We’re all aware that exercising has a lengthy list of benefits, from improved heart health and increased strength to enhanced posture and core stability, to name a few. “Adults who participate in greater amounts of physical activity have reduced risks of developing cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lungs, and stomach,” says Dr. Nona Djavid, DC, a nutrition and weight loss expert. “Those who are more physically active also have a lower risk of hip fracture and developing osteoporosis, and may also experience a boost to their immunity and sex drive.”
Beyond the physical benefits, exercise is also acknowledged as a mental health aid. “Exercise has been shown to help block out negative thoughts, distract us from our daily worries and improve sleep patterns and may also change levels of chemicals in your brain for the better, such as serotonin, endorphins, and stress hormones,” says Djavid. But does every workout bring about the same benefits? Not quite.
Workouts fall into one of four categories: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility, each with its own set of benefits and challenges to keep us on our toes—literally and figuratively. We went to the experts to learn more about each type of workout. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
Endurance training is when the body produces energy in the presence of oxygen, most commonly known as aerobic or cardio workouts. “Endurance training increases the ability of our bodies to sustain work over a period, and is the best way to burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time due to the continuous elevation of heart rate and the demand of muscles requiring oxygen,” explains Bethany Stillwaggon, a master coach for Row House and certified ACSM-CPT.
This type of workout can range from light to medium intensity, where your heart rate hovers at around 60-75 percent of your maximum effort or soars to over 90 percent during intense bouts of exercise. “The rower machine also has the capability to train endurance and strength and is effort-based, so it offers the opportunity for you to work at the intensity you want at any point in the workout.”
Other examples include jogging, running, cycling, and high-intensity interval training. But regardless of exertion level, endurance training is beneficial in increasing lung capacity, reducing cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure, leading to less likelihood of a heart attack.
One remarkable aspect of endurance training is its fat and calorie-burning abilities post-workout, a phenomenon known as excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)—in short, the "afterburn effect." “It’s going to take a lot longer after your workout for your body to recover and return to its normal level,” says Stillwagon, a process that requires energy. “Therefore endurance training is excellent for increasing your metabolism and reducing body fat, and the more you practice, the more oxygen your body will develop to utilize for longer.”
When our bodies move against resistance or added weight, we are building strength, hence the term 'strength training.' And whether it's with our own body weight or tossing dumbbells into the mix, the goal of strength training is to push our muscles to grow and develop greater strength.
“At Row House, we talk about the dozens of proven benefits from strength training,” says Stillwagon. These include:
- Improving muscle strength and tone: which protect your joints from injury
- Weight management: and an increase in your muscle-to-fat ratio
- Improved sense of wellbeing: resistance training can boost your self-confidence, body image, and mood
- Greater stamina: as you grow stronger, you won’t tire as easily
- Prevention or control of chronic conditions: such as diabetes, heart disease, back pain, and depression
Types of Strength Training
“One of my most recommended ways to strength train is functional training, a form of workout incorporating resistance in the form of dumbbells, bands, and our own bodyweight to mimic what our bodies do on a day to day basis,” says Stillwagon.
Functional training has a number of movement patterns, including push (overhead press), pull (bicep curls), hip-hinge (deadlifts), squat (squat pulses), and twist exercises (Russian twists), among others. “As you become confident in these movements, further resistance can be added to continuously stimulate muscle growth, continue challenging our muscles, prevent injury, and help ease our daily life,” adds Stillwagon.
Whether we realize it or not, balance is a key component in our everyday life, integral to how we stand, walk, reach, and move as a whole. By focusing on the muscles and supporting body mechanics which keep us upright (mainly the surrounding leg muscles and core), we can better stabilize through our whole body to carry ourselves with confidence.
“When we talk of improving balance, most people assume we are referring to our ability to balance on one leg or upside down on our head or our hands,” says Alo Moves instructor and international yoga teacher Dylan Werner. “In reality, training our balance through a daily fitness routine can increase our proprioception, reduce the risk of fall injuries, and increase neuroplasticity and cognitive function.”
He suggests incorporating yoga poses such as tree pose, half-moon pose, and crow pose into your workouts. “Practice holding each pose for ten seconds at first and up to a minute to see improvement, and make sure to work on both sides to maintain symmetry.” Within these movements, postural alignment is also key in promoting stability throughout the body. “I've found that most people aren't aware of their postural imbalances, and if left unchecked, they will continue to worsen and eventually lead to a lack of functional movement, pain, or other physical ailments,” warns Werner. “Correct movement patterns and respective focused training on strengthening and stretching areas that show imbalance can improve most of these issues.”
Alongside physical balance, he addresses the importance of achieving emotional balance. “I find daily meditation one of the best ways to improve my emotional stability as it allows an opportunity to look more objectively at ourselves, and train the mind to be less reactive so we can respond in a way that is not harmful to ourselves or others,” says Wener.
Stretching is essential to maintain or improve our range of motion, reduce tightness in certain regions and, in general, enhance daily movement. “A lesser-known benefit of improved flexibility is a subsequent increase in strength, given [that] as we increase in flexibility, we also decrease the opposing muscle groups' resistance,” shares Werner. For example, he explains that when you lift a leg straight out in front of you, the strength of the quadricep muscles pulls against the resistance of the hamstrings. “This results in the quadriceps working with less exertion to lift the leg.”
Flexibility also has mental health benefits, says Werner. “Stretching stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, regulating blood pressure, heart rate, and easing us to move into a state of rest and recovery.”
Forms of Flexibility Training
Flexibility is more complicated than you'd think, with distinctive forms dependent on our individual practice and goals. Three popular go-to stretching types are:
- Dynamic stretching: A pre-workout stretch, described by Werner as “adding a little bounce and work to increase our fascia's elastic properties.” It generally incorporates and mimics movements similar to those in the workout itself.
- Active stretching: “This stretching also stimulates the nervous system which helps us move towards our end ranges of movement, and so active stretching can achieve faster increases in range of motion than other modalities,” says Werner. Designed to target specific muscles held in a fixed position with no outside force (e.g, an overhead tricep stretch), dynamic stretching is ideal for gearing up the muscles before a workout.
- Passive stretching: “This is when we relax the muscles being stretched,” explains Werner. Passive stretching is suited for post-workout when the muscles are fully warmed up, such as lengthening our hamstrings in a banded hamstring mat stretch.
“With stretching, less is more, and also, consistency is key,” Werner advises. “We should ideally aim to stretch each muscle group five to ten minutes per day, five to six days a week.”
Why You Should Combine Workout Types
Some of the best results for both body and mind can be achieved through a variety of exercise formations. “For those who exercise regularly, it would be sensible to seek advice from a professional to build periodization into your workout, to divide your training regime into cycles that manipulate different aspects of training—such as intensity, volume, and type of exercise,” suggests Djavid. “This will optimize your performance and ensure you peak for a planned exercise event, such as a triathlon.”
Combining types of training has other benefits too. “Pairing endurance with strength training can enhance our mental strength and therefore, we may be able to lift heavier or longer post endurance exercise,” adds Stillwaggon. “If you want to take your training one step further, work on exercises that incorporate strength and endurance, such as compound movements (a plank row or a squat press) or self-changing intensity machines.”
Overall, the key is to achieve equilibrium in our fitness abilities to bring balance to the entire body, one workout type at a time.
Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018;5:135. doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135