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Updated: March 31, 2012 16:15 IST

No one size for all

Dr. SHEELA NAMBIAR
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Learn to walk before you run Photo: Special Arrangement
Learn to walk before you run Photo: Special Arrangement

Exercise routines need to be customised to suit individual needs to get the best results.

We are all different. Every one of us has an inimitable body design, which supports genetic material from our ancestors. Every one of us has also experienced a unique association with the environment we live in. We are a product of our genes and our environment, which include our work, (sedentary/active) lifestyle, food habits, fitness activities, exposure to stress and so on.

All this results in certain adaptations of the body. For instance, those living in high altitudes have a higher level of blood viscosity enabling better utilisation of oxygen in the rarified atmosphere, especially during exertion. Living at sea level does not require this adaptation. People who travel to the hills from living in the plains may find it quite distressing initially, feeling breathless and uncomfortable with exercise that seems no higher in intensity than what they have been accustomed to. “High altitude training” is specially designed to help the body acclimatise to different atmospheric conditions.

Different response

Each of us responds differently to exercise as well. Although goals may be similar — “weight loss”, “muscle gain” etc. — the method of achieving these goals should vary, however subtly, in order to achieve results.

Take, for instance, an aerobic class. When working out in a group, everyone does the same thing. If you are exercise savvy, you can adapt the same movements in an aerobic class to suit your fitness levels, increasing and decreasing intensity at will. If you are an advanced exerciser, attending a low-intensity humdrum session will not benefit you. If, on the other hand, you are a beginner, you should attend either a specialised beginners class or one where the instructor is capable of making the necessary modifications to suit your fitness level.

Burning calories in a Zumba or Step class will definitely help you lose fat. Besides the fat loss, however, your body might require something unique. You may have weak knees, poor hamstring strength or poor/weak muscle mass in the upper body. In addition to losing fat, therefore, you will have to address these issues more specifically to build a superior quality body. This might require you to train separately and specifically a couple of times a week strengthening those weak body parts.

Avoiding injury

Sometimes one sees clients injure themselves while working out. The problem, most often, is poor execution of the exercise due to incorrect form and not the exercise itself. You have to find ways to circumvent the problem, by building a stronger foundation for your body. This requires you to identify weak spots and train them. It also means you have to improve body-awareness to avoid injury.

Injury happens when the joints and muscles are unable to handle the weight of the body or an external weight (like dumbbells/ barbells) during execution of a movement. It could be something simple like walking or running. If the muscles of the lower limb are unable to handle the body weight, the joints concerned, the knees, ankles and back could be strained. To avoid injury to the knees, strengthening the muscles of the lower body, in this case, to divert the stress from the joints to the muscles is required. I am very sceptical of people wanting to run before they have learnt to walk. Although running is good for you, you need to train to run. Strengthen the muscles of the lower limbs and the core; gradually build stamina before attempting to run longer distances.

I strongly believe, besides cardio to burn calories, every one has to train with weights to strengthen specific muscles and body parts at least two to three times a week to improve basic strength, core strength and balance of the body. This workout has to be designed specifically for him/her taking into consideration the body's requirements.

There are standard exercises that one uses all the time. It may seem, therefore, that one routine prescribed for a certain client is no different from another. Smart training means making simple, yet significant, small changes to the same exercise to suit an individual body. So, a squat — to train the lower body — can be modified in a myriad ways depending on the client and goals.

Furthermore, exercise routines need to change from time to time. Performing the same routine for months on end only results in stagnation of fitness levels and plateauing of results. One's body unfortunately gets accustomed to a certain workout quite easily. It has to be challenged to grow from strength to strength by changing the exercise strategy.

Ascertain goals

One size cannot fit all. The most important thing to do before getting into fitness is to ascertain goals. What exactly do you hope to achieve? Don't tell me you want to look like so-and-so because you can't! A client walked into my room one day claiming she had seen one of my old students who had lost a lot of weight and looked fantastic.

“I want to look like her,” she declared triumphantly.

“Well you can't.” I said. She was horrified. Wasn't I supposed to makes these dreams come true? “You can't look like her, but you can look like the best version of yourself. You are different, unique. Why would you want to look like somebody else?” Food for thought.

We are inundated with glossy magazine covers depicting air brushed beauties that convince us that we CAN look like them, so glamorous, waif slim and flawless. Should we want to? Can't we just be the best versions of ourselves? Can't we just excel at being ourselves?

E-mail: drsheela@tfl-inc.com

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