It takes three months of hard training to see significantly bigger muscles, and six weeks to boost endurance, but health and performance gains on a cellular level start within a few days.
Aiming for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, in bouts as short as 10 minutes, will boost your health, but more is better.
Your body can be “set” to build strength or aerobic fitness during any given workout, but not both at once, so start your workout with the exercises you’re focusing on that day.
Your stride on the treadmill is the same as it is outside, but you may need time to readjust to harder outdoor surfaces, so do a few outdoor runs before any races. Set the treadmill incline at 0.5 to 1 percent to compensate for the lack of wind resistance.
Elliptical machines offer a low-impact aerobic workout that is equivalent to running or biking, but they don’t develop “functional” muscle patterns. You can prolong the workout by using the arm levers.
Athletic shoes are optimized for the different movement patterns and playing surfaces in different sports. This boosts performance, but the evidence that the right shoes reduce injuries remains weak.
The Physiology of Exercise
Your physical limits aren’t defined by the failure of your muscles, heart, or lungs; instead, there’s increasing evidence that “fatigue” is regulated by subconscious processes in the brain.
Lactic acid isn’t a metabolic waste product that makes your muscles burn. It’s actually a useful fuel that provides energy to your muscles; the fitter you are, the more lactic acid you use.
Hard exercise causes microscopic damage to your muscle fibers. The repair process causes swelling and hypersensitive nerve endings, leading to “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS) that peaks a day or two later.
Moderate exercise boosts your immune system, but very intense exercise—serious marathon training, for example—can temporarily suppress it.
Peak physical performance for most people occurs in the late afternoon or early evening, around 6 p.m., when body temperature is highest. You can boost your performance at a particular time of day by training regularly at that time.
No matter what your exercise goals are, aerobic exercise is crucial for your health—and it also plays a key role in sports performance, even in “relaxed” sports like golf.
The old “220 minus age” formula for finding your maximum heart rate is highly inaccurate, especially for older adults. (208-0.7 x age) is better, but the only way to get an accurate reading is with a max HR test.
Altering your breathing to fit a certain pattern or rhythm generally makes you less efficient. If you’re panting uncontrollably, you’re probably pushing too hard.
Strength and Power
Starting in your 30s, you lose 1 to 2 percent of your muscle mass each year. Strength training can slow this decline and help keep your bones strong.
A standard beginner’s program is one to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, reaching failure at the end of the last set. Decrease the number of reps to emphasize maximum strength; increase it to emphasize muscular endurance.
No matter how much weight you use or how many reps you do, the most important factor in building muscle is reaching muscle failure by the final rep.
Flexibility and Core Strength
Stretching increases your range of motion, but studies have failed to confirm that stretching reduces injuries. The best time to stretch for flexibility is after exercise, not before.
“Static” stretching reduces strength, power, and speed for an hour or more, thanks to a combination of neuromuscular effects and lowered force transmission in “loose” muscles and tendons.
Runners who display greater flexibility in a sit-and-reach test run less efficiently, and pre-run static stretching also lowers efficiency and worsens performance.
Warming up with “dynamic” stretching exercises raises the temperature of muscles and prepares them for exertion but doesn’t decrease strength, power, speed, or endurance.
Stretching after exercise makes no difference to how sore you are the next day.
Injuries and Recovery
RICE” (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is important immediately after soft-tissue injury, but after acute swelling has passed switch to “MICE” (mobilization, ice, compression, elevation) to avoid scar tissue build-up.
Ice baths may help speed recovery from muscle soreness, using bouts lasting at least five minutes and temperature of 50°F (10°C).
Heat packs can loosen tight or injured muscles, but only if they’re near the surface. Use heat before exercise to aid warm-up, not after.
Massage doesn’t flush away lactic acid but may speed recovery from muscle soreness. Use a practitioner who specializes in sports massage.
Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are not suitable for chronic, nagging injuries or to prevent pain before it happens. They carry health risks and may interfere with the effects of training. However, they’re suitable for acute injuries.
Exercise and Aging
Long-term studies find that runners get osteoarthritis at a lower rate than non-runners, contradicting the common belief that running wears down your knees.
Successful masters athletes train consistently without long breaks, focus their workouts on the most essential elements, and take extra recovery time to avoid injuries.
Endurance declines more sharply than speed as you age. Steady training may prevent your rate of decline from accelerating.
Declining motivation may be as important as aging bodies in explaining why older athletes slow down. Ensuring that your family and friends are supportive helps maintain positive social pressure.
Aerobics-style exercise in water can reduce the impact on joints and lower the risk of falls. The exercise benefits are similar to dry land, though your heart rate will be lower due to water pressure.
Obese people who are physically fit are half as likely to die as thin, sedentary people. Aerobic fitness may be a better measure of health than body-mass index.
When you lose weight, your muscles become more efficient and your metabolism slows down in an attempt to regain the weight. More vigorous exercise may avoid this “efficiency trap.”
Cutting food intake or increasing exercise by the same number of calories produces the same amount of weight loss; however, some improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and other factors require exercise.
Low-intensity exercise burns a higher proportion of fat than high-intensity exercise, but fewer calories overall. Weight loss depends on overall caloric deficit, because your body converts unburned carbohydrates to fat for storage.
Losing weight through exercise alone is very challenging: middle-aged women had to exercise for an hour a day just to avoid gaining weight in a recent long-term study.
Nutrition and Hydration
Losing more than 2 percent of your body weight in fluid is thought to hurt performance, but some scientists now believe that simply drinking when you’re thirsty is sufficient.
Drinking too much can lead to dangerously low sodium levels (hyponatremia) and possibly death. Don’t drink more than eight ounces every 20 minutes.
For events lasting longer than an hour or two, consume fluids containing no more than 6 percent carbohydrate and some electrolytes.
Mind and Body
Mental fatigue causes a reduction in physical performance, which suggests that exhaustion is controlled by the brain’s perception of effort rather than the body’s failure.
The most productive training is “deliberate practice,” which involves setting goals, monitoring progress, and focusing on technique rather than mindlessly repeating drills.
Responses to music are highly personal, though there are some general patterns (faster music makes you work harder). Watching video is so distracting that it may lead you to slack off
The Competitive Edge
Gradually reduce your training volume by 41 to 60 percent over a period of 8 to 14 days before a competition to maximize performance. Don’t change training frequency or intensity.
Sex before competition is unlikely to have any physical effects but could affect mental readiness. Stick to a familiar routine.
Downing a slushy ice beverage can lower your core temperature enough to boost endurance on hot days.
Caffeine is a powerful performance enhancer, acting as a stimulant and directly on your muscles; coffee has less predictable effects due to its complex mix of ingredients.
Competing in a familiar environment may offer greater advantages than having a large crowd cheering you on, though individual responses vary.