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Beginner fitness part 1 - improving strength, stamina and suppleness

Ways to improve stamina, strength and suppleness

So, you want to get started in fitness? It’s never too late to get into shape. Whether you're looking to improve your stamina, strength or suppleness our beginner guide will show you how to do it enjoyably and effectively…

The main components of fitness are the three ‘S’s: stamina, strength and suppleness. Each attribute brings different body and health benefits, and requires a different type of exercise to achieve.

Ways to improve your stamina

To improve stamina (your ability to ‘keep going’), you need to do aerobic or ‘cardiovascular’ exercise. Cardiovascular exercise is the type that really helps your heart studies show that even 30 minutes walking a day can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and reduce blood pressure and its high energy demand helps you shed excess pounds, too. This kind of training generally uses the large muscles of the body, such as legs, bottom, back and chest, and is of a reasonably prolonged nature (in other words, 20 minutes, rather than two minutes!) It should be intense enough to make you warm, sweaty and a little breathless but not so intense that you can’t sustain it for any length of time. If you are able to maintain a conversation (albeit a slightly breathless one!) you’ve got the intensity right. To begin with, it’s duration rather than intensity that matters. The tougher stuff comes later on!

Ways to increase your strength

Strength training, as the name suggests, is all about improving the strength of your muscles. But even if you aren’t interested in building up your biceps or streamlining your thighs, this type of exercise is important because it strengthens the ‘connective’ tissues, such as ligaments and tendons, and helps to preserve bone density, so you are more pain and injury-resilient. There are also benefits that are nothing to do with the muscles and joints. Research shows that a higher muscle mass helps to preserve your metabolic rate as you get older (when normally, it would be falling). Strength training also enhances the body’s glucose uptake, lowering the risk of diabetes, and can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Strength training (or ‘resistance training’) is traditionally done in a gym using weights but that’s certainly not the only way to do it! As long as the muscles have to ‘resist’ an external force that is higher than what they are used to, they will get stronger. Whether that force is a dumbbell, an elastic resistance tube or even gravity, is unimportant, as far as your muscles are concerned. There are many exercises you can do without equipment at home, and we’ll be looking at these in part 2.

strong man with weights

Ways to increase your suppleness

Finally, let’s look at flexibility. People usually think suppleness means being able to wrap your legs around your neck, or at least touch your toes but really, it’s just about being able to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. As we age, our flexibility declines rapidly as collagen fibers within the muscles stiffen. It’s vital that we stretch and mobilise regularly, to ensure that we don’t end up stiff and immobile, with short, tight muscles. Good flexibility is an asset both in daily life (reaching that top shelf) and sport (stretching out to return a tennis ball over the net) and being supple helps you maintain good posture, as well as minimizing your risk of getting injured during activity.

Fitness experts recommend that we include all three types of training in our weekly regime. The table below offers guidelines on how much we should be doing of each type. But don’t worry if it’s beginning to sound as if getting fit is destined to take up half your waking hours Beginner fitness Part 2 is full of practical ways to fit in exercise to improve your stamina, strength and suppleness.

MODE
FREQUENCY
INTENSITY
TIME

AEROBIC EXERCISE

 

3-5 workouts per week

55-90% maximum heart rate (the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute)

20-60 minutes continuous or intermittent effort.

STRENGTH TRAINING

2-3 days per week

Dependent on desired outcome

Sufficient to work all the major muscle groups.

FLEXIBILITY TRAINING

2-3 days per week

Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain

15-30 seconds per stretch for flexibility maintenance. Longer for remedial stretching.

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