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The Science Behind Your Workout
Part One

You may not realize it but every time you exercise, scientific principles are put into action. If you follow these rules, you get results. If you don’t, you become frustrated with your workout program.

These principles are the basics of exercise science. They apply to everyone – regardless of age, gender, race or type of workout.

Specificity
The principle of specificity of training states that you only get good at what you train for. Plan your exercise program according to what you want to achieve. Don’t expect to get firm arms from walking on a treadmill. Boxing will strengthen your arms, core, and legs but it won’t do much to increase your flexibility.

If you want significantly larger muscles, you need a body builder’s program. If you only want average strength muscles, a basic strength training routine will suffice. If you want flexible strength, try yoga or Pilates. If you want to improve your stamina, choose a form of cardiovascular exercise. If you want to improve your athletic fitness, you require exercises that mimic your sport.

Specificity is the great fitness equalizer. Even if you can easily last through the meanest spinning class in town, you will still feel like a complete fool when you try rock climbing. Seasoned runners will find themselves in knots when they try yoga and advanced yoga practitioners will be breathless when they try running. This makes you respect and admire forms of exercise that are different from yours. It also makes you realize that there is no perfect exercise. No one can claim to be the “fittest” person around.

Overload
To see any kind of fitness improvement, you need to “overload” or stress the body slightly more than what it is used to. Gradually increase the overload until you reach your desired level or goal. However, if you increase the overload too quickly, the body doesn’t have time to adapt and becomes injured or overstressed.

If you have been sedentary for ten years, a twenty or thirty-minute leisurely walk three times a week is the initial overload you need to get aerobically fit. Doing sixty minutes of brisk walking right away may lead to sore muscles, fatigue, and breathlessness.

But if you increase your walking time by five to ten minutes a week, you body will adapt quite nicely and before you know it, you can walk for an hour without feeling sore or fatigued.

The amount of time you walk is not the only overload you can use. You can also challenge yourself by increasing the intensity or frequency. Just don’t do it all at once. Change only one overload at a time and your body will be able to adapt safely.

The “FITT” principle -- frequency, intensity, time, and type – is a way of summarizing the concept of overload.

To get stronger muscles, the most obvious overload is the amount of weight you lift but you can also change the overload with the speed at which you lift, the sequence of your exercises, the number of repetitions and sets, or the type of resistance used.

Common sense tells us that you cannot keep increasing the overload because, no matter how fit you are, the body can only take so much exercise. Burnout and injury are the inevitable results of continuous overload. This is where the concept of “periodization” comes in. This is a method of alternating intense and less intense periods of exercise so the body has time to recover.

Sources:
Golf Injury Review, Sports Injury Bulletin
Harvard Men’s Health Watch
Dr Tan Jee Lim, Changi General Hospital, Singapore

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