We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
We are convinced that a balanced fitness program is the best route for ordinary people who just want to stay Fit For Life, with all-round functional fitness being the goal. Some readers disagree with our view, but that's ok. We're happy to hear your opinions because fitness remains a field with more questions than answers, every body is different, and everybody is an expert.
Readers know that our idea of "balanced" entails a mix of cardio, calisthenics, and strength-building/strength-maintenance while getting into fighting shape with enough protein and neither too much nor too little fat on your bones.
Some athletes, and many exercisers, tend to focus on just one of the three categories. That is unbalanced. Pure cardio exercisers (treadmill jockeys, runners, bikers, swimmers) tend to be weak in muscle and bone. Many guys who just lift can't run or hike up hills 15 miles or negotiate a ladder drill. And so forth.
One sensible way to structure a balanced 5 day/wk program is to put a 30- min HIIT (anaerobic) cardio day after a weights day, and a 45-60 min endurance (aerobic, aka "fat-burning") cardio day for the day after the second weight day. Then fit in a calisthenics/plyometric day somewhere else. That schedule allows 48+hr recovery from the strength days because the cardio doesn't interfere with muscle recovery, while heavy calis can. That's our under-5 hr/wk fitness program. Every high school and college should offer, or require, something like that.
My high school did require weights, sprints, and calisthenic drills for everybody for an hour after lunch, followed by your daily sport afterwards. They rightly figured that adolescent boys needed it, and the coaches were like drill sergeants. Mens sana in corpore sano. I think only elite private high schools require things like that now. It's a shame because all kids should have the chance to learn about fitness routines.
Answers to FAQs about the Maggie's recommendations are below the fold -
- What about a 4 day/wk program? Maybe not ideal, but what is ideal in life? My only idea about that would be to combine the HIIT cardio with the calis. Many gyms have group classes like that, with dumb names like "Boot Camp" or "Athletica." They keep you moving hard through a circuit of things for 45 or 60 minutes. Fun and sweaty with no cardiac rest. My gym has them starting 5 and 6 am, and they are packed with sweaty guys and gals before they go to work. My trainer calls them sheep but he's wrong about that.
- Would not recommend strength Yoga on same day as weights. Flexibility-oriented Yoga any time.
- You can do 5 or 10 mins jump rope anytime, any day you feel the need to get moving or for blowing off steam. It's excellent outdoors, early on a Sunday morning with the birds singing. Same thing for jumping jacks. I can't do either continuously for 15 minutes, but I can do 10 mins total not counting short breaks unless I am using the 1-lb rope. That monster kills me.
- If you plan just two days of mostly strength, it's best to mix up your upper and lower powerlifts on both days. That way, no major muscle group gets time to decay. For examples, deads one day, barbell squats the other, and bench one day, military press the other.
- We recommend early morning workouts. It gets it done, and gets your head in a good place for the day.
- Is walking exercise? No, unless you are over 80, or mountain hiking, etc. "Fast walking"? Well, it depends on how fast and on the degrees of incline. 3.7-4.2 mph speed-walking is pretty quick and not easy to maintain on a 5 or 9 degree incline, so that is aerobic cardio exercise.
- What about those "10,000 steps daily"? Well, it gets you over the low bar of the "sedentary life" category but has no cardio or strength benefit. For entirely sedentary people, it's a place to start, though.
- Can I lose weight by exercising? No, not in any reasonable program that fits into a busy life.
- What about Crossfit classes? I think it's a good program if you do a 3 days on/1 day off routine. It can get you in shape and you do the program at your own level and speed: there are 20 year-olds and 80 year-olds with a history of strokes and heart attacks in those classes. They basically do a mix of calis, HIIT cardio, and weights in each class, but you have to do endurance cardio on your own time because it would obviously be a waste of class time. Or maybe the entire hour should count as endurance cardio.
- What about Spin classes? Spinning is a version of HIIT cardio. Popular with anorectics and social x-rays. Works for your HIIT.
- What about jogging/running, biking, swimming, etc? Those count as aerobic cardio because heart rate stays elevated above walking or fast-walking. We don't want our readers road- running more than once a week for the cardio. Arthritis results.
- What about Zumba and other aerobics classes? Basically aerobic cardio.
- On a strength (heavy weights) day, just do powerlifts? No, I wouldn't say so. Mostly powerlifts, but can throw in some planks, plyometrics, and some other weights like curls and push/pull-downs, rows, etc. to fill the time and mix up the time productively. I like to end a weights day with heavy ball wall slams. I pretend I am throwing the heavy ball at my sadistic trainer.
- What about martial arts? It's in the calisthenics category. Good fun. I want to try it because it would be cool to know that you could take down or kill some muscle-bound ex-jailbird dude with a kick in the head. But I have a carry permit, so whatever.
- Can you work out twice daily? For ordinary people (ie not advanced athletes), I think that over an hour/day is excessive. However, a long walk or hike, yoga, playing a sport, or a day of garden work doesn't count as a workout. It just counts as living life, and that's why we want to be decently-fit.
- What about my arthritis pains or other physical limitations? A few consultations with a well-informed trainer can find work-arounds for everything. Almost every middle-aged person has one or two physical limitations. That said, most peoples' real limitation is commitment and discipline.
- Does fitness extend life or fend off disease? Not much, only at the margins. Being fat isn't good for your health prospects for many reasons. Exercise might be good for brain health. Doing tough cardio probably can help you survive your first heart attack but it probably won't prevent it. Lifting weights can fix osteoporosis. Generally speaking, fitness is to fend off the grim effects of aging and to maintain vitality and full functionality for as long as possible. That's why we claim it's Fitness For Life, not so much Fitness for Health.
The only thing I would add for us older guys and gals is to get your thyroid and testosterone levels checked too. If your hormones are low then exercise has lower effects on your body/well-being than if they are in proper homeostasis. Get them checked and if low replace them.