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 Put Fitness First

Have you decided that the time has finally come to make fitness a priority in your life? No more excuses. No more putting it off for another day. Because you know doing so will only lead to further procrastination. And the truth is... once you start on an exercise kick, you will actually begin to feel so much better that you'll wonder why on earth you put it off so long in the first place.

When you exercise or compete in sports, you notice several things about your body. You breathe heavier and faster, your heart beats faster, your muscles hurt and you sweat. These are all normal responses to exercise whether you work out regularly or only once in a while or whether you are a "weekend warrior" or a trained athlete. When you watch world-class athletes compete, you see the same responses, only magnified.

The body has an incredibly complex set of processes to meet the demands of working muscles. Every system in the body is involved. On this site, we will look at how your body responds to strenuous exercise -- how muscles, blood circulation, breathing and body heat are affected. You will also see how these responses can be enhanced by training.

Whether you are a novice or already have some experience, this site will offer you a wealth of information on the various options available to you now that you have decided to...

Put Fitness First!


Physical Exercise

Physical exercise is activity performed in order to develop or maintain physical fitness and overall health. Frequent and regular exercise is an important component in the prevention of some of the diseases of affluence such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Exercises are generally grouped into three types depending on the overall effect they have on the human body:

  • Flexibility exercises such as stretching improve the range of motion of muscles and joints.

  • Aerobic exercises such as walking and running focus on increasing cardiovascular endurance.

  • Anaerobic exercises such as weightlifting increase short-term muscle strength.

Exercise can be an important part of physical therapy, weight loss or sports performance.

Exercise can be fun, but be sure to do what you like and eat enough calories, so when you do exercise you are building up muscles, not breaking them down for fuel. Carbohydrates are muscle-sparing; and if you don't get enough calories overall, you burn muscles up with the fat to make up the deficit.

Common Fitness Myths

Many common myths have arisen surrounding exercise, some of which have a basis in reality, and some which are completely false.

No Pain No Gain.

This is generally false. Depending upon the type of exercise you are engaged in and the underlying cause of the pain, actual pain, as opposed to discomfort, is generally a sign that you are causing more harm than good (eg tearing a muscle). It is common to experience sore muscles the day after a workout following the start of an exercise program. This is due many microscopic 'micro-tears' in the muscle and possibly metabolite build-up, and is known either as Post Exercise Muscle Stiffness or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

You should NOT feel pain during or immediately after a workout. Pain at these times can indicate a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. It is uncommon to experience pain the next day after you have been engaged in a program for a month or more. If this is the case you should seek medical advice.

Only overweight people need a physical before beginning an exercise program.

Absolutely false. Only a physician can determine your ability to engage in an exercise program. Apparently healthy people can still have unknown medical conditions, such as a heart murmur, that can cause severe injury or death not only to themselves, but also to others that are dependent upon them, such as someone they are spotting.


Your Body's Response to Exercise

Any type of exercise uses your muscles. Running, swimming, weightlifting -- any sport you can imagine -- uses different muscle groups to generate motion. In running and swimming, your muscles are working to accelerate your body and keep it moving. In weightlifting, your muscles are working to move a weight. Exercise means muscle activity!

As you use your muscles, they begin to make demands on the rest of the body. In strenuous exercise, just about every system in your body either focuses its efforts on helping the muscles do their work, or it shuts down. For example, your heart beats faster during strenuous exercise so that it can pump more blood to the muscles, and your stomach shuts down during strenuous exercise so that it does not waste energy that the muscles can use.

When you exercise, your muscles act something like electric motors. Your muscles take in a source of energy and they use it to generate force. An electric motor uses electricity to supply its energy. Your muscles are biochemical motors, and they use a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for their energy source. During the process of "burning" ATP, your muscles need three things:

  • They need oxygen, because chemical reactions require ATP and oxygen is consumed to produce ATP. 
  • They need to eliminate metabolic wastes (carbon dioxide, lactic acid) that the chemical reactions generate. 
  • They need to get rid of heat. Just like an electric motor, a working muscle generates heat that it needs to get rid of. 

In order to continue exercising, your muscles must continuously make ATP. To make this happen, your body must supply oxygen to the muscles and eliminate the waste products and heat. The more strenuous the exercise, the greater the demands of working muscle. If these needs are not met, then exercise will cease -- that is, you become exhausted and you won't be able to keep going.

To meet the needs of working muscle, the body has an orchestrated response involving the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, lungs, liver and skin. It really is an amazing system!

Let's examine each need and how it is met by the various systems of the body.


ATP is Energy!

For your muscles -- in fact, for every cell in your body -- the source of energy that keeps everything going is called ATP. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the biochemical way to store and use energy.

The entire reaction that turns ATP into energy is a bit complicated, but here is a good summary:

  • Chemically, ATP is an adenine nucleotide bound to three phosphates. 
  • There is a lot of energy stored in the bond between the second and third phosphate groups that can be used to fuel chemical reactions. 
  • When a cell needs energy, it breaks this bond to form adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a free phosphate molecule. 
  • In some instances, the second phosphate group can also be broken to form adenosine monophosphate (AMP). 
  • When the cell has excess energy, it stores this energy by forming ATP from ADP and phosphate. 

ATP is required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. As the work of the muscle increases, more and more ATP gets consumed and must be replaced in order for the muscle to keep moving.

Because ATP is so important, the body has several different systems to create ATP. These systems work together in phases. The interesting thing is that different forms of exercise use different systems, so a sprinter is getting ATP in a completely different way from a marathon runner!

ATP comes from three different biochemical systems in the muscle, in this order:

  1. phosphagen system 
  2. glycogen-lactic acid system 
  3. aerobic respiration 

On the next page we will examine each one of these ATP/energy creation systems in detail.


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