Finding Your Fit
If you’ve been diligently hopping on the treadmill every morning for the past couple of years to get in a 5-mile run before your day begins, you may literally and figuratively be running to nowhere. While the jog, an aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate initially and then maintains it at that level, definitely has a positive effect on your body, just it alone is likely not enough to give you a well-rounded workout.
The key difference between aerobic and anaerobic is oxygen. Aerobic exercising is about building endurance and cardiac health, which helps in maintaining physical activity for a long period of time because cells are receiving plenty of oxygen. This includes activity such as walking, biking, and swimming. “This is beneficial in day-to-day life,” according to Nazima Qureshi, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, nutritionist, and former personal trainer. “For example, if you run up the stairs, you’re not out of breath. It helps you maintain those basic functions.”
In anaerobic exercising, oxygen is depleted from the muscles, so it’s meant to be sustainable for only very short instances, such as with sprints or very heavy weight lifting. You can tell you’re doing this work when you feel that burning sensation in your muscles, which is an indication that cells are running low on oxygen.
Aerobic exercise is by no means something to shirk, and it has myriad benefits. Those who feel they have a lot of weight to lose or are medically obese could see a drastic change from this training if they’ve just started, according to Abby Mohammed, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified trainer. “With aerobic training, you’re really burning calories in the time you’re doing that exercise,” she explains.
Mohammed owns Veiled Fitness, an Illinois-based personal training facility that caters to women who want to work out modestly. She confirms the key is combining several types of exercise to achieve maximum advantage, because bodies become accustomed to aerobic workouts and the oxygen intake hits a plateau after a while.
Most fitness experts agree that there are four or five basic movements that make a more complete regimen. Those include aerobic and anaerobic exercises, as well as balance and flexibility. Some also add in strength training, which breaks down muscles and helps them grow stronger as they repair overnight.
“For the average person, where they’re trying to be healthier and fitter, the best thing to do is incorporate multiple types of exercises,” Qureshi explains. “A good fitness program will have all four components.”
When it comes to anaerobic work, Mohammed contends that most people can last for about 30 seconds with these maneuvers; athletes may be able to sustain them for up to 3 minutes. Anaerobic benefits include building lean muscle, protecting joints, and boosting metabolism.
All forms of exercise are recommended for any age group, but balance especially becomes important as people age; it helps prevent falls and injuries. These could include balancing on one foot, a single-leg squat, or progressing to a squat on top of a Bosu ball. The key, Mohammed asserts, is to master each portion before moving on to a tougher balancing act. Without mastery at each level, there’s a greater risk of injury.
Flexibility comes in two components: static and dynamic stretching. Static is holding a move, such as in a cool down after a workout, and dynamic means pushing the body a little further with continued stretching, such as walking lunges. Both help with joint movement. “The main focus of flexibility is reducing your chance of injury and improving your range of motion,” Qureshi says. Yoga combines the tenets of flexibility and balance into one.
Mohammed also recommends foam rolling as a form of stretching and flexibility. This has the added bonus of reducing the risk of injury from workouts. The roller forces muscles to release tightness.
Much of the focus on aerobic effort alone seems to come from a fallacy that it’s the best tactic for weight loss. Qureshi and Mohammed emphasize combinations with strength training and muscle building. “When you build muscle, you burn more fat,” Qureshi continues. Both are also big proponents of interval training, where one activity is taken on at a high level for a short burst of time and then there’s a longer “rest” period with lower activity. This is where the anaerobic is built in with the aerobic.
However, Qureshi really wants to also push away from the concept of working out for the sake of losing weight. “I want to look at fitness as a way to maintain your lifestyle,” she says. Weight loss is not usually a long-term sustainable goal. However if your goal is to test the limits of your body, it may be more motivating.
There are also practical concerns, such as keeping up with the ability to make daily prayers for the longest period of time before the physical activity is too much for someone’s body.
The good news is that these exercises are attainable for nearly any person, no matter their age or previous fitness level. “Very basic exercises can help you over time,” Qureshi says. For an older person, just practicing lifting legs while sitting in a chair can be the starting point.
Qureshi’s recommendation for a complete workout includes building a solid foundation with basic moves, such as squats and pushups. She emphasizes concentrating on proper form. She also recommends starting any weights at a low level and adding on to them gradually once a level is mastered. Qureshi cautions that before embarking on a workout regimen, one should consult a physician.
Mohammed often relies on rowing machines for her clients. She’ll start with a steady aerobic exercise on them and interval training on the same machines. Then she includes squats and planks, adds strength training, and ends with stretching. She usually has clients do anaerobic work through interval training on their own, but if she feels they’re not keeping up with them, she’ll include some intense bursts of jumping jacks and mountain climbers into the routine.
Mohammed recognizes it can be intimidating taking on new techniques, especially if you’re in a gym setting and people are around to watch your first attempts. She recommends having a plan of attack. “Even if you don’t hire a trainer, if you have a plan of action of what you’re going to do when you are there, it’s less intimidating.”
Nadia Malik holds a degree in journalism and is a former reporter for a Chicago-area newspaper. She has written for websites and publications and has also worked for several non-profit organizations. She is currently in a graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, studying social work and nonprofit leadership.