Fine Tuning the Ultimate Machine

Looking, feeling, and performing your best takes more than eating right and studying hard. Exercise is one of the necessary ingredients in the formula for achieving the strength, stamina, and attitude to be successful in your academic and social life. Your body is not divided into two sections, one physical and one mental. It is a unique combination of both. Exercise has many psychological as well as physical benefits. Exercise can improve the quality of your life by releasing the negative effects of built-up stress. It will help you relax and even sleep better, thereby improving your academic performance and concentration.

Exercise is helpful in controlling weight, improving well-being, managing stress, reducing blood pressure, developing stronger bones, lowering cholesterol, improving posture, dealing with insomnia, and lessening the risk of heart disease. It can also help develop a higher energy level, increase strength and endurance, decrease infections and shorten recovery time when they do occur, as well as improve overall physical and mental health. For women, weight-bearing exercise can reduce their chances of developing osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones that often occurs later in life.

Benefits of Exercise

Feeling Better

Looking Better

Performing Better

Reducing Risk

Are you convinced? Yes, exercise can get you that great body you have always dreamed about. Are you ready to commit to working out?

Finding the time to exercise in a busy schedule of attending classes, studying, socializing, and holding a part-time job may seem very difficult. But the rewards are looking, feeling, and performing better in everything you do. Like many activities, exercise is best done in moderation. Too much or the wrong kind can be worse than none at all.

The Story of Frank and Sarah

Consider Frank. He decided to take up running to get himself back in shape. Without bothering to stretch or warm up, he went jogging with a friend who had been running 5 or 6 miles a day for several months. Frank made the mistake of trying to keep up with him.

Halfway through the run, Frank felt a sharp pain in his right calf. Believing he could run through the pain, he continued. A mile from the finish he was forced to walk, and his friend went on without him. By the time Frank got back to the dorms, he was exhausted.

When he tried to get out of bed the next morning, he couldn't walk because of the pain and swelling in his calf. His roommate helped him to the student health service; the diagnosis was a torn calf muscle. For the next week he limped to his classes on crutches and was completely demoralized about the prospects of ever getting in shape again. It was over two months before he could consider running on the leg, and he wisely decided to join a beginning non-impact aerobics class.

Sarah had a better result when she began exercising. Having been on her high school track team, she knew the importance of warming up and stretching. She also knew that conditioning was a gradual process that should be enjoyed. She and her friend Nancy decided together that they wanted to start working out and set a goal of training for a 5 K race.

They allowed 12 weeks to train for the event. They started each run with a relaxing jog from their dorms to the running trail. Their muscles were warmed up and then they spent 10 minutes stretching before setting out at a comfortable pace. Their comfortable pace enabled them to talk while they ran. As they jogged, they discussed a class they shared, difficult assignments, and plans for the weekend.

Their run through campus was punctuated by several stops at water fountains. After about 40 minutes, they spent an additional 10 minutes cooling down by walking and carefully stretching the muscles in their legs. This exercise period was special to them, and they made sure to schedule it at least three times a week. They took care not to push themselves too hard and would slow down or stop at the first sign of pain or injury.

If they had time, they would exercise five or six times a week but made sure of getting at least one rest day; they never worked out seven days in a row. They also varied the intensity of their workouts, running harder on a day they felt good and taking it a little easier for the next few days. Following the run with a shower, they felt relaxed and ready for an hour of studying before dinner.

There are many ways to exercise, and it's important that you enjoy the physical activity you choose.

Exercise can and should be fun. It can change your body and your life for the better. You can avoid injury. Trying to do too much too soon is asking for an injury that will be painful and limit more activities than just exercise. Try going to a dance on crutches! The following questions and answers will give you the information you need to get started, and to follow through, on a sound exercise program that will get you in top shape.

What does it mean to be “in shape” or physically fit?

The term physical fitness comprises many components, including aerobic conditioning (cardiovascular fitness), strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, body composition and mental attitude.Ê All these factors play various roles in determining our “physical fitness.”

We are designed for movement, for physical activity.Ê Today too many people do not get enough exercise, as our lifestyles are more sedentary and focus around computers, cars and TV. Being in shape means that your body is trained and ready for activity, and for enjoying life more.

Being physically fit means the different parts of your body work together to give you the ability and energy to feel, perform, and look better.Ê The parts of our body that are trained by activity are the heart, lungs and blood vessels (aerobic and anaerobic conditioning), muscles (strength, speed), joints (flexibility), neurological system (balance, coordination), weight (body composition), and mental attitude.

The type of body and muscles that you inherited from your parents determines how much you can improve in any area by working out. If you inherited a short, muscular body build (mesomorphic body), no matter how hard you train you will not be tall and thin (ectomorphic body). Comparing yourself with others and trying to compete with them is unrealistic and self-defeating. Using the information here, establish your own goals and fitness standards. Make them realistic and attainable.

When you are physically fit, you can exercise longer and more intensely before reaching your maximum heart rate and anaerobic threshold. You also have a slower pulse rate at rest, indicating that your heart is stronger and needs to work less to be effective. It takes a minimum of 6 to 12 weeks to see the effect of training, so don't become discouraged too soon.

I don’t have time to exercise. What’s in it for me?

Plenty.Ê You’ll have more energy, sleep better, and find that things that used to be hard are easier. In fact, you may find that you are more focussed and do things more efficiently so that you DO seem to have more time in the day. You may not leap tall buildings with a single bound, but running up a flight of stairs will no longer leave you gasping, and you’ll have the energy to study and yes, party, longer.

Exercise has dramatic beneficial effects on your body. It increases your basal metabolic rate, which in turn means you burn more calories even at rest and use more fat as fuel. This decreases the cholesterol in your bloodstream and lowers your percentage of body fat. It also means that you can eat more and not gain weight.

The heart is a muscle, and exercise makes it stronger and able to do more work with less effort. Exercise reduces your resting heart rate and blood pressure and lowers the risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure). Long-term studies have shown a lower rate of death from heart attack and stroke in people who exercise regularly.

Weight-bearing, jumping and weight lifting exercise builds bones, making them stronger and thicker. This may be of particular importance to women, who have a high risk of developing osteoporosis-a thinning of the bones that makes them susceptible to fracture. Women by nature have less bone density than men do. Because of hormonal changes, they are also more likely to develop osteoporosis if their periods stop before or after menopause.Ê Although usually considered a postmenopausal disease, osteoporosis can begin many years earlier with failure to build strong bones when young. The ages from 18 to 30 are bone-building years and exercise plays an important role.

And important for busy stressed out people, exercise is a great stress reducer. In fact, moving and working out is how your body was designed to deal with stress. Stress causes the body to have a hormone surge (principally adrenaline) and leads to the “fight or flight response”.Ê We are designed then to do something physical to burn up that adrenaline instead of having it stay in our bodies and cause irritability, lack of sleep, high blood pressure and more.

As a stress reducer, exercise provides the body with an outlet for some of the hormones that are released into the bloodstream when you are tense, angry, or anxious. The normal response to stress of fight-or-flight may have been helpful to a caveman facing a saber-toothed tiger in an emergency, but for a student unexpectedly called on in class in front of 30 other persons, there is not much opportunity to use up these hormones.

Problems as diverse as PMS (premenstrual syndrome), eczema (skin rash), anxiety, high blood pressure and insomnia can result from stress (see the section Emotional Well-Being for more information about stress).

Exercise, when done regularly and for 45 minutes or more may also cause your body to release endorphins. These natural, calming, pain killing substances explain the so-called runner's high and relaxed mood after exercise that lots of people experience. In many people exercise helps relieve depression and anxiety, and promotes relaxation and sleep.

People who work out have a better self-image and are happier with whom they are. For all of us in this weight and image obsessed culture, working out will get us closer to our inherited best body.Ê More muscle mass, less body fat, and muscles that are toned for activity is the body you were meant to have.Ê Your own body, trained, not the image of a model in a magazine or a steroid pumped weightlifter. Your best body will result from working out in a healthy manner Chances are you will like that body, regardless of the number on a weight scale.

Should I see a doctor before I begin exercising?

Unless you have certain risk factors, most men under 40 and women under 50 do not need to see a doctor before starting exercise (see risk factor list below to see if you need a physical). However, even if you do not have a risk factor, you may benefit from a check up before you start, especially if you are planning on training hard. That check up can evaluate any underlying injuries to be sure they are fully healed, detect problems like asthma or anemia that might limit your performance, and give you guidelines for an exercise program.

Reasons to see a doctor before beginning a vigorous exercise program:

1. You have a history of heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, blood clots, or a recent infection.

2. Your family has a history of sudden death or heart disease under the age of 55.

3. You have had lightheadedness, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, or passed out during exercise.

4.ÊYou have had a recent weight change (gain or loss) greater than 10 percent of your total body weight.

5.ÊYou have a history of exercise-induced asthma or exercise-associated allergies.

6.ÊYou are taking any medication (other than oral contraceptives, acne medication, or vitamins) on a regular basis.

7.ÊYou are a smoker.

8.ÊYou are a man over 40 or a woman over 50.

9. You have a musculoskeletal problem or injury that has not healed.

None of these circumstances means that you should not necessarily exercise. On the contrary, a well-designed exercise program could be beneficial. However, to avoid exercises that might make your condition worse, you should start with a clear understanding of any medically recommended limitations to your exercise program and get treated for any underlying problems that might not make your program successful.

What is the best way to exercise?

Most experts advise two types: combine exercise that trains the cardiovascular system (aerobic) with activities that also train the musculoskeletal system (resistance training). Design a combination program that will be something that you enjoy, you will stick with, and meets your goals. These exercises should be sport specific to get the “biggest bang for your buck”.

For example, if you want to increase your muscle mass and have a more buffed body and higher lean body mass, then you will emphasize more strength training but not neglect aerobic training because of its calorie burning effects. If you want to run a marathon, then you will do more running (aerobic training) than weight lifting.

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise requires the heart and lungs to continuously pump oxygen-carrying blood to the muscles. Aerobic exercise is continuous and at a comfortable intensity. It is the best way to train and to become fit. Aerobic exercise trains the entire cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, blood, veins, and arteries) as well as the specific muscle groups doing the exercise.

It is the type of exercise that you do when you are moving and you are not breathless. A good indicator that you are performing aerobically is that you are able to talk during the exercise. Aerobic exercise is the most efficient way of exercising.Ê

At a cellular level, it is done in the presence of oxygen and generates more energy units (adenosine triphosphate, or ATP) than anaerobic exercise does (exercise at higher intensities when the oxygen is not available). Glycogen stored in the muscles is converted and combined with the oxygen for energy to perform the exercise

You should be able to carry on a conversation during moderate aerobic exercise. Some examples of aerobic exercise are brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, aerobic dancing, soccer, basketball, cross-country skiing, roller-skating, and rowing. Exercise performed intermittently with bursts of high intensity - like tennis, racquetball, and sprinting - is not purely aerobic because you are working so hard that you go beyond the ability of oxygen to fuel the muscles. It is mainly anaerobic exercise.

What is anaerobic exercise?

High intensity exercise that can only be done for short periods is anaerobic. Anaerobic exercise depends almost entirely on the conversion to energy from glycogen stored in the muscles.Ê There is no oxygen available because you are working out so hard, you have gone beyond the ability of your body to provide oxygenated blood to your muscles.Ê This is close to “hitting” the wall.Ê It is the time when you have to stop because your lungs are going to burst.

If oxygen is not available for energy, glucose use rises dramatically, and the buildup of body wastes, such as lactic acid, cannot be removed from the muscles. The muscle rapidly fatigues, and within a short time you must stop the exercise.

Examples of anaerobic exercise are sprinting and heavy weight lifting. While anaerobic exercises promote muscular strength, they can overload heart without really conditioning it. Anaerobic exercise should therefore be done in concert with aerobic exercise to develop cardiovascular fitness.

That is why your body can only do it for a short period of time. Aerobic exercise also uses glucose as an energy source in addition to oxygen, but in much smaller amounts. When glucose is converted to energy with oxygen, it generates 13 times as much energy than if it is converted without oxygen in anaerobic exercise. When the bloodstream is supplying oxygen for energy, you can continue to exercise for a longer time, conditioning your cardiovascular system as well as your muscles. Aerobic exercise also lets the bloodstream remove waste products from the muscle and enhances vital capillary exchanges.

You can train to push the limit of your anaerobic system.Ê By training with high intenstiy exercise your body develops adaptive systems to deal with the lack of oxygen.Ê Interval and sprint training help train the anaerobic system.

How can I determine how hard I should work out?

Sport scientists have determined that measuring your heart rate during exercise is a good gauge of exercise intensity. Knowing what your target heart rate should be helps you plan how hard you should work out. Most of the time you will want to do aerobic exercise at 60 to 85 percent of your maximum ability to workout as determined by the target heart rate for your age.

Exercising above 90 percent of your total capacity will move you into anaerobic exercise, and you will not be able to maintain the exercise long enough to properly condition your heart and lungs. Exercising below 60 percent of your total capacity is insufficient. Students who walk around campus to classes are exercising, but not at a high enough level or intensity to get in good shape.

Your work out should be mostly aerobic and at 60-85 percent of your maximum capacity.Ê You can determine your maximum capacity based on your maximum heart rate by deducting your age from 220. This general formula doesn't take into account many variables such as gender and level of conditioning, but it is a starting place. Talk to a trained exercise instructor to get more specific guidelines for your training program.

By way of a general example, here is how you could work out a target heart rate formula based on being on your age.Ê Thus if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate is calculated by taking 220 and subtracting 20 (your age) = 200.Ê That is the maximum. You should not be exercising at your maximum.Ê To be in the training aerobic zone of 60-85% of the maximum heart rate follow the formula below:

ÊÊÊ Target heart rate (220-your age) =Ê _____Ê x 60 % =Ê ______ lowest aerobic HR

ÊÊÊ Target heart rate (220-your age) =Ê _____Ê x 85 % =Ê ______ highest aerobic HR

If you are 20 years old, your estimated target heart rate is 200; 60 percent of 200 is 120 and 85 is 170 beats per minute. You should exercise energetically enough to make your heart beat no less than 120 times a minute and no more than 170 beats per minute.Ê If you do a few sprints or heavy weight lifting, your heart rate can go higher that this range, but it will put you into the anaerobic exercise zone and you will not be able to sustain that peak exercise for long.

Now those of you who are scientists will realize that these numbers are just estimates.Ê There are more accurate ways of determining your heart rate and training zone. However, these ways are often expensive and may not be covered by your medical insurance plan.

An accurate determination of your maximum heart rate can be made with an exercise stress test, in which your heart rate is continuously monitored while you exercise at increasingly difficult levels. When you reach the point at which your heartbeat no longer increases its rate, you have reached your maximum heart rate.

Another test to measure your total capacity determines your maximum oxygen uptake, or V02 max. During an exercise stress test, you breathe into a mouthpiece, and a metabolic analyzer measures the maximum amount of oxygen you are able to consume during exercise.

Because these tests can be expensive, check with your health service to find out if this service is offered on your campus or through you health care plan.

How do I check my heart rate?

Don’t lose hope if you have tried but could not do it. It is not easy to determine your heart rate while exercising.Ê First you have to find your pulse. You can check your pulse either at your wrist or at the carotid artery in your neck.Ê The best way to find these pulses is to practice taking your pulse when you are not exercising.Ê

Use the soft pads on the tips of your index and third fingers.Ê They have the most sensitive nerve endings and can help feel the pulse.Ê Then find the body locations where the arteries are close to the surface and you can find the gentle wave or upward tap in the artery that indicates the heart is beating.Ê

You can find the pulse most easily in the forearm near the thumb side of the undersurface of the wrist. Put your finger pads over that area and press gently until you feel the brief “tap” of the pulse.Ê Press firmly but not too hard.

You can also feel the pulse in the carotid artery in the neck.Ê Again, using the soft pads of your index and third finger, find the lower angle of your jaw.Ê Drop straight down from the bony angle of the your jaw to the upper part of the neck. Go right in front of the big muscles at the side of the neck, press in and feel for the pulse.Ê

If it is hard for you find your pulse at rest, have a friend or exercise instructor show you how to find it.Ê You may also want to consider wearing a watch or chest band that can also check your pulse.

The next trick is to check your pulse while you are exercising to see if you get into your target heart rate. Most of the time you have to stop exercise to check your pulse and if you stop for too long, then the pulse will decrease. Stop for a short period of time and check your pulse for 6-10 seconds. Then resume exercise and multiply the number of heart beats you got in 6-10 seconds to convert it into the heart rate for one minute.

To accurately take your pulse, start the time period immediately after a heartbeat and then count the number of heartbeats over the next 6 seconds. If you are using a digital watch, start counting your heartbeat as soon as the zero appears. When the figure 1 first appears, 1 second has elapsed; when the figure 6 first appears, 6 seconds have elapsed and you stop counting your heartbeat. If you wait until the 6 disappears and the 7 appears, you will have counted for 7 seconds, a second too long. When you get the number of heart beats for 6 seconds, multiply by 10 to get the number of heartbeats in a minute.ÊIf you decided to count for 10 seconds, follow the principles above and then multiply by 6 to get the number of heartbeats in a minute.

How can I measure my cardiovascular fitness?

Your cardiovascular fitness is best measured by your maximum oxygen uptake, or V02 max. Your V02 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume during 1 minute of strenuous exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight. A well-conditioned athlete will have a V02 max of over 50 to 70 milliliters per kilogram. If you wish to get an estimate of this measurement without taking an exercise stress test, try the endurance 1.5-mile run. Find a track and determine how many laps equal 1.5 miles. After warming up and stretching thoroughly, time your run for the 1.5-mile distance. Be sure you cool down and stretch again after the exercise, particularly if you are not used to running.

My time for the endurance 1.5-mile run is ___ minutes ____ seconds.

Consult the chart below to find your estimated V02maximum.

Estimated V02 Max for 1.5-Mile Endurance Run Time
Time (min/sec)ÊÊEstimated V02 Max (mi/kg x mm)
7:30 and under 75
7:31-8:00 72
8:01-8:30 67
8:31-9:00Ê 62
9:01-9:30Ê 58
9:31-10:00Ê 55
10:01-10:30 52
10:31-11:00 49
11:01-11:30 46

Is there any other way to measure my cardiovascular fitness?

Your resting pulse rate can also be used as a measurement of fitness. As your conditioning improves, your heart rate at rest will decrease. Check your pulse rate immediately after you wake up and before you get out of bed in the morning, or after you have been sitting or lying quietly for 5 minutes. Take your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get your heart rate per minute.

You can use your resting and your time in the 1-¸ mile run to measure your progress as you exercise. Also, make sure your exercise program is balanced and includes flexibility and strength training.

Shouldn’t I be lifting weights too?

In one word, yes.Ê New guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have included strength or resistance training as part of a general health and fitness program. These include lifting weights, using weight machines, using free weights, or doing exercises such as push-ups that use your own body weight.Ê Many benefits to overall health have been found connected with resistance training. These include increasing your muscular strength and endurance, increasing lean body mass (muscle) so that you burn more calories at rest, strengthening the muscles needed for good posture and prevention of injuries and back pain, and increasing bone density. There may also be benefits to your heart, cholesterol and circulation if resistance training is done correctly.

How much weight do I have to lift?

There are many ways to do resistance training.Ê If you have never done it before, you may want to check in with a fitness instructor or take a class to assure correct technique (see below: “I have never lifted before”).Ê How much weight should you lift?

When you start out, begin with lifting a weight that seems comfortable to you.Ê Say fifteen pounds for a biceps curl.Ê Then try lifting heavier weights.Ê When you find the heaviest weight that you can lift without pain for one lift then you have your “one-repetition maximum” or 1-RM.Ê Then start a lifting program with half of that weight.Ê

Most programs are done the same way as aerobic training – a warm up and stretching of the muscles you are going to use before lifting and a cool down and stretching afterward.Ê You should allow 48 hours between resistance training sessions to get the gains of building muscles and recovering. So you only need to do resistance training 2-3 times a week.

How much resistance training should I do?

Just like other types of training, it depends upon your goals. In training the muscles, you generally do a set of repetitions at the chosen weight. That is called a “set.”ÊÊ Usually you do 8-12 repetitions of the chosen weight.Ê If the weight makes you feel tired in the 8-10 repetitions in the first set, then you have chosen the right weight.Ê In the second and third set, try to do the same number of repetitions. You may find you cannot do that many as your muscles fatigue. Traditionally a person does three sets of these repetitions. Don’t worry about it if you cannot complete the second and third sets. You will still get plenty of benefit.

People who want bigger bulkier muscles, will lift heavier weights for fewer reps. People who want toned but not bulky muscles will lift lower weights for longer reps. How much bulk you develop depends upon the type of lifting you do and your inherited muscle type.

I heard that one set of reps is enough for weight lifting. Is that true?

You heard right. Good news for busy people, new research has found that you only need to lift one set of 15 repetitions of the major 8-10 muscle groups to get the basic health benefits. The key to getting more from doing less is to lift weights heavy enough to make you fatigue after 8-12 reps.

You also need to train for at least 13 weeks.Ê This is enough to maintain muscle mass, endurance and strength and may be the best way to go if you are busy. It will not give you the maximum gains in muscle size or strength. But for busy people who might skip resistance training, this is a way to get the benefits in less time.

I have never lifted weights before. How should I do it?

Consider starting with a class or a trainer to show you the ropes the first time.

Here are some guidelines you should follow:

I’ve heard that lifting weights will slow me down or make me gain weight. Is this true?

There are a lot of things other than weight lifting that will slow you down if you are a runner or do primarily aerobic sports like soccer, basketball or swimming.Ê Weight lifting is usually not the cause.

If you are doing resistance training for a specific sport, you want to emphasize training the power muscles of that sport and building your lean body mass. By getting more muscles, you will have more strength, speed, and endurance.

Estimates are that if you lift 2-3 times a week you may gain a pound of muscle a moth for about the first six months.Ê Muscles weigh more than fat so your weight goes up if you start lifting. But you may find that your clothing size is smaller as you get more toned.Ê

You will also have a higher resting metabolic rate (BMR - how fast your body uses calories when resting).Ê For every 3 pounds of muscle you gain, you increase your BMR by about 7% Furthermore, the weight is in active tissue that will help your strength, power and endurance in sport, not hinder it.

My coach wants me to lift, but I don’t want to look too big or “muscle-bound”

Every person gets different amounts of muscle growth from resistance training.Ê How much you get depends upon the type of muscles you inherited and your body type.Ê

People who are born tall and thin (ectomorphic) are unlikely to get big bulky muscles no matter how much or hard they lift. If you are a muscular type of person (mesomorphic), you will see more muscle development with any strength-training program.

Men get more muscles growth than women because of their male hormones (androgens).Ê And people who take supplemental male hormones, even those that are sold over-the-counter such as androstenedione, can also get more muscle development. These substances all have significant side effects and should not be used.Ê

If you want strong toned muscles not bulky muscles, then lift lower weights and do more reps.

How long will it take me to get in shape?

It depends on a lot of things. If you start exercising 4 or 5 days a week, a minimum of 12 to 40 minutes a day, after 2 weeks you'll feel different - worse, maybe, than you've felt for years. In about 4 to 6 weeks you'll think you've done it all, and the only thing left is to stop doing it. In about 6 months, when you can exercise comfortably for an hour to an hour and a half 5 or 6 times a week, you'll feel in shape. After a year, when you get anxious because you haven't worked out 2 days in a row, then you'll be in shape.

Seriously, how long it takes to get in shape depends on your level of fitness when you start the and how consistently and hard you can work out. Young adults have greater potential for improving their fitness than do older per-sons and may improve their conditioning by as much as 40 percent. But this will take time-three to six months of consistent training. It is unrealistic to expect to turn around several years of sedentary behavior in a month or two.

The first 8 weeks of training will show the most dramatic improvement, and from there the benefits will accumulate at a more gradual pace. Allow yourself at least 6 to 8 weeks of training before you begin a regular sport or run a 10-kilometer race. Be sure to condition the specific muscle groups for the sport in which you are going to participate. Playing sports such as tennis, volleyball, and basketball won't get you in shape but will help maintain your cardiovascular fitness. Make sure you are fit enough to participate in the first place by choosing an aerobic and resistance training activity for 4 to 8 weeks.

Planning for success: Designing your Exercise Program

Now that you know some of the basics about exercise, you can design a program that meets your needs. Each exercise session should have a warm up, cool down and stretching.Ê You should check in with yourself during each session to make sure you are doing effective work (using your target heart rate or target weight lifting), getting enough fluids, and not getting injured. You should make sure that you have good nutrition and are not “running on empty” for a hard work out (see Nutrition).

Exercise the Smart Way: Components for each exercise session

You may have heard this before, but the way to design the program is the F.I.T.T way – standing for Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type. How much you do depends upon your goals and your overall level of fitness before beginning.Ê These are general guidelines only and need to be made specific for you.Ê Check with a physician, fitness instructor, athletic trainer, coach, or exercise physiologist to make a very specific program for you.Ê You can also check out the web site for the American Council on ExerciseÊ (www.acefitness.org, 800-825-3636) for information on certified trainers.

Getting FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type)

Frequency: How often do you work out?

Intensity: How hard you should work out?

Time: How long should you exercise?

Type: What exercise should I do?

You need both an aerobic base and sport specific strength training and activities for a sport.

Beginners: Start with 3 days a week at 40-60 percent max heart rate for 12-20 minutes.Ê Make it a habit that you enjoy and use good form. You are building a base of good aerobic conditioning and beginning resistance training. Emphasize stretching, checking pulse, keeping the commitment

Want to go do more? Add 10% more in intensity, duration or frequency each week. Do not increase in more than one area each week or you are at risk for injury.

Intermediate: After 8 weeks you will start to see the training effect by noticing that your resting heart rate is lower and you feel stronger. You should be exercising 3-5 days a week at 50-85% Maximum Heart Rate for up to 45 minutes. Emphasize pushing yourself a bit more and having a well round aerobic and resistance training program.Ê Continue good form, stretching, and avoid injuries.

Advanced: Training for sport or event 5 – 6 days a week.Ê Always have easy days after hard days and one day off per week. Target heart rate 70-90% of max, 30-90 minutes or longer. Emphasize nutrition, recovery, stretching, to avoid injuries at this level.

Maintenance: Exercise 3-5 days a week for 20-30 minutes at 60-85% max HR. This will maintain your level of fitness. It is helpful to realize you can maintain your level of fitness even though you may be forced to reduce your exercise time due to time constraints or minor injury.

The best way to see improvement is to keep a record of your training and your pulse rates. Setting goals is a good way to motivate you to improve.

Why is a warm-up period and stretching so important?

A good warm-up such as jogging or rope jumping, followed by stretching is the best way to get ready for sport or exercise. It will help your neurological and circulatory systems get ready and your muscles perform better. Stretching before is important for getting the muscles ready for activity so that they are at their effective muscle length. Stretching should also get the joints and their supporting tendons and ligaments ready for whatever crazy all out leaping and jumping you have planned for them. Stretching before also helps any areas that have been injured and are stiff or have scar tissue. The jury is out on whether stretching helps reduce injuries, but if it is done correctly, it has many benefits.

Many people skip the warm-up because they think it's boring. They start stretching or working out immediately, not realizing that a 5- to 10-minute warm-up and some stretching have a number of benefits. Why do you have to warm-up by doing some light activity before you stretch?

The increased blood flow to the muscles doing the exercise makes them more supple and better able to both stretch and perform. Think of your muscle as a piece of saltwater taffy: when cold, it's brittle and tends to break; when warmed up, it stretches and becomes more pliable.

The warm-up period allows your cardiovascular system and neurological system to adapt gradually to increased activity by adjusting the blood flow from other parts of the body. It “sets” the joints and nerves for what you are about to do so that they are ready. Muscles that have warmed up are less likely to pull and be injured. Your body does not respond well to sudden changes in activity, just like you can’t take a car from being cold in the garage to going 60 miles an hours.Ê It has to warm-up. The warm-up period gives you a chance to adapt mentally and physically to the exercise you are about to do.

What is a good way to warm up?

Warm up with brisk walking, light jogging, stationary bike riding, skipping rope or mimicking the muscle actions of your sport until you begin sweating. The point is to ease into the main exercise gradually and not to do anything strenuously until your body is prepared for it. Give yourself about 10 minutes of warm-up to be sure you are ready. Stretch your muscles both before and after the workout.

What is the point of stretching?

The gentle stretching and range of motion of the muscles after the warm-up prepares muscles and joints for more vigorous exercise that might strain the unprepared ligaments, cartilage, tendons, muscles, and joints. Stretching sets your muscle fibers at their optimal length for muscular activity and also improves the interaction of muscle and nerve for better coordination and balance. You are able to run, jump, and throw more effectively. Stretching after your workout keeps the muscles from tightening and will mean less stiffness and soreness the next day.

Be sure to stretch your muscles symmetrically, concentrating on those you'll be using when you are actually exercising. Stretching can gradually increase your flexibility.

It's important not to bounce when you stretch. A slow and steady stretch of the muscle is not painful. Bouncing, or ballistic stretching, is counterproductive. Your muscles will tense up to prevent overstretching and end up tighter than if you had exerted the steady, painless pressure of a good stretch, or static-style stretching. Exhale when you stretch, and then hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds at a level of comfort. If you need help, try programs like yoga that incorporate the breath and visualization into a stretching program.

Why is the cool-down period beneficial?

The cool-down period allows the body to remove the built-up waste products from the muscle. It also allows the circulation and neurological system to gradually return to resting levels. If you do not do a cool-down you can feel faint, dizzy, have irregular heartbeats, and develop more muscle soreness.

It's important to understand that the cool-down is not a 5-minute period of inactivity. Similar to the warm-up, it is a time of reduced activity and transition from the exercise state to resting and recovery.

Simply walking and stretching for 5 to 10 minutes after you run should be sufficient to allow the heartbeat to reduce gradually instead of suddenly and to allow the blood flow to continue through the muscle, removing the waste products that build up during intense activity. If you do not have a cool-down period, the waste products will remain in the muscle, contributing to muscle stiffness and soreness.

If you stop exercising abruptly, a rapid reduction of the heart rate contributes to pooling of the blood supply in the muscle tissue. When the heart slows down quickly, it no longer maintains enough blood pressure to supply blood to the brain, and you may feel dizzy and faint. This is why you see athletes continue to walk after they finish a marathon or even a sprint. Otherwise, their blood supply would pool in their legs and they might pass out.

Do I have to stretch after my workout?

The exercise police will not arrest you if you do not stretch after your cool down. But if you do stretch you are likely to have less muscle soreness, quicker recovery, less injuries and greater gains in flexibility.Ê

Professional athletes are well aware of the critical importance of stretching after their sport. They often get a massage to help with the recovery and stretching. But if you don’t have your personal masseuse, you too can get the benefits by stretching, self massage, or using a muscle massager ,Ê It gets the toxins out of the muscles, restores them to a natural length and helps get the joints more flexible.

How long should I exercise at each session?

Research has shown that to be effective, your workouts should last for a minimum of 20 minutes at 60 percent of your total capacity. If you have not exercised for some time, this may be very difficult in the beginning. If necessary, cut back your effort instead of shortening your time. Try to increase the duration of your workout by 5 minutes every week or two until you can comfortably exercise for 30 to 45 minutes at 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Remember, to get the most benefit out of your exercise, you must not let your heart rate slow down. Your exercise must be continuous.

An important factor to consider in your training is cyclic versus progressive intensity. Over the period of a week your workouts should vary in intensity, with perhaps one or two hard workouts per week surrounded by moderate and easy workouts. For example:

Mon.Tues.Wed.Thurs.Fri.Sat. Sun.
easymoderatehardeasymoderatehard rest

To incorporate progressive intensity into your workouts and increase your fitness over the months, you must slowly increase the level of difficulty of all your workouts-easy, moderate, and hard. This is best accomplished by a subjective judgment based on how you feel and the amount of pain-free exercise you can endure. Over time you will find your endurance improving.

How many times a week should I exercise?

You need to exercise a minimum of 3 times a week and preferably 5 or 6 times. The activities can be varied and needn't be repetitive or boring. You might go for a bike ride after class on Monday, take an aerobics class every Thursday, and play basketball for an hour on Saturday morning. You would get in your minimum of 3 exercise periods and soon find your appetite for more exercise increasing.

Working out 7 times a week can be dangerous because the likelihood of injury from overtraining increases. Once you can comfortably train for 45 minutes 5 times a week at 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, you are in pretty good shape. If you feel good one day, push it a little harder. If you're not feeling too strong, make it a light workout and take it easy. Don't try to increase the time and the intensity of your workout on the same day; you may injure yourself.

I'm out of shape. What activity should I start with?

If you know you are not in good physical condition or if you are overweight, start with a brisk 20-minute walk, either by yourself or with an understanding friend. Keep it up at least 3 or 4 times a week until you feel comfortable enough to try some easy jogging or bicycle riding. Incorporate exercise into your life by walking upstairs instead of taking the elevator. If you are a commuter student and have a car, park farther from the library or the football stadium and take the time to walk briskly there and back.

Exercise should be fun, and picking an activity you don't enjoy is sure to doom your exercise program. Many individual and team sports provide aerobic exercise, but make sure to get involved at a level that matches your abilities. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming discouraged and possibly injured.

How much exercise is really enough?

To improve your conditioning, you need to exercise 30 minutes a day 4 times a week at a minimum of 60 percent of your total capacity. To maintain your present condition, you need to exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes a day 3 times a week at 60 percent capacity. Those time limits do not include warm-up and cool-down time. The shorter workout will not improve your physical status, but merely maintain it. Keep that in mind during those busy days of finals when time is precious.

I’ve heard I can stay in shape just by climbing a few stairs a day. Is that true?

Not quite. It needs to be more than just a few stairs.Ê The Centers for Disease Control and ACSM have published guidelines on activities you might do on a daily basis and how they can help you stay in shape. To get the basic health benefits of exercise, researchers have found that you can do just 30 minutes a day of intermittent activity.Ê This would include walking 10 minutes briskly to class, climbing stairs for 10 minutes at lunch and dancing an aerobics routine to the nighttime news for 10 minutes.

This new information encourages people not in a regular exercise program to just get moving more.Ê Walk to a store, use the stairs, and take exercise breaks when you study. This program of “exercise light” is not enough to get you in great shape for a race or softball season, but will keep you from losing ground when you find you don’t have the time for regular exercise.

Actually, when you are under pressure and have a lot of studying, you should not cut back on your exercise. Exercising will help you relax and stay mentally alert, making your study efforts more effective. Researchers have found that the human brain needs to take breaks every 60-90 minutes when you are mentally working hard.Ê Brief exercise is a great way to take those breaks so that your mind is refocused when you go back to studying or concentrating.

What type of shoes is best?

Proper shoes are the most important equipment for exercising. Good shoes absorb shock, provide stability and protection, and are the best investment for preventing injury. Select a shoe specific to your sport. For example, don't use an aerobic shoe if your sport is jogging. Shoes are designed to satisfy different requirements for different sports. Basketball shoes are perfect for the jumping and short sprints in that sport, but they might not perform so well if you go on a long-distance run.

When selecting a shoe, take the time to ensure a good fit. Just because your most comfortable shoes are a size 9, don't assume that every size 9 shoe will fit perfectly. Always try on both shoes and walk or jog around the store to make sure they are comfortable. Never buy shoes that are too short or too narrow: they rarely, if ever, stretch to fit your feet. Be sure there is enough room to move your toes in the toe box but not so much room that your feet slide around.

Shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are usually slightly swelled-just as they will be when you exercise. Wear socks of the same thickness you will be wearing in your sport.

The shoe’s midsole (the layer between the insole and the outsole) provides cushioning as your foot hits the ground. Research has shown that it is usually the first part of the shoe to wear out. After about 200 running miles, the midsole has lost 60 percent of the shock-absorbing capabilities. That may seem like a great distance, but 5 miles a day, 5 days a week, mean a runner's shoes are worn out in less than 2 months!

Running in those old tennis shoes that are so comfortable is asking for trouble from overuse injuries. Even if there is plenty of tread left on the sole and no wear shows on the upper part, the midsole may be worn out. You can buy a cushioning insert to extend the life of your shoe’s midsole, but they add weight to the shoe and may make the fit tighter.

The heel and the heel cup are also very important. The heel should be about a half inch higher than the front of the shoe. The heel cup should be firm and well rounded so that your heel fits snugly. This prevents excess wobble when your foot first hits the ground, reducing ankle and Achilles tendon problems.

If you are having chronic foot pain, muscle soreness, tendonitis, or some other discomfort, you may be a candidate for orthotics, which are custom-made inserts for your shoes. They give support that may clear up some of those problems. Orthotics usually last variable amounts of time depending upon how they are made and what they are made of.

If you have ‘flat feet” you can try over-the-counter arch supports.Ê If you have more complex problems with your feet or lower legs, you will need to see a health care provider to be fit for custom orthotics.Ê A podiatrist, sports medicine physician or physical therapist is trained in how to make these. They start with casts of your feet and have the orthotics constructed specifically for your feet and your needs.

What other equipment is important?

Clothing should be comfortable and appropriate for both the temperature and the sport you are participating in. Modern synthetic fabrics, like polypropylene for tops and tights, dry quickly and retain heat. For hot days, light-colored fabrics absorb less heat. When exercising in the cold, remember that body heat is lost through the head and the hands. Wear a hat and gloves to protect you and maintain overall body warmth.

Most women, particularly if they wear a B or larger cup, should have a supportive sports bra to reduce motion and provide both support and comfort. For larger-breasted women, a bra plus an elastic wrap or ACE bandage may add protection and comfort. For male and female distance runners, a Band-Aid over each nipple will prevent chafing and bleeding.

For most sports men should wear an athletic supporter to protect their genitals and give support. Some sports, such as baseball and boxing, necessitate the use of a cup, a hard protective device that shields the genitals from sudden, unexpected impact.

A mouthpiece is essential in collision sports like football, boxing, and hockey and may be advisable in contact sports like soccer and basketball. Impact goggles are mandatory for racquetball and squash to prevent eye injuries and possible loss of vision.

If you ride a bicycle or a horse, you can prevent brain damage or death from a simple fall by wearing a properly fitted helmet with a firm chinstrap and forehead protection.

What should I do to prevent injuries?

Don't exercise too much too soon. Excess exercise is probably the greatest cause of injury. Do not ignore pain. It is your body's way of telling you something is wrong; if you don't listen, the problem will only get worse.

Take the time for a good warm-up at the beginning of every exercise session, and allow time for a proper cool-down after exercising. Use safe equipment; wear shoes that fit properly and give you adequate support; wear clothes that are comfortable and suitable for the temperature and for your activity. Do preseason conditioning following the guidelines in this section and be physically prepared before launching any sport or activity.

Many injuries are overuse injuries, caused by a repetitive action that eventually starts to break down tissue. These can sometimes be avoided by cross training or by varying the type of exercise. Alternating running with bicycling and swimming, for example, seems to reduce the number and type of injuries that occur among those who only run.

It is important to accept the condition of your body and work with it. The "no pain, no gain" philosophy of exercise has been replaced with the more productive "train, don't strain" philosophy. Respecting your limitations is the key to an effective exercise program and enables you to recognize and strengthen underlying weaknesses before they become a source of injury.

Remember, excess exercise is often the cause of injury. Start slowly, take it easy, and enjoy yourself. Physical conditioning is not a one-day project, so stepping on the scale and looking in the mirror for new muscle definition after every exercise session is going to be disappointing. Allow yourself 6 to 8 weeks of continued effort before you judge your progress.

What should I do if I get injured?

How you deal with an injury depends on how severe it is. If there is any question about its severity, consult a physician. If your ankle, leg, foot, arm, hand, fingers, or any other part of your extremities is involved, any one of the following might indicate a more severe injury:

A head injury and subsequent loss of consciousness, even briefly, indicates a serious problem. Blurred vision, loss of memory, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting associated with a head injury means an immediate trip to your doctor or to the nearest emergency room.

An injury to your ribs that leads to any breathing difficulty, pain when breathing, numbness or tingling of the extremities, pain in the kidney region, or blood in the urine should be checked by a physician.

What about the injuries that don't require a trip to the emergency room-like sore muscles and sprained ankles?

For these types of injuries, which are by far the most common, the best prescription is RICE-but not the kind you eat. The acronym RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Rest the injured area. Never try to run through an injury. Pain indicates that something has been overstressed. To counteract that stress, give the injured part a rest or change your activity to an exercise that doesn't use the damaged area.

Ice the injured area as soon as possible. The best way is to use crushed ice in either an ice bag or a watertight Ziploc bag, or use a bag of frozen vegetables. Place a thin towel over the injured area and hold the ice bag against it for no more than 15 or 20 minutes. Repeat the ice treatment every 2 - 4 hours as long as the swelling continues, even as long as a week. Don't use the commercial "artificial ice." It does not melt as ice does and can freeze your skin.

Compress the swollen area with an elastic ACE bandage (not so tight that it cuts off circulation and increases pain) to reduce further swelling. Remove it periodically. However, the ACE wrap does not usually give enough support to prevent further injury. Swelling is caused by the leakage of blood and plasma from the torn tissue.

Elevate the injured area above the heart, particularly while applying ice. This allows gravity to drain some of the swelling. For example, this means placing the ankle higher than the knee, the knee higher than the hip, the hip higher than the heart. Use books or a suitcase or a box under the mattress at night. These work better than a pillow.

For several days following an injury, elevate the area at every opportunity. During class or studying, try to keep an injured ankle higher than the knee.

Should I exercise if I'm dieting to lose weight?

Definitely! Reducing solely by dieting results in a loss of muscle tissue as well as fat. A 10-pound weight loss without exercise equals a loss of 5 pounds of fat and 5 pounds of protein (muscle, bone, and organ tissue). Regular exercise can change this 50-50 proportion to as high as 90 percent fat loss.

Exercise promotes weight loss in two ways. It raises the basal metabolic rate, or the rate at which you burn calories while not exercising, and, of course, it helps you burn extra calories while you exercise. If you diet without exercising and then regain the weight, the body fat percentage may be higher than it had been before the weight loss.

Should I change my diet because of my exercise program?

There are a few diet changes that help athletic people perform better. First you need to assure enough complex carbohydrates to fuel your muscles with glycogen.Ê About 60% of an athlete’s diet should be complex carbohydrates such as pasta, cereal, rice, bread, sport drinks, sport bars.. Complex carbohydrates provide long-term energy, which is stored in the muscles as glycogen.

You can increase the body’s ability to store carbohydrates a glycogen it you get carbohydrates in your body 30-90 minutes after heavy exercise.Ê If you don’t feel like eating much, try a sport drink that is 6-8% carbohydrate (this is the best percentage for absorption).Ê Try to get in about 250-400 calories with a drink, bagels, fruit, or sport bar.

Do athletes need more protein?

In general athletes do not need dramatically higher amounts of protein compared to non-athletes. The average person needs about 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight (one pound is 2.2 kilograms).Ê Recreational exercisers need about 1.0-1.2 grams of protein/kg.Ê Endurance athletes need 1.2- 1.4 g/kg. And resistance-training athletes need 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram.

ÊTo put it in perspective, no matter what type of athlete you are about 10-20% of your diet should be protein. For a few examples, if you weight about 150 lbs, and are a recreational athlete, you need about 68 grams of protein. A very large athlete, who weighs over 210 lbs, or 95 kilograms, needs 171 grams of protein a day.

ÊThese amounts of protein are easily met with meat, dairy and egg products. Approximately 3-¸ oz of lean stake is 25 grams of protein, a glass of milk is 8 grams and one egg is about 7 grams.

Excessive protein cannot be stored as protein for another day. It is either stored as fat or excreted by the kidneys, putting a strain on the kidneys. Excessive protein can also pull calcium out of the body and result in inadequate nutrition for your bones or increase your needs for calcium.

What about the right type of drinks?

Your body needs plenty of water for any sport.Ê Make sure you drink fluids before and after exercise. As you exercise, your body sweats to keep cool. You may lose an excess of fluids and become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are a dry mouth, dizziness, and muscle cramps.

By the time any of these symptoms begin to appear, you may have a deficit of more than a quart of liquid. To avoid this, drink plenty of liquids 2 to 12 hours before exercising. You can tell if you are well hydrated (your urine will be clear).

Drink small amounts (1/4 to 1/2 cup) every 20 minutes during prolonged exercise. If your exercise is longer than 30 minutes, a sport drink with carbohydrate will help replenish the energy stores.Ê Look for a drink with 6-8% carbohydrate. This is the amount that your body absorbs best.

Are there specific exercises for spot reducing?

No. Men sometimes do sit-ups to try to reduce the abdomen, and women do leg lifts to try to reduce the thighs or hips. Exercise in general will reduce your body fat percentage, but exercising a particular area will not remove fat from that area. Men are predisposed to collecting fat around their abdomen, while women usually collect it on their thighs and buttocks.

Removing this buildup takes a combination of diet and exercise. Exercise raises your basal metabolic rate so that you burn calories more efficiently and also firms the muscles in a particular area of your body. Cutting the amount of dietary fat causes your body to consume some of the stored fat. "Spot reducing" is a myth that sells many products to gullible people.

Lowering the percentage of body fat through careful diet and exercise will eventually take care of unwanted bulges. We all have a body part where fat seems to linger-usually the first place it returns to if we don't maintain a strict regimen. The average body seems to want to be a little heavier than societal standards dictate.

Reserve fat is our protection against starvation and helps maintain normal immune system and hormone levels. Your body has an instinctual need to keep a certain amount of fat in reserve for these purposes-the "set point"-and will resist efforts to lower your body fat to unhealthy levels. For that reason, don't concentrate too much on exercising one area of your body.

Are there exercises that might be harmful?

There are a few exercises to avoid because the strain the body instead of training it. The straight, stiff-legged, full sit-up is an old standby that was thought to be the best way to strengthen abdominal muscle. In fact, only the first 30 degrees or so of trunk lift develop the abdominal muscles. The rest of the sit-up puts tremendous strain on the lower back.

The right way to do sit-ups is with your knees bent so that your heels are up against your buttocks. In this position you raise your trunk only the initial 30 to 45 degrees off the floor to give your abdominal muscles a great workout.

The stiff-legged double-leg lift is another exercise we all used to do; it has doubtful benefits for the abdomen and strains the lower back.

The duck walk and deep knee bends put a tremendous strain on the knees and are considered more dangerous than beneficial. Ballet stretches and the hurdler's stretch should be left to those highly trained athletes because of the unusual strain these exercises exert on susceptible joints, ligaments, and tendons.

The Yoga plow, a stretching exercise that puts too much pressure on the relatively weak muscles of the neck, should be avoided.

Should I exercise when I have a cold or if I'm sick?

No, because you could make yourself much sicker and your ability to exercise is greatly reduced. Generally, a cold or a fever uses at least 10% of the body's resources to fight the infection. Also, there is a tendency to become dehydrated when you are sick.

Your body needs rest and should not be stressed even further. Some light stretching might be all right, but be sure you do not begin to sweat. Exercising with a fever can do serious damage, particularly to the heart muscle. If you are sick, take time off from your exercise program until you are well.

One of the benefits of a regular exercise program coupled with good nutrition is that your resistance to colds and flu is likely to be stronger; when you do get sick, you will probably recover quickly.

Should I exercise on my own or in a group?

This is an individual preference and may depend on the activity you select. A blend of both is certainly OK. Sometimes working out with a friend or in a group makes it easier to exercise on a regular basis. You can motivate each other when the spirit is not so willing. It takes about 6 weeks to establish a habit.

Many people start out enthusiastically and then, after 3 or 4 weeks, stop exercising. Try to make a commitment for at least 2 months. Sometimes signing up for an exercise class that lasts for a full quarter or a semester can help you over that hump.Ê An exercise leader, such as a qualified aerobics instructor, can provide motivation as well as sound instruction in technique.

Exercise is sometimes referred to as a positive habit or addiction. Firmly establishing a positive habit can replace a negative habit such as excessive eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs. Working with a friend or a group to establish this healthy habit can certainly be beneficial.

Have you heard of the Female Athlete Triad?

It’s not a new way of playing basketball, but rather a set of medical problems that decreases athletic performance. It was first defined in 1992. Chances are after reading this section you will recognize the Triad in some friends, teammates or family members.

The Triad consists of the interrelated problems of disordered eating, amenorrhea and osteoporosis. These disorders lead to decreased athletic performance and medical and psychological problems.Ê They do so because of inadequate nutrition, loss of lean muscle mass, dehydration, decreased bone strength, increased risk of injuries, and heart problems. The Triad may be an indicator of overtraining.

What causes the Female Athlete Triad?

The Triad is not caused by sports or exercise. It occurs in girls and women who may not even consider themselves athletes. The pressures placed on all women to be unrealistically thin and lose weight cause it. Being thin is regarded as being successful, happy and attractive. However the current ideals in Western society have many women trying to achieve an overly thin appearance that is not normal for their inherited body type.

These pressures on women to be unrealistically thin lead women to disordered eating. A young woman in the 21st century is bombarded by messages that to be happy, successful and accepted, she must have a certain “look”.Ê

Remember most models and actresses have inherited a rare body type – the tall thin ectomorphic body.Ê In prior times the ideal woman had full hips and breasts, the typical female body ready for reproduction.Ê Today she is worshipped if she is thin with narrow hips or thighs, a waif.ÊÊ Athletic women collide with the values of society in which women are judged for their appearance.

Most people attempt to lose weight by dieting.Ê Your body perceives dieting as starvation, especially if you are very physically active.Ê Dieting has been clearly linked to disordered eating practices such as fasting, bingeing and purging, and use of laxatives. These practices are the first part of the Triad.

If a woman frequently uses disordered eating practices, she is in a state of energy drain. This can lead to amenorrhea, the absence of regular menstrual cycles.Ê In the past, amenorrhea was mistakenly viewed as a hallmark of successful athletic training. We now know that amenorrhea is a serious sign of underlying medical problems, disordered eating or overtraining.

When a woman does not have regular menstrual cycles, she lacks the hormones necessary to build bone.Ê The result is a lack of bone formation, and actual irreversible bone loss, leading to osteoporosis - “old bones in young women”.Ê Peak bone mass is reached during ages 18-30 years just when women are affected by the Triad.

Eating disorders are well known in the general population, but they have only recently been recognized in physically active women and athletes.Ê Eating disorders are the antithesis to being fit and being athletic.Ê They rob the body and mind of the energy necessary for peak performance. Being “too thin to win” means you are in a state of energy drain that depletes the body and mind of everything needed to be successful.Ê

What is a realistic body for an active woman?

For most women in modern developed societies, thin is not only in, but also thinner is viewed as better. Many people do not realize that healthy bodies come in all sizes and that your body type is inherited. Most athletic women have a muscular (mesomorphic) body type, whereas the “ideal” woman is a tall thin ectomorphic body.Ê

Pressures on women to be unrealistically thin come from the media, parents, advertising, peers and coaches. There is inadequate scientific evidence to support the notion that the thinnest athlete is the best. Rather, genetic body types, training habits, and nutrition most likely play a larger role in athletic performance.

The ideal body for a woman is the range of body weights at which she feels healthy, has energy, has regular menstrual cycles and does not have to diet or restrict food. With the emergence of athletes as role models for women in the 21st century, hopefully, a new role model will emerge and women can celebrate their natural shapes and sizes instead of starving to be thin.

Do athletic women have more pressure to be unrealistically thin?

Some women have more pressure to lose weight. These include athletes who compete in sports with weight categories (such as the martial arts and rowing) or the so-called aesthetic sports (such as gymnastics and figures skating). Athletic women face not only the pressures from society, but also pressures from the sport.

We do not have firm evidence that being thinner equals better performance, yet most women are told to lose weight to get faster. Recall that during puberty, a woman gains more body fat while men gain muscle mass. However different messages are given to men and women to improve athletic performance after puberty. Men are told to “bulk up” whereas women are told to lose weight. Athletic women also are expected to fit into form fitting revealing clothing

What do you mean by “Disordered Eating Practices”?

Faced with multiple pressures to lose weight, women may turn to disordered eating practices. These practices occur across a wide spectrum of ineffective and harmful techniques such as the practices of fasting, using diuretics, laxatives, appetite suppressants, compulsive exercise and self-induced vomiting.Ê

These practices do not result in real weight loss, but rather cause dehydration and loss of lean muscle mass. They obviously impair athletic performance. Limited surveys have found a high prevalence of these disordered eating practices among college athletes.

These athletes are largely uneducated about the ineffectiveness and risks of these practices, which include dehydration, low blood sugar, mood swings, loss of muscle mass, and decreased athletic performance. They also may hide these practices from teammates, families and coaches or deny that they are struggling with them.

What is the difference between the eating disorders bulimia and anorexia?

At the severe end of the spectrum of disordered eating is anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia is a disorder of starvation in which a person is 15% or more below ideal body weight.Ê In addition, women with anorexia have profound body image distortion including feeling fat even when very thin.Ê Amenorrhea is now part of the definition of anorexia.Ê

Bulimia is episodes of overeating followed by purging behavior.Ê Important for active women, one form of purging can be excessive exercise in addition to the more standard definitions of purging including self induced vomiting, or using laxatives or diuretics. Eating disorders are chronic illnesses with serious short and long-term medical and psychological problems.Ê Irregular menstrual cycles and amenorrhea, the second disorder of the Triad, can result from disordered eating practices.

Is it normal for athletic women to miss their menstrual periods?

No, although athletes commonly report changes in the menstrual cycle. These include having the first menstrual period (menarche) after age 15 or 16 (known as “delayed menarche”), having infrequent periods (oligomenorrhea), or missing periods for 3 months or moreÊ (amenorrhea).

In the past, these changes were thought to be a "normal” part of training. Now we know they are a sign that something is going wrong in the complex female reproductive system. These changes have many different causes including overtraining, disordered eating and medical problems such as ovarian failure and brain tumors.

Every woman with changes in her menstrual cycle, whether she is athletic or not should have a thorough, individualized evaluation to determine why her menstrual periods have changed or stopped.Ê Some medical disorders must be ruled out before ascribing her amenorrhea to exercise or the energy deficits of disordered eating.Ê

If the amenorrhea is due to the energy deficits of disordered eating or overtraining, making life style changes to return to energy balance can reverse the amenorrhea. The usual changes recommended are one day off a week, and increased nutrition by 250-400 calories a day.

The result of amenorrhea is low levels of estrogen, the predominant female hormone.Ê Low estrogen levels are a risk for recurrent injuries, injuries that do not heal, and the loss of bone mineral density, or early osteoporosis, the third disorder of the Triad.

Are stress fractures related to the Female Athlete Triad?

In some cases, stress fractures result from low bone density, or osteoporosis, the third part of the Triad.Ê In other cases they are due to other causes such as too much training or overuse.Ê In the case of the athletes with the Triad, stress fractures may be the symptom of a woman with low bone mass.

How does this low bone mass happen? The lack of estrogen that occurs during episodes of amenorrhea leads to loss of bone mineral density, similar to the loss that occurs at the time of menopause. When combined with inadequate intake of calcium, young women can have the bone mineral density of a seventy-year-old woman.Ê

The Female Athlete Triad has often been called “old bones in young women.” Amenorrheic women lose as much as 5% of their bone mass a year. Stress fractures and scoliosis (spine curvature) may be the result of bone loss in athletes.

All women with irregular or absent menstrual cycles need extra calcium, up to a total of 1500 mg. (five dairy servings) a day to just stay in calcium balance. Women with normal menstrual cycles need 1000 mg of calcium a day. The added calcium does not build bone, or protect from osteoporosis.Ê Rather it keeps a person in calcium balance so that even more bone is not lost.Ê

What can be done about the Female Athlete Triad?

Now that you know about the serious nature of the Triad, you are in the front lines to prevent, recognize and refer women at risk for the Triad. It is important to advocate the importance of health and well-being, healthy body image, proper nutrition, and recognize the dangers of the Triad.

Many women have reported that a comment by a coach, friend or family member about weight has led them to extreme dieting and disordered eating. Avoid pressuring athletes to lose weight and put most nutrition and weight issues in the hands of medical professionals and nutritionists. It is important to have knowledge about healthy eating behavior, learning about proper nutrition and hydration for sport, and having referrals to medical professionals for athletes at risk or with problems.

It is important to know the warning signs and have referral methods available. Your approach and sensitivity to the risks of the Triad in young women are critical to women with the Triad getting help and most importantly, helping prevent this serious set of problems. Please join health professionals in recognizing and preventing the Triad. Help create a new image of a healthy athletic woman.

For more information about the Female Athlete Triad, read our book, The Athletic Woman’s Survival Guide.

Contact the American College of Sport Medicine for other resources available about the Female Athlete Triad including:

Warning Signs of the Female Athlete Triad

What You Can Do to Prevent the Female Athlete Triad

I am feeling really tired. How do I tell if I am overtrained or have chronic fatigue?

Overtraining is a common condition of athletes. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition that can affect athletes and nonathletes alike. Both conditions make you feel tired, and impair your athletic performance.

The beginning of chronic fatigue is linked to a viral infection, a flu-like illness. Overtraining is not caused by an infection but people with overtraining can be susceptible to infections.

ÊOvertraining is not caused by one factor alone.Ê Overtraining results from high level training, and inadequate nutrition and rest to match the energy needs of training. Put simply, it is a condition of energy imbalance: too much energy going out and not enough sleep, rest, nutrition to meet the energy needs of training.

Anything that causes energy drain, more energy going out than is coming in, can cause overtraining.Ê It usually develops over weeks and months.Ê Athletes are at risk for overtraining especially if they are training hard, not eating enough and adding the energy drains of travel and jet lag.

ÊIf unrecognized, overtraining can go on to cause decreases in athletic performance, susceptibility to infections, impaired training, fatigue, and sometimes, lack of a woman's menstrual periods.

It may mimic the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome because in both syndromes the athlete feels tired, is susceptible to infections, and has muscle soreness after exercise. There is overlap between the two conditions. Not everyone affected has all the symptoms of each condition; usually they have four or more from the list below.

Symptoms and signs of overtraining:

Signs of chronic fatigue (4 or more of these present for six months or more):

There is not one easy answer. Like so many things that affect us over time, it may take time to see if your fatigue is due to overtraining or a medical condition. It usually takes evaluation by a physician and some tests to tell the difference. In most cases people recover from overtraining if they take the right steps.

What tests are done to see if I have overtraining?

In overtraining, levels of muscle enzymes such as CPK are elevated; muscle biopsies show a lack of fuel stores (glycogen). Tests show that levels of certain hormones such as cortisol may be elevated in the blood or in 24-hr. urine samples. Levels of female hormones such as LH and estradiol are reduced. Overtraining can be diagnosed from levels of oxygen uptake (a test called VO2max) on a treadmill test compared to prior levels when not overtrained. Also certain standard questionnaires have been used to check for the mood changes in overtraining.

In chronic fatigue, all lab tests are normal. However a full laboratory work up should be done to make sure that there is not another problems causing the fatigues such as thyroid hormone problems, anemia, chronic infections, hepatitis, or arthritis.Ê The best way to make the diagnosis of either state is to have a full physical exam and tests done by a physician who is experienced in evaluating active people.

How can I recognize overtraining?

The cornerstone for recognition and treatment is to keep good records about training and daily life. Using these training logs gives you and your advisors a consistent measurement of your health and training. It should be filled out every day and have the amount of training that you are doing also recorded on it and your symptoms.

Every day record your morning pulse (taken before getting out of bed), a maximum pulse (at highest intensity training) and recovery pulse (taken 2, 4 10 minutes after exercise). See the section on training heart rate to get information about how to check your pulse.

The amount of sleep, mood, weight, nutrition, muscle soreness and fever or illness should also be recorded. If warning signs are present, take a day or more off from training until the warning signs go back to normal.

Warning signs are:

It is a good idea to look closely at your training, your diet, and your current nutrition, weight, and body composition. It is great to know that the tests for serious illnesses are negative, but it still can be frustrating and difficult to recover from either overtraining or chronic fatigue without a consistent effort.

How do I recover from overtraining?

A key path on your journey to recovery is to correct energy imbalances by improving your nutrition and regaining weight while you are on the rest-recovery cycle now. Recovery will involve gaining back weight to your healthy, or fit weight. How long you should rest is hard to determine.

ÊMost time rest involves several weeks to get back in energy balance.Ê In general, you should stop training and do only light jogging or rest until you have accomplished six goals 1) your nutrition is improved with more calories, carbohydrate and possibly protein, 2) your weight is regained if you have lost weight and you keep it there for two weeks at least,Ê 3)your sleep is normal and restful for at least five nights a week and for at least four weeks,Ê 4)morning pulse is stable for at least five days in a row 5) your injuries have healed and you have no further muscle soreness, 6) your mood is improved and you find you have interest in training again and do not feel moody, depressed or “stale”.

You are trying to correct months of energy drain and to "fill up your tanks" which have been emptied. Depending up on how long overtraining took to develop, it may take weeks or months to correct. If you continue to train then you may not recover from overtraining.

Supplements such as a multi mineral supplement that contains zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron can be helpful. A diet that meets all of your needs and corrects any underlying deficiencies is helpful, and may need to be reviewed with a sport nutritionist in individual detail. Check on these supplements and your diet with a nutritionist to help in recovery.

Because a long-standing illness can cause stress and stress can make recovery difficult, you may want also to work on stress management.Ê Consider working with a psychologist on issues about stress, sleeping well, any mood changes and recovery

Are there situations where it might be unhealthy for me to exercise?

There are several conditions related to air quality and temperature that make it detrimental for you to exercise.

Air-quality problems.

Research has shown that exercising during first-stage smog alerts may result in a reduction in lung function as high as 25 percent. Some healthy individuals have experienced a measured 10 percent reduction of lung function while exercising at the federal clean air standards for ozone.

This means it is possible to work out in polluted air and come back with damaged lungs, certainly not the goal of an exercise program. If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, listen to the radio or check the newspaper for air-quality reports. If there is a smog alert in effect for your area, it would be wise to postpone your exercise. If possible, and if the air quality is acceptable, exercise in the morning when pollution levels are usually lower.

Carbon monoxide fumes associated with automobile exhaust reduce the blood's ability to transport oxygen through the body. This raises the heart rate, making you work harder for fewer benefits. Avoid carbon monoxide by exercising away from traffic as much as possible.

Some persons are also known to have allergic reactions to a third component of smog, particulate matter. This can be a special problem for asthmatics and can cause eye and lung irritation in healthy persons.

Air-temperature problems.

Exercising in extreme heat and humidity can be dangerous. You perspire a great deal and may become dehydrated. Alcohol and caffeine can also contribute to dehydration. If your body loses its ability to cool itself as a result of dehydration, heatstroke, or hyperthermia, sets in. You may experience dizziness, nausea, difficulty in breathing, a throbbing headache, dry mouth and skin, a burning sensation in the lungs, and unsteadiness or loss of control of the muscles. There is also a tendency to think and act irrationally.

There are three stages of heat illness:

What is the first aid for heatstroke?

If you or someone you are exercising with begins to feel these symptoms, stop exercising immediately. Find some shade or a cool place and start drinking fluids. If ice is available, put it on the groin or under the armpits.

How can I prevent heat illness?

One of the best methods of preventing hyperthermia is to make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.

The color and amount of urine indicate how well hydrated you are. Light-colored or straw-colored urine is dilute and means that you are well hydrated. A full bladder every 2 to 4 hours is another sign that you are well hydrated. Dark urine means concentrated urine and dehydration, although taking B vitamins may make the urine dark without your being dehydrated.

If you are 1 to 2 percent dehydrated, your performance and coordination are affected. The problem is that you don't feel thirsty until you are 5 percent dehydrated. This means you cannot use thirst alone as an indicator of dehydration. Weighing yourself before and after a workout can tell you how much water weight you have lost in perspiration. This will give you a general idea of how much fluid you are losing that needs to be replaced.

To avoid dehydration, make sure you are well hydrated the night before an exercise session. This may mean drinking enough water so that you have to get up once or twice during the night. Weigh in before exercise to make sure you have replaced all the fluid you lost the day before. Drink a full 8-ounce glass of water each hour until 1 to 3 hours before exercise. A good rule is to drink half a cup of water every 20 minutes during exercise or heat exposure.

Is it hazardous to exercise in cold weather?

Yes. When you're exercising in cold weather, hypothermia (low body temperature) may occur and can result in the body's core temperature dropping uncontrollably. However, it is possible to exercise safely in very cold weather if you wear the proper clothing-socks, mittens, hat, windbreaker, and so forth.

The initial symptoms of hypothermia, following a feeling of uncomfortable cold and numbness, are loss of coordination, mental disorientation, and slurred speech. If you sense these symptoms coming on, you should get to a warm place as soon as possible.

Hypothermia is often associated with exercise at high altitude-for example, skiing in the mountains. In fact, hypothermia is not restricted to high altitude and may occur at sea level during temperatures as high as 50 degrees if the conditions are wet and windy.

Are there any other problems connected with exercising at high altitude?

Altitude sickness results when the body does not have enough time to adapt to the lower oxygen levels at higher elevations. Exercising at altitudes above 6,000 feet can intensify the effects and bring on very serious problems in a short time. Watch for altitude sickness if you fly from sea level into the mountains for a ski vacation at winter break. The same problem can occur in mountain climbing and in hiking at high elevations.

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

Headache, difficult breathing, chest pains, irritability, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and mental disorientation are early signs of altitude sickness. If any symptoms develop, immediately descend to a lower altitude and seek medical care. More advanced symptoms include a bluish skin color, a bloody or frothy sputum, hallucinations, seizures, loss of motor control, and unconsciousness.

If you plan to exercise under any of the extreme conditions we have just described, be particularly cautious. Do not exercise alone under extreme conditions; take a partner with you or exercise with a group. Mental deterioration is a symptom of nearly all temperature-, dehydration-, and altitude-related illnesses. You may soon find yourself incapable of making a sensible decision.

I've heard that running and the jumping up and down in some sports can damage a woman's reproductive organs. Is this true?

There is absolutely no evidence that any exercises will damage the female reproductive organs. These organs are well protected from direct blows by very strong pelvic bones. In fact, they are much better protected than are male organs! They also have excellent internal support and will not be loosened or bruised by running, jumping, or bouncing.

A woman would be wise to use breast support to prevent breast tenderness and a full chest protector is advised in certain sports. There is no evidence that being hit in the breast causes breast cancer, but a painful bruise can certainly result.

Women can exercise safely at every phase of their menstrual cycle. Those who exercise regularly often report fewer menstrual cramps and less premenstrual tension.

Some women who exercise regularly may experience a change in menstruation. The specific cause is not known, but there seem to be several reasons for this change. For more information, see the section on the Female Athlete Triad. A woman who has not had a normal menstrual period for two months should see a physician for an evaluation. Lack of menstruation may be due to exercise, but that is a diagnosis of exclusion once other causes, including pregnancy, are ruled out.

Do women develop a bulky, muscle-bound appearance if they exercise a great deal?

No, because women do not have the male hormones that develop muscle mass in men. Women who exercise will develop stronger muscles with better tone and definition, but they will not acquire the muscle bulk that men do. Many women exercise to lose weight and are frustrated when this does not seem to happen. Because muscle tissue weighs more than fat, as you develop muscle and lose fat, your weight may stay the same.

However, because you are lowering your overall body fat percentage, you are improving your physical fitness considerably. You will lose inches and not pounds. You may even gain weight, but your appearance will be slimmer and trimmer, and you will be moving into smaller sizes in clothes.

Can steroids help me get in better physical condition?

The use of steroids in medically recommended doses has resulted in little or no improvement in fitness. Steroid abuse (levels 5 to 10 times that of the recommended dosage) by athletes has generated numerous anecdotal reports of increased muscle mass and strength. Reluctance by the medical community to give human subjects these amounts of steroids has made study of the subject difficult. However, it is known that taking these drugs has many potentially harmful side effects. Among the possible complications resulting from steroid abuse is:

1.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Liver damage, including hepatitis and possibly including liver cancer

2.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Testicular atrophy and lowered sperm count

3.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Increased cholesterol levels and hypertension

4.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Masculinization in women (increased body hair, acne, voice change, clitoral enlargement)

5. Enlarged nipples and surrounding tissue in men

6.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Stunted growth in developing individuals

7.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Fluid retention, gastrointestinal upset, and increased acne

8.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Psychological problems and personality changes, including increased aggressiveness, panic attacks, depression, paranoia, and hallucinations

9.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ Dizziness, headache, nausea, and fever

These drugs may also be addictive. Most of these side effects are associated with long-term use, and some are reversible when use stops. But who wants to take the chance? This is a form of drug abuse and is certainly not the goal of a healthy lifestyle.


Exercise is a fun and natural activity that should make you feel good and look your best. It has many long-term benefits that can help you lead a happy, healthy, and more energetic life. If you exercise regularly, you will have more energy and strength to accomplish your goals in life. It will give you an increased sense of inner power, tranquility, and self-esteem. Coupled with proper nutrition, exercise will help you keep your weight under control and present an image of health and vitality.

Regular exercise can become a natural part of your lifestyle that will continue to produce benefits long after you have graduated from college. For the rest of your life, you will reap the rewards of an exercise program that you begin now and continue into the future. Developing healthy habits that last a lifetime will help you live up to your highest expectations.