Aerobic fitness routines provide a total body workout and include a warm-up, cardiovascular exercise, strength training, stretching and cool-down. Each part of the workout provides special health or safety benefits such as building heart strength and lung endurance, building muscle, improving flexibility and preventing injury. While an aerobic routine should contain all these elements, the actual exercises can vary in impact, intensity, style and equipment use.
In recent years, studies on the benefits of static stretching -- nonmoving stretches -- indicate that this form of warm-up does not decrease injury as previously believed. However, many fitness professionals recommend dynamic stretching, which involves functional movement preparing the body for higher intensity exercises. It helps the body ease into the harder work that's about to come. A good warm-up includes a series of low-intensity movements to practice steps you'll be doing in the aerobic routine. Toe taps and heel digs help loosen and stretch your ankles, as well as calves and shins. Ham curls and low kicks warm up your hamstrings and thighs.
Aerobic workouts are designed to burn calories, either through 20 to 40 minutes of sustained mid-intensity aerobics or through interval training with high- and low-intensity bursts. Regardless of the class type, your heart rate should be above 65 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is determined by subtracting your age from 220. Traditional aerobic routines put movements together in a series of four to six 32-count segments. Steps to use include step touch, grapevines, V-steps, jacks, ham curls, squats, lunges and knee lifts. For example, step-touch forward for eight counts, ham curl for eight counts, knee lifts back for eight counts and jacks for eight counts makes up one 32-count segment. Once you've done a segment on the right lead leg, switch and do the same moves on the left. You can put these moves together in any combination you want and change them to keep your workout interesting. Visit Turnstep to find aerobic routine ideas submitted by instructors.
Strength training in combination with aerobic exercise provides maximum calorie burn. While aerobics burn calories during the workout, strength training builds muscle, which leads your body to burns more calories in your regular activities. Strength training should include all major muscles starting with the legs, as this can keep the heart rate up for additional calorie burn. Squats, lunges, dead lifts and calf raises are effective exercises for the legs. Exercise the arms next, working opposing muscle groups such as biceps and triceps. Because core work usually requires being on the floor, work this area last after your heart rate has decreased from the aerobic workout. Planks, crunches, bicycles and superman are popular aerobic exercises that work the total core: abs, chest, shoulders and upper and lower back.
Stretch and Cool-Down
While static stretching is no longer recommended in a warm up, it is encouraged after an aerobic workout. Stretching is a reward for a good work and has many great health benefits including increased flexibility and range of motion, and decreased risk of injury. Stretch all the major muscles in the legs, core and arms. Ideal stretches include the modified hurdler in which you sit on the floor with one knee bent so that the foot is by the knee of the other leg. The opposite leg is extended. Bend from the hip, reaching towards the foot of the extended leg. Don't bounce, which could cause the muscle to contract. The goal is stretching. A nice stretch for the back is moving cat in which you're on all fours on the floor with your shoulders above your hands and hips above your knees. Round the back up towards the ceiling, hold for a breath or two, and the release.