Most of us are here for similar reasons, to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat percentage. This image has been created as the most desirable in the fitness industry, and it can be exciting to see athletes compete for the most outstanding physique. Even with the ideal figure, we can still improve our bodies to maximize our daily performance and set ourselves up for improved health as we age. Here are three fitness goals you should consider adding to your routine:
#1: FlexibilityImproving flexibility is not nearly as challenging as it sounds and is followed by a plethora of benefits. As your muscles undergo hypertrophy, the muscle fibers are experiencing slight tears to the tissue. These microscopic tears are what causes muscle soreness, tightness, and decreased range of motion. Taking the time to warm up your muscles before and between lifting sessions is shown to prevent muscle injury and improve muscle performance. Also, utilizing a foam roller can decrease muscle tension and soreness and improve muscle range-of-motion, which results in enhanced flexibility. Just a few minutes of attention to stretching techniques before or after a workout can tremendously enhance your overall fitness performance.
#2: PerformanceYou may have heard the term “functional movement” used to represent how our body mechanics perform during daily activities. Functional strength training is an exercise performed to mimic and improve activities of daily living. These movements include a wide variety of pushing, pulling, bending, reaching, twisting, and many other types of activities. Functional strength training involves performing a movement against resistance to make the movement easier and smoother outside of the gym environment. The use of free weights is more valuable for maximizing functional movement than machines, which provide stabilization and isolation for you. For example, a box squat can imitate and improve your body mechanics when rising from a seated to standing position on a couch. A bonus advantage of practicing functional movement is the awareness that it creates when performing these movements in your daily life. This awareness allows you to perform the movement intentionally, with purpose, and with proper muscle activation!
#3: Cardiovascular HealthFor most of us, the primary reason for enduring the dreaded “cardio” is frequently highlighted as fat loss. However, there are so many important benefits of doing cardio other than just burning calories and getting our heart rate up. Just like you train your skeletal muscle to become stronger, you can also strengthen your cardiac muscle with exercise. A healthier cardiovascular system can decrease your risk of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, anxiety disorders, dementia, and even some cancers. An increased heart rate also triggers the release of endorphins, which are “feel-good” hormones that our body uses to regulate stress. These hormones mimic the function of opioids and are the reason behind the “high” you feel after a workout. A common misconception regarding cardio exercise is that you must spend upwards of 30 minutes staring off into space on cardio equipment at the gym to be effective. The true definition of cardio includes a wide variety of activities, including simply increasing your physical activity throughout the day (take the stairs!) You also may be under the impression that cardio training can “burn muscle” and result in decreased muscle tissue. The good news is- this won’t be the case unless you are participating in extensive cardiovascular programming (such as training for an advanced race). Take care of your heart just as you would any other muscle of the body! The Foam Roll as a Tool to Improve Hamstring Flexibility: The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (lww.com)
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