Basic Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise uses large muscle
groups rhythmically and continuously and elevates the heartrate and
breathing for a sustained period. Common examples include walking,
jogging/running, swimming, rowing, stairclimbing, bicycling, cross-country
skiing, step and dance exercise classes, roller skating, and the more
continuous forms of tennis, racquetball and squash.
Care and consideration should be used in
selecting types (modes) of aerobic exercise. Depending on
your goals, physical condition and injury/illness history, different types may
prove to be preferential for your particular situation. However, in general, it
is a good idea to "cross train". i.e., alternate between and among several
appropriate exercises. This strategy reduces the chances of overuse injuries,
imposes a more balanced conditioning stimulus and may enhance enjoyment.
Specifically, it is important to alternate forms of high impact exercises
(running, dance exercise, tennis, racquetball, squash) with low/moderate impact
aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, stairclimbing, step classes, rowing,
cross-country skiing). Prudent advice is no more than every-other-day for
high-impact activities; perhaps less if you are overweight, deconditioned or
you have an injury history or current problems with feet, ankles, knees, hips
or low back.
Although aerobic exercise is not technique
or concentration intensive, proper technique is still very
important to optimize your efficiency and prevent injuries. The way you observe
everyone else performing an aerobic exercise may not be the right way (e.g.,
"straight arming" and leaning over on the stairclimbing machines). Obtain
quality technique from an exercise physiologist/trainer.
How long you perform aerobic exercise will
depend on your goals, schedule, and physical condition: 10 to 60 minutes is an
acceptable range of time. If your goal is body fat loss and you are
appropriately conditioned, then longer is better: at least 30 minutes with 40
to 60 minutes preferred. Recent research shows that aerobic fitness levels can
improve with as little as 10 minutes duration - as long as exercise is
performed often: 2 to 3 times a day, 5 days a week. To balance general fitness,
health, body composition, and scheduling concerns, 30 minutes is optimal for
The intensity of your aerobic exercise is
measured in 3 ways:
- Your exercise heartrate is the most
precise and can be taken manually with your index and middle fingers on the
thumb side of your wrist or the groove of your neck near the jaw bone. Heart
rate monitors are also a good way to observe your beats per minute to keep the
exercise in the proper
- The so-called "talk test": you
should be able to talk comfortably while you are exercising (this test is very
good to keep you from working too hard).
- Your perceived exertion level:
simply put, how hard the exercise feels to you.
You and your exercise physiologist/trainer
can determine which method is best for you. However, we can't emphasize enough
that there is no real need to "knock yourself out". Moderate intensity is
almost always appropriate and always more enjoyable. Low to moderate intensity
is an especially good idea when starting out after a layoff or recovery from
illness/injury or if you are significantly overweight.
2 to 7 days a week. Under ideal conditions,
2 workouts a week will allow you to maintain your fitness levels, but for
nearly everyone 3 to 5 sessions a week would be better. If fat loss is your
goal, then 6 to 7 low impact workouts a week (nearly every day) would be
optimal. The more often you perform aerobic exercise the more important it is
to cross train as discussed above. It is always important to gradually
increase your duration, intensity and frequency. It is especially important if
you are deconditioned, overweight, elderly or are rehabilitating from an injury
or illness. If in doubt, go easier, shorter, slower and enjoy
Warmup and cool down is
important to reduce discomfort and the chance for injury. Warmup for aerobic
exercise by performing the exercise at a very low intensity and gradually build
up over 2 to 10 minutes at the end of your workout. Do not stop and
stand abruptly without cooling down. You run the risk of getting dizzy
and/or passing out.
It is a common
misconception that aerobic exercise tones/firms muscles.
Actually it accomplishes very little toning/firming. In a typical aerobic
workout, your active muscles perform hundreds of repetitions with a relatively
low load/resistance placed on them; which is an ineffective toning/firming
stimulus. Resistance exercise (weight training) is where real toning/firming of
muscles occurs. Another misconception is that one must
exercise aerobically at a low intensity to lose fat. Recent research has shown
that we may exercise at any intensity for effective fat loss.
If your goal is to lead a balanced
lifestyle and enhance your health and well being, keep in mind that it
is very important to perform aerobic exercise regularly even if the intensity
is low or the duration is short. The bottom line for health and well being
enhancement is to get some frequent aerobic activity - period; try to enjoy it
and take it easy so you will want to keep it up.
Because aerobic exercise is repetitive, it
often does not require a high degree of concentration (although attention to
technique is important). So it may be a good idea to read, listen to music or
educational tapes, watch TV or converse with a companion (remember, if you
can't talk because you are out of breath, it is probably too hard) to enhance
Keeping an accurate log of your workouts is
a good way to see at a glance how far you've come in your pursuit of fitness.
Your progress will keep you interested and motivated.