. Lots of resistance machines have diagrams of the muscles, and you can use those – alongside books or pictures of the areas you are working. Working with a trained fitness professional is always a good idea here.

2. The brain and the body work together and harnessing the power that this brings to exercise, makes it far more efficient. To start with, simply sitting still and thinking about the exercise before you do it, will help to focus your determination to do it well and try harder. The “mindful” approach of remaining focused on the movements during the exercise ensures that you will execute this well. Visualising a successful outcome of the exercise has been shown to improve technique and speed of the exercise. Remaining focussed on the task allows the brain to increase the signalling to your muscles to keep working even when they are tired. There is so much that we are learning about the interaction between the brain and muscles, that it is worth investing in your time here. Keep positive, keep focussed and imagine a successful outcome – these all improve exercise efficiency.

3. You are what you train – if you want to get faster, then you need to exercise in a more rapid manner, if you want to get strong, then you need the effort in the determination to overcome lifting heavy. If you want to be flexible, then stretch – all straightforward, but if you want to be “fitter” – then be more effective by finding out what is your least fit area and start with that. These are the basic building blocks for fitness and are based on the law of “specificity”. Whilst there are many general fitness principles (see previous blogs) on fitness, learning that doing the thing you want to get good at by practicing exactly what you want. It helps to spend about 80% of the time training the one area of fitness that you want to be good at – if you want to run, then 80% of your training will be on your feet, but the other 20% will be dedicated to flexibility and strengths training. You might also be thinking of doing fitness for health reasons – and that might mean more of a mixture of the various fitness elements. If you want to lose weight, then both strength training and cardio work will be needed. If you want to improve bone density, you may take up running for the impact benefits, and also get the stronger heart as a side benefit. If you want to reduce your stomach area, your conditioning and cardio work will be of benefit – and you will also find you have improved bone and muscle health. The law of specificity can still be applied but sometimes we gain other side benefits along the way. Each method you chose will be effective for both your physical health and your overall wellbeing.

4. We have already mentioned that your brain plays a huge part in your body being effective and efficient – it governs your mood, motivation, rest etc – and we need to take care of it. Think about how stress can affect you, think about ways to reduce stress through relaxation, walks outside, eating well and talking with friends. Clear your head to clear the way to effectiveness. Fatigue is a key indicator that your brain needs some rest and recovery. We mentioned how the brain signals the muscles to continue to work when we are fatiguing, but if your brain is also “tired” then this signalling diminishes, meaning that we feel tired, sluggish, and have “no energy” – this does not always have to mean that we are physically tired, but we could be mentally exhausted too. Take time to nurture your mental health in order to be able to exercise effectively. They work together.

5. Repetition – all things become easier when we have a pattern to work with. If you are a beginner, then like learning any new task, you need to practice – which means repetition. Start with that understanding of which muscle you want to work, do the mindful concentration part, and then just repeat, repeat, repeat – until it becomes easy to do. Repetition is key to improving fitness – and if you are doing cardio work, then starting with “time on your feet” as opposed to intensity is a great way to be effective. As you get more used to doing exercise, then you need to think about the “optimum” level of repetitions to create the best effect in the shortest possible time. This is often to do with weight training, where we specify the number of “reps” to do an exercise. As a beginner, do around 15-20 to start with, and as you get fitter start to reduce this down and up the weight, so that you are fatigued at the end of the workout. For Cardio fitness, HIIT works really well as an effective way to get fit – plan 30 seconds work and 10 seconds recover, choose 10 exercises and run through them all, have a break and repeat – you will get extra burn if you can use a small dumbbell or plate when doing the exercises. Stretches work well when we repeat the stretch about 3-5 times, as opposed to once. It gives the body time to relax into position and improves your flexibility more effectively.

These are some ideas that you can think about when starting your January exercise programme. It is more that “just going to the gym” and then losing interest by the end of Feb. Keep going, keep focussed. Health and fitness are key to happiness.

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