Fitness training balances five elements of good health. Make sure your routine includes aerobic fitness, strength training, core exercises, balance training, and flexibility and stretching.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You may only be starting to take the first steps on the road to fitness. Or you may be excited about exercise and want to improve your results. Either way, a well-rounded fitness training plan is essential. Add these five elements to your fitness program to have a balanced routine.

Aerobic activity, also known as cardio or endurance activity, is the core of most fitness training programs. Aerobic activity or exercise causes you to breathe faster and more deeply. The breathing boosts how much oxygen is in the blood. The heart will beat faster, which sends more blood flow to the muscles and back to the lungs.

The better the aerobic fitness, the more efficiently the heart, lungs and blood vessels carry oxygen throughout the body. And it will likely be easier to do routine physical tasks.

Aerobic activity includes any physical activity that uses large muscle groups and raises the heart rate, such as:

  • Walking.
  • Jogging.
  • Biking.
  • Swimming.
  • Dancing.
  • Water aerobics.
  • Leaf raking.
  • Snow shoveling.
  • Vacuuming.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. To help with weight loss or staying at a healthy weight, at least 300 minutes a week is recommended. You can even break up activity into shorter periods of exercise and aim to move more during the day. Any amount is better than none at all.

You also can try high-intensity interval training, also called HIIT. HIIT involves doing short bursts of intense activity of around 30 seconds. Then you have recovery periods of lighter activity for around 1 to 2 minutes. So you can switch between brisk walking and relaxed walking, for example. Or add bursts of jogging in your brisk walks.

Strength training is another key part of a fitness training plan. Muscular fitness can help you increase bone strength and muscle fitness. And it can help you stay at a healthy weight or lose weight. It also can improve your skills in doing everyday activities. Aim to do strength training of all the major muscle groups at least twice a week.

Most gyms offer many resistance machines, free weights and other strength training tools. But you don't need to be a gym member or buy costly equipment to get strength training benefits.

Hand-held weights or homemade weights, such as plastic soft drink bottles filled with water or sand, may work just as well. Or use low-cost resistance bands. Your own body weight counts too. Try pushups, pullups, situps and leg squats.

The muscles in the stomach area, also called abdomen, lower back and pelvis are known as the core muscles. Core muscles help protect the back and connect upper and lower body movements. Core strength is a key part of a well-rounded fitness training program.

Core exercises help train the muscles to support the spine in the back. And they help to use the upper and lower body muscles more effectively. So what counts as a core exercise? A core exercise is any exercise that uses the trunk of the body without support. Some core exercises are bridges, planks, situps and fitness ball exercises.

Balance exercises can help you keep your balance at any age. Older adults especially may think about regularly doing exercises to keep or improve balance. This is important because balance tends to worsen with age. Poor balance can lead to falls and broken bones, called fractures. Balance exercises can help older adults prevent falls and keep doing things on their own.

But anyone can be helped by balance training. It can help steady, called stabilize, the core muscles. Try standing on one leg for longer periods of time to improve your stability. Activities such as tai chi can boost balance too.

Flexibility is an important piece of physical fitness. Aim to have stretching and flexibility activities in a fitness plan. Stretching exercises can help increase flexibility. Being more flexible can make it easier for you to do many everyday activities.

Stretching can also improve the range of motion of the joints. And stretching may help with better posture. Regular stretching can even help lessen stress and tension.

Think about stretching after you exercise when muscles are warm and open to stretching. Try to hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds. If you want to stretch before a workout, warm up first. Walk or exercise for 5 to 10 minutes before stretching.

Try to stretch each time you exercise. If you don't exercise often, you might want to stretch at least 2 to 3 times a week after warming up to keep flexible. Activities such as yoga help you stay flexible too.

You can make your own fitness training program or ask for help from a personal trainer. But your complete exercise plan should have many parts. Aim to have aerobic fitness, strength training, core exercises, balance training, and flexibility and stretching in your exercise plan. You don't need to fit each of these elements into every fitness workout. But adding them to your regular routine can help you to have fitness for life.

Nov. 01, 2022