Different Types of Exercise and Why Variety is Important

As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life, which also goes for your weekly exercise routine. The importance of different types of exercise extends beyond just alleviating the boredom of routine, but also helps you develop a well-rounded physical experience, keeping your body on its proverbial toes. Focusing solely on one form of exercise may see you excel quickly in that area, but you may also be neglecting the other physical needs, leading to an imbalance in the body and, more importantly, an increase certain health risks.

Think of your body as a finely tuned machine, and just like machines they need to be maintained in a variety of ways. Take a car, for instance, it’s not just the engine that has to be in tip-top condition before you head out for a long drive, every bit of the car — oil, breaks, suspension, tires, etc. — needs to be functioning correctly so you can enjoy a safe and smooth journey.

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What types of workouts are there?

Now we’ve touched on the necessity for variety, you may be asking, what different types of workouts should I be doing? As always, we’re here to help you reach your fitness goals; the below is a list of different types of exercise and their respective benefits.

Cardio training (aerobic and anaerobic)

Cardio is probably the most popular type of exercise out there — thanks, Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons. Cardio is also one area of exercise that offers limitless kinds of workouts: walking, running, cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, dancing, you get the idea. Basically, anything that elevates your heart rate to a level above your resting heart rate is cardio. That said, there are also different categories of cardio both aerobic and anaerobic. Let’s dive in.

Steady state (aerobic)

This type of cardio refers to the pace of your workout and can involve any level of intensity. As the name suggests, the aim is to maintain a steady pace and intensity for the entire duration of your preferred workout.

Low- and moderate intensity (aerobic)

Low-intensity exercise can be measured as any exercise that keeps your heart rate below 50% of your MHR (maximum heart rate) — think a casual stroll or leisurely bike ride.

Moderate-intensity workouts push your heart rate between 50%-70% of your MHR. In moderate intensity, you should be able to carry on a conversation and pass the talk test. Activities such as running, hiking, biking, swimming, fitness classes, should have you hitting the moderate-intensity bracket.

High-intensity and intervals (anaerobic)

Now we’re entering the high-intensity zone. This is where you can expect to work pretty darn hard, elevating and maintaining your heart rate above 70% of your MHR. High-intensity workouts include sprints, some forms of resistance training, and what we at 8fit are known for,  HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

Intervals are when exercises are broken up into several parts (i.e., repetitions) and completed as part of the same workout (i.e., a round). They can be divided up into many forms, but the most common are blocks of time or distance.

Intervals are often split into work-to-rest ratios, with high-intensity exercises like sprints or skipping rope constituting working intervals while lower intensity movements like walking or can be a short break as rest. A good rule of thumb regarding the work-to-rest ratio is as follows:

  • Beginner (1:2): One part high-intensity interval followed by two parts lower intensity interval to allow the body to recover before hitting that high-intensity interval again.
  • Intermediate to advanced athlete (2:1): Here twice the amount of time or reps is devoted to high-intensity intervals, while half is allocated to recovery intervals.

The great thing about these ratios is that you can always play around with the numbers and find just the right ratio to push you to your personal limits.

Sports

With a whole fitness industry built on goal-oriented workouts tailored to individuals looking to lose weight, get healthy or lean — the simple act of playing a sport can often be overlooked. As a genuinely holistic and above all fun form of exercise, sports can go a long way in motivating and keeping you physically active, especially later in life. Team sports like hockey, basketball and soccer are amazing outlets that balance quality high-intensity training while throwing a ton of fun and a social element into the mix.

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Weight training (resistance training)

A common misconception is that weight training will lead to one outcome and one outcome only — hypertrophy. But in fact, there are many goals you achieve through resistance training with weights in the form rep and set schemes along with the percentages of your 1Rm (1 rep max) that you are lifting.

  • Hypertrophy: Enlargement muscles by increasing size of cells in muscle fiber
  • Muscular endurance: Ability of muscles to exert tension over a long period of time
  • Muscular strength: The amount of force a muscle exerts in a single max. effort
  • Cardio training: Using weights or resistance to work your aerobic energy systems

The last bullet point probably caught you off guard, but yes indeed, you can do cardio training through weight training as well. As long as you elevate your heart rate to higher than that of your RHR (resting heart rate), then you’re actually incorporating a cardio element to your workout.

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Flexibility training

Flexibility is more than being able to touch your toes, it’s about general musculoskeletal health. While some people are born with natural flexibility, it doesn’t mean that those who aren’t are doomed to have it beyond their grasp. Exercises that facilitate flexibility and mobility, like stretching are often neglected or deemed as ‘not proper’ exercise, as exertion seems minimal at first glance. Disregarding this kind of training from your regular routine is actually doing you a disservice as compromised mobility can limit your range of motion, and stunt your fitness goals, or in the worst case can lead to injury down the line.

Here are some styles of flexibility training that both complement different types of workouts, as well as include strength elements within them.

Stretching

Every stretch can be either static or dynamic and passive or active. Dynamic and active stretches are more helpful for improving functional movements used in everyday life and sports. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Static stretching is isometric (developing muscular tension without contraction of the muscle), you hold a challenging position for at least 20-30 seconds.
  • Dynamic stretching is a stretch performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly.
  • Passive stretching uses external “assistance” to help you stretch. It’s a technique where you relax into a stretch while an external force (someone or something) intensifies the stretch further.
  • Active stretching applies motion, so you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch.
  • Ballistic stretching is uncontrolled, erratic, and jerky. It can be a form of passive stretching or a dynamic stretching in a fast, bouncing motion, forcing the limb into an extended range of motion.
  • PNF (Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) is a contract-stretch-hold technique repeated 10-12 times, and research says it may be the most effective stretching technique for increasing range of motion.

Yoga

These days yoga boasts as many styles of the practice as there are ranges of activewear brands. Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, hot yoga, vinyasa flow, Kundalini and yin are a few of the most commonly known ones. What all these practices have in common is the integration of body and breath through stretching, isometric bodyweight exercises, and moving meditation. Regular practice will help mobilize joints, stretch ligaments and strengthen muscles — in summary, keep you limber.

Pilates

Developed by Joseph Pilates, this method of exercise incorporates controlled movements with an emphasis on alignment, breathing and building the core — referred to by Pilates instructors as the “Powerhouse”. Over time Pilates will not only increase flexibility but help improve coordination, balance and all-round stability.

Mobility work

If you’re looking to release tight, sore muscles after a killer workout, then you may want to check out foam rolling. This form of mobility work, along with other devices like lacrosse balls for trigger points, are an indispensable part of any regular workout regime. Foam rolling offers deep tissue release and can be done pre-workout to warm muscles up or post-workout to alleviate tension.

Reaping the rewards of exercise variety

Now you’ve got the lowdown on the importance of including different types of workouts into your routine and what kinds are out there, you may be interested in how this will impact your overall health and fitness.

Benefits of cardio:

  • Improves cardiorespiratory and pulmonary health, measurable by a lower resting heart rate
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduce risks of a stroke, heart disease, and eventual heart attack
  • Increases circulation
  • Lowers the risk of diabetes

Weight training:

  • Increases muscle mass, endurance, and strength
  • Ramps up your metabolism through increased muscle mass an so burns fat
  • Increases bone density, especially vital as women age, due to the risk of osteoporosis
  • Builds good posture
  • Strengthens joints thus reducing muscular imbalance issues

Flexibility training:

  • Increases range of motion
  • Releases tension physically and mentally
  • Supports spinal musculoskeletal health
  • Improves mobility
  • Reduces the risk of injury associated with other exercises and  movements