We all need to exercise. Life is movement and movement is life. This applies to every cell of every system in the human body and is vital to our survival. For example, without pumping blood around our bodies or moving food through our digestive tract we'd become very ill very quickly and die. Exercising encourages the pumps of our bodies to work and improve movement.

So what sort of exercise should we do ? How much and for how long ? Where should we start ?

If you're not assessing, You're guessing.

The first port of call and the most important parts of planning an exercise programme are the initial assessment and establishing your goals. Without knowing where you are in terms of health and fitness you run the risk of causing damage or injury by following a programme that is too advanced for your current level. You don't always have to flog yourself to get results. Injuries can stop us from exercising altogether and put us back at square one. The common notion of 'no pain no gain' is misleading and generally incorrect. If there's pain then that generally means your body is trying to tell you not to do something or that there is an underlying problem. Often less is more.

However, in contrast, a programme which is too easy doesn't challenge us enough, it doesn't stimulate our bodies to adapt and consequently improve performance and will likely result in minimal if any progress towards our goals. Establish a realistic overall outcome goal and then create some shorter term process goals.

Once you know where you are right now in terms of fitness and where you want to be, it makes the process of designing an exercise programme which will progressively take you towards your goal a lot easier and a lot safer.

So what should we be assessing before designing an exercise programme ?

As mentioned earlier, the most important part is knowing what you want to achieve. Do you want to burn fat and lose some weight ? Are you in pain and is your target to overcome a niggling injury or back pain ? Do you play a competitive sport or do a physical job and are looking to improve you level of performance ? Or do you just want to improve your overall level of health, increase vitality and energy and live a long, happy life?

You're only as strong as your weakest link

Quite often, people go to the gym and practice what they're already good at and eventually the speed of progress declines and they hit a training plateau. More often than not, real progress is only achieved by first identifying what you're not good at and primarily working on these areas.

If you can't, you must !

Sometimes it's more beneficial to work-in rather than work-out.

Important considerations to take into account are any current or previous injuries or medical conditions that need to be addressed. I.e. Do you have blood sugar issues ? Do you get common symptoms like headaches or fatigue easily ? Make sure you have checked with a health practitioner before embarking upon any programme if you have had or currently are experiencing any health issues. More than often, clients goals are to look good but it's not uncommon that what's going on inside their body isn't looked at closely enough and the emphasis is more on what they look like on the outside. It is hugely important to firstly take a look at what's going on inside the body i.e. how's your digestion, your cardiovascular system, your liver, your lungs etc. Take a closer look at your current lifestyle and diet. What do you eat ? Is your diet appropriate for you ? What proportions of macronutrients (protein, fat & carbohydrates) do you eat ? Is the nutrient quantity and quality high ? When do you eat and how much ? How much water do you drink ? How stressed are you ? How are your sleep/wake cycles ? How's your digestion and what are the levels of toxicity in your body ?

What's your goal ?

Consider exactly what your goal is and take a holistic approach for quicker results. Alongside your exercise plan, your lifestyle and your diet lay the foundations to your programme and are often the reason why clients don't achieve the results they desire. If you are looking to increase muscle, boost metabolism and/or burn fat then you'll have a hard time getting results if your diet isn't right, you're skipping meals or if you aren't getting much sleep. If you want to improve or eliminate back pain then you must be fully hydrated and stress levels must be minimal. Often the people in the gym who train themselves really hard but never seem to get any results or don't change body shape are the people who haven't considered the lifestyle and diet factors which are actually blocking their own progress !

Other factors worth considering include your age, how many years you've been training for consecutively (training age), what sort of training have you done up to this point and what sports or activities do you partake in ?

Current fitness levels

Next, evaluate your current level of fitness. This should include assessments of your posture (both dynamic and static), flexibility, mobility, core and joint stability, cardiovascular health, muscular endurance, strength, power and speed where appropriate. Consider which biomotor abilities are most important to you and thus require more attention in order to progress towards your goal. It is commonly recognised that there are 8 biomotor abilities. They are; endurance, strength, power, speed, flexibility, co-ordination, balance and agility. It's important to assess which ones should be prioritised and trained first because although we often want all of these forms of fitness, several of them contradict each other and therefore it can be almost impossible to develop strength and increase the size of muscles whilst also trying to increase say endurance or agility at the same time. Which energy system is most important to you and your goals. What we mean by this is if you're training to be a triathlete or an endurance athlete your focus should be on the longer term (aerobic) energy system. Whereas, if you're training to be able to play football or to be able to run up the flight of stairs at your workplace then your focus should be on the shorter or intermediate (anaerobic) energy systems.

If you are training for a sport or to improve how you perform at work, consider which of the seven primal movements are most involved in the movements required to perform at a high level. The seven primal movements are: Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull, Bend, Twist and Gait. For example, a golfer requires more of the bend, twist and gait movement patterns whereas a furniture mover would require more squatting, lunging, pushing and pulling and therefore when selecting specific exercises for your programme, the exercises should include these movements. Whilst carefully choosing which primal movement patterns and specific exercises must be prioritised in accordance with your goals, consideration must also be paid towards balancing the programme as not to favour certain muscle groups whilst neglecting their antagonist muscles which invariably results in a muscle imbalance and ultimately increased wear and tear leading to injury.

Further implications that must be established before designing an exercise programme include your time availability, energy levels and willingness. How many times per week can you get to the gym ? How long can you train for each session ? What equipment do you have access to and are there financial considerations to be accounted for ?

Reps, sets and tempo

Final considerations once you have selected the appropriate exercises for your needs are; How many reps, sets and at what intensity should they be done ? How much rest between sets ? What sort of speed or tempo should each rep be performed at ? How do you sequence the exercises and when should you change your programme up in order to avoid pattern overload ? As a rule of thumb it's always most sensible to start with a stabilisation phase which looks to build endurance of the postural muscles and the muscles whose purpose is to stabilise joints (use sets of 15-20 reps at a moderate intensity). This should then be followed by a strength phase where larger muscle groups are targeted and the intention is to build some muscle and increase metabolism (sets of 8-12 reps at a higher intensity). The next phase is where all the cool exercises come in and the objective is to develop maximal strength, speed of movement, agility and power. (smaller sets of 3-7 reps at a high intensity)

Find a reputable personal trainer or health practitioner

Bodyguards Fitness Service Ltd has been established since 1993 and continues to provide an unrivalled, complete fitness service including high quality personal training, helpful and realistic lifestyle guidance and individual nutritional advice and support. We offer full health assessments, exercise programme design and one-to-one or small group health & fitness training designed to meet your specific needs and goals. The full health assessment is currently on special offer and is half price so contact us now for more information or to get yourself booked in...

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