The health benefits exercise confers are widely understood and recognised. In addition to metabolising excess fat exercise can reduce our chances of developing illness and disease.
But exercise is even better than we previously thought!
Amazingly, contemporary research is showing that exercise can be weaponised and used to fight some of the worst diseases. In 2009 an Australian research team published a paper showing the positive effects exercise exerts in the fight against cancer. The research demonstrated that exercise, in conjunction with established treatment methods, can positively support cancer patients irrespective of what stage they are at in their treatment.
Since the publication of that seminal 2009 paper the benefits accrued through supplementing exercise during cancer treatment have been extensively reviewed.
A recent publication reported that of 140 such studies 75% showed ‘statistically significant and clinically relevant benefit through exercise on a range of treatment-related side effects, physical, functional, and psychosocial outcomes.’¹
Below is a list of the health benefits associated with regular exercise:
improved body composition
protection against coronary heart disease (CHD)
improved cardio-respiratory performance
protection against stroke
improved immune function
helps reduce anxiety
mitigates chronic stress
promotes a positive attitude
improves self-confidence and self-body image
Wow! What a singularly impressive list of health benefits. Makes me want to slip on a pair of sneeks and go out for a five-mile run followed by a set of 500 kettlebell swings. To think, each mile, each set of ten could be boosting my immune system and protecting me against heart disease!
And, what’s more, those health benefits are there for the taking – they could be yours. All you’ve got to do is establish a regular exercise routine that includes a mixture of the primary components of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, muscular endurance and flexibility.
Now that we have covered the theoretical side of exercise, we must turn our attention to the practical. In the following section you are going to learn how to organize and implement an effective exercise regime that will both burn fat and (hopefully) bring about all those health benefits.
Establish an exercise regime
If you currently do no exercise, or your participation is at best sporadic, then you must establish a consistent regime that incorporates a varied mix of physical activities. To get you on your way I have explained an infallible method of establishing a fitness regime. From here all that’s left for you to do is . . . do it!
Create an exercises programme
Creating an exercise programme is a relatively straight forward process – especially for someone who is just engaging in exercise for weight-loss and health related reasons.
However, to make life a little easier for you, we have created a generic 8 Week Training Programme (see below). The programme has been tailored for a person who wants to lose weight; thus it is populated primarily with cardiovascular exercise.
‘But what if I’m not particularly fond of cardio? Or what if there’s an exercise in the programme that I can’t do because of an injury?’
The 8 Week Training Programme is designed to maximise weight-loss results and if followed will certainly compound the effectiveness of this course. But that’s not to say that you can’t substitute exercises for ones more preferable. For example, you might not particularly enjoy running but you could tolerate cycling or swimming.
It would not negatively impact on the effectiveness of the programme if you shuffled the cardiovascular exercises. The same could not be said if you replaced cardio with weight training.
What if I want to craft my own programme?
That’s absolutely fine and we applaud your enthusiasm. Following this sentence you will find an overview of some simple training programme design methods; take what you want from it, discard the rest.
To create your own programme you merely need either a calendar or grid/table and a pen (if you want to you could use the programme supplied as a template and populate it with exercises of your choosing – just a thought).
Now, let’s say you’re using a calendar. Simply plot each day’s exercise activity – including session duration and type of exercise – for a minimum of 2 months. See week 1 example below.
(Prior to taking part in any exercise activity ensure to spend a minimum of 10-minutes warm-up. See Essential training principals below for guidance on correct warm-ups, cool-downs and stretching.)
Once you’ve organized your first week you can repeat for the following seven – ensuring gradually to increase the duration of each training session; each day of the eighth and final week should be almost double that of the first.
Of course, you don’t have to continue creating programmes indefinitely. This is a method of cultivating the habit of participating in daily exercise. After a couple of months of following a training programme you should by then be thoroughly indoctrinated. At this point you can dispense with the calendar and just do whatever comes into your head.
I’m a personal trainer and health and well-being coach and I don’t follow a programme – never have, never will. I usually decide the day before (or in the morning) what exercise I’m going to take part in. When you no longer need the dictates of a programme to determine your daily training sessions you can enjoy concocting session on the fly.
However, if, after departing from your programme, you feel that you are staring to slip and slide back into old habits, just get that calendar out again.
21 Exercise sessions
Accompanying the 8-Week Exercise Programme you can use the 21 fitness sessions (see below). Each session is structured to last for one hour and they all include an element of cardiovascular exercise – for the simple reason that CV is one of the most effective and efficient ways of ‘burning’ calories.
Remember, though, all the training session can be tailored to suit your current ability, exercise preferences and/or time constraints. The effectiveness of the programme will not in any way diminish if, for example, you decide to substitute rowing for running or burpees for squat jumps.
The sessions are merely supposed to act as a guide for you to follow while also providing training ideas. What is important is that you engage in some form of cardiovascular and resistance exercise every day and that each training session lasts for a minimum of 30 minutes.
But what if I want to design my own training sessions?
This is the ultimate objective of the course: to impart the necessary knowledge, advice and guidance to enable you to become self-directed. At some point you should no longer need this course as health and fitness will become permanent fixtures of your lifestyle. So, in keeping with this objective, below you will discover a comprehensive overview of:
The four essential training principles
The benefits of warm-ups, cool-downs and stretching
Advice on how to structure a training session
A 10-minute stretching plan
Essential training principals
To get the most out of training we should ensure that each exercise session transitions through four phases: 1) warm-up; 2) main session; 3) cool-down; and 4) stretch.
By doing so we will not only improve physical performance but also reduce our chances of falling foul to injury during exercise.
Studies abound demonstrating a strong link between warming up and reduced injury susceptibility (see below).
Moreover, concluding a training session with a cool-down and stretch will likely reduce the severity of delayed onset of muscle soreness (colloquially called the ‘DOMS’) while also speeding post-exercise recover.
Yet, even though these positive outcomes of correct training are well understood, which accounts for why professional athletes and sports coaches faithfully observe them, few people who regularly participate in exercise do.
The aim of this tutorial is to provide you with an insight into the benefits of each phase as well as ideas of how to approach them.
Phase 1: The Warm-up
Conventional wisdom maintains that preliminary exercise helps the performer prepare either physiologically or psychologically and reduce the likelihood of joint and muscle injury.
McArdle, Katch & Katch¹²
The warm-up is a crucial part of physical training and it ought never to be neglected. Prior to engaging in exercise (or sport) it is prudent to participate in a 10- to 15-minute whole-body warm-up.
An appropriate warm-up not only enhances physical performance but also prepares the body for exercise by bringing about a number of important physiological changes. These changes include raising core and muscle temperature, facilitating neuromuscular function and preparing the trainer psychologically.³
But the most important change here is the rise in muscle temperature. When muscles are warmer, they become more flexible, supple and less susceptible to injury. It is for this reason and those previously mentioned why you must – at a MINIMUM – spend ten minutes warming up prior to engaging in exercise.
Benefits of warming up include
Increase in joint mobility
Increase in blood flow throughout the body
Increase in aerobic metabolism
Decrease in lactic acid production
Increases maximum power output
Orientates the trainer’s psychology to exercise
(List adapted from Watson’s Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance – pp. 79/80)
Best types of warm-up activities
Rowing: because it activates the two major muscle groups
Cross-trainer: much for the same reason as the rower
Rowing interspersed with body weight and light resistance exercises
How to warm-up properly
The example below was designed as a warm-up to be completed prior to a run. Although it has been designed specifically for running, the same underlying principles can be applied to circuits, cycling, rowing and general gym sessions – in short, any form of physical exercise.
10-minute progressive warm-up
Walk for 2 minutes
Break into a slow jog
Jog for 3 minutes
Stop and complete 10 squats, 10 burpees and 10 squat thrusts (30(ish) seconds)
Carry on jogging for a further 2 minutes but increase tempo
Stop and complete 20 squats, 20 burpees and 20 squat thrusts (1(ish) minute)
Carry on jogging for the remaining time and progressively build the pace up to what the run will be at – this warm-up will integrate into the main session, which is what a good warm-up should do
This is a very simple progressive warm-up. Yet it would more than suffice to prepare the body for exercise. Of course, I am not suggesting that the exact exercises above be used, just the method: gradually building up the intensity; ensuring that the exercises within the warm-up reflect that of the main session.
In the exercise profession there are opposing schools of thought regarding whether stretching should be included within the warm-up. Some argue that stretching should be included and others that it shouldn’t.
I personally subscribe to the shouldn’t camp. My reason: stretching, more specifically ‘static stretching’, is, essentially, a relaxation technique. Inducing a state of relaxation prior to participating in rigorous physical exercise is going to be counterproductive and thus negatively impact performance. Furthermore, because static stretching is, by definition, static, any rise in core temperature previously generated will be lost.
A gradual warm-up, like the example above, that builds in intensity over 10 to 15-minutes, will prepare you both physically and mentally for the coming session.
Ensure that the muscles which are going to be worked in the main session are focused on during the warm-up. Basically, I am trying to say it would be borderline useless cycling for 10-minutes when your main session consists of an upper-body weights circuit. A warm-up should consist of a cardiovascular element, but what an experienced trainer would do is supplement the cardio exercise with ones that are going to be used within the main session.
Start off slow and GRADUALLY, over the 10/15-minutes, increase the intensity.
Include a cardiovascular exercise, such as running, cycling rowing, etc, to your warm-up – this will raise the body’s core temperature.
Spend no less than 10-minutes warming the body up.
There is absolutely no need to stretch prior to physical exercise – I am not taking martial artists, gymnastics (or other similar disciplines and sports that require an increase in muscle flexibility) into consideration with this statement. I am only referring to exercising, as in the pursuit of improving physical performance.
Remember: only a complete and utter idiot skips the warm-up – make sure this is not you!
Phase 2: The Main Session
The main part of the training session is where we get fit! For however much time you have budgeted, and a main session can last for as little as 20-minutes or as long as an hour, you will focus on a specific aspect of your physicality – strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular – or engage in a whole-body circuit.
The type of training that you participate in is entirely predicated on your fitness goals and physical aspirations. For example, if you aspired to develop functional strength, then your session might feature CrossFit-style exercises. But if your fitness concern centred more around health, as opposed to, say, aesthetics, then you might conduct a whole-body circuit.
Though it could be argued that there is no best way to train, and that the style of training that a person participates in is (should be) predetermined by their goals, few would refute the contention that not all methods of training were created equally. And by that I mean, some methods of training are far more effective at delivering certain results than other methods.
A person who harboured the fitness goal of improved health would be wasting their time by engaging solely in static resistance exercises. For such exercises will not adequately stimulate their cardio-respiratory system. Thus, those physiological responses and adaptations synonymous with health – that is, the metabolisation of superfluous non-force producing tissue (aka fat!) and the improved efficiency of the heart and lungs – will not take place.
Main session summary
There is no minimum or maximum duration a main session can or should last for. However, between 30- to 60-minutes is considered optimal.
The method of training is determined by your fitness goals.
If you are not pursuing a specific fitness goal but are engaging in exercise for the associative health benefits, it is recommended that your main sessions include a mix of cardio and circuits.
Phase 3: The Cool-down
After you have conducted a training session, irrespective of what you did and the intensity your exercised at, it is good practice to conclude with a cool-down. By implementing this sage advice, you could be reducing the severity of the DOMS whilst aiding the repair and recovery of damaged tissue – the inevitable consequence of exercise.
Additionally, the cool-down provides us with time to devote to the development of exercise technique. For example, when after a tough circuit or HIIT session, I typically spend 5 to 10 minutes cooling down on the rower. But instead of mindlessly moving backwards and forwards, I work on my technique. The approach could be applied to resistance exercises; however, the weights would be very low.
Remember: the cool-down should be completed a low intensity.
So what constitutes as an effective cool-down? A cool-down can consist of something as simple as rowing a couple of thousand metres. Merely pop on the rowing machine (or cross-trainer or treadmill) and proceed to deescalate your physiological systems.
Other effective methods include retracing your steps, in a relaxed manner, back through part of the main session or repeating the warm-up in reverse.
Begin the cool down at an intensity that is considerably lower than that of the main session.
Gradually decrease the level of intensity over a 5 to 10-minute period.
At the end of a cool down all exercising – whether it may be rowing, cycling, swimming, running or carrying on with the circuit – should resemble the same level of intensity as slow walking.
When you are feeling relaxed and you have somewhat recovered from the main session, this then signifies the time to begin the stretch.
Phase 4: The Stretch
According to the American College of Sports Medicine a mere ten minutes of daily stretching can reduce your chances of incurring an exercise-related injury by as much as 50%⁴ - which is a whopping pay-off.
In the literature there is a ton of research that supports the relationship between improved flexibility and reduced injury. For example, one study conducted on 200 college athletes ‘found that the risk of injury decreased as flexibility improved.’⁵ Moreover, the researchers showed that those athletes who did not develop their flexibility suffered 15% more injuries.
Benefits of stretching
Most importantly: regular stretching can reduce injury risk
A consistent stretching regime may, over time, improve your body alignment and posture
Reduces the severity of the DOMS
Improves body control and awareness
Greater increase in movement around the joint (ROM)
Stretching, simply put, makes you feel good
It’s for these reasons why we should endeavour to include at least 10-minutes of stretching into our day – and, at the very least, certainly after we have exercised. To facilitate the implementation of this positive intervention, that of engaging in 10-minutes of daily stretching, I have put together a basic stretching guide for you.
A guide to stretching
Though stretching (flexibility) is a crucial and extremely important component of fitness it is probably the one that is most overlooked. Why this is the case I couldn’t quite say; maybe the vast majority of trainers are incredulous to the benefits of stretching.
Whatever the reason ensure that you are not among these risk takers and implement a stretching regime. It’s easy to do and for the little time it takes the rewards could be substantial.
The accompanying guide, if followed, will ensure that you engage in a 10-minute whole-body stretch. Once you have familiarised yourself with the seven stretches that feature in the 10-minute plan, you might want to include your own or reshape the guide so that it targets specific muscle groups.
Methods of stretching
The types of stretching we can do to improve our flexibility include static or developmental stretches where we hold the position for between 20 seconds and 1 minute. When working through a stretching regime, and this is best done post exercise, it is advisable to include the major muscle groups whilst also paying additional attention to those muscles predominantly worked during the session. So even if your main session consisted of, say, a five-mile run, you should still stretch the muscles of the upper body but ensure to focus extra time on the quads, hammys and calves.
How to include 10 minutes of stretching into your day
Probably one of the best ways to ensure that you get your 10-minutes a day is by bolting a stretch on to the end of you training/sports sessions. As soon as you finish pumping iron or pounding the tarmac immediately (or after the cool-down) initiate your stretching regime. Begin with the muscles of the upper body and slowly work down to those of the legs.
The ACSM recommends holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds each.⁶ However, I read a report recently that suggested holding post-exercise stretches for between 20 seconds to 1 minute and repeating each stretch 2 to 3 times. Basically, you perform stretches as you would a resistance exercise, the only difference being the reps are replaced by time and the intensity is much lower.
“A stretch should never cause physical pain or discomfort. It should induce a mild sensation in the area being stretched.”
Another method you can use to get more elasticated is by introducing into your life the Yogic science. This is my secret weapon against injury. Every morning, without fail, I scrape myself out of bed about 5ish, roll out the Yoga mat, and slowly work through a series of sun salutations and various floor exercises.
I’ve been doing this religiously for about two years now and not only is it a beautiful way too start each day, but it has noticeably increased my flexibility which has translated into fewer injuries and improved physical performance. I cannot sing more highly the praises of Yoga.
Below you will find a generic outline – or template – of an exercise session. Each of the four phases includes suggested times and range of possible exercises. Of course, you don’t have to implement it verbatim. The session plan is merely supposed to act as a guide. What is important is that every training session that you take part in follows the prescriptive format and that each of the four phases is clearly distinguishable.
Ready to progress to Module 5: Ten Tips for Weight-loss?
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
¹ J.T. Fuller, M.C. Hartland, L.T. Maloney, et al.Therapeutic effects of aerobic and resistance exercises for cancer survivors: a systematic review of meta-analyses of clinical trials
Br J Sports Med, 52 (20) (2018), p. 1311.
²McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., Katch, V. L (2001) Exercise Physiology Fifth Edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
³Watson A. W. S (1995) Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. Longman. England.
⁴Perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me, but I could have sworn that I sighted this citation: ‘According to the American College of Sports Medicine a mere ten minutes of daily stretching can reduce your chances of incurring an exercise-related injury by as much as 50%’ in a sports science publication a few years back. But I’ve subsequently been unable to locate the source of the reference.
⁵Norris. M. C (2004) Stretching. A & C Black. London.
⁶ACSM’s (2013) Guidelines for Exercising Testing and Prescription, Ninth Edition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. USA.