How fit are you? The drills that can drive you to the next level
For most work-aged people in the UK, these days an active lifestyle is a given because an active life is not typically possible… we sit in cars, at desks and in front of the TV for long periods so we counterbalance the inactivity with active periods of running in the park, jumping on an exercise bike at home or taking part in classes.
If that’s you, that’s great, but how fit does it make you?
Those who exercise regularly tend to stick to the same type, frequency and intensity of exercise which is, of course, good but once their bodies become accustomed to the strains their regime subjects them to, their fitness begins to plateau. In addition, as we age, muscle mass depletes which means to sustain a constant level of strength (and therefore fitness) we require a more demanding workout.
Cast your mind back to how your body felt the last time you returned to exercise after a couple of week’s holiday. Did you experience more fatigue and tightness? Invariably the answer is yes because on those occasions you were working your body beyond your established fitness level.
But you shouldn’t need a holiday in order to exercise beyond your comfort zone. By measuring your fitness and challenging your body you can continuously improve. It simply requires bringing a little variety into your workout. When you do you’ll feel more motivated and begin to take great pride in all you achieve.
To get fitter, we recommend you test, then train for six weeks and test again. Don’t set yourself goals just monitor the difference. Everyone improves at different rates and there’s nothing less motivating than a target you fell short of.
Initially, most people improve a little, then a lot and then improvements decline again because they’re reaching their peak. For this reason, we also recommend that the tests and drills are repeated only for four six-week blocks and then changed to keep the body constantly challenged and you constantly motivated.
To get fitter, you need to consider the four S’s
is all about endurance and how long you can keep yourself going. Of course, this is tempered by how hard you exert yourself – walking, jogging and running for an hour straight all require stamina.
To train for stamina, you need to find a pace that raises the heart rate and makes you a little breathless but doesn’t prevent you from talking.
To establish and TEST YOUR STAMINA work at a constant pace for 30 minutes. It is best to conduct stamina tests on cardiovascular equipment for example on an exercise bike you can sustain a constant RPM against a constant resistance or on a treadmill you can sustain a constant speed on a constant incline. If you feel after 30 minutes you can comfortably continue then you need to increase one of the variables until you establish a level that takes pretty much all you’ve got.
To BUILD YOUR STAMINA use the same cardiovascular equipment and spend 20 minutes varying incline, speed and resistance as appropriate to train the body. You should have periods of low manageable intensity and periods of high intensity where you get breathless and try to be as random with these periods as you can every time you train. Repeat this at least twice a week.
Then test your stamina again for 30 minutes at the same settings as before and after six weeks you should find it much easier. Up your levels for your next test accordingly and begin your next six-week period of training.
is all about how much load the body can take, and it’s a facet of fitness many women shy away from for fear of becoming bulky. However, women are not genetically disposed to building big muscles with standard training. We would encourage anyone to incorporate strength training into their workout as more muscle mass ups your metabolism and working with weights offsets osteoporosis.
To TEST YOUR STRENGTH chose an exercise that works the muscles you want to strengthen and a piece of kit that’s accessible to you. You could do Russian twists with a medicine ball, squat with a barbell or do some bicep curls with dumbbells. Take the heaviest weight you think you can manage and see if you can do five full reps of your given exercise. If you can, go up to a weight until the fifth rep is a struggle and record what it is.
To BUILD YOUR STRENGTH repeat your exercise with a weight that’s 10-20% lower. Do three sets of 15 ate least twice a week for six weeks. Once the six weeks are up you should be able to do 5 full reps with the test weight and you’ll be ready to up that weight as before for your next six-week period.
SPEED TESTS are about how fast you can move so they’re all about short sharp bursts of exercise. If you have space you can do shuttle runs between two points; if you’re more restricted for space jumping jacks, knees lifts, skipping and burpees are all great. Simply chose one exercise and time how many reps you can do in a one-minute period followed by a one-minute rest and repeat this three times.
To INCREASE YOUR SPEED add your chosen exercise to your workout once just once for one minute every time you do it and aim to workout twice a week. After the six week period repeat the original test, record your progress and test again after six more weeks. Then, after the third test, chose a new exercise to build you speed with.
is all about how far you can reach across all planes with the body. It’s the one component of fitness that is more affected by genetics and lifestyle than any other. Some people will have naturally longer ligaments and so touching their toes is easy, others will find it hard. But apparently anybody can train to be a contortionist in three years whatever their start point, so flexibility can be developed in everyone.
Stretching before and after exercise has gone in and out of fashion, as such it is the most neglected aspect of fitness by most people. But dropping five minutes off your cardio exercise to have a good stretch is actually a wise thing to do. The more flexible you are the easier it is to maintain posture and balance in everyday life and which benefits not just the musculoskeletal system but also the organs within.
You should only stretch when the body is warm as the muscles are more mobile and the joints are lubricated.
The toe touch test is probably the most common and involves you sitting on the floor with your legs long in front of you. Then with a long back and upstretched arms you hinge the body forward at the hips and reach for your toes with the hands. Unlike other fitness tests and training, this is one we recommend you do every time you workout as the progression will be gradual.
If flexibility is an issue for you, adding Yoga to your regime is a great way to develop it, either by attending a class, referring to a DVD or taking advantage of the many YouTube channels out there.
Just by cherry-picking one aspect of your fitness to focus on every six weeks you can bring a new dimension to your workouts and get a great deal more satisfaction too. When you do you’ll also discover that you need to bring new challenges to your established exercises to make your body work at its new fitness level.
And the next time you take a holiday perhaps the aches and pains of your first workout when you get back won’t be as noticeable either.