What is the best exercise for you?

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.

John Maynard Keynes


Perhaps you have tried many different sports or maybe you have done exact the same training for the past two years. Whatever you are doing now, jumping, running, jogging, cycling, rowing, stop for a minute and think: what is the best exercise? What is the best exercise for ME?

They are two very different questions: the first one is more academic, the second one is more pragmatic. In this article I will only treat the second one. You can consider this an introduction to the first one, that I will treat in the next article, here, for J&P.

You should consider three aspects, if you want to find out if you are doing the best training for yourself: your past, your present and the future. Always start with looking at your present conditions: what is my age? Am I happy of myself? Am I doing a sport that makes me feel good or is it a pain every time I put my trainers on? How much time do I have to dedicate to exercise? How important is exercising for me? Of course, it is very different if you are in your 20s or in your 50s. It is not only a matter of performance. It is a matter of recovery time. You can’t hope to do the same training 6 times a week and avoid overtraining (unless you are doing 15 mins of slow jogging/walking a day in the park).

If you want to reach a good level of health and fitness, learning to rest is the first rule. Hey! I did not mean that… get up from that couch! There are many ways to recover. Just remember that your current condition matters. And here it is important to introduce that “past factor”: if you have never done sport or you haven’t done any exercises for the last few years and you want to restart, a medical check-up is the first thing to think about. If you are an athlete, you know that a yearly medical screening is required; but even if you just jog in the park twice a week, I suggest doing it every two years. We all get older and prevention is the first thing to choose the correct activity for you.

Ok, now that you know that you are fit for sport, the problem remains: what to choose? Three things are important here, sit down and think: what is your passion, how much time do you have and what is your purpose? You can write it down on your diary, on a blackboard, on your smartphone, on the back of your white cat… but write it down! If you have 10 minutes a day, but your passion is bodybuilding and you want to become Mr Olympia… maybe it is a little bit too pretentious. If you are telling me that you do not even have 10 minutes a day for yourself… you have other problems than training. Include in the time of your training also the time to go to the gym, to drive to the park, to change your clothes, to have a good shower at the end. And then think about the goal: why are you training? What do you want to achieve? Are you just following your passion? Would you like to lose weight? Would you like to look fitter? Do you want to run a marathon or raise 220 Kg in deadlift? Do you want to have big muscles to impress other people? Or, you just want to play 5 a side with your colleagues?

Passion is important, but it is not the solely thing to consider, especially if you start to have some physical problems: I am not saying that you should forget that weekly football match with your friends if you have some knee pain or that you should avoid golf if you have back pain, but it is better to add some exercises during the week to strengthen your body and prevent injuries as much as possible. Then you should consider the best combination of time and purpose for you. For example, you want to lose some weight, but you have only 20 minutes in the morning. Well, my suggestions are 2: find a space in your house to do some calisthenics and check your diet. With the modern technology it is not necessary to go to the gym to follow specific programmes. If it is the first time you do it, I suggest seeing a personal trainer or a physiotherapist to have some ideas about it. If you are already expert, you know that there are many short work-outs on You Tube or programmes that you can follow. About dieting: it is unlikely that you can reach your goal without a good diet. I am not a nutritionist, but dieting is as important as exercising if you want to lose weight, especially if you are not in your 20s anymore.

This was just an example; there are different training goals that require specific training sessions and programmes. Here some quick suggestions for everybody:

  1. Set the goal.
  2. Make your efforts measurable.
  3. Keep a diary of your training.
  4. Understand the concept of “accommodation”.
  5. If you notice that your performance is getting worse or you are in a plateau, probably, you need to rest or change your programme.

Set the goal: training with a purpose, with a goal in mind is more effective than just going out to perform some jogging. Obviously, having a goal means to make efforts measurable. There are many ways to do it and they all depend on your goal. It is not difficult. You want to lose weight? A scale is a good tool for you. I suggest getting one of those that measure factors like BMI, Body fat percentage, etc., because with training you tend to increase your muscle mass (which is heavier). If you do not want to spend money for a scale, just use a meter tape to measure your tummy girth. That is an old and very reliable measurement of your progressions.

Then… write it down! People think that I am a little weirdo, because I go around the gym with a little paper notebook and a pen. Yes, I am only partially technological, but today you are in the golden age of technology that helps you to keep a diary without losing time to do it. There are apps for strength training, for cardio training, for high intensity training (HIIT), smartwatch for runners, walkers, hikers, even golfers! If you are doing your training honestly and correctly you will notice that it will start to be easier for you to perform the same tasks. That is called “accommodation” and it is both positive and negative. Positive, because it means that you are improving; negative, because the response of the organism to the same stimulus will be less and less and your improvement will probably cease soon.

How to avoid it? You should plan variations in your training; simplifying, that means, for example, increasing your pace if you are a runner, or the load if you lift weights, or even change the type of the exercise that you are doing. At a certain point, you could notice that you are stuck in a plateau and you can’t improve anymore even if you try to increase the difficulty of your training. In this case, the reason could be that you are doing too much. Try to increase the time between sessions, instead, (two days, then three days… even a week or more) and you will see that you will be able to make your programme harder and restart improving. Again, I am not telling you that you can improve running in the park twice a month, but at a certain level of training you will feel the need to rest more between sessions.

What is the limit? Very rarely we can set a limit for a person. We know that it exists, but I have not found mine, yet. What I know is that it is possible to design the best work-out for everyone considering your needs, your passion and your goals.

This is just an article to stimulate you to think about your current situation. In the next one, here on J&P, I will talk about a very controversial topic: What is the best type of exercise? See you soon!


Mr Andrea Ronca

MCSP Senior Physiotherapist