No single type of fitness training delivers everything your body needs.
For example, strength training builds strong muscles, but aerobic exercise is essential for enhancing your cardio health and stamina. In the end, the best workout routine is the most comprehensive.
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"Whether your goal is weight loss, functional movement or building strength, it is important to incorporate all forms of exercise," says Brianna Bernard, CPT, certified trainer, nutrition coach and Isopure athlete.
Not sure what exists outside of strength and aerobic exercise? Read on to learn about the five must-do types of training you need in your exercise routine.
1. Strength Training
Building muscle matters. In fact, your strength and muscle health are leading factors in longevity, according to July 2020 research in BMJ.
That's because doing activities that strengthen and build lean, active muscle can help reduce the risk of chronic disease, improve mobility and function and protect brain health.
For some people, strength training is as simple as lifting their kids or taking the stairs. For others, it's about tire flips and mountain climbs.
That said, whatever your strength and muscle goals are, there are multiple ways to go about meeting them.
Any activity in which you hold yourself up against gravity (eg: you stand up during the move) is a weight-bearing exercise. While some of the most popular weight-bearing activities are associated with doing aerobic exercise (more on this later), they also include many of the best strength moves.
Climbing stairs, jumping rope and hiking, for instance, tax your heart and turn up a sweat, but they also strengthen your lower-body muscles, including your quads, glutes and hamstrings, which help you maintain balance.
Meanwhile, traditional strength moves, using gym equipment or just your own body weight, are also considered weight-bearing exercises.
- Cross-country skiing
- Standing yoga poses
- Body-weight squats
- Standing biceps curls
Not all great strength exercises involve lifting weight. Non-weight-bearing exercises, usually involve sitting, lying or using strength machines.
These types of exercises place less stress on the joints and can be helpful for anyone with joint issues and mobility restrictions. Strength machines, while they can be good for training around and rehabbing injuries, are especially great for helping athletes isolate specific muscles.
Examples of non-weight-bearing exercises include:
- Leg presses
- Seated rows
- Leg extensions
- Seated biceps curls
- Hamstring curls
Whenever you're using your own body weight as resistance, you're doing calisthenics. Think push-ups, squats and mountain climbers. One of the biggest benefits of calisthenics is their convenience. You can do them anywhere without any fancy equipment.
They're ideal for beginners because they help you learn movement patterns and build functional strength that's needed to graduate to using weights.
In a 2017 study in Isokinetics and Exercise Science, exercise newbies significantly improved their overall strength after just eight weeks of calisthenics training.
But seasoned weightlifters can benefit from body-weight exercises, too, by incorporating more challenging variations into their routines or returning to the basics to warm up before heavier lifts.
Here are some examples of calisthenics exercises:
- Glute bridges
Lifting weights is the ultimate strength-building exercise.
From triceps kickbacks with 5-pound dumbbells to Olympic lifts with 500 pounds on a barbell, weight training looks different for everyone. The type of weightlifting you do depends on your goals.
Once you feel comfortable with body-weight exercises, you can add load and do loaded exercises.
Dumbbell and barbell exercises aren't the only options. You can use exercise machines, resistance bands, kettlebells, medicine balls and many other pieces of weightlifting equipment.
Common weightlifting exercises include:
- Dumbbell lunges
- Kettlebell swings
- Bench presses
2. Aerobic Training
Any activity that you do for more than a few minutes at a time is aerobic training.
When you're doing this type of exercise, your body uses your aerobic energy system for power. And, because that metabolic system uses oxygen to help create energy, your breathing rate increases, Bernard explains.
Some popular types of aerobic exercise include:
It doesn't matter all that much what you do, as long as you do it regularly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
Alternatively, you can do at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. When doing high-intensity exercise, alternate periods of work and rest. For example, sprint for 30 seconds and recover at a jog for one minute; then repeat.
Getting your heart rate higher in those intervals may help you reap more benefits than possible with the same amount of steady-state aerobic activity, according to a 2015 study in The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. You can do intervals on the treadmill, track or bike, and when in the pool or jumping rope.
3. Balance and Stability Training
Actively working to maintain and improve your balance and stability is incredibly important, especially as you age. Improving your balance can help you avoid falls and stay active and independent, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Dynamic balance work is a type of fitness training that tests your ability to stand on one or two legs while moving other parts of your body, according to the ACE. It demands better awareness and control of your body, while maintaining a certain position or doing a specific movement.
The good news is that many of the activities you do to build strength will also improve balance. Balance is partly a matter of developing your small stabilizer muscles that provide support and keep you steady.
Here are some common balance and stability exercises to try:
- Split squats
- Tai chi
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Stability ball exercises
- Single-leg yoga poses
4. Coordination and Agility Training
Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily, but this type of fitness training isn't just for athletes. It also helps prevent falls and injuries by improving your reflexes, coordination and focus, according to the ACE.
In everyday life, it's being able to avoid an object before you trip over it or hop out of the way when your fellow gym-goer almost drops a weight on your foot.
Agility training can be an entire workout on its own that also builds endurance and strength. Or you can add a few agility exercises to your strength and cardio workouts.
Here are some examples of effective coordination and agility exercises:
- Quick feet
- Side steps
- High knees
- Lateral crossovers
5. Flexibility and Mobility Training
Possibly one of the most important types of fitness training is flexibility and mobility. Flexibility is the ability of your muscles to stretch. Mobility is being able to move your joints and tissues through their full range of motion, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Both are important to athletic performance and for avoiding injury. Muscles and joints that are flexible and mobile — as well as strong — are much less susceptible to sprains and other injuries.
Regularly working on flexibility and mobility will also help you age better. You'll be able to move more freely, do more of your favorite activities without pain or injury and you'll be able to stay independent longer.
It's crucial to stretch and work on range of motion before and after each workout as part of your warm-up and cooldown. On days you're not strength training or doing aerobic exercise, try to devote more time to mobility and flexibility. Doing 30 minutes to an hour of these exercises is a great way to practice active recovery.
Gentle, dynamic exercises are ideal for warming up your joints and muscles prior to exercise. They often also raise your heart rate, meaning you can put them together to create a light aerobic workout.
Some examples of dynamic stretches and mobility exercises:
- Butt kicks
- Leg swings
- World's greatest stretch
After your workout, perform static stretches, holding each stretch for 30 seconds or more. Static stretches help relieve tightness in the muscles. Post-workout stretching can help you recover more quickly, and it may also slightly reduce the soreness that can occur for a few days after a strenuous workout.
Examples of static stretches include:
- Overhead triceps stretch
- Runner's lunge
- Standing quad stretch
- Doorway chest stretch
- NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center: "Exercise for Your Bone Health"
- Isokinetics and Exercise Science: "The Effects of a Calisthenics Training" Intervention on Posture, Strength and Body Composition
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Physical Activity Basics"
- The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: "The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity"
- BMJ: "Recommended Physical Activity and All Cause and Cause Specific Mortality in U.S. Adults: Prospective Cohort Study"
- American Council on Exercise: "Benefits of Agility Training for Non-Athletes""
- American Council on Exercise: "The Basics of Exercise Science"
- American Council on Exercise: "Balancing Act: How to Incorporate Balance Work Into Your Training Sessions"
- American Council on Exercise: "5 Exercises to Train Balance in Motion"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Drills to Enhance Agility"