Words: Schalk van der Merwe, Biokineticist
Let’s face it, being fit is hard work and takes commitment. Having said that though, there are a lot of so-called 'quick and easy' methods to achieve fitness and training results surfacing all over the place.
The advice I am about to impart is not new, it’s not earth shattering and does not come endorsed by any celebrity. It is however, tried and tested and bound to improve your levels of fitness and performance immensely if adhered to. Here are my rules for achieving optimum fitness:
In my experience, I have seen so many people train without breathing correctly. Not exhaling when they should, not breathing deeply enough and, worst of all, holding their breath for full sets. This is obviously not great. Breathing is important, not only for providing oxygen to the brain but it also helps to decrease blood pressure during exercise. Improving your oxygen uptake also helps with focus and control. Your workout will be far more effective and you will be able to train for longer periods.
During exercise, our bodies lose vital fluids and electrolytes. These need to be replaced regularly and the amount of fluid depends on the intensity of the exercise. My rule of thumb though, is when you are thirsty, drink. When you have been training outdoors in the heat, you will require more fluids than when you are pushing some weights in the gym. Hydration is key to managing your recovery after any workout and it also helps prevent muscle cramps and, indirectly, injury.
Making sure that your diet includes a variety of vitamins and minerals is essential. They help prevent the onset of illness and disease. It is important to have a balanced diet, and colourful, bright vegetables, lean portions of protein and fruit are the building blocks of good nutrition. I suggest you contact a dietician for a detailed eating plan that takes your individual needs into account.
Change your workout regularly
The human body is a wonderful piece of machinery. It is clever and adapts very quickly to demands imposed upon it. Research has shown that when it comes to exercise, it is a good idea to keep it guessing. Our bodies generally take about eight weeks to adapt to any type of exercise. To make sure that you are continually challenging yourself and achieving your goals, it is important to adjust and adapt your training regularly. This also combats boredom associated with repetitive gym routines.
Stretching and its place in training has been a topic of debate for some time now. We know the physiological effect of stretching, but the jury is still out as to when the best time to stretch is. What is known though is that stretching is beneficial, regardless of when you do it. In my opinion, as long as you stretch, you will reap some kind of reward. Injury prevention, improved posture and improved performance are all benefits associated with stretching regularly. I recommend yoga, pilates and some dynamic and static stretches.
Don’t skimp on the cardio
Cardiovascular exercise is always beneficial. The problem with this is that it generally takes time, valuable time, right? Wrong. The latest trend in training is high-intensity interval training (HITT), which is based around quick bursts of high-intensity training. This can be done in the space of 10 to 15 minutes. For the more 'old school' trainers, classic cardio consisting of cycling, treadmills, rowers and the like should not be undermined. At the end of the day, cardio is important because it helps strengthen the most important muscle in the body, the heart. It will also help improve overall stamina, endurance and have a great bearing on improved health. Try to do 20 to 30 minutes worth of cardio exercise on a daily basis, if possible.
By including extra resistance to your current training programme, you will help accelerate your metabolism. It helps to burn fat over a prolonged period and increase bone strength. Furthermore, it makes you appear more toned and stronger and helps improve your ability to do everyday tasks with more ease, without placing yourself at risk for injury.
Sleep and relaxation
You need 'downtime' to be able to perform during your 'uptime'. Engage in activities like yoga, pilates and some dynamic stretches. Meditation is also a great way to remain focused and it allows you to recover from within.
As with any training, consistency is key. It’s no good training hard for a week and then taking a week off. If you lose a day or two don’t beat yourself up, rather ensure you make a plan and aim to stick to it. The more regularly you expose your body to exercise the better your results will be.
Consider working with a coach
The quickest way to get results is to push yourself a little further. A coach can get you to do exercises you wouldn’t normally do by yourself. Ensuring correct technique and form are essential and this is also where a coach can be of benefit, as well as helping you to get you out of your training slump or back on track.
Just follow these simple and effective workout rules and enjoy a long, fit and healthy life - and have a blast doing it.
For more information or advice on reaching your optimal fitness, email Schalk on