Does it sometimes seem like you can't physically do the things you used to do? Do you get winded by simply walking up a flight of stairs, mowing the lawn, or dancing the night away? While we often attribute such feelings of fatigue as simply telltale signs of getting older, in most cases, it actually has very little to do with age and much more to do with inadequate levels of aerobic and muscular endurance. Both aspects of fitness can be improved significantly at any age. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge coupled with a willingness to invest a minimal amount of effort.
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated movements. To generate improvements in muscular endurance, you must shock your muscles out of their normal comfort zone, a practice commonly referred to as overloading the muscles. Over time, the muscles will adapt to the overload and become stronger. This is usually accomplished through resistance, or weight training exercises. In addition to the obvious benefits of toning and shaping your muscles, resistance training can improve balance, increase bone density and enhance self-esteem.
The first step in the process is to become familiar with weight training terminology. A rep is simply one repetition of an exercise - one repetition of a bicep curl. A set is a group of repetitions of an exercise - one set of ten repetitions of a bicep curl. The muscle overload is achieved by adjusting the number of reps, the weight to be moved, the number of sets, or a combination of all three. Consider the following points when structuring a program designed to improve muscular endurance:
* Exercise Selection: A total body workout that targets major muscle groups like the chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, legs and abs.
* Exercise Order: Target the largest muscle groups early in the workout. For example, perform chest, back and shoulder exercises before bicep and triceps (arm) exercises.
* Exercise Frequency: Schedule weight training sessions every other day, or possibly every third day, to allow your muscles ample time to recover between workouts.
* Exercise Volume: As your muscular endurance improves, you must gradually increase the total volume of exercise in order to stimulate continued gains. This is done by manipulating the number of sets, the number of repetitions per set, and/or the amount of resistance to be moved.
Keep in mind that there isn't a one-size-fits-all workout program. As a general rule, choose a weight that you can perform 12-20 repetitions of each exercise with correct form. Perform 2 or 3 sets per exercise, with limited rest between sets. Select from a variety of exercises that target the specific muscle groups. If you are not comfortable developing a program on your own, I suggest working with a certified personal fitness trainer or consulting my book, "Total Fitness for Women" which provides sample programs.
* Aerobic endurance, also referred to as cardiovascular endurance or fitness, is a measure of the body's capacity to take in, transport and utilize oxygen. An individual's level of aerobic endurance is closely linked to the efficiency of his or her heart and circulatory system.
Common aerobic activities include walking, biking, jogging, dancing, skating, and cross-country skiing. Three key exercise factors - Frequency, Intensity and Time (duration) play important roles in the improvement of cardiovascular fitness. Studies show that similar fitness gains can result from shorter duration high intensity programs and longer duration lower intensity programs. The most critical factor is matching the optimal threshold for duration with appropriate exercise intensity. With respect to improving aerobic endurance, the following guidelines apply to most people.
* Frequency: Three workouts per week are considered to be the minimum number required to improve aerobic endurance. Exercising more often can provide additional benefits.
* Intensity: How hard you exercise determines the amount of oxygen consumed and the energy requirements of the activity. The minimum intensity required to stimulate improvements is about 60% of maximum heart rate (HRmax), the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute. This value is commonly referred to as the aerobic threshold. HRmax can be estimated by using the "220 - age formula." For example, a 40 year-old would have an estimated HRmax of 220-40 = 180 beats per minute. The training threshold would be 60% of that value, or 108 beats per minute (bpm).
* Time (duration): Twenty to 30 minutes per workout at sufficient intensity appears to be the minimum required to stimulate improvements in aerobic capacity.
Joseph Luxbacher, Ph.D. is the author of "Total Fitness For Women: Proven Strategies to Trim Down, Firm Up and Get Fit” (2005; Wish Publishing). He has authored more than a dozen books dealing with sports, fitness and peak athletic performance. To order this book, call Cardinal Publishers Group at 800-296-0481, or visit www.wishpublishing.com.