Is there a secret to getting fit? Yes. Knowing what adaptations your body requires in order for you to get fit will save you a lot of time and wasted effort – and get you real results. This translates as ‘strategy’ – one that is well designed and is personal to you. Not someone else’s strategy – but your own. I can say with confidence that it is rare to find anyone starting exercise with a strategy of any kind. Joining a gym, or buying an exercise bike, is not a strategy. As with anything you want to achieve in life, no strategy equals no result. Getting fit is no different.
You can get quite astonishing results in a matter of weeks if you have the right strategy. Designing your strategy requires a clear definition of exercise, knowing why you are exercising, and knowing which exercise is the most effective as a starting point and for efficiently progressing your fitness. But it’s not as complicated as that might sound – read on!
Firstly, what are you trying to achieve i.e. what is fitness actually? It is a state of efficiency. This means your body makes energy efficiently, and recovers efficiently. The ‘centre’ of fitness is your metabolism – your ability to produce energy. Energy is produced in the cells of your body by ‘mitochondria’. Muscle cells have the highest concentration of mitochondria, making your muscles your ‘energy factories’.
Secondly, what is exercise? It is the replication of the work we would have done historically in order to survive. We no longer have to hunt and gather food for our survival but we do need to replicate the full range of physical abilities that the human body is capable of if we are to be healthy. This is the very purpose of exercise. It also helps us to describe what exercise actually looks like:
Exercise is any activity that stimulates the physiology of the body in order to recover or maintain its natural state of good function, including energy production, biochemical function, and good movement.
Thirdly, what are the specific adaptations generated by exercise that lead to fitness? Understanding this is the basis of your strategy. Exercise works by causing stresses that in turn result in adaptations. The result is improvements in strength and biochemical efficiency, covering everything from metabolism to bone density.
Adaptation 1: Metabolism. We want to increase energy production, therefore mitochondria density must improve. This is the first clue: weight bearing exercise is required in order to stimulate muscles so that mitochondria density per cell improves, as well as an increase in the number of actual muscle cells.
Adaptation 2: We also want cardiovascular adaptations in order to increase bold flow. Then your body can more efficiently deliver oxygen and nutrients for energy production, and remove lactic acid and other waste. So this is the second clue: endurance exercise is required to cause these adaptations, which occur primarily within the muscles – because that is where the energy and waste – is produced.
Adaptation 3: Neural adaptations. It is your neural networks (nervous system) – that activate muscles and govern movement. Your neural networks enables efficient movement, balance and stability, and determine the ability of your body to perform. So the third clue: exercise that stimulates the neural connectivity between your brain and muscles, and between the muscles themselves.
So what do we get when we pull all this together? First clue: load bearing (resistance) exercise. Second clue: endurance exercise that improves blood flow to, and within, the muscles. The third clue: exercise that stimulates your neural connectivity.
Together this means: endurance exercise that incorporates resistance and engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This is the very essence of effective, efficient exercise programming.
This type of exercise would be ‘whole body’ exercise, more formally referred to as ‘integrated’ exercise, that involves balance, stability, correct muscle activation patterns, resistance and an elevated heart rate.
This is quite different to the picture most people have of exercise, which is commonly cardio vascular exercise (running, walking, treadmill, boxing etc), or exercise that uses heavy weights and isolates individual muscles or muscle groups (as typified by body builders). These types of exercise are less efficient in achieving overall fitness and are, by themselves, incomplete strategies.
Okay, so let’s create a basic strategy. But before I give examples I want to emphasise that you must start from wherever you are right now – and don’t start too hard. You can look at it this way – assuming you are really unfit, how much do you have to do to create the adaptations that will lead to fitness? Well, just a little bit more than you are currently doing. If you were fit but are now dealing with an injury or limitation of some kind, your strategy must start with rehabilitation. Going too hard to soon is the main reason people fail!
Say, for example, that you are doing no exercise at the moment. If you were to do 10 minutes of light exercise your body will respond and changes will take place. When that 10 minute routine starts to feel too easy, increase either the intensity or volume (how hard or how long) by 10%. And when that gets too easy, another 10%. And so on. I guarantee that within a matter of weeks you will be able to do far more that you could have imagined was possible, and without having to suffer for it. Exercise does not require you to get red faced and covered in sweat in order to get results!
It is the nature of the human body to adapt quickly to any exercise stimulation. This does not require you to smash yourself, it just requires you to do more than you currently are, working to a plan.
So what would your exercise program look like? Looking at fitness as a state of efficiency, and exercise as the replication of the innate abilities of the human body attributable to survival, considering muscle (mitochondria) development, cardiovascular development, and neural development, then a list of exercises (completed to your current ability) would include: balance and stability exercises, core strength and activation exercises, and muscle endurance exercise.
Simple, readily available examples would include: balance work on a bosu ball, core work (eg: crunches, planks) and integrated strength exercises like the squat to press, or the farmers walk. I recommend staying off the pin loaded machines or doing isolation exercises. The cable machine is gold, but it’s easier if not more effective to use bands at home. A commonly available exercise that fits all the criteria is rowing, and cycling has value but doesn’t engage your core or use upper body adequately.
Remember that you don’t have to join a gym. Some simple and inexpensive equipment at home can be very effective and solves the time problem that comes with getting to and from the gym. Examples are the TRX or the Tower 200, both of which comes with heaps of exercises instruction.
A very important consideration is that starting with cardio vascular exercise is fruitless because you will be working the fuel delivery system and not developing the energy production system – so it a case of putting the cart before the horse. Resistance exercise is essential if you want to improve your metabolism.
Remember, all you have to do is 10% more than you now are, and keep adding 10% as you can, until you have arrived. What you don’t have to do is suffer!
You will find this post helpful too : https://cultureofhealth.com.au/2015/02/19/starting-exercise-can-be-a-real-challenge-if-you-are-fresh-of-the-sofa/