There are so many exercises to choose from and while they are all beneficial in that they make us move and health lives in movement, it is important to learn what each type of exercise serves.
In general, there are 4 categories of exercises: aerobic exercise, strength training, balance exercise and flexibility. Some exercises can overlap into multiple categories. Everyone can benefit from performing all four types.
Aerobic exercise is commonly referred to as “cardio”. Examples of Cardio exercises are running, swimming, dancing, and bike riding where the heart rate goes up. The recent most popular form of cardio is Interval training.
Interval training alternates between short bursts of high intensity exercise with longer periods at a lower intensity. For example, if walking is your choice of cardio, you will walk at a faster pace for about 30 seconds then walk at your normal pace for 60 seconds and continue to alternate. Interval training can be incorporated into any form of aerobic exercise. This method attracts many people because you are able to burn more calories while exercising for a shorter period of time. When interval training the growth hormone secretion is increased which leads to more fat loss as one of its many benefits.
There are many health benefits to gain from aerobic exercise with heart health being the top on the list. Cardio can help you achieve lower blood pressure and maintain a balanced blood sugar all while burning calories!
Let’s make it clear that Strength training is not simply lifting heavy weights. Strength training is great for maintaining bone health and strong muscles. There are many forms of strength training, some of which don’t require any equipment at all. Using the correct form when strength training is very important. It is very easy to hurt yourself using poor form or adding too much weight/resistance. My personal recommendation is to always set your goal against your previous best while maintaining your form. It is best to first understand what muscle you are working on so when you are strength training that muscle, you only use THAT muscle. If for instance, you are working on the biceps but you notice that as you are curling your arms, you use your neck muscles, then you should lower the weight. You will injure your neck muscle if you keep it up. Keeping the form is the number one thing to keep in mind when doing all exercises. Following are the different forms of strength training:
– Body weight exercises (ex. squats, side-plank). Be careful when you are doing this exercise to not get excited over how fast your squat will look like that professional you have been watching at the gym. Squats are the one exercise that brings the most incidents to my practice and Side plank is the one that is least done. Here is a video on what to watch out for when doing squats.
– Resistant band training (ex. side steps with a band around knees)
– Free weight lifting (ex. dumbbell curls)
– Weight machines (ex. leg press machine)
Remember that Body weight exercises are best for perfecting form before potentially adding more load in order to prevent injury or compromising proper posture.
Good balance is important for everyone, across all ages. We take our ability to balance for granted. Simple activities such as walking or picking something up off the ground, in fact, require a great ability to balance and with our sedentary lifestyle and limited brain exercise to balance, comes the ‘rustiness’ to balance. When I assess patients for Brain-based Neurology and Posture, I see the extent of this very fact which plays a huge role in what many times brings the patients to my office to begin with. We can improve our balance through a series of exercises that challenge our body’s ability to keep us balanced.
– Single Leg Stand: This is a great balance exercise, but maintaining the correct posture is the key. Make sure to tuck under and engage your lower abdominals. With practice, this can be done while brushing your teeth or brushing your hair every morning. If you want to see what Bio-hacks I use on a daily basis, click here and I will send you a copy.
– Heel to Toe: In a straight line, you will walk forward and backward keeping the heel of one foot to the toes of the other foot. Remember to keep your head facing forward, not to be looking at your feet! If you cannot do this, try heel to toe standing still and holding this for about 30seconds.
– Gaze Stabilization: This involves moving the head, while the eyes remain fixed on an object. It is easiest to write a capital letter on a sticky note and place it on a wall at eye level. Standing arm’s length away, keep your eyes locked on the letter while slowing moving your head right to left, then up and down.
BTW, the three examples of Balance exercise had to do with an actual assessment of the Brain to provide balance. With the proper activation comes proper function and your brain, just like all other body parts loses its ability to perform movement when it is not activated properly.
You always want to be safe when doing balance exercises. If you know you have poor balance, practice with support close to you and do not push yourself to the point of falling. Most balance exercises can be simplified by standing near a wall for additional support. Once you have mastered a balance exercise you can incorporate another factor to increase difficulty. With the standing still heel to toe for example, you can stand on a foam pad or even close your eyes. For gaze stabilization, you can stand on one leg and alternate or use a foam pad as well.
Exercises for flexibility is just another word for stretching exercises. This type of exercise is very important yet is often neglected. There are many different types of stretching, each with their own benefits.
– Static Stretching is holding a pose in a position that is stretching a muscle or group of muscles. This pose is typically held for 30 minutes. The muscle being stretched should be challenged but not to the point of pain. This form of stretching can increase flexibility but is often misused as a warm-up in athletics which may result in injury. Dynamic stretching serves as a much better warm-up prior to sports participation.
– Dynamic Stretching consists of moving through a range of motion multiple times. Movements should always be slow and controlled. For example, in a stretch commonly know as “Frankenstein’s”, you will hold your arms out in front of you and with a straight leg, alternate kicking your feet up towards your hands while walking forward. This should be done slowly and in a controlled fashion while making sure to maintain an upright position. This form of stretching is much better warm-up because it actually warms up the muscles to prepare your exercise while stretching.
– Ballistic Stretching is stretching that involves a quick bouncing or jerking movement. This form of stretching can easily result in injury and should not be done by most people. An example of ballistic stretching would be “Cherry Pickers”, where you spread your legs far apart and bend at the hip while repeatedly bouncing up and down. Stretching your muscles too fast and too far is never good. I don’t see why anyone would do this type of stretching unless the specific sport or activity requires those moves. Once again, this is NOT for everyone.
– Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) combines muscle contraction and relaxation through a range of motion to improve a joints active and passive range of motion. There are many benefits to PNF although this should not be performed by just anyone. You want a professional to assist you through this form of stretching in order to prevent injury.
As with the other types of exercise, the form of stretches you choose should be based on your goals. If you are about to go for a run, you should do some dynamic stretching to properly warm-up your muscles in order to prevent injury. If you are new to stretching and you want to increase your flexibility on your own, you probably shouldn’t attempt to do PNF stretching. Stretching should not cause you pain or discomfort.
What type of exercises is right for me?
Everyone can benefit from doing aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility exercises. If you have a specific fitness goal, all four categories should have their own goal. When exercising always choose to maintain proper posture and technique over speedy progression. It is the FORM that matters the most and wins over the number of reps, sets and weights.
Now go do your exercises 😉