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4 Types Of Exercise And Their Benefits

Most people know that exercising can offer a variety of health benefits. Fewer people know that there are 4 types of exercise that benefit you in different ways.

These 4 types of exercise are cardiovascular-focused exercises, strength training, flexibility training, and balance exercises.

While most exercises often offer you benefits from multiple of these types, they are usually focused on 1 of the 4 types.

A lot of people consider exercise as one group of activities. This leads them to do only one or two different types of exercise while ignoring the others. That is unfortunate because each of these 4 exercise types stands out for certain specific benefits.

Type 1: Cardiovascular-focused exercises

Person doing cardiovascular-focused exercise type

Some people use the name aerobic exercise or endurance exercise but that does not entirely describe this type of exercise. You can do some of the workouts included in this type of exercise at an anaerobic intensity too.

Details aside, cardiovascular-focused exercises are exercises that will mainly challenge your cardiovascular system which includes your heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.

By challenging your cardiovascular system you can make it stronger. Do keep in mind that overtraining can have negative side effects.

Some examples of cardiovascular-focused exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Climbing stairs
  • Rowing
  • Jumping rope

Inevitably you will also have some characteristics of the other types of exercise in cardiovascular-focused exercises. For example, with running you will also likely build some muscle and practice your balance skills. With swimming, you can improve your flexibility too (1).

Benefits cardiovascular-focused exercises

Besides more general exercise benefits, cardiovascular-focused exercises can also offer some more specific benefits that include:

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Making everyday activities less tiring
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Short-term calorie burning

Things to keep in mind

Do keep in mind that your heart is a muscle that can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements and build up from there.

Secondly, some cardiovascular-focused exercises are harder on body parts including your knees, heart, and back compared to others. Especially if you have a lot of pounds to lose. If this is something relevant to you, walking, the elliptical trainer, or swimming may be some of the better exercise choices to start with.

Lastly if you do have the physical capacity, more intense cardiovascular-focused exercises generally require less time to get in a good workout. If you are in shape, 10 minutes of sprinting will generally train your cardiovascular system more than 10 minutes of walking.

How much cardiovascular-focused exercise should you do?

At the time of writing the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends the following guidelines to adults for cardiovascular-focused exercise (2):

  • Moving more and sitting less throughout the day
  • At least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week. Preferably spread throughout the week.
  • You can gain additional health benefits by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

Different types of cardiovascular-focused exercises

Within the cardiovascular-focused exercise type you have other subdivisions that include:

  • Aerobic training: Lower-intensity exercise where your body can use oxygen to sustain your current level of movement. Generally, your heart beats at 70% or less of your maximum heart rate.
  • Anaerobic training: Higher-intensity exercise where oxygen alone is not enough to sustain your current level of movement. Your body also starts using fuel like glucose. Generally, your heart beats at more than 70% of your maximum heart rate.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): Shorter bursts of more intense tempo exercise (for example 30 seconds) with slightly longer periods of less intense tempo (for example a minute or two) in between.

A very general rule to get your maximum heart rate is calculating 220 – [your age]. However, your actual maximum heart rate depends a lot on other things like your activity levels, how much you weigh, genetic factors,…

Type 2: Strength training

Person doing strength training exercise type

Strength training, also known as resistance training, is exercises done to challenge the muscles throughout your body. By challenging these muscles you can make them stronger or at least preserve them better. Do keep in mind that overtraining can have negative side effects.

Especially after a good strength training session you want to give the muscles you worked out at least a day of rest.

Some examples of strength training exercises include:

  • Pushups
  • Squats
  • Shoulder presses
  • Pull-ups
  • Resistance band workouts
  • Carrying heavy objects

Inevitably you will also have some characteristics of the other types of exercise in strength exercises. For example, squatting with a heavy weight on your back will definitely get your heart pumping. Doing squats can also improve flexibility and balance.

Benefits strength training

Besides more general exercise benefits, strength training exercises can also offer some more specific benefits that include:

  • Reducing the risk of falling
  • Making everyday activities easier
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Long-term calorie burning
  • Improves bone strength
  • May reduce back pain
  • May reduce risk of muscle injuries
  • May improve posture

Things to keep in mind

When doing strength training you want to pay close attention to doing the exercises with the right technique, especially if you use extra external weights. This is to avoid injuries.

Strength training exercises can be hard on body parts like knees and back. If you are injury-sensitive in areas like this you want to start out with light exercises and build up from there.

Even if you are generally not injury-sensitive you don’t want to go straight to the heaviest weights you can think off. Start out small and build up from there.

How much strength training should you do?

At the time of writing the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends the following guidelines to adults for strength training exercise (2):

  • Muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

Different types of strength training

Within the strength training exercise type you have other subdivisions that include:

  • Bodyweight exercises: You use gravity pulling your bodyweight down as a way to create resistance for certain muscles. These exercises generally require no or very little equipment.
  • Exercises with external weights: You can also use external weights to increase the amount of resistance your muscles experience.
  • Resistance bands: Resistance bands are basically elastic cords to modify existing exercises or do specific resistance bands exercise. The extra resistance you add with these varies throughout your range of motion, the further the elastic cord stretches the more resistance.

Generally speaking, using external weights will allow you to build more muscle in a shorter amount of time.

Some examples of external weights you can use are dumbbells, barbells, a weighted vest, kettlebells,… but also something as simple as a heavy backpack.

Type 3: Flexibility training

Person doing flexibility training exercise type

Flexibility is the range of motion specific joints or joint groups can do. By doing an exercise where you regularly push these boundaries you can increase this range.

Decreasing flexibility mostly stands out in older individuals but focusing on flexibility earlier in your life can benefit you in the long-term.

Some examples of flexibility training exercises include:

  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Water aerobics

Inevitably you will also have some characteristics of the other types of exercise in flexibility exercises. For example, certain yoga poses will also work out your muscles. Doing water aerobics will also definitely get your heart beating faster.

Benefits flexibility training

Besides more general exercise benefits, flexibility training exercises can also offer some more specific benefits that include:

  • May decrease risk of muscle cramps
  • Improves mobility
  • Making everyday activities easier
  • May reduce risk of muscle injuries

Things to keep in mind

You generally want to warm up your muscles before stretching. You can do this by actually exercising or starting with more dynamic (more moving) stretches.

Secondly you do want to push your boundaries but at the same time, you don’t want to overdo it. If you’re feeling pain this can indicate that you are stretching too far.

How much flexibility training should you do?

Interestingly enough the physical activity guidelines for Americans do mention that flexibility training may offer benefits. However, it does not recommend a specific amount of flexibility training (2).

Different types of flexibility training

Within the flexibility training exercise type you have other subdivisions that include:

  • Dynamic stretching: Actively moving parts of the body, for example moving your arms in circles. Dynamic stretching is usually done to warm up your muscles before a workout.
  • Static stretching: Moving into a position where you are pushing your flexibility limits of a body part and then holding that position. Static stretching is usually done after a workout.

Type 4: Balance exercises

Person doing balance exercise type

Your balance is basically your ability to keep yourself from falling down. Like most abilities training your balance by challenging it with balance exercises will help you improve or at least preserve your balance. Do make sure you don’t make it too challenging so that you actually fall in a way that gets you injured.

Some examples of balance exercises include:

  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Walking backward
  • Standing on one leg
  • Walking on uneven surfaces

Inevitably you will also have some characteristics of the other types of exercise in balance exercises. For example, certain yoga poses will also work out your muscles. Walking on uneven surfaces will also get your heart beating faster.

Benefits balance exercises

Besides more general exercise benefits, balance exercises can also offer some more specific benefits that include:

  • Reducing the risk of falling
  • Improved athletic performance

Things to keep in mind

You either want to train your balance in a situation where falling won’t injure you. For example with a soft mat beneath you. Or you want to make sure you don’t overdo it to a point where you risk falling.

How much balance exercise should you do?

At the time of writing the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion does not specifically recommend balance exercise for healthy adults (2). They do recommend balance training for older adults but they don’t recommend a specific amount of minutes per week.

Different types of balance exercises

Within the balance exercise type you have other subdivisions that include:

  • Stationary balance exercises: You try to stick to one pose that challenges your balance for an extended period of time. Standing on 1 leg for example.
  • Motion balance exercises: You challenge your balance with certain active movements. Examples include lunges, box jumps, and sports like ice skating.

Conclusion

As you can see specific types of exercises offer specific types of benefits. If you only focus on 1 category you miss out on some of the helpful benefits of the others.

Implementing an exercise routine and sticking to it can be a challenge from a mental standpoint. There are some things you can do to make this easier.

First of all you can choose an exercise you enjoy doing. Some people don’t enjoy jogging but they would love to play more tennis or golf.

Secondly you can make the workout more fun. You can work out with a friend, listen to music during your workout, or even watch tv if you have something like a stationary bike at home.

In any case exercise offers a lot of benefits, especially of you implement each of these 4 types into your routine.

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Matt Claes

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.

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