I have been a fitness trainer for over 20 years and what I see far too often is that people settle into their workout routines, doing the same thing week after week. Pardon me while I yawn through that.
You could be even healthier and in better shape by adding just a few simple things to your routine. And you could be having so much more fun doing it!
So what exactly are these five essential types of exercise? So glad you asked!
The 5 Most Important Types of Exercise You Should Be Doing
Exercise is essential for good health. We all know that. But too often we limit ourselves to just one type of training. The truth is you should be doing five types of exercise: aerobic, strength training, stretching, balance, and core work.
Now let's take a closer look at everything that you need to know about each one.
1. Aerobic exercise
The first of the five types of exercise is aerobics. Aerobic exercise is essentially anything that speeds up your heart rate and your breathing for an extended period. Not only does it give your heart and lungs a workout, but it also increases your endurance.
And that's not all.
Aerobic exercise is crucial to many body functions. Some of the benefits of it are that it lowers blood pressure, burns body fat, relaxes blood vessel walls, reduces inflammation, and lowers blood sugar levels.
On top of that, it improves your mood and raises your "good" HDL cholesterol levels. If you combine aerobic exercise with a healthy diet, you will also lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels.
Those are all benefits that you get every time that you do some type of aerobics. The long-term effects are even better. If you do aerobic exercise regularly, it will reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, falls, depression, and even colon and breast cancer.
If you notice that you get very winded after climbing a flight of stairs, that is a good indication that you need to do more aerobic activity.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Sports Medicine, you should try to aim for around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. That boils down to about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If you increase your intensity, you only need to do 75 minutes of aerobics every week. That's just 15 minutes a day, for those same 5 days a week.
Aerobic types of exercise
Some of the types of exercise that count toward aerobics are things like walking, jogging, biking, step aerobics classes, spinning, cardio classes, kick-boxing, swimming, the stair master, rowing, cross country skiing, and dancing.
Here's an example of a 20-minute beginner aerobic workout. If you can walk, you can do this.
2. Strength training
The next type of exercise that you should be adding to your routine is strength training. Strength or resistance training is essential because as we age, we lose muscle mass. According to Harvard Medical, most men will lose around 30 percent of their muscle over their lifetimes. After the age of 30, you begin to lose about 5 percent every decade.
The beauty of strength training is that it helps to build back the muscle that you lose as you age.
There's a practicality about it because building strength will help you do everyday tasks like lifting heavy objects around the house, gardening, and carrying groceries. It also enables you to do things like stand up from a chair or get up off the floor or climb stairs.
But the benefits of strength training go far beyond that.
After the age of 30, we not only lose muscle mass; we also lose bone density. That's especially true for women. However, when you work your muscles, you are also strengthening your bones. And that's not all. Strength training also assists with fat burning and weight control, lowers blood sugar, improves posture and balance, and reduces pain and stress in your lower back and other joints.
So does that mean that you have to join a gym and lift weights? No, not necessarily. You can also do strength training using just your body weight. The workout below will show you several strength training exercises that you can do at home without any equipment. Another option is using resistance bands or tubing.
Strength types of exercise
Some examples of strength training exercises are squats, lunges, push-ups, and planks. You can do all of those with or without added weights. Here's a short beginner workout that uses strength types of exercise. Your goal is to work on every major muscle group twice a week.
3. Flexibility work
The next type of exercise that you should be incorporating into your routine is stretching. Stretching is crucial to maintain flexibility throughout your body.
We don't pay much attention to this when we're young, but as we age, we lose flexibility in our muscles and tendons, so it gets more and more critical.
When you lose flexibility your muscles shorten and don't function properly. When that happens, you're more likely to get pain and muscle cramps. On top of that, loss of flexibility can cause muscle damage, joint pain, strains, and falling. It can also make it tough to do simple everyday tasks like bending down and tieing your shoes.
On the other hand, when you consistently stretch your muscles, you lengthen them and increase your flexibility. Not only will that increase your range of motion and reduce pain, but it will also significantly decrease your chance of injury. Stretching also improves your athletic ability.
Ideally, you should stretch every day. However, if you can't fit it in every day then try to work your flexibility at least three times a week.
The key to stretching is doing it after your muscles are warmed up. You don't want to stretch while your body is cold. That means that you should do some type of aerobic movement for a couple of minutes before you stretch.
The best time to stretch is at the end of your workout after you do one of the other types of exercise. That's when you'll get the most benefit from the stretches. Plus, it only takes a few minutes.
When you're working on your flexibility, you don't want to stretch to the point that you're in pain. You just want to feel mild tension in the stretch and hold it for 15 seconds to 1 minute.
Stretching types of exercise
Some examples of stretching types of exercise include yoga, pilates, tai chi, and dance classes.
You may have noticed already that some types of exercise overlap with each other. For example, some of the movements that you do in strength training also work for stretches.
Rowing is one of the exercises listed under aerobics, but rowing is also great for strength training and flexibility work. It's like getting two for the price of one.
Here's an example of flexibility work. You'll notice that many of the stretches also work on balance which we'll talk about next.
4. Balance exercises
The fourth of our types of exercise is balance work. Balance and stability are other things that we lose as we age. The problem is that as we get older the systems that help us maintain balance start to break down, like our inner ear, our vision, and our leg muscles and joints. Are you ready for the good news? Balance training can reverse those losses. True story.
Doing balancing exercises will help you feel more stable on your feet. And it will also help to prevent falls.
If you've had a fall or a near fall, you can see how your balance needs work. One thing you can try to test your balance is to walk lining up your heels and toes with your eyes closed. You can also try standing on one leg. If you're wobbly, you need to work on your balance. Very often, flexibility work and balance work overlap.
Many senior centers offer balance classes. But even if you're not a senior, it's never too early to start working on balance.
One great piece of training equipment for balance is the Bosu ball. It's a ball with a flat bottom that you stand on to do some of your exercises. You can use it to do your strength training at the same time that you work on your balance. Another twofer!
Balance types of exercise
Yoga, pilates, and tai chi are all great balance types of exercise. If you did the stretching video above you surely noticed that it also required balance.
Here's a short video that will show you an example of balance work. You should do this at least three times a week.
5. Core work
The last type of exercise that you should add to your routine is core work. Core exercises work your abdominal muscles and the muscles in your middle and lower back. They also work your oblique muscles or your waistline.
Core exercises are strength training exercises, but they focus on your trunk. They are perhaps the most important of all of the strength exercises that you do because you need a strong core to do just about everything.
A strong core will improve your balance and stability. It will also help to tone your abs and strengthen your lower back. If you have lower back problems, chances are you need to improve your core.
Most types of exercise work your core, or at least they should. If your workout doesn't include core work, then it is crucial that you add it to the end of your routine. It only takes a few short minutes. Those 35-minute workouts that we just discussed can easily fit 5 more minutes for a few planks or crunches. You could also take five minutes at the end or beginning of your day to do your core work.
You should work your core at least three times per week.
Core types of exercise
Some examples of core types of exercise include crunches, planks, side planks, bird dogs, supermans, and leg lifts. Here's a short video with a core workout that you can add to your routine.
Cross training means that you are doing different types of exercise every week. For example, you could do yoga on Monday, rowing on Tuesday, strength training with weights on Wednesday, swimming on Thursday, and tai chi on Friday. Working out this way has several benefits. For one thing, people who cross train are less likely to get injuries, especially overuse injuries. Cross training is also better for your health.
Beyond that, cross-training allows you to have some variety in your workouts. Another great thing about it is that if you do get injured or if you're sore from an exercise you can do something different that works different muscles.
If you're trying to change your body, like toning up or losing body fat, for example, cross training is one of the best things you can. It keeps you from hitting those dreaded fitness plateaus. If you find that you are at a plateau now, meaning that you're working out, but you no longer see changes in your body, that is a good indication that you need to vary up your workout routine.
Example of a cross training schedule
Monday: Walking for 30 minutes, upper body strength exercises, and stretching
Tuesday: 60-minute Interval training class with core work
Wednesday: 20 minutes of swimming and 30 minutes of yoga
Friday: rowing for 30 minutes and balance training
Saturday: Lower body strength training and 30 minutes of tai chi
What are Combination Types of Exercise?
Combination workouts use two or more of the five types of exercise in the same workout.
Let's face it. I just gave you five different types of exercise that you should add to your routine ASAP. That's a lot.
So does that mean that you have to do five different workouts every day? Well, you could I suppose, if you have the time to spend all day exercising. But why do five different workouts when you can combine them into just one? Remember those twofers that we talked about earlier?
One excellent example of a combination workout is rowing. Rowing is aerobic; it will definitely get your heart rate up. However, it's also a strength training exercise, and it works on flexibility and your core too. You could follow a 30-minute rowing workout with 5 minutes of balance work, and you'll hit all 5 types of exercise. That's just 35 minutes in total. Not too bad, right?
Interval training is another combination workout. Interval training alternates segments of strength training with aerobics. It's one of those twofers we talked about earlier. And again, it doesn't take long to hit all five types of exercise. You can do interval training in about 30 minutes, and you can follow it with 5 minutes of flexibility work that also incorporates balance work.
Getting all five types of exercise into your routine isn't about working harder or longer. It's about working smarter. Look for workouts that utilize more that one type. You get the best bang for your buck that way.
How Often Should I Do Each of the Types of Exercise?
The Physical Activity Guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobics every week. In addition to that, adults should do strength training and work on every major muscle group at least twice a week.
Older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that uses all five types of exercise including aerobic, strength training, stretching, balance, and core work at least three times a week.
Women who are pregnant and postpartum should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.
Whether you do your cardio and strength training together or separately, you should include some balance, core, and flexibility work in every workout that you do.
A Final Thought
By adding all five types of exercise to your workout you will be healthier, stronger, and you'll have the flexibility and balance to do all of the tasks throughout your day. Ignoring any of the five will make you more likely to get injured.
You know, they say that variety is the spice of life. Cross training will give you that variety. I have found that my clients who cross train tend to enjoy their workouts more and are more likely to stick with their exercises.
Think outside of the box. Expand your horizons. Working out doesn't have to be a tedious chore that you dread. The key is finding many different workouts that you enjoy. Mix it up. Keep your body guessing. You'll never hit a plateau that way, and you will be less likely to get burned out.
Now we want to hear from you! Are you doing all five types of exercise in your routine? Do you have a favorite exercise or workout that incorporates all of the types? Share it with our readers in the comments section below.
Have a happy, healthy rest of your day!