Research indicates that intense exercise training (or overtraining) reduces the body’s immunity to disease. In contrast, light to moderate exercise training boosts the immune system and reduces the risk of infections. The relationship between exercise training and the risk of developing an upper respiratory tract infection (e.g., a cold) is shown in the figure in this box. The J-shaped curve indicates that moderate exercise training reduces the risk of infection, whereas high-intensity and long-duration exercise training increase the risk of infection.
Designing Your Exercise Program
If you go to a doctor with a bacterial infection and she prescribes you an antibiotic as treatment, chances are good that the dose she asks you to take is going to be different from the dose she might prescribe for your 10-year-old brother. Similarly, for each individual there is a correct “dose” of exercise to effectively promote physical fitness, called an exercise prescription.
Exercise prescriptions should be tailored to meet the needs of the individual. They should include fitness goals, mode of exercise (or type of activity), a warm-up, a primary conditioning period, and a cool-down. The following sections provide a general introduction to each of these components.
If you don’t know what you’re working toward, you are not likely to achieve it. Thus, setting goals (both short-term and long-term goals) is an essential part of an exercise prescription. Visualizing your leaner, stronger body or your improved competitive performance (if these were your goals, for example) would help motivate you to begin your exercise program. Further, at training your fitness goals improves self-esteem and provides the incentive needed to make a lifetime commitment to regular exercise. One common type of fitness goal is a performance goal. You can establish performance goals in each component of health-related physical fitness.
The image illustrates a hypothetical example of how Susie Jones might establish short-term and long-term performance goals using fitness testing to determine when she has reached her objective. The column labeled “current status” contains Susie’s fitness ratings based on tests performed prior to starting her exercise program. After consulting with her instructor, Susie has established short-term goals that she hopes to achieve within the first 8 weeks of training. Note that the short-term goals are not “fixed in stone” and can be modified if the need arises. Susie’s long-term goals are fitness levels that she hopes to reach within the first 18 months of training. Similar to short-term goals, long-term goals can be modified to meet chanting needs or circumstances.
In addition to performance goals, consider establishing exercise adherence goals. That is, set a goal to exercise a specific number of days per week.Exercise adherence goals are important because fitness will improve only if you exercise regularly! The following guidelines can help you set achievable fitness goals:
This is perhaps the most important rule in goal setting—set goals that you can reach. Consider your current fitness level, consult with your instructor, and write down goals you know you can achieve. Setting goals that are unachievable is likely to frustrate you and may result in your giving up on your program.
Establish short-term goals first.
Reaching short-term fitness goals will motivate you to continue exercising. Therefore, establishing realistic short-term goals is critical. After you reach a short-term goal, pat yourself on the back, and then establish a new one.
Set realistic long-term goals.
When setting your long-term goals, take into account your physical limitations and any hereditary factors that may affect your fitness limits. Set goals that are realistic for you and not based on performance scores of other people.
Establish lifetime maintenance goals.
In addition to short-term and long-term goals, consider establishing a fitness maintenance goal. The purpose of this goal will be to maintain your new fitness level by remaining physically active. Put goals in writing.A key to meeting goals (and to not forgetting them) is to write them down and post them where you will see them every day. You should revisit and revise your goals periodically as your routine or schedule changes so that they continue to be realistic and up-to-date. Remember, just because goals are in writing does not mean that they cannot be changed.
Make your goals specific and measurable.
You need a way to determine whether you met your goal. Be sure to avoid unfocused goals, such as, “I want to lose weight by spring break. To lose weight I will eat healthy and exercise regularly.” Establish focused goals instead: “I want to lose 15 pounds by spring break. I will exercise 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes and follow the healthy eating plan outlined by my dietitian. With these changes I should lose 1.5 pounds a week for 10 weeks.”
Establish a time frame.
Setting a date for reaching the goal will help you stay focused. Use a reward system.Reaching a goal is an accomplishment that you should acknowledge with a re-ward that is meaningful to you.
Recognize obstacles to achieving goals.
Once you begin your fitness program, be prepared for set-backs (such as skipping workouts and losing motivation) and to backslide a bit (and have your fitness level decline temporarily). This is normal. However, once you realize that you have stopped Making progress toward your goals, you must get back on track and start making progress again as soon as you can.The importance of fitness goals cannot be overemphasized. Goals provide structure and motivation for a personal fitness program.
Every exercise prescription includes at least one mode of exercise—that is, a specific type of exercise to be performed. For example, to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, you could select from a wide variety of activities, such as running, swimming, or cycling. To ensure that you’ll engage in the exercise regularly, you should choose activities that you will enjoy doing, that are available to you, and that carry little risk of injury.
Physical activities can be classified as being either high impact or low impact, based on the amount of stress placed on joints during the activity. Low-impact activities put less stress on the joints than high-impact activities. Because of the strong correlation between high-impact activities and injuries, many fitness experts recommend low-impact activities for fitness beginners or for people susceptible to injury (such as people who are older or overweight).
Examples of low-impact activities, such as running, swimming, or cycling. To ensure that you’ll engage in the exercise regularly, you should choose activities that you will enjoy doing, that are available to you, and that carry little risk of injury. Physical activities can be classified as being either high impact or low impact, based on the amount of stress placed on joints during the activity.
Low-impact activities put less stress on the joints than high-impact activities. Because of the strong correlation between high-impact activities and injuries, many fitness experts recommend low-impact activities for fitness beginners or for people susceptible to injury (such as people who are older or overweight).Examples of low-impact activities include walking, cycling, swimming, and low-impact aerobic dance. High-impact activities include running, basketball, and high-impact aerobic dance.
The Importance of a Warm-Up
A warm-up is a brief (5- to 15-minute) period of exercise that precedes a workout. It generally involves light calisthenics or a low-intensity form of the exercise and often includes stretching exercises.The purpose of a warm-up is to elevate muscle temperature and increase blood flow to those muscles that will be engaged in the workout. A warm-up can also reduce the strain on the heart imposed by rapidly engaging in heavy exercise and may reduce the risk of muscle and tendon injuries.