Fitness tip: Which exercise is best? It depends on your goals and your fitness level

Every husband knows that the answer to the inquiry “Which dress looks nicer?” is yes. The question “which is better?” often precedes many of the exercise queries we entertain online and in the gym.

People want to ensure that they are making the best use of time by selecting exercises that are effective and proven. While things are seldom black and white, there are often reasons why one approach may suit a specific goal over another.

HIIT or strength training?

Technically Speaking: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a stop-and-go workout that alternates between periods of challenging activity followed by periods of rest. To some degree, HIIT (example, running or walking stairs) has displaced steady state exercise (example, running or walking on a flat surface at a consistent speed) as the preferred fat-burning activity.

HIIT classes often use body weight or free weights as resistance, leading participants to assume they are building strength as part of their routine. While this may be true in some cases (more often you are developing muscle endurance), there are better ways to shape muscle.

When trying to lose weight and enhance cardio conditioning, choose HIIT. When looking to build and shape muscle, go with weight training. Lift a weight that you can safely handle for up to 12 reps but not 13.

Crunches or planks?

Technically Speaking: Crunches are a bit of a touchy subject in the research community. Yes, they work your abdominal muscles but they could be placing unnecessary strain on your spine.

Planks are a safer, more functional alternative. No, they aren’t as ‘Ab specific’ as crunches but they do a better job at enhancing overall core stability.

As standard planks are fairly static, incorporating an unstable base or unbalanced position will challenge the core muscles in a more realistic and dynamic manner.

Crunches are great for body builders who want to target their abs — because they have low body fat and you can actually see them. If you tend to be more insulated than a bodybuilder, planks are probably a better choice as they will make your core stronger and more stable.

Once you have mastered the plank (i.e. you can perform one for a minute with a straight back), think about walking your elbow/hands slightly in front of your shoulders, creating a less stable base. But only do this if you have good form.

Free weights or machines?

Technically Speaking: Machines allow the user to push a lot of weight in a controlled environment. While safer, equipment with a bench supporting your back or a fixed arm guiding you tends to be less functional. In other words, machine-generated muscle may translate less to real-world strength as it fosters less engagement and synergy between muscle groups.

Unsupported movements using free weights, body weight and functional trainers, on the other hand, force you to balance and control multiple variables.

Some practitioners suggest that machine training is more muscle-specific while functional training enhances overall strength, joint and core stability.

Machines are a great way to ease into weight training. They teach proper movement patterns and help the new exerciser learn intensity, a factor most people forget.

However, if you are sitting all day, sitting during your workout my not be the best approach. When the time is right, adding free weights or body weight movements to your routine will enhance functional stability and core strength.

In the end a combination of multiple tools keeps things fresh and promotes change.

Exercise or diet?

Technically Speaking: One without the other is fighting only half the battle. Exercise builds strength, efficiency, muscle and stability, but eating highly processed foods pollutes your body.

Similarly, eating a healthy diet puts high octane fuel in the tank but if you aren’t driving anywhere, things start to fall apart. Combining an active lifestyle with a healthy diet is absolutely the best medicine.

However, changing your diet and your lifestyle all at once can be overwhelming. Add smoking cessation and a stressful day into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for pizza and soda on the couch.

Some of our most successful clients first become adept at exercise and then tackle other challenges once they’ve experienced some success. It’s important to queue your challenges as opposed to confronting them all at once.

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