Health and Well-being Exercise Science
Making the most of your workout
Exercise can be a wonder drug for the body. When done regularly, it can lower blood pressure and decrease your resting heart rate, ease anxiety and improve your mood, and increase your lung capacity. It can also boost muscle strength and endurance, improve balance and coordination, and strengthen your immunity. In short, the right exercise routine can transform your overall quality of life.
If you already fit exercise into your regular routine, you are on the right track—but are you getting the most out of your workouts, especially with limited time? The first question, according to Stephanie Wilson, director of Loyola University Chicago’s Exercise Science program, is to ask yourself why you want to work out in the first place.
“For everybody, it should be because we want to live longer, and moving is just a way of life,” said Wilson. But having goals and understanding how to achieve them is critical to success.
Wilson shares these tips for anyone looking to improve their routine or those just wondering where to start:
Make a plan before you go
Don’t just show up to the gym without a focus in mind. “People are always on a time schedule and they’re very stressed out,” Wilson said. “They’re going to allot 45 or even 30 minutes to go to the gym. If you plan it out before you go, you’ll get more completed during that time frame.” If time is tight, you might do 30-45 minutes of cardio on the treadmill one day, followed by resistance training the next.
Measure your progress
Is your goal weight loss? Toning? Improving your running time for an upcoming race? Wilson advises having a specific goal in mind that you can work toward. Write down your goal to further cement your commitment. Before you start, do a pre-measurement (especially if your goal is weight loss or toning) and then check again after six to eight weeks to see how far you've come.
Mix it up
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get 150 minutes of exercise a week for optimal health, which you could split into five days of 30-minute workouts. For a balanced routine, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends including a combination of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and flexibility. “Aerobic activity will improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, while resistance training will improve muscle strength and endurance,” Wilson explained. “Flexibility is another component of a workout to improve one’s range of motion.”
Warm up and cool down
Before starting your workout, do some dynamic stretches (such as jumping jacks, leg swings, or walking lunges) to warm up your muscles and increase your range of motion. “If you go into your workout cold, you might get muscle strain or soreness,” Wilson said. “The cool-down is also important because you want to bring your body down to its regular homeostasis state."
Break out of your rut
Do you have a habit of taking the same class or using the same cardio machine again and again? “Everybody finds their niche, and I fall into a rut sometimes, too,” Wilson admitted. “I would never tell someone not go to the gym if they’ve found something they love, but you have to mix it up because otherwise you’re not using other muscles. Your body eventually adjusts to everything you do.” Mixing it up doesn’t always have to be drastic, either. If you love yoga, simply trying a new style or a different teacher can be enough to get your body out of its comfort zone.