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Workouts and Your Body

Measuring Your Fitness Level
Think of someone getting in the car and driving aimlessly without a map, directions, or destination. This might be a good agenda if you're checking how many miles to the gallon your car gets, but otherwise it's a good way to get nowhere fast. In short, that's the mistake many people we see make – novices and seasoned veterans alike. Sure, it's great that you're in the gym, but without a specific plan it's surprisingly difficult to make real progress. Here are two important points to consider:
  1. What are your goals? Do you want to get stronger? Improve your sports performance? Your appearance? Are you trying to lose weight or gain muscle? Improve your ability to carry the baby stroller up the stairs or are you in the gym to improve your 10K time?
  2. Where do you stand today? How fit are you? How flexible? What about muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance? What's your percentage of body fat? (Aren't you glad we've begun to thoroughly confuse you?) By clearly defining your goals and establishing your current state of fitness, you can have a direction to your training and measure the progress that you make. Remember, even the most brilliant architect follows a plan.
Each of us has different goals and no single goal is right or wrong. If the only motivation you have for working out is to look good in a bathing suit, no worries. If you're a racer like Jonathan and Joe who head to the gym to enhance their cycling and marathon kayaking performances, you'll be spending a fair bit of time doing specific exercises geared toward that goal. (Although Joe won't admit it, he's been considering paddling this season in a pink Speedo.) When Deidre competed as a power lifter, she focused on her three primary lifts. Now that's she's retired and spends a lot of time polishing her trophies, her gym workouts have virtually nothing to do with lifting small buildings and everything to do with looking and feeling good.

The good news, of course, is there's plenty of overlap. The runner, who lifts to get faster on the road, inevitably winds up looking better before and after the race. The person who trains like a Trojan to squeeze into the tiniest bathing suit possible each summer will, on a good exercise regime, wind up having more energy to play with her kids and be better able to run through the airport with her luggage to catch a plane.

While you need to know where you're going, it's also valuable to find out where you're at. You can do this in a variety of ways. The best is to go to a lab, fitness center, or physiology department at a university and have some number-crunching physiologists like Jonathan poke and prod you to measure your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. If you know where you can get tested, we strongly suggest that you take advantage of them. If you don't have a qualified professional to perform these tests, there are still benchmarks that you can test yourself. (Of course you can call Jonathan, but he might ride his bike there and that gets time consuming.) If you live in the Australian outback or just can't be bothered, here are a few measurements you can take to gauge your own fitness.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Short Workouts © 2001 by Deidre Johnson-Cane, Jonathan Cane, and Joe Glickman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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