With the increasing awareness about fitness on social media and otherwise, people are striving to stay fit. There are ample fitness combinations one can use for their regimen: running four days a week and doing Pilates for two days; doing two different types of yoga (say, Iyengar and Ashtanga) along with a daily walk; three days each of boot camp and dance routine; or weight-training for a different body part every day and taking rest during the weekends. Swimming and playing badminton could be yet another combination, so can power-walking, rock climbing and trekking. Clearly, there is no one best way to stay fit, and trying different forms of fitness is always a good idea.
At the same time, it is important to understand which combination of exercises works best for you as an individual. Follow a step-by-step approach to arrive at a workout combination.
What works best
First, identify the two or three forms of fitness that you enjoy. Say, you have maintained a fit lifestyle, a healthy weight for the most part and you like running and playing tennis or badminton.
Next, look at the fitness ability you need to work on and make that the base of your fitness programme. For example, when it comes to running, you will clearly need to strengthen your lower body, legs and glutes, and for a racket sport, besides the lower body, you will need to strengthen the upper body, as well as work on the back and posture. You will also need to improve your agility to negotiate rough tracks and uneven terrain to run a marathon. Agility training helps you move faster without losing balance when changing direction. Core and balance training is a must for all exercises. If you are overweight or diabetic, you could follow this routine at a lighter pace after consulting the doctor.
To strengthen the lower body, you will need to weight-train at least twice a week. You might need to do some Thera-Band (a latex band for stretching and resistance) exercises once a week to strengthen the smaller muscles in the knees and the hip joints. The back could be strengthened with yoga, twice a week. The agility ladder that footballers use could be used to improve agility—you can combine this with Swiss-ball core training once a week. That will give you three days of running and one day of active rest when you can get a sports body massage and stretch.
Needless to say, while exercising you will need to have a diet that provides 12-15g of protein per meal, which can come from four egg whites or 75g chicken (seafood) or 100g skimmed paneer; 20g of complex carbohydrates, like one serving of 30g cooked millet, nachni or millet (bajra) oats; 250g of low-starch green vegetables like spinach, beans, mushroom, bell peppers, cucumber and fenugreek; and snacks like fruits, nuts and pumpkin seeds. The diet needs one serving of each food group—protein, wholegrain and vegetables for the main meals, and fruit and nuts for the others.
If you simply want to maintain your body weight, you could go for regular gym workouts, which means three days of cardio exercises and three days light-weight training in a week, or you could do yoga for two days, then two days of water aerobics, one day weight-training and one day functional cardio, like boot camps or any sport of your choice, including badminton, tennis or cycling.
After the first month, take a fitness test to assess your fitness potential and know where you stand. See how many push-ups, sit-ups and squats you can do in a minute and how your heart rate fares on a 10-minute treadmill test. Usually these are 25-30 repetitions per minute, which implies a basic fitness level. The repetitions are lower for women and higher for men. Women might also need to test modified push-ups with support on their knees. Higher repetitions imply increasing the level of fitness. It is best to take a fitness test after a month or so into training under supervision. The treadmill test shows how long you can maintain your target heart rate (THR) per minute. THR is calculated by deducting your age from 220. Say you are 30 years old; deduct this from 220, which will give you 190. Take 60-80% of this figure as your THR—closer to 60% if you are older and/or sedentary, and closer to 80% if you are younger and/or active.
Do a flexibility test for the hamstrings. See how far you can reach your toes in a seated position with your legs outstretched. Take the best of three stretches and then mark the level after a 10-minute warm-up. Try to reach your toes and beyond as you exhale.
Check your fitness every three months and then tweak your fitness programme and combinations accordingly. The idea is to keep your fitness regime and ability evolving at all times to stay interested and push new health goals.
Keep in mind that your fitness activity justifies your diet and vice versa. And, always remember to warm up before a workout and cool down, stretch and relax after the workout.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.