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How to choose the right workout for you

If you’ve thought about trying a new type of workout lately – perhaps while watching Australian Ninja Warrior from your couch – you’ll notice there’s no shortage of options out there.

In recent years, the number of new offerings in the fitness world has grown faster than a celebrity trainer’s biceps.

First there was the cult of CrossFit (which shows no signs of waning), and Fitbits. Now there’s everything from functional training craze F45, to KX Pilates and the heart rate-based interval training outfit Orangetheory.

Pole dancing as fitness has also made it to Australia, while Clubbercise, a UK dance fitness workout taught in a darkened room with disco lights and glow sticks, is en route. Then there are countless apps such as Aaptiv; it offers audio workouts in everything from touching your toes in 20 days to training for a half-marathon.

Exercising alone or with others?                                                                   

With so many options, where do you start? How do you know which exercise is right for you, and how can you give yourself the best chance of sticking to it?

Dr Eric Drinkwater, a senior lecturer in sports science at Deakin, says you should first think about the way you like to exercise.

‘If you’re trying to figure out what you should be doing, you have to first decide whether you’re a solo exerciser or whether you are a social exerciser,’ he says.

While he is happiest working out alone, Dr Drinkwater says that won’t appeal to everyone. Others might prefer to join a Sunday morning cycling or running group, for instance.

‘Gyms only work for a small portion of the population. There is a huge percentage of the population that just has no interest in that type of exercise,’ Dr Drinkwater says.

HIIT training

While workouts involving functional fitness and high intensity interval training are all the rage, Dr Drinkwater says HIIT isn’t particularly new. But it’s been packaged in new ways, such as with CrossFit or F45, he says.

‘I think what they really do well is they build great community. They’re all cheering each other on … so people don’t really feel like they’re alone on that journey,’ Dr Drinkwater says.

‘I think what they really do well is they build great community. They’re all cheering each other on … so people don’t really feel like they’re alone on that journey,’ Dr Drinkwater says.

Whether that level of high intensity training should be done for years on end is another matter.

‘Variety is certainly one of the key principals that we try to encourage when it comes to fitness. Your body does adapt to a certain type of training.’

Goodbye ‘little pink dumbbells’

Another trend Dr Drinkwater has noticed is more women lifting heavy weights, with the traditional ‘little pink dumbbells’ shifted to the side.

‘I think women have been afraid of lifting weights for a long time because they don’t want this really masculine body,’ he says. ‘But in fact if you lift very heavy weights for four or five repetitions then it’s going to build strength, but without the muscle mass. Strong is the new black.’

How technology is changing the way we work out

He believes wearable technology, such as Fitbits, will go the distance. ‘I think as the accuracy improves they’re just going to get stronger and stronger.’

Apps can also provide expert training programs, almost like a personal trainer in your pocket.

'Gyms only work for a small portion of the population. There is a huge percentage of the population that just has no interest in that type of exercise.'

Dr Eric Drinkwater,
School of Exercise and Nutrition Science, Deakin University

However while apps are great for people who like to exercise solo, they may need to adapt to encourage people to come together to work out, he says.

Variety wins every time          

So if you want to aim for a specific workout goal, for example strengthening your core, improving your cardio or just losing weight, which exercise is best?

For every goal, the key is variety, Dr Drinkwater says.

‘If you’re trying to lose weight then you think you should do lots of cardio. But you tend to not just lose the fat but muscle mass as well. Any weight loss program should still have some sort of strengthening exercises in there.’

Likewise, a pilates or yoga class will help your core, but may not give you all your cardio needs. ‘I don’t think there’s any perfect activity out there. It comes down to a variety of different things,’ Dr Drinkwater says.

A minimum target to aim for each week is 150 minutes of moderate level activity, or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise.

How to stick to your exercise goals

‘I always get asked “what’s the best exercise?”,’ Dr Drinkwater says. ‘But it’s all about finding the exercise that you’re prepared to keep doing.

‘If I tell you that swimming is the best exercise, and you hate swimming, well that’s not really going to work for you.

‘Once you find an activity that you like to do, then you need to do it with people who you like and get along well with.’

Or just pop those headphones in, turn up your music and go, go, go.

Interested in a career related to exercise? Check out: What’s it really like to be a clinical exercise physiologist?

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Dr Eric Drinkwater
Dr Eric Drinkwater

Senior Lecturer of Sports Science, School of Exercise and Nutrition, Deakin University

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