To Your Health
December, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 12)
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Diversify Your Exercise Portfolio

By Dr. Jeffrey Tucker

Are you coming up with reasons not to exercise? The number-one reason I hear from people for why they don't exercise is, "I don't have time." Really! I know everyone is busy, but all it takes is being flexible and having a bit of determination.

Studies show that a little bit of exercise every day - even 10 minutes - helps. I ask my clients for 30 minutes a day, but if that seems too daunting to begin with, start with less. Don't get stuck feeling that you must take the "all or nothing" approach. Aim to exercise two to three times a week, and add more sessions as you find ways to fit them in.

I consistently exercise in the morning, but I understand that for many people, mornings are hectic and trying to squeeze a workout in is impossible. Research actually shows there are benefits to working out at any time of the day, even if it's half an hour before bedtime.

Key Principles

I love putting together a series of exercises into a workout known as circuit training. Circuit training is doing a number of exercises back to back (short exercise bursts with intensity), including a short recovery or break between exercises. I can add in cardio exercise such as running in place, jumping rope, or using equipment such as a treadmill, elliptical or stair-stepper.

Exercise Portfolio - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark I am going to teach you how to put together a combination of exercises in a circuit format. It's a great technique to focus on strength and cardiovascular training and sculpt your own body. You can experiment with a large variety of exercises and equipment at whatever intensity you choose. You compete only with yourself, and you don't have to be in sync with others.

Circuits can include exercise with one or both feet on the ground, your own body weight, stability balls, rocker boards, and various resistance devices like bands, free weights, kettlebells, machines or cables. You can isolate muscles or perform multi-joint / multi-muscle exercises that involve the whole body; and all the while the circuit is cardio-inspired because of the moves. A well-rounded exercise program should include flexibility training, strength training, endurance training, balance training, trunk (core) stabilization exercises and speed training. You should easily be able to modify the intensity and complexity of the circuit.

A cardio-resistance class is probably offered at your gym or fitness center. They put together a multi-station circuit for about 5-25+ people. Usually the total amount of circuit time can be 50-60 minutes, which allows participants to complete the circuit three times.

Design Your Own Program

Exercise Portfolio - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark If you don't have access to a gym or don't have time to go to the gym, I want you to create your own circuit at home. All you'll need is an exercise mat, a pair of free weights or a kettlebell, a step platform (a chair or bench works, too), a stability ball, a medicine ball (2-5 pounds) and a pull-up bar. There are even online circuit clocks that act like an instructor, letting you know when to start and finish each exercise station. Put on your favorite music and start working out.

I usually allow 30 seconds for each exercise, and I choreograph my program ahead of time. It is important to start your circuit with a full-body, dynamic-movement warm-up. This prepares the muscles and joints for the forces and mechanics of the exercises ahead. Give yourself a full 10-minute warm-up and if that is all the time you have to exercise that day, that's OK! If you can keep going, anywhere from 25-50 minutes after warming up, you'll get a fantastic workout.

Here's the basic concept:

  • Perform a designated exercise for a predetermined time (usually 30 seconds) and, when prompted by the clock, move to the next exercise.
  • Give yourself 15-30 seconds to set up for the next exercise.
  • Pick about 10-12 exercises ahead of time, alternating between strength and cardio. For all strength exercises, you should be able to complete a minimum of 12 repetitions, but since the stations are time-based, keep going until signaled to end. For cardio exercises, keep moving for the allotted time. You can change the length at each exercise station and make it last anywhere from 30 seconds to one-and-a-half minutes; just keep the prep and recovery time the same (about 30 seconds).

A Sample 10-Station Circuit

Station 1: Strength. Equipment: balance trainer (ball) or balance pad (several varieties are available). Position: on all fours, right knee on ball, left knee and both hands on floor. Exercise Description: Lift and extend the right arm and left leg. Perform flexion and extension for 12 reps or until prompted by the clock to change sides. Repeat entire sequence on opposite side. (This exercise is good for the back.)