Sunday, December 3, 2023

Joining a gym: What tests do I need to do? How do I know which workout suits me?

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Written by Vijay Thakkar

Almost 30 per cent of Indians suffer from weight problems, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes (ICMR-INDIAB) study. Today obesity is affecting even the youth population in their 20s and is rising at an alarming rate. Some of the reasons for this rise in number are poor food habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Poor dietary habits mean insufficient essential nutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals are consumed to keep our body, mind and organs healthy. On the other hand, leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is making our bodies weak and degenerate faster. These modern lifestyle factors increase our likelihood of gaining weight, especially in our 20s and beyond.

Fortunately, if we start exercising at the early age of 20, we can get numerous benefits and prevent weight gain problems later in life. One of the effective ways that we can get our daily dose of physical activity is by joining a gym. While some gyms only offer a standard set up of cardio and strength machines, others offer more services, such as group classes, group cycling as well as other styles such as Zumba, MMA and so on.

While it’s an excellent decision to start working out from age 20 because it encourages beneficial traits such as building self-discipline and reducing stress and anxiety, there are some necessary tests to do before starting a programme to assess vital fitness and health components.

Qualifying tests: It would help if you got these vital health-related tests checked before starting your fitness programme, including

1) Blood pressure which shouldn’t be >120/80 mmHg

2) Stress test of the heart

3) HOMA-IR score that assesses the body’s response to insulin needs to clear elevated blood sugar, which should be <1. 4) SpO2, which indicates lung function, should be >95%.

5) Also declare your physical activity pattern before joining a gym. We need you to build a minimum walking or activity routine before getting ready to work out.

Once you have made past these markers, the following will help you decide on the nature and intensity of your workout session.

Cardiovascular Endurance: Endurance is the ability of your heart and lungs to provide oxygenated-rich blood to your body for a prolonged period under physical exertion. This can be easily tested in the gym using a treadmill and Cooper 2.4 km Run/Walk test protocol. The goal of the test is to complete a 2.4 km in the shortest possible time. This test aims to qualify the individual for having good stamina and complete the test within 10 minutes and 49 seconds for men and 12 minutes and 51 seconds for women. However, if an individual takes longer to complete 2.4 km, he can improve this component by regularly engaging in low to moderate cardio activity for 20-30 minutes.

Upper-body Muscular Fitness: Muscular fitness is defined as the ability of a group of muscles to contract repeatedly over a period to maintain a specific number of voluntary contractions without easily fatiguing. To test it, a simple push-up test for a minute determines the muscular fitness of the upper body. The standard on-the-toes push-ups should be done for men while women can do push-ups on their knees. The aim is to complete at least 30 push-ups with proper form within that period. Good form is defined as being in a push-up plank position throughout the rep, and each rep’s complete range of motion is the shoulder crossing elbow joint before you come up into the start position. Good muscular fitness is necessary for avoiding diseases such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia, resulting in physical disability in old age.

Core Strength: Core strength is defined as the ability of the core muscles, such as the abs, transverse, oblique and glute muscles, to contract isometrically (without flexing) under load without easily fatiguing to keep the spine in a neutral position. This test is done using the plank position held for a minimum of one minute. The inability to hold the plank position for at least one minute indicates a high risk of a lower-back injury. The core muscles can be strengthened with the help of a workout plan focussed on training the core muscles, which then supports your spinal column

Flexibility: Flexibility is defined as joints’ ability to move through a complete range of motion without injury and pain. An excellent way to test this is the sit and reach test, which tests the flexibility of the body’s posterior chain, the entire backside muscles. The idea is that you should be able to at least touch your toes comfortably in a long sitting position with your knees extended. If you cannot do that, then it’s a good indication that you need to work on your body’s flexibility with a relevant programme that emphasises deep diaphragmatic breathing techniques and rhythmic body stretches such as Yoga, 2-3 times a week for a minimum of 40 minutes.

Ideal Body Composition: Body composition is the fat mass percentage relative to overall body weight. Our body weight comprises lean (fat-free) and fat mass. Fat-free mass includes the sum weight of the bones, muscles, organs and water, whereas fat mass essentially refers to the fat underneath the skin (subcutaneous fat). As per major scientific institutions such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), men should aim to have between 5-15 per cent body fat; for women, it is 12-20 per cent body fat. Your gym’s bio-impedance analysis (BIA) machine typically helps you determine your body composition. If an individual’s body fat percentage is above these ranges, he must consult a qualified healthcare professional to make a diet and workout plan to reduce it. A high body fat percentage is typically associated with poor metabolic health, diminishing the quality of life and increasing the risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart attack and arthritis.

Approaching your fitness programme scientifically by establishing your baseline health and fitness through these tests will help you and your trainer chalk out a safe workout plan. A workout plan that will ensure your long-term adherence and continuous progression while making your efforts, reap immense fruits seen through an improved quality of life.

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