The second article in our series presented some beginner approaches to walking, running, cycling and swimming. In this article (the third in our series on “How To Begin An Exercise Routine”) we are going to introduce you to some of the more popular, fun and effective workouts out there. Each one of these is designed to get your heart rate up and make you break a sweat!
Authored By: Sophie Mc Greevy (Certified cancer exercise trainer / Health coach), Janette Powell (Physical Therapist, Orthopedic Certified Specialist, Sports Certified Specialist, MHSc) and Brian D. Lawenda, MD
The golden rule when you are deciding on which exercise to do is to pick something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll be much more motivated to stick with it, work out longer, and achieve greater fitness results.
Ask yourself these questions to direct your choice of exercise:
- Do I prefer to workout at home or at a facility?
- Do I need or prefer to have individual supervision with a fitness professional?
- Do I like to exercise alone or in a group setting?
- Do I like to exercise indoors or outdoors?
- Do I enjoy dance and sport activities?
Popular Exercise Classes and Programs:
There are literally thousands of fitness programs out there, and new programs are popping up every day!
We have selected a handful just to show you some of options that are currently available at fitness facilities around the country, and video-based fitness programs that you can buy and watch from the comfort of your home.
Zumba is a fitness program that combines Latin music and easy-to-follow dance moves. Zumba routines incorporate interval training, alternating fast and slow rhythms and resistance training. Zumba is a great alternative to traditional fitness programs. It motivates you to get up and get moving with its signature Latin music beat. The speed of the beat also lends itself to making you work out faster than you might do otherwise. Zumba is safe for a range of ages and fitness levels because the steps can be modified so that it’s very low-impact. And all you need are a good pair of dance shoes or cross-trainers.
Barre is one of the most popular dance-inspired workouts around. Barre classes incorporate components of pilates, yoga, and ballet. Most barre classes include the use of a ballet barre where students work through a series of exercises that tone your arms, torso, feet and legs. In a typical barre exercise you might find yourself doing several reps of small, pulsing muscle contractions that target the thighs, abs, buttocks and the back of the arms. Free weights are used, but they are only a tiny part of the overall workout. The vast majority of the time you will be using your own body weight to achieve long, lean muscles. Most of the moves are so intense that they will make your muscles shake and burn within minutes. Each barre studio will have different styles. Make sure to discuss with the instructors (ahead of time) if you have any physical limitations, as they will need to know if the class is appropriate for you. Additionally, the instructors can make modifications to your individual routine so you can exercise safely in class.
Indoor & Outdoor Boot Camps
Boot camp exercise classes vary in style, depending on the teacher. They can be done inside a gym or outside. Most classes are one-hour long, during which time you will be doing cardiovascular exercise (running, hiking, interval training, or obstacle course challenges), along with weight training (using dumbbells, exercise bands, or the resistance of your own body weight). You’ll also work on flexibility in a stretch portion of the class, which may incorporate elements of yoga or Pilates. Learn about boot camp pros & cons here.
Boxing & Kickboxing
Most boxing classes are one-hour long and include intense, short (i.e. 3-minute) intervals boxing (shadow boxing and sparring), jumping rope, and then letting loose on punching bags and speed bags. Boxing classes are great aerobic workouts.
TRX is a total-body workout that uses a strap-based suspension system, gravity and your bodyweight to perform hundreds of resistance exercises. You control the difficulty of each exercise simply by adjusting your body position, which will either increase or decrease the resistance. The equipment is easily portable (1-2 straps with attached handles), so if you travel often for work you can bring it with you in your carry-on bag. Simply attach the strap(s) to a door or other anchoring site (tree, pole, etc.) and you’re ready to go.
P-90X & Insanity
Both of these programs are video-based, high-intensity exercise regimens that are designed to keep your heart racing and your muscles guessing for the entire workout. These programs are geared for individuals with a baseline moderate-to-high level of fitness and few if any physical limitations.
P90X uses “muscle confusion” to prevent your body from adapting to the individual exercises over time, which helps you achieve more rapid results without hitting fitness plateaus.
Insanity uses interval training where you work out at a high-intensity level for 3–4 minutes and then rest for 30 seconds before starting the whole process over again.
CrossFit is a cardiovascular strengthening program that focuses on a variety of fitness goals including balance, coordination, strength, power and speed. Though the program is known for its simplicity, due to the small variety of workouts, the program itself is intense. The secret of the program is to do as many deadlifts, squats, pushups, pull-ups as well as other exercises as fast as you can in a short amount of time. Online, CrossFit provides many workout ideas, exercise demos as well as the Workout of the Day. Choose to work out at home or find a CrossFit gym or certified trainer near you.
Pilates is a method of exercise, developed by Joseph H. Pilates during the First World War that emphasizes the balance of strength, stretch and control in the entire body. Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat or on special equipment that utilize springs and straps and resistance from your own body weight. The mat exercises are designed to use your own bodyweight to achieve the same effects. The mat exercises may also include props such as bands, balls, bricks, blankets and straps. Pilates can be adapted to suit any fitness level, including individuals with health issues, injuries or chronic pain.
Check this site out (take Pilates classes from the comfort of you home)
Spinning classes are a group workout on exercise bikes. Classes last about 30-60 minutes, and are lead by instructors who will guide you through a series of phases, from warm-up to more challenging phases, to a period of peak effort followed by a cool down. Often the lights are turned down and the music is pumped up to keep you motivated while your instructor with a headset sits atop a lead bike, calling out commands. The workout intensity is controlled by how fast you pedal, the resistance of the bike’s flywheel (which can be continually adjusted throughout the class to make pedaling easier or more difficult) and your body position (as you either pedal from a seated position or rise from the saddle.)
Yoga is based on three main components: exercise, breathing, and meditation. There are many styles of Yoga, however Hatha Yoga is the most well known. Hatha Yoga combines physical movements, postures and breathing techniques. Yoga can range from very easy to highly strenuous in nature. The least strenuous Yoga styles can be practiced by almost anyone, including those with physical limitations. With any style of yoga, you can improve strength, flexibility, and balance. And all yoga styles release tension in your body, quiet your mind, and create a feeling of lightness and ease.
If you are looking for a style of Yoga to help you get in better shape, you might try one of the more vigorous styles (i.e. Power Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, or Bikram/”Hot” Yoga). If you are in good physical shape and not actively undergoing cancer treatment, Bikram Yoga (or “Hot Yoga”) may be just your thing. The room is kept at a toasty 100+ degrees, so your muscles are more flexible…drink lots of water before and after class!
If you have an injury or a chronic medical condition, you might want to start with a more gentle for of Yoga (i.e. Iyengar Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, or Viniyoga). If you want to enjoy a more meditative/spiritual form of Yoga, you might try Kundalini Yoga.
Whichever style you choose, tell your instructor ahead of time if you have any limitations…and never push yourself. Learn about Yoga precautions here.
Other Exercise Ideas:
The Best New Workouts & Gym Classes (Shape.com)
4 Fresh Twists on Old Workout Routines (Oprah.com)
The 33 Hottest New Workout Classes in the U.S. (Self.com)
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why is it important to warm-up and cool down?
The warm-up prepares your body for exercise by slowly increasing your heart rate and body temperature, thereby increasing blood and oxygen flow to your muscles & tendons so they are more flexible and less prone to injury. A proper warm-up is a lower intensity version of the workout you’re about to begin. For example, a good 5-10 minute warm-up before a run or jog could be a brisk walk.
Should I stretch every time I exercise?
The latest science says that stretching before exercise does NOT lower your risk of injury, decrease muscle soreness after exercise, or improve your performance. In fact, studies show that stretching before exercise actually fatigues your muscles. We also now know that stretching does not warm up your muscles.
If you are going to stretch, most experts agree that the best time to do it is after you exercise since your muscles and joints are more flexible so you’ll get more benefit from the stretches. This may help you prevent feeling stiff later.
How long & how often should I workout?
If you are new to exercise please read our previous articles (“How To Begin An Exercise Routine – Part 1 & Part 2”).
Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity, ideally 45 to 60 minutes, at least 5 days per week, at a moderate to vigorous intensity. This amount of exercise will vary based on your disease status, stage, treatments (past, current & future) and your overall health and fitness level.
Additionally, experts recommend that you perform 2-3 weekly sessions of resistance or strength training that include exercises for all your major muscle groups.
Resistance Training Guidelines:
Most experts recommend that for optimum health, you should combine 5-days a week of aerobic exercise with 2 days of resistance training. Resistance or strength training should focus on all of your major muscle groups. Most total body resistance programs include a total of 8-10 different resistance exercises performed at 8-12 repetitions for each exercise.
In order to see continual improvements in your resistance exercise routine, you need to slowly and progressively challenge yourself (through increased exercise intensity or duration) or you will ‘’plateau.’’ But don’t overdo it! If you push yourself to hard or too quickly you risk getting injured.
Here are the most effective ways to increase the intensity of your resistance program:
- Speed of motion (Go faster or slower)
- Range of motion (Use partial or full range of motion)
- Set performance (Use supersets, drop sets, giant sets, etc.)
- Stability (Gradually remove stability)
- Recovery (Reduce recovery time between sets)
- Repetition (Increase repetitions)
- Sets (Increase sets)
- Base of support (Narrow or widen the base of support)
How do you know if you are working out hard enough?
One way is by using a heart rate monitor while exercising. Heart rate monitoring can give you an immediate, accurate, and continual feedback about exercise intensity. Learn more about heart rate monitoring on our previous post.
Another way to know how hard you are working out is by rating your exertion (also known as “rating of perceived exertion” or RPE). You can use the following RPE scale called the “Borg Scale” during your workout (see below). Most beginners should keep their score between 13-14.
If you have any underlying physical limitations, you will need to work with a fitness or rehabilitation expert who can help you design a routine individualized to you. Cancer treatments can leave you with many long-term complications:
- Cancer surgeries cut through soft tissues. This can result in scarring, decreased sensation, strength and range of motion.
- Radiation therapy can result in scaring and trauma to soft tissues as well and may alter range of motion.
- Chemotherapy can cause neuropathy, a type of nerve injury that can lead to decreased sensation, weakness or pain.
When you are doing any resistance exercise, always keep this in mind: Maintaining the correct form throughout every exercise is essential for safety and effectiveness. If you can’t complete the exercise with proper form, lower the weight or resistance until you can.
The following are signs that you might be overtraining:
- Increased fatigue, Insomnia, Increased irritability, Increased heart rate at a given exercise intensity, poor exercise performance, weight loss, excessive muscle soreness, injury, headaches, dehydration, psychological effects of overtraining (e.g., depression, loss of enthusiasm)
Resistance Training Programs:
Good fitness programs have four elements in common: They are safe, effective, efficient, and enjoyable. Creating a quality program is both an art and a science.
There are lots of resistance training options available:
- Body weight, free weights, weight stack or pulley machines, plate-loaded, leverage-based machines, pneumatic machines, elastic resistance, water resistance, air resistance. etc…
You can hire a personal trainer, sign up for a class or buy a video-based (DVD) program to help you start a resistance exercise routine. There are also thousands of websites and mobile apps that can deliver great ideas to you with the click of the mouse.
This is a great overall strength program (University of California Riverside: Wellness Program)
Have you heard of the “7-Minute Scientific Workout“? This is an efficient strength program that requires minimal equipment and takes less than 10 minutes of your time. (Here are some tips for modifying this routine to make it a little better and possibly safer.)
Benefits of Resistance Training
There are numerous benefits of resistance training :
- Increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength
- Improved joint range of motion
- Increased bone density
- Increased metabolic rate (which promotes fat loss)
- Improved cardiac performance and endurance
- Increased good (HDL) cholesterol
- Improved posture
- Reduced risk of injury from everyday activities
- Reduced muscle & bone loss associated with aging
Improved treatment tolerance:
A study showed that patients who were enrolled in a combined aerobic & resistance exercise program during chemotherapy received chemotherapy (at the dose intensity as prescribed) more often compared with those who were not enrolled in the exercise program. This is important, as we know that being able to tolerate your prescribed cancer treatments is linked to improved cancer outcomes.
If you have any physical limitations, your resistance training should be designed by an expert (i.e. physical therapists, fitness trainers, etc.) We will be reviewing this in greater detail in our upcoming article (part 4).