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When it comes to exercise, most people think of endurance activities like distance running or strength-training like weight lifting. While these two types of workouts are important, there are two others that tend to get left out!
Before we get into the other two types, first ask yourself how you define health. Is it just the absence of disease, the mentality that "my labs are normal so I must be healthy"? Or is true vitality, in which you feel great almost every day, ready to be your best self and share your unique gifts with the world? Consider this when you read about the four types of exercise because including all of them within your fitness routine puts you on track for overall wellness.
The Four Types
The types of exercise are:
- Strength - how much you can lift, pull, carry, etc.
- Endurance - how long you can do an activity, usually one that is aerobic and increases your breathing and heart rate
- Flexibility - how far you can move through your joints' range of motion
- Balance - how well you can steady yourself, especially when challenged
Going back to vitality, think about how each of these types plays a part in it. Staying strong leads to stable muscles that can keep you from falling...but if your balance is poor you may fall anyway. Having top-notch aerobic capacity will help you to do activities for longer periods of time...but if you aren't flexible you may pull a muscle and be limited in what you can do as it recovers.
Incorporating all of the types into your workouts won't guarantee that you will never have an injury, but it will set you up for the greatest success. If you already have a fitness routine that you really enjoy, you can simply add the missing elements, for instance by stretching before or after or standing on one foot for some exercises. Otherwise you can also engage in activities that already include all of them.
Instead of keeping track of individual workouts for strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility, consider some of these options. As we discussed in our post on hobbies, don't invest too much money into them until you're sure that they're a good fit. Follow along to free YouTube videos or drop in for an in-person class or two before buying expensive equipment or enrolling in a long-term membership to a studio. Fitness should be fun, so figure out what makes you the happiest and almost makes you forget that you're working out.
Yoga is so great for the body, mind, and spirit that we wrote a whole post on it! There are many variations of yoga, and not all will encompass the four types of exercise. Flexibility work is inherent in yoga, and most types of yoga will include balancing poses. Strength and endurance can come from holding poses for longer periods of time and from moving through poses at a rapid rate. You can alternate between yoga practices to ensure you're getting a well-rounded workout - for instance by taking a power yoga class on one day and a yin yoga class on another - or you can tweak your favorite flows by adjusting your pace.
Joseph Pilates developed his eponymous fitness system during World War I, inventing parts of his apparatuses while helping soldiers rehabilitate from injuries. Nowadays Pilates is widespread, and you can practice it at home, at most gyms, and at specialized studios. The studios dedicated to Pilates have more advanced equipment, but you can also get started at home with a mat and a ring.
Strength is an inherent part of Pilates, as all movements are meant to be done in a slow and controlled manner. While you may not become out of breath like you would while running, it can take endurance to finish a Pilates workout! Pilates can also be geared toward training balance and flexibility, but an instructor may not focus on them in every class.
Almost everyone knows gymnastics from watching the Summer Olympics...and almost everyone is amazed at what gymnasts can do with their bodies! Gymnastics pushes the boundaries of all the types of exercise: strength to lift the body onto the bars, endurance to power through a floor routine, balance to stay steady on a beam, and flexibility to manage the splits and other feats involved with it.
Gymnastics can seem daunting - its athletes perform mind-blowing moves and as a sport it's known for its perfectionism - but you can play around with it as a beginner at any age. Look for adult classes near you and you can learn the basics under the guidance of a trained instructor.
Calisthenics is kind of like a more rugged and informal gymnastics. Some of its moves can be awe-inspiring - have you ever seen a zombie handstand or human flagpole? - but all of them stem from the same foundations. Basic exercises include pull-ups, push-ups, and planks, but there's usually an emphasis on goal-setting. (For instance, you might start with aiming to do a handstand with perfect form and then move on to more advanced variations before ultimately nailing the zombie form.) Like gymnastics, calisthenics pushes the body in all four exercise categories, but it doesn't require fancy equipment. You can easily start with just a mat, but as you progress you may want to buy tools like parallel bars or a pull-up bar if you don't have access to a gym.
Dance comes in all shapes and sizes, and many of them will challenge you in all four types of exercise. Dancing to music can be very fun and not feel like a workout...until you notice how sore you are the next day! Some forms of dance may be more skewed toward balance or flexibility, but all of them will involve some element of strength and a good amount of endurance. Find YouTube tutorials for jazz, ballet, hip hop, and other routines to see what you enjoy the most, and consider branching out into the dances of other cultures and religions too.
Anyone who has seen The Karate Kid knows that martial arts are not just about strength. It takes endurance to spar and balance and flexibility to kick, not to mention the intense focus and intention needed to perform feats like breaking boards. Just like dance, there is a multitude of varieties of martial arts and other fighting styles, and it's worth exploring them all until you find the one that you like the best.
Improved fitness is the most common New Year's resolution, and many people give up on their fitness goals because they think that joining a gym to build strength and endurance is the best way to become healthier. If you love the gym, keep doing what you're doing while also adding flexibility and balance to your workouts. If you know that you'll lose interest in a traditional gym routine, experiment with the activities we discussed here in the New Year! The excitement of novelty will keep you going at first and ideally you'll settle in with one that you love, supporting your vitality with all four types of exercise for the long haul.
Kathleen Ketola is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.