To achieve a level of physical fitness, your plan must include
appropriate exercise activities. To better understand some
of the dynamics of effective exercise, it will help to break
up your fitness prescription into 3 measurable parts: Endurance,
Strength and Flexibility. Endurance is defined as "the
ability to keep moving for long periods of time." There
are 2 categories of endurance, Cardiorespiratory and Muscular.
Cardiorespiratory Endurance is the prolonged ability of your
heart and lungs to supply muscles with nutrients and oxygen.
Aerobic exercise like biking, jogging, and swimming enhance
cardiorespiratory endurance, and performance can be measured
for speed, duration and distance.
Building endurance promotes higher energy levels. Aerobic
exercise also burns calories and fat to keep your weight under
control. A fit cardiorespiratory system lowers the risk of
death from heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary disease.
Developing the Aerobic Phase
The following principles should be applied when developing
the aerobic phase of a general fitness exercise prescription
to enhance cardiorespiratory fitness:
1. Type of Activity...The activity must use large muscle
groups and must be maintained for a period of time.
2. Intensity...The average conditioning intensity for healthy
adults is 60-70% of their functional capacity, referred to
as maximum heart rate. Monitoring a target heart rate training
zone during exercise is a good way to measure intensity.
3. Duration...The duration of the exercise will depend on
the intensity of the exercise. Usually activities of lower
intensity, such as walking, can last longer than a high intensity
exercise like running. Aerobic fitness can also be accomplished
by alternating high and low level activities as in walking
between brief periods of jogging for 15 to 60 minutes of continuous
or discontinuous aerobic activity.
4. Frequency of Conditioning... The aerobic activity must
be performed from 3 to 5 days a week.
5. Rate of Progression... In the first 6-8 weeks of exercise,
significant conditioning effects will occur. The fitness professional
will have to adjust the intensity and duration of the activity
if progress is to continue.(2)
Progression and the Aerobic Phase
There are 3 stages of progression in the aerobic or endurance
phase of the exercise prescription:
1. The Initial Conditioning Stage...During the first 4 to
6 weeks, low level activities of 10-15 minutes, at 60-70%
of maximum heart rate, are recommended for the average healthy
individual. You should also include some stretching and light
calisthenics, such as abdominal work.
2. The Improvement Conditioning Stage...Initially, there
is a slight increase in exercise intensity. Thereafter, duration
of the activity is increased every 2 to 3 weeks. Older individuals
may take longer to adapt to increases in conditioning.
3. The Maintenance Conditioning Stage... Usually after 6
months of aerobic training, the average individual has achieved
their goal of general fitness and just wants to maintain.
Aerobic Maintenance Conditioning can be accomplished in as
few as three 30 minute workouts a week, training at 60-70%
of maximum heart rate.(2)
The second type of endurance one must develop to be physically
fit is Muscular Endurance. Muscular Endurance is defined as
the ability of your muscles to perform contractions for long
periods of time. The number of curl ups one can perform, for
example, is a measure of abdominal endurance.
Improving Muscular Endurance
Generally, the performance of
resistance exercises enhances the endurance of the
muscles involved. The muscular endurance phase of a general
fitness exercise prescription may include the performance
of a circuit routine consisting of multiple exercises targeting
different muscle groups.
Muscular Strength is another measure of fitness, and is categorized
into 2 types:
1. Static Strength...How much weight you can hold in place.
2. Dynamic Strength...How much weight you can move. It is
desirable to be strong in order to perform heavy work with
less chance for injury. Maintaining strength is more difficult
with age and the increasing loss of lean weight.
Strength can be increased through static contractions, as
in isometric exercise, or by low repetition isotonic exercises.
For a beginner, one set of 12 repititions done with high intensity
will work well. For more advanced trainees, three sets of
an exercise in a 7-12 rep range, will initiate optimal strength
gains, when performed 2-3 times a week.
The final measure of fitness is Flexibility. Flexibility
is defined as the ability to move muscles and joints through
their full range of motion. One way to measure flexibility
is to see how close one comes to touching the toes with legs
Flexibility of muscles and joints will help prevent injury
and maintain mobility with aging. Of particular concern, is
flexibility in the posterior thigh and low back. Lack of flexibility
in these areas increases the risk of chronic low back pain.
Stretching will increase flexibility. It is important that
stretching is done slowly with gradual increases in the range
of motion. The stretch should be sustained from 10 to 30 seconds,
and should not cause pain. Stretching exercises need to be
performed at least 3 times a week. It is safer to stretch
muscles that are already warm. Stretching is best performed
after the aerobic phase or between sets of resistance exercises
performed in both the muscular endurance and strength phases
of the general fitness exercise prescription.
Specificity of Exercise
The development of speed, agility and coordination will also
enhance overall physical performance. Exercise is "sport
specific" to the activity being performed. If you wish
to grow stronger, you will have to lift heavier weights. If
you wish to be more flexible, you will have to practice stretching,
and so on.
The General Fitness Exercise Prescription
The days and times that you schedule for your workouts will
dictate the selection of the most appropriate set of exercises
to achieve optimum results. If you have decided to dedicate
an hour, three times per week to the exercise component of
your fitness, this is a list of general guidelines that would
apply to you. A well-balanced exercise session aimed at maintaining
overall fitness for the average beginning individual could
consist of the following:
1. 5 minute warm-up doing a low level aerobic activity, such
2. 20 minutes of aerobic activity performed at 60-80% of
maximum heart rate, such as jogging or walking on a treadmill,
or a combination of walking and jogging.
3. 5 minutes of abdominal work to cool-down. Perform about
5 minutes of stretching after the aerobic phase and between
sets of resistance exercises, paying particular attention
to hamstrings, lower back, calves, and shoulders.
4. 25 minutes of weight training. Performing one or two sets
of twelve reps of the following exercises; Squats or Leg Presses;
Deadlifts or Back Extensions; Bench Presses; Shoulder Presses;
Lat Pulldowns or Bentover Rows. Remember, this is a general
guideline. Each individual has a preferred set of exercises
that will give the safest, best progress.
As a reminder, upon reaching the Maintenance Conditioning
Stage, the above one hour of exercise, performed a minimum
of 3 times a week, will maintain an average level of overall
fitness for most people.
REFERENCES: President's Council On Physical Fitness and
Get Fit. How to get in shape to meet The President's Challenge.
American College Of Sports Medicine, Guidelines For Exercise
Testing And Prescription, Third Edition, 1986, Lea &