Exercise programs should include 3 main components of fitness: endurance, strength and flexibility. Many fitness enthusiasts often focus on one component either because it’s what they like or it’s what they believe will get them to their goal. But, including all three components will benefit you in the long run. Endurance, strength and flexibility exercise doesn’t have to be included in equal proportions, just some of each.
If you are exercising, for example, to run a charity 5K then you’ll want to focus on endurance exercise. Specifically running, if that wasn’t obvious. If your goal is to get lean and strong then your focus will be on strength training. The focus of your overall exercise program may change over time as your goals change. And the proportions of each fitness component will change with your goals.
Endurance, strength and flexibility all bring different benefits to your body which makes them all important to a well-rounded fitness plan.
Endurance exercise is how long you can sustain physical activity before tiring out. It strengthens your heart and lungs to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. It helps you have more energy to complete everyday activities.
The American Heart Association recommendations 150 minutes, which is 2.5 hours, of moderate to vigorous activity per week. That can be done in many ways, such as walking, hiking, biking, aerobics class, running, swimming, cycling, jumping rope, rowing, kickboxing, jumping jacks in the living room, etc. There are almost endless possibilities as long as what you do keeps your heart rate elevated to a moderate to vigorous intensity level for at least 15 minutes at a time.
Strength exercise can increase your metabolism, protect you from injuries, protect you from bone loss, help your balance, coordination and posture and help you more easily handle everyday activities.
Strength training can be accomplished in a number of ways. Bodyweight exercises, resistance tubes, free weights, machines and plyometrics are just some of the many ways to build strength. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends strength training at least two times per week targeting all major muscle groups. A full body, bodyweight program could include:
Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to be able to contort yourself like a circus act but having some flexibility will help you more easily complete everyday tasks (are you noticing a trend with this??), reduce the risk of injuries, reduce general pain because you’ll be able to move better, and improve your posture and balance.
There are several ways you can enhance your flexibility. Practices such as yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi will all help with range of motion, balance and flexibility. Static stretching, dynamic stretching (movements such as leg swings and arm circles) and foam rolling are also good options for improving flexibility and range of motion.
Flexibility training can be a part of your regular workout routine in a number of ways. You can complete a stretching routine after each of your cardio sessions. You can incorporate a yoga or Pilates class a couple times a week. Or you can spend 20 minutes each evening stretching to prepare for restful sleep. The important thing is to find a routine that allows you to safely stretch all major muscle groups. You can tailor your stretching program to target trouble areas or sore spots such as your lower back or shoulders.
A well rounded exercise program for general fitness goals could look something like the following: