The 4 pillars of a total-body workout

how to workout

No matter what your fitness goals may be, everyone should include the 4 essential pillars of physical fitness.  That’s because to be truly physically fit, you need to emphasize these 4 pillars from head to toe. By working on and enhancing these 4 essentials, you’ll be able to live a full life. A life filled with more energy, strength, agility, and stamina to meet your everyday demands. Now, who doesn’t want that?

Even if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised regularly, any physical activity counts. It’s advised, especially if you have any physical limitations, to get your doctor’s okay before engaging in working out. Start off slowly and gradually build up over time.

To make the most of getting a total-body workout, optimize each of the following 4 pillars of exercise.  You can choose to work on each pillar separately throughout the day or include them all in one session.  Whether you prefer to work on them by yourself, join a gym or work with a personal trainer, the most important thing is to do what works best for you. You’re in charge of your body and it needs you to get in better shape. Here’s how to get started:

1. Aerobic Exercise

How long you can walk, jog or ride your bike depends on your endurance enhanced by aerobic exercise. When practiced regularly, aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscle and increases the blood pumped with each heartbeat. Why is this beneficial to you? This helps lower your resting pulse rate, reduces blood pressure, increases the amount of oxygen-rich blood pumped to your muscles, and reduces your risk of conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain types of cancer. Regular aerobic exercise is also good for brain health helping support new brain cell growth while preserving existing brain cells.

Examples:  Walking, hiking, swimming, jogging, dancing, tennis, or any movement that increases your heart rate for a sustained length of time.

How often: Ideally work up to 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity

2. Strength Training

If you want to stay strong being able to carry heavy grocery bags, carry a full trash can out to the curb, or move a couch from one room to another, will require muscle endurance and strength. Having this ability to do repetitive muscle activity means the difference between raking leaves and shoveling snow for one minute or 10 minutes or more. Building and maintaining muscle mass has numerous advantages: increases bone density reducing the risk of osteoporosis, helps manage weight, increases metabolism to burn more calories, reduces chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain, and diabetes, and research has shown strength training may improve thinking skills as you age.

Examples: Lifting weights, working with resistance bands, climbing stairs, squats, lunges, planks, push-ups, and pull-ups.

How often: It’s recommended to work all major muscle groups (legs, arms, back, and abdomen) every other day or about 3 times a week.  Do 8-12 repetitions per set (start with one set and work up to doing 3 sets) when performing strength exercises.

3. Flexibility

Likely your view of a physically fit person is someone with bulging muscles. Flexibility may be an afterthought. But never underestimate flexibility. Your ability to bend over and tie your shoes, stretch to remove packages from your car or reach for a box from a high shelf without hurting yourself, relies on how flexible you are. Range of motion is what determines flexibility and when you maintain this pillar of physical fitness, you’ll reduce your risk of injuries and muscle soreness, gain better posture, and gives you better self-confidence in how your body looks and feels. Never forget the impactful ways flexibility positively affects your life.

Examples: Yoga, Pilates, Tai chi, and basic stretching.

How often: Ideally daily but start off with around 3-5 times a week. Allow about 10-15 minutes a session and hold each stretch 30 to 90 seconds as you stretch through a full range of motion.

4. Balance

Having good balance is everything but it must be maintained throughout your life. If you don’t take steps now to nurture balance, it can diminish with age putting you at risk for serious falls.  Besides aging, balance problems are also a concern for anyone with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Athletes embrace good balance as it improves agility, quicker reaction time, and body coordination. For elderly people, improving balance may mean replacing a walker with a cane to eventually not needing a cane. A good balance has even been associated with improving cognitive skills, improving posture, and may reduce developing arthritis and back pain.

Examples: Stand on one leg when waiting in line or brushing teeth, walk heel to toe forwards and backward, practice rising from a seated position without using your hands, practice on a wobble board or take a Tai Chi, yoga, or dance class.

How often: Ideally daily or at the very least 2-3 days of performing at least 5-10 minutes of balancing moves.

The 4 pillars of a total-body workout
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi