I am asked on a regular basis, “What is the best workout?” I tend to have a lot to say on the topic, but for your reading pleasure, my answer is simple: the one that makes you move the most muscles.
When it comes to exercise specifics, we have movements that are isolated (where movement only includes one joint), and compound (where movements involve two or more joints). What this means in relation to maximizing your workout is: the more joints that are moving, the more muscles that are working, and the more calories you are burning. There are many other benefits too that far outweigh just simply burning calories, such as increasing your cardiovascular system and increasing muscular balance in the body.
Let’s start with burning calories, because that is the goal for most of the people that I talk to. Here are the simple facts. Calories are a form of energy. When we eat, we either use those calories, or they get stored. When we move, we use energy (either from our recently ingested foods, or stored sources, i.e. fat). The more we move, the more energy we use. So, long story short, creating a workout that utilizes the most amount of muscles for each exercise will require a lot of energy, thus burning a maximal amount of calories in a shorter amount of time.
Next are the cardiovascular benefits. Our cardiovascular system refers to our heart and our lungs working together to distribute oxygen filled blood to necessary tissues within the body. Now, there is a lot of information I am skipping by saying this, but in general, the more muscles we use, the greater the demand becomes on our heart and lungs to bring adequate amounts of blood and oxygen to the working muscle tissue. This increased demand of energy thus burns more calories. The more we elevate our heart rate, the stronger our heart and lungs become.
Having a balanced body is very important. Imbalances in muscles, or muscle groups, will lead to imbalances in the skeletal system, thus leading to pain. For example; many people who sit at a desk for long periods of time suffer from stiffness in their hamstring muscle complex which is often accompanied by lower back pain. Full body exercises will work over time in reducing the amount of imbalances we find throughout the body. When we train our body through compound and complex movement patterns, we are rebalancing the ways our body moves.
When I say, “Choose exercises that move the most muscles,” what I am really saying is choose as many forms of exercise as you can in order to ensure you are moving a maximal amount of muscles and joints in as many planes as possible. Dancing, such as Zumba, is one example of this. There is a huge demand on the musculoskeletal system because the entire body is moving in all sorts of directions. Yoga and Kickboxing are other great examples of full body exercises that require complex movement patterns. Mixing up weight training routines with other types of exercise is probably the best way to maximize your overall results due to the science that supports the importance of weight bearing exercises on the aging body.
If you notice, the internet is filled with 7-minute circuit training workout routines that are prepared for you in order to maximize your exercise time. Not everyone has the luxury to “get to the gym” for the recommended 60 minutes per day (or whatever the latest stats say). But if you want to maximize the time you do have, Circuit Train. When I say this I don’t necessarily mean do a circuit training workout routine during every workout (though they are amazing), what I mean is do as many forms or styles of exercise as you can throughout each week or month. The more you move the more you burn.
In closing, I would like to point out one very important, very obvious fact: keeping your routine interesting will increase your chances of keeping up with a routine in general. So when your goal is to lose weight, increase the longevity of your cardiovascular system, or balance your body/reduce pain, changing and mixing up your routine on a regular basis becomes a win-win situation.