When it comes to talking about working out, a common question I receive is, “what is the best type of exercise?” My first response is always this. Any exercise or form of physical activity that you find enjoyable and gets you moving certainly can count as the best type of exercise. I happen to love crossfit, but I completely understand that crossfit isn’t for everyone, just like running and Zumba isn’t for everyone either. The purpose of physical activity is to get the body moving and research has shown that individuals who move more have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease compared to sedentary individuals. However, I will address the original question, “is there a best type of exercise/work out” or “are there exercises that do nothing for us?” The answer may actually be…yes.
Some of the best exercises are the ones that work several muscles at once and utilize many different joint actions. These exercises don’t even require equipment and can be performed at the gym, in the comfort of your own home, at the park and even a hotel room. They include the squat, lunge, push-up, plank and even the burpee. The beauty of these exercises is that there is a variety of modifications for all of them, whether it is to make them easier or more challenging for individuals of all fitness levels. These movements are also considered more functional, meaning they can help improve the ease of day-to-day activities such as bending over to pick up a sock, getting into and out of a car or lifting a heavier object.
The other side of the equation is the types of exercises that are less helpful for us. Many may disagree with this statement, but using machines is not one of my highest recommendations. Machines can be good for isolating specific muscle groups and they can help someone perform an exercise with more proper form; however, the downfall of using machines is that they often only require a single joint movement and they do not activate the core as efficiently as other exercise methods. Having a stronger core improves one’s posture and balance and can help reduce the risk of injury from everyday movements such as twisting to reach for something in the back seat, grabbing an item from the top cupboard or bending over to pick up a load of laundry. The other downside of using machines is that they do not hold a strong functional purpose. My crossfit coach, Molly Suholdanik also states, “We do not perform many single joint muscle movements in our day to day activities. We typically are always performing movements that recruit multiple muscle groups and joint actions at once.” This is why functional fitness training can be so important.
In the last few years, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has become increasingly popular. Many instructors and trainers now incorporate this method into a multitude of their classes and personal training sessions. HIIT is a form of training that incorporates short bursts of high intensity exercises followed by very short recovery periods. Typically I always teach a 4:00 Tabata sprint drill in my cycle class. Tabata is a 2:1 ratio of high intensity work to recovery period. In class, we will sprint for 20 seconds and then have a 10 second rest and this pattern is then repeated seven more times for a total of 4 minutes. A super app for this is Tabata Pro; it links with your music so you don’t have to utilize a stopwatch when working out to your favorite tunes.
One of the most intriguing potential benefits of HIIT is that one can possibly achieve the same results (or even better results) with a shorter, higher intense workout compared to one that is longer and more moderate in intensity. Many studies suggest that even though longer, steady-state workouts may burn more calories, shorter, high-intensity workouts may prove to be better for fat loss. The reason for this extra fat burn is due to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). When performing a high-intense workout, the extra effort increases the body’s need for oxygen during exercise. This creates an oxygen shortage and causes the body to ask for more oxygen during recovery. This “afterburn” is the reason why the body continues to burn more calories and fat after a high-intense workout compared to a long, steady-state workout.
Here are some additional benefits of HIIT:
- It’s efficient. Who wouldn’t want to achieve better results in a shorter period of time?
- It can require little or no equipment.
- Improves V02 Max (which is a fancy way of saying, it improves your ability to breathe and improves your endurance when working out)
- Improves metabolism by increasing mitochondrial size.
- Improves blood pressure, insulin and cholesterol levels.
Researchers suggest that HIIT can be performed 3 times per week. Since this type of exercise is so demanding on the body, adequate rest and recovery periods are needed to decrease the risk of injury. The purpose of this blog is not to convince everyone to start HIIT, rather I wanted to make more aware of the wonderful benefits that can be associated with incorporating some of these training methods into one’s workouts.