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Conditioning Beyond Strength Training

Jan 13, 2012

Written by Tracy Benham, M.S., Exercise Physiologist

“Get a strong and sexy body.” “Six-pack abs in only minutes a day.” “Lose weight while getting a sleek and lean body.”

These types of claims have become a staple of so-called “fitness products” and certain health club marketing schemes. Having a toned and sleek physique is a common goal for many people — and marketers use its allure to get attention for products that people probably don’t need.

Exercise and fitness professionals are often asked questions such as “Is lifting really the only option to improve your muscle strength and bone density?” While strength training through lifting weights is an option that should be explored by everyone, there are many other available choices to increase strength.

Thousands of studies have touted the benefits of strength training and conditioning. But to health and fitness professionals, “conditioning” means more than just losing weight, toning up, getting in shape for sports, or increasing one’s fitness level. Improvements in muscle strength simultaneously improve endurance, balance, agility, bone density, cholesterol, digestion, blood pressure, flexibility and energy level. Thankfully, there are many fun activities, sports and other options to get stronger and fitter while having a great time.

Staying in shape, getting healthier, and being more active can involve a multitude of activities, both purposeful and playful. Group classes, whether it be aerobic-type classes such as indoor cycling, step aerobics, cardio and toning classes, or group instructional classes such as martial arts, kickboxing, karate or Taekwondo are just a few of the classes offered at different types of facilities. Some of the most popular conditioning programs are Pilates and yoga, taught by trained instructors who educate and monitor participation, form, improvement and progress.

Boot camp classes, which use a combination of body-weight exercises, activities and intervals, are a phenomenal option for overall strength and conditioning. They offer the advantages of being motivational, social and efficient for overall cardiovascular training, as well as strength-training benefits for engaging core muscles and using multiple planes, speed and stability for increased muscle work. Lunges, intervals, sprints, push-ups, squats and pull-ups are among the best exercises you can do for overall body tone and wellness — and boot camps usually offer them all. Some boot camps even incorporate rock climbing, tire rolling, wood splitting, and trail running to increase challenges and accomplishments.

One of the easiest ways to get people motivated to get — and stay — in shape is to incorporate fun sports and activities. Soccer, swimming, cycling are just a few of the enjoyable sports that improve both strength and endurance. Finding a team, training facility, or group can do wonders for increasing motivation and increasing the accountability needed to see the lifelong benefits of being healthy.

Activities or sports that we consider fun and look forward to, such as hiking, snow and water skiing, horseback riding, kayaking or surfing, also help improve your overall conditioning and strength. Almost any sport you can think of, done safely and properly on a regular basis, will help improve your body, mind and fitness levels.

Here, certified trainers, physiologists and coaches weigh in on what activities they enjoy other than weight training to improve overall conditioning, energy level, toning, strength and well-being.

“Activities like kickboxing and running stadium steps are ideal because they deliver the most bang for your energetic buck. They both provide intense cardiovascular training paired with an equally tough resistance training experience. For a lean, hard body, they’ll get you where you want to go in a rapid fashion!”

— Fitz Koehler, MSESS, national celebrity diet & fitness expert for Examiner.com

“I am huge fan of sprint training, beginning with a 10-meter sprint and a 200-meter jog, then another sprint, followed by another jog, aiming for at least six sprints. As fitness improves, I increase the length of the sprint, for example, working up to a 50-meter sprint, followed by a 350-meter jog. If you really want to test up your upper-body strength and fitness, find a climbing wall in your area and spend time climbing. In addition to big muscle strength, climbing requires a lot of small, stabilizer muscles as well.”

— William Harryman, M.S., personal trainer and Ph.D. student

“Although I think training with free weights and resistance bands is an excellent way to get strong, I’ve put body-weight training and good old calisthenics into my personal training and boot camp programs in recent years with excellent results. Using body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups, and a few calisthenics moves like jumping jacks, step ups and high-knee runs, I can create a nearly ‘no-equipment-needed’ workout that will develop strength and cardiovascular endurance in my clients.”

— Becky Williamson, M.S., exercise physiologist

“Having been in the health and fitness business my whole adult life, I find Pilates to be an amazing ‘discovery.’ I had open-heart surgery at age 12 and rehabilitated into incorrect movement patterns. After 20 years living with those patterns I was super-fit but had a “bad back” and “bad neck,” just to name a few. Pilates has allowed me to become fitter and stronger without injury and has allowed me to become pain-free! I have seen similar results in my clients. I have former college football players who came to me just wanting to be pain free… and Pilates has given them not only that, but the ability to golf and enjoy life!”

— Staci Brodeur, M.S., Pilates studio owner and instructor

View the full winter 2009 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.

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