Having balance in all areas of your life is important, and having a balanced workout routine is no different. It’s important to address the many aspects of a fitness and health regimen to ensure you are covering all the bases when it comes to your exercise.
What is a Balanced Workout Routine?
Just because you break a sweat does not necessarily mean your exercise plan is “good.” A balanced routine is one that covers all the bases. That means you’ll want to address all aspects of your fitness, including muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness, your flexibility, your balance, and even your mind-body connection.
A lot of folks do not follow this advice, of course, and end up looking (and likely feeling) imbalanced. You may be aware of the running joke when it comes to many bodybuilder types in the gym… they work chest and arms on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and arms and chest on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thus, they’re left with “chicken leg” syndrome. Or the quote, “Real friends don’t let friends skip leg day.” These are jokes, of course, but you can probably see the point here; it’s important to address each and every body part and area of fitness equally to make sure you create and maintain not just a balanced physique but balance throughout the body.
So, that means you don’t just focus on the body parts you enjoy working out. You must exercise each area equally, and there is no “spot toning.”
Why Create a Balanced Workout?
You may be wondering, “what’s the big deal about a balanced workout routine?” and that is a common question. There are many benefits.
- Stress relief
- Lessen joint pain
- Reduced risk of injuring yourself during your workout
- Reduced risk of developing an injury due to imbalances in the body
- Create health in all arenas
- Ability to customize to your own needs
- Helps you maintain your results
- Variety in your workout makes it more enjoyable
Why Is a Balanced Workout Physically Important?
Balance is important across the board, but when it comes to your workout, not having balance as the core of your design could be downright dangerous.
Think about it… if certain parts of your body are very strong, and other areas are quite weak, the risk for injury is greatly increased. For example, working your abdominals relentlessly until they are super strong, but never including your back and lower back in the mix can leave you with a painfully weak back. Abdominals that are much stronger than your lower back muscles can cause your body to tilt forward as your back does not have enough strength to keep you upright.
Another great example of body imbalance is over-developed chest muscles. When these muscles become much stronger than their upper back counterparts, it can cause the shoulders to roll forward. This creates an improper posture which can wreak havoc from the neck down.
And, balancing your strength training routine isn’t the only thing you need to work on. If you only shorten your muscles through weightlifting exercises and you never take the time to stretch and work on your flexibility, you’ll end up with shortened muscles, which in turn, can pull your body out of alignment, eventually causing injuries.
Also, if you only weight train and never do cardiovascular training, then you may have a muscular physique, yet other aspects of your health may suffer.
Likewise, if you only worry about the aesthetic side of things and never focus on the functionality, like stretching and balance, you’ll be primed for body imbalances and unnecessary injuries.
What Are the Components of a Balanced Workout Routine?
So, what do you need to include if you’re putting together your own workout plan and you want it to be balanced?
According to Dr. Kevin McQuade, associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and Director of the Human Motion Analysis Research Lab at the University of Washington, creating a balanced workout routine is like putting together a balanced meal. You want to have the right amounts of each category to have a complete and balanced meal.
He goes on to say that there are four main areas of importance on which you must focus if your goal is overall health and fitness. They are:
- Strength Training
- High Intensity Interval Training/Cardiovascular Training
- Flexibility Training
- Mind and Body Connection Training
- We’d also like to add Balance Training to that mix
Lastly, he stresses the importance of getting out and moving your body. It’s important to use your muscles in a functional manner—the way you would use them for everyday movements and for athletic activities.
How to Make a Workout Routine That Works
First, decide how many times a week you will exercise and how much time you’ll be able to dedicate.
Next, decide where you’ll be working out and determine the equipment you’ll have on hand. Will you be working out at home, outdoors, with friends, in a group class, or at a gym?
Once you have the parameters decided, you can set up your weekly balanced workout routine and include all the correct components.
- You’ll want to make sure you work each body part at least once a week, and don’t leave anything out. Don’t work your favorite areas more than your least favorite areas if you want to achieve balance. That means you’ll be doing exercises for each of these areas:
- It’s a good idea to get in both high-intensity and low-intensity sessions in a perfectly balanced workout routine.
- Low-intensity cardio training is steady state aerobic type exercise. This could be a long walk, a slow gentle jog, or a family bike ride where you maintain the same pace.
- High-intensity interval training involves short bursts of all-out effort followed by a period of low-intensity cardio. For example, you might sprint for 15 seconds and then walk for 45 seconds and repeat for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Try to engage in the different types of stretching available. You can use active, passive, dynamic, ballistic, and static stretching.
- How do the stretches vary from each other?
- Active stretching does not use force, and it helps to stimulate your muscles safely prior to a workout. Typically, you’ll contract a muscle opposite of the muscle you want to stretch, which, in turn, causes the target muscle to stretch. A good example of this stretch is flexing your feet upward to stretch your calf muscles.
- Passive stretching is done by an assistant who aids in stretching a muscle in a functional way with no resistance.
- Dynamic stretching entails consistent movement through a range of motion. A good example of this type of stretch is a calf raise.
- Ballistic stretching employs rapid “bouncing” movement and is used to stretch the muscle further than it would normally stretch.
- Static stretching is the most commonly seen and involves stretching a muscle and holding the stretch for a specified period of time. You may see people do this sort of stretch when they sit on the ground with straight legs and try to reach toward their toes.
Mind and Body Connection Training
- You guessed it, the perfect example of mind and body connection training is yoga (which means “to unite”). Yoga is a physical, mental, and sometimes spiritual practice that allows you to focus on your body and how it’s feeling. This allows you to gently stretch and massage all the muscles in the body, while at the same time, releasing stressful thoughts from your mind and allowing yourself to be in the moment.
- Yoga, practiced consistently over time, allows you to develop a mental connection with your body, its movement, and its functions.
Last, but certainly not least, is balance training. This can be especially important as you age since balance does seem to become an issue for the aging population. That said, athletes of all ages can and do benefit from balance training.
Traditionally, balance is improved by performing exercises on an unstable surface, such as a stability ball or a BOSU ball (basically a stability ball cut in half with the flat side on the ground). The unstable surface causes you to engage and recruit more muscles, tendons, and ligaments than you typically would if you were performing the exercise normally.
An Example Workout Plan
So, now you have all the ingredients necessary to build your own balanced workout routine. Try to include strength training and cardio workouts two to three times a week, each, for at least 30 minutes. You can include flexibility and balance training during these sessions as well and then opt for yoga 2 – 3 times a week to round out your program. So a balanced week might look something like this:
- Sunday: 30 – 45 minutes whole body weight training workout with stretching during and after the workout
- Monday: 20- to 30-minute yoga practice
- Tuesday: 20-minute HIIT workout
- Wednesday: 30-minute weight workout in the AM; 30-minute walk after dinner
- Thursday: 15- to 20-minute HIIT workout followed by 30 minutes of yoga
- Friday: 45- to 60-minute weight workout with stretching during and after the workout
- Saturday: HIIT workout, hike, or family bike ride