Getting the Best From Exercise

TO UNDERSTAND HOW to get the best from exercise, it is a good idea to have some knowledge of how the human body is put together and how it works. This section is a quick explanation of the basic structure and operation of the musculo-skeletal system.

Muscles

Muscles are bundles of fibres which are attached to your skeleton and can be expanded and contracted to move you about. They generally operate in opposing pairs so that one controls a movement in one direction, while the other has an opposite effect. An example of this are the biceps and triceps — the biceps enables you to flex your arm and the triceps extends it. Exercise causes the muscle tissue to break down and then rebuild in a stronger form, more able to cope with the particular demands placed on it. This means that different types of exercise produce different effects. Bodybuilders, for instance, exercise by performing small numbers of repetitions with very heavy weights, creating large, bulky muscles, whereas endurance athletes create muscles more suitable for extended use by exercising with much lighter weights for many more repetitions.

The Skeleton

Your skeleton is the frame to which your muscles are attached, and so, to a large extent, it determines your size and shape. The size and shape of your skeleton is determined mainly by genetic inheritance and the quality of your nutrition when you were growing, but exercise and good food now will help to strengthen it.

Body Fat

The body needs to contain a certain amount of fat to maintain normal function. For men the ideal proportion is about 15 per cent, for women about 20 per cent. Less than that, and you are more likely to become vulnerable to infections; more, and fat begins to accumulate in places where it shouldn’t, making you look flabby and, more importantly, interfering with your circulation and other body functions.

The ideal level, your body will work efficiently and look good. Dieting alone will help you to lose weight (in some cases), but without muscle tone you will be what body-builders call ‘skinny fat’. Yuk! All of the exercises in MMA Fit are designed to help you achieve the right balance.

Body Shape

Your body shape and weight are defined mostly by your musculature, your skeleton and your body-fat ratio.

HEIGHT AND WEIGHT

ONCE YOU HAVE become fit, you will be carrying far less excess fat around with you. Physically, the main thing that Arnie Schwarzenegger and Madonna have in common is that their shape is defined by muscle bulk. Madonna has the muscular definition without excessive size that aerobic exercise creates, while Schwarzenegger has a bo. Dy built for power. Unfortunately, the fact is that most of the rest of us are far too fat for our own good.

How do you check whether you have too much fat? Easy, get your gear off and stand naked in front of a full-length mirror. If you feel that you look fat then you probably are; alternatively, jump up and down and jog on the spot – the bits that are wobbling around on your hips and stomach are almost certainly fat. But don’t be disheartened everybody gets a bit porky from time to time, and before the jungle training and combat survival phases of SAS selection most recruits are desperately trying to gain weight and fat reserves to help stave off the stress induced by a dramatically restricted food intake!

Now weigh yourself and note the result.

Do You Weigh Too Much?

If you are greatly over the weight limit for your height, the first thing to do before starting an exercise programme is to go to see your doctor and check that your body is up to it. One of the risks is that you will be imposing a fair amount of extra strain on your joints, increasing the risk of injuring yourself. More importantly, you are increasing the workload on your heart, lungs and other vital organs – possibly to the extent of causing a heart attack. When you use the exercises in the MMA Fit programmes, substitute swimming for miming, minute for minute, until you’ve lost enough weight to allow you to run comfortably. In addition, approach all other exercises, like gym work, with a certain degree of caution.

Do You Weigh Too Little?

If you are significantly underweight, you should also get yourself checked by a doctor before starting an exercise programme. It is possible that you will be imposing excessive stress on yourself by trying to undertake exercise without sufficient reserves to do so, and it may be that you have an eating disorder or some other illness. You will certainly need to eat more to be able to cope with the exercise in the MMA Fit programmes.

It is a common myth that muscles turn to fai or change your exercise pattern. This is actually an impossibility but there is a danger that, if your food intake, you won’t burn off sufficient fat will mean that your muscles reduce in size.

You may find that your weight will increase by a few pounds at the start of your exercise programme: this is caused by your body building muscle tissue, which weighs more than fat, and you will soon lose it again… If you injure yourself or become ill and are unable to vain, you will almost certainly gain some weight .

Of alcohol poisoning and dehydration which is enough to stop anyone from taking exercise; obesity — caused by those 500-odd calories per pint; and the stupid, dangerous things that we tend to do when under the influence. All this should be enough to tell you that alcohol is fine in moderation, but you need to be careful. It is all too easy to get into the habit of drinking a lot — and from there to alcoholism is only a small step. Analyse your drinking habits: Do you drink much when you’re on your own? Do you find yourself drinking during the morning? Do you drink to overcome problems? Do you regularly get wrecked mid-week? If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, then it is possible that you have a drinking problem and you need specialist help.

Drugs

I have never taken any, illegal drugs in my life and I’m not about to start — the risks far outweigh the benefits. If you are addicted to, or dependent on, any type of drug you need specialist help, not an exercise handbook. Put MMA Fit to one side until you’ve started to get to grips with your problem, then you’ll be ready for it. If you’re using drugs for sneaky performance benefits, read on . . .

The problem with substances which mask pain or temporarily boost performr9ce is that they can hide the effects of serious damage. Pain’is nature’s way of telling you to stop the activity which causes it. If you have taken drugs which prevent you from feeling pain, it is possible that you could do serious damage to yourself without realizing it and then exacerbate the injury by continuing to exercise. The effect of using steroids and other such performance-boosters is more long-term; they will improve your performance at the potential expense of serious problems later in life. Athletes who use illegal drugs to boost their sporting performance are missing the point of what it’s all about, anyway.

Finally, a word to any military personnel reading this who are now, or who might be contemplating, using illegal drugs. Don’t. The effects of a machine-gunner having a bad LSD flashback, for example, don’t bear thinking about. If you are

NO-NO’S

SMOKING, DRINKING AND drug abuse are all factors which can have a serious effect on your physical fitness and general health. Smoking and boozing remain socially acceptable despite their highly unpleasant side-effects (like death), but anyone who vies to get fit while doing either — or both — is barking mad. I know; I used to smoke 30 a day!

Smoking

If you’re a smoker who takes exercise, you tend to get used to the feeling of constriction in your chest, the rasping in your throat and the coughing fits when you finish. However, I can assure you that life is a whole lot more pleasant without them. All the scare stories are true, unfortunately, and the fact is that you are massively increasing your chances of an early death if you carry on smoking. I gave up after reading a book called The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. This put me into the correct frame of mind and, coupled with the exercise I was taking at the time, genuinely helped a great deal. I am against the use of nicotine chewing-gum or patches because you are just substituting one addiction for another, but they do work for some people. Whatever method you use, stop smoking! It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it even makes you smell.

Alcohol

Nobody minds too much if you have a few drinks every now and again, but if you are getting wrecked as a fruit bat every night then you’ve got problems. In fact a beer or two, taken after exercise, can help you to replace energy used up during the session and unwind psychologically. Two pints of beer contain between 400 and 500 calories, together With a slack handful of vitamins, and this is easily metabolized by your body. Most of us will have experienced the negative side of alcohol, however. This includes hangover — a combination addicted, declare the problem to a doctor or padre and you will be treated very sympathetically. If you hide it, the chances are that you will get caught by those nasty fellows with the bright red hats.

Medical Factors

Physical handicaps are no barrier to becoming extremely fit within the limitations that the handicap imposes. MMA Fit contains a wide variety of exercises that can be adapted into very rewarding exercise programmes for the handicapped. Similarly, recovery from serious illness or injury is also not necessarily a barrier to becoming extremely fit and strong. There are many examples of sportsmen and women who have suffered serious injuries coming back to compete at the top level. Look at Paul Gascoigne; in 1991 his career appeared to be finished after he injured his leg in the FA Cup Final, but within two years he was back, playing a key role in the fortunes of the England soccer team.

However, there are several medical factors which should affect your attitude to starting an exercise programme. The most important among these is a history of heart or circulatory diseases, in yourself or in your family. In 1984, Jim Fixx, an American fitness guru, died of a heart attack while running his daily 10 miles. More than anyone else, Fixx was responsible for the start of the exercise boom in the USA, yet he had a history of heavy smoking, obesity and job stress over a long period. He had eliminated all of these factors from his life, but enough damage had already been done to combine with the inherited tendency towards heart disease and sentence him to death.

Other problems that might creep up and ambush you include arthritis and skeletal disorders, though they are less likely to have such a dramatic effect.

Don’t Give Up!

Your medical history will only stand in your way if you let it.

I’m not suggesting that you cast away your crutches and do SAS selection (though in the 1950s ‘Lofty’ Large came back from two years of malnutrition in a Korean POW camp with an arm virtually paralysed from a sniper’s bullet to do just that), but you caristill give yourself the self-confidence, inner strength and toughness that only the genuinely fit have. The current US Army recruiting slogan is ‘Be All You Can Be’ — good thinking. You owe it to yourself to succeed.

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