The most popular type of exercise today is without question aerobic in nature.  The American College of Sports Medicine defines aerobics as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.”  We have discussed the fact that aerobic activities strengthen the cardiovascular system, including the lungs, vessel system and heart.  There are many activities that meet the definition of aerobics and remember we want you to find the best one; that is, the one that you will enjoy doing.  Take a moment and think about activities you have participated in that meet the terms of this definition.  Now, let’s review some of your options.

Aerobic dance, or the relatively new term being used “group exercise,” is the first activity we will address.  Group exercise can be done using many fun and engaging formats.  General categories include high impact, low impact and step aerobics.  All require good supportive, lightweight footwear and ventilated clothing.  Most group exercise sessions are held in a spacious room with a floor that provides cushion and stability.  Music that ranges from 120-150 beats per minute is also a common element.  Music can range from current hits, rock n-roll, hip hop and even oldies.

High impact aerobics can use a number of themes.  The dance theme is very popular right now.  It includes Zumba, Latin, Jazz and Hip Hop.  There is also a calisthenics theme that uses moves like jumping jacks, knee lifts and running/jogging movements.  There is a kickboxing theme using punches, jabs and kicks as the foundation to continuous movement.  Lastly is the popular boot camp theme that includes a combination of sports type training, military calisthenics and drills to achieve an aerobic training effect.

Low impact group exercise is characterized by keeping one foot on the floor at all times. Low impact is perfect for special populations and results in fewer injuries than high impact.  Both large and smaller muscle groups are exercised.  Participants will need to engage large muscles to achieve a training effect.  Low impact can use the same themes and music selections as high impact.

Step is a third category of group exercise.  This session involves stepping up and down on a platform.  This creates a unique challenge since you will need to lift and lower the body weight against gravity.  The participant can achieve a moderate to high level of aerobic training.  Using a platform that can be adjusted in height can provide many additional training components including propulsions, repeaters, single and double hops, weights and extensive choreography.  Again, the themes used for high and low impact aerobics can be used in this medium.

Bicycling is a great option for aerobic training.  You have the option to engage in this activity indoors or outdoors.  Cycling is great for individuals who need to minimize the impact on joints due to injury, arthritis or other orthopedic reasons.  Cycling is also a good choice for individuals who are overweight or obese.  Cycling helps minimize the stress on the back, hips, knees and ankles. 

Cross country skiing works both the upper body as well as the lower body which makes achieving a training heart rate easy.  Many experts tout this as the most beneficial aerobic training for that reason alone.  However, those of us who live in the heat cannot consistently take advantage of this option unless we use the indoor machine that copies the cross skiing motion.  Note that the machine requires some coordination and skill to master the rhythmic motion.

In-line skating is increasing in popularity as an aerobic choice.  All you need is a pair of skates and some open smooth space.  Skating uses the large muscle groups in the legs, which easily elevates the heart rate.  The motion is a push and glide type of motion.  There is minimal impact on the joints. The disadvantages include some safety concerns in regards to injuries sustained during falls.  As a result, is very important to wear the proper safety gear including a helmet.

Walking is one of the simplest and most available aerobic options.  Each person can determine their own speed, stride and intensity levels.  All you need is a good pair of shoes that support the arch and minimize the impact experienced by the joints.  Walking can be done indoors at malls, indoor tracks or on a treadmill.  You can also walk outdoors in neighborhoods, parks and outdoor tracks.  Walking is a great choice for anyone just starting their personal fitness routine.

Jumping rope dates back to the Egyptians and has continued to be a favorite activity for cardiovascular training.  You need a good rope at the appropriate length to maximize performance.  Jumping rope is inexpensive and can be done anywhere.  There is a lot of variety in terms of skill level.  You can also burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.  The down side is the impact experienced by the joints and the intensity levels achieved.

Running and jogging are the most popular aerobic exercises.  Both activities burn a lot of calories in a very short period of time.  However, there are some downsides including risk of injury due to the high impact experienced by the weight bearing joints of the body with every step.  If you enjoy running, purchase a good pair of shoes, warm up well before adding intensity.  Also be mindful of the surface you run on.  Cinder or dirt track is better than pavement.  If you choose to run on a treadmill you can control the constant speed and impact surface.  I recommend that if you enjoy running/jogging that you alternate this high impact activity with a low impact days to minimize long term joint injuries.

Stair climbers, steppers, elliptical and ski machines are all popular machines to improve cardiovascular endurance.  Each machine has its own unique strengths and challenges.  In some cases the workload can be too great for beginners resulting in a less than enjoyable experience.   We know if you do not enjoy your exercise, you probably will not do it very long.  On the other side of the coin, we know that some individuals love a challenge and are in good shape and are ready to optimize the workout.  Having a good cardio machine as an option is a big positive for most exercisers.  We recommend using your favorite music on your phone  or watching TV to help pass the time of the repetitive motion.

Swimming is an excellent choice and can be done inside or outside.  If you are considering this as an aerobic option you need to have a medium to good skill level in order to achieve a training effect.  Also keep in mind most of the work occurs in the upper body so the training is very different than cycling and running, which focuses on the lower body.  However, special populations benefit greatly from this non weight bearing activity.  Water aerobics and water walking are great alternatives for individuals with joint pain.

Now that you understand the definition of aerobics and have a basic idea of what activities and options are available to experience a great cardiovascular workout you simply need to select one or more and do a j20!  I always encourage beginners to try several and master a few.  As you know, variety is the spice of exercise life.

Published by Sadie