When It Comes to Working Out, Variety Matters

January 2019

Getting enough exercise can contribute to longevity and quality of life, as well as help you reduce pain, prevent disease and maintain a healthy weight. But with so many different types of workouts to choose from, it can be hard to know where to begin.

The good news is that you don’t need to choose just one. In fact, it’s good to mix it up. The more you vary your workout, the more your body benefits.

Here are four common types of workouts and some key things to know about each.

Core workout

A core workout focuses on the muscles between your ribs and your hips, most notably the muscles in your stomach, lower back and pelvis.

  • Examples: Pilates, yoga, tai chi.
  • Benefits: Core-strengthening workouts help you stabilize your spine, which reduces your risk for back pain and injury. Yoga, in particular, can help increase flexibility, balance and coordination.
  • What to keep in mind: You can work core exercises on your own, but if you are new to core work, it’s a good idea to take a class with a credentialed instructor at a gym or a yoga/Pilates studio. A certified instructor can suggest modifications for certain exercises if you have any physical issues. They can also teach you proper technique, which can help you avoid injury.

Moderate intensity (steady state) aerobic workout

A steady state workout allows you to raise your heart rate to a moderate intensity and keep it (roughly) there for the duration of your workout.

  • Examples: Running, walking, swimming, biking or cross-country skiing at a steady pace.
  • Benefits: Steady state workouts help you build endurance and strengthen your heart. These workouts also burn calories (the longer you work out, the more calories you burn). Plus, many people report being able to think more clearly after a steady state workout, such as a long run or walk.
  • What to keep in mind: Steady state workouts take time (you won’t build much endurance with just a five-minute walk). If you focus on only one aerobic activity (say, running), it can lead to overuse injuries.

Interval workout

With an interval workout, you walk/run/swim/bike at a fast pace for approximately 30 seconds to two minutes, and then “rest” by moving at a slower pace for 30 seconds to two minutes, repeating multiple cycles of this.

  • Examples: Running 200-meter sprints on the track, followed by jogging for 200 meters; taking cycle classes or other cardio-interval classes (sometimes called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT).
  • Benefits: Interval training is very efficient for building fitness and strength quickly. You get a lot of bang for your workout buck.
  • What to keep in mind: Interval training can be demanding on your body. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s probably not a good idea to start with an interval workout. Also, over time you will need to vary your intervals (time or speed or both) because your body will adapt.

Strength training

Whenever you use resistance to challenge your muscles, you are strength training.

  • Examples: Exercises that use your body weight (pushups, lunges, squats); working with free weights or weight machines.
  • Benefits: Strength training is good for your bones and joints. It also helps you build muscle (and the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn).
  • What to keep in mind: Start slow, and think in terms of repetitions and sets (e.g., three sets of 10 dumbbell curls with each arm). As you build strength, gradually increase the weight you’re using. If your muscles aren’t feeling fatigued by the end of three sets, you aren’t using enough weight.

Whatever workouts you choose, remember that every little bit adds up. Ten minutes is better than no minutes, and one class a week is better than none. Happy sweating!

More Healthy Living Articles