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Conditioning means more than just being able to catch your breath after a point or play. To excel at sports or burn the most calories during a workout, you'll want to improve your aerobic and anaerobic capacity, strength, muscle endurance and flexibility. Adding variety to your workouts will help you improve your total conditioning and help you meet your health and fitness goals.
Most people are familiar with aerobic conditioning, which is when you work at approximately 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 15 minutes or longer. Many people aim for 30- to 60-minute cardio workouts as the base of their exercise program. Having an aerobic conditioning base helps with activities like jogging, lap swimming and other weight-loss workouts.
If you play sports, you've probably noticed that you rarely get tired during plays -- it's only after an intense tennis rally or football play that you're grabbing your knees, panting, trying to catch your breath. Anaerobic conditioning helps you recover more quickly so you can start your next effort during a game. You improve recovery with interval training: exercising at 80 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 seconds or so, then recovering for one or two minutes. Anaerobic conditioning also helps your muscles recover, removing some anabolic wastes from them between plays and replacing depleted stores of adenosine triphosphate, which helps with muscle contractions. Unlike aerobic exercise, anaerobic training is more sport specific, burning more glycogen than fat, and helps you develop fast-twitch muscle fibers.
The more muscle mass you have, the more power you can generate into your golf, baseball and tennis swings and throws, runs, jumps or other movements. You don't have to bodybuild to increase your muscle size. Adding dumbbells or resistance bands to cardio workouts will help you increase your muscle mass and won't cause you to bulk up if that's not your goal.
The more you use your muscles during activity, the more you fatigue them. Improving your muscle endurance lets you exercise for longer periods without cramping or having to take frequent breaks. Add endurance training to your workouts with weights or resistance bands. Perform an exercise at roughly 50 percent of your maximum effort for 30 seconds, take a 15-second break, then start a new exercise. Keep this cycle going for 15 to 30 minutes to challenge your muscles' ability to keep working.
The more you can turn your core, or longer you can stride, the more successful you'll be at many physical activities. A longer core turn lets you take your racket or club back farther, creating more acceleration on your forward swing. Use plyometric drills that make you move your muscles back and forth to improve your reactive power. Include box jumps, depth jumps, bounding and 1-2-3 jumps to your workouts. Save static stretching, or holding a stretch for 30 seconds, for after workouts. This will help lengthen the muscles you've just shortened and increase your flexibility. On non-workout days, take 10 minutes to stretch after you get up in the morning or go before you go to bed at night.