Your Aerobic Workout Program, Plus 5 Great Warm-Up Exercises

Whether you opt to walk, run, or swim, Vonda Wright, M.D., advises a warm-up workout first.

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A is for aerobic workout: You'll need to warm up before you launch into our 10-week workout program, whether you're walking, running, biking, or taking a class at the gym. The exercises you'll learn in this section, designed to get your muscles warm and limber, are:

Here's what you need to know before you begin your workout program, adapted from Fitness After 40 by Vonda Wright, M.D.

Just as your entire body can put on fat and become weak from disuse, so can your heart. If you don't challenge it, your heart literally becomes surrounded by a flabby envelope of fat and lub-dubs along like a floppy sac. Aerobic means "with oxygen," and aerobic exercise is exercise that involves oxygen. The more fit your body is and the more efficient your heart becomes, the more work can be done with each given amount of oxygen. It's like a car: The more efficient your engine, the better your miles per gallon.

To begin your own exercise program, choose the aerobic activity you are going to start doing, such as walking, hiking, running, jogging, aerobic dance, rope skipping, stairs, skating, cycling, skiing, aerobics classes, rowing, swimming, or endurance sports. When you are getting started, it is important to keep it simple. Do not make an elaborate plan with multilevel goals. Go for a walk, run, swim, or row—anything that is logistically practical for you. Remember that just making the decision to exercise does not erase years of sedentary buildup, so don't try to make it up all at once. Many people start with walking first. It is simple and logistically practical since you can just open the front door and start. And let's face it, there is no new skill to learn.

You must warm up before taking off on your exercise adventure. This can take the form of an easy walk or a slow jog before a run or a few slow pool laps before you turn up the speed. Dynamic warm-ups—warm-ups where you are moving and stretching instead of just standing in one place—are fun and get the heart pumping and the muscles filled with blood. The following warm-up exercises can easily be performed before any kind of exercise.

Toe and Heel Walks
Walking on your toes gives your calves, in the back of your lower legs, a good warm-up. Walking on your heels warms up the front portion of your legs as well as warming up your ankles. If your legs start to ache while doing either of these walks, you should stop.
1. Walk on your toes with your toes pointed straight ahead for about 20 meters, getting as high up on your toes as you possibly can. Your legs should be relatively straight as you do this, and you should—at least initially—take fairly small steps.
2. Switch to walking on your toes for 20 meters. Your feet should be rotated out.
3. Do the same, with your toes pointed in, for 20 meters.
4. Repeat this while walking on your heels.

Skip
Did you think skipping was just for kids? It's not, and it's a good way for you to warm up.
1. Skip for 20 meters, landing in the mid-foot area with each contact with the ground and with toes pointed straight ahead.
2. Try skipping by flexing your knees up high and taking longer than normal strides.

Walking on your toes gives your calves, in the back of your lower legs, a good warm-up. Walking on your heels warms up the front portion of your legs as well as warming up your ankles. If your legs start to ache while doing either of these walks, you should stop.

1. Walk on your toes with your toes pointed straight ahead for about 20 meters, getting as high up on your toes as you possibly can. Your legs should be relatively straight as you do this, and you should—at least initially—take fairly small steps.
2. Switch to walking on your toes for 20 meters. Your feet should be rotated out.
3. Do the same, with your toes pointed in, for 20 meters.
4. Repeat this while walking on your heels.

Skip
Did you think skipping was just for kids? It's not, and it's a good way for you to warm up.

1. Skip for 20 meters, landing in the mid-foot area with each contact with the ground and with toes pointed straight ahead.
2. Try skipping by flexing your knees up high and taking longer than normal strides.

(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Hip circles A
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Hip circles B

Hip Circles
Hip circles warm up the large muscles in the front and back of your midsection and buttocks.
1. Begin with your hands on your hips and your feet together.
2. Bend one leg up in front of the body at the hip (photo A) and rotate it up to the side (photo B), then lower it.
3. Reverse the movement by bending the leg up at the hip to the side and rotating it forward before lowering it. Repeat 10 times, then perform on the opposite leg.

(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Lunge A
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Lunge B

Lunge
This lunge not only warms up your hips and buttocks but also stretches your hip flexor muscles.
1. Stand with your feet together.
2. Hug one of your knees to your chest (photo A) and then release your leg.
3. Lunge onto that knee while trying to keep your knee above your ankle and not in front of it (photo B).
4. Bring your back leg forward until you are standing again. Repeat 10 times, then perform with the opposite leg.

(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Inchworm A

Inchworm
The inchworm is harder than it looks. The inchworm warms up your legs while giving a good stretch to the hamstrings and calf muscles that run down the backs of your legs.
1. Begin in a push-up position (photo A).
2. Slowly walk your legs toward your hands (photo B). Heels may be off the floor.
3. Continue walking forward until the pull in the back of your legs is uncomfortable.
4. At this point, slowly walk your arms forward with your feet still, until you are back in the push-up position (photo C). Repeat five to 10 times.

(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Inchworm B
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Inchworm C

How do we know when we are exercising enough and not too much? Fitness After 40 explains in detail how to do this by tracking your heart rate; the short version is that you should be working hard but be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.

The workout plan says to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each time. If you can't do that, start with 10 to 15 minutes per session, and build up to 30 minutes over the following few weeks. It's OK if you need to slow down or even stop to rest initially. If you're comfortable with 30 minutes, you can build up over the length of the plan and go beyond that, too.

Check out the rest of our 10-Week Workout, designed by Dr. Wright, including our sections on flexibility, load-carrying, and equilibrium exercises.

Excerpted from FITNESS AFTER 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age
by Vonda Wright, M.D., with Ruth Winter, M.S.
© 2009 Vonda Wright and Ruth Winter
Published by AMACOM Books
www.amacombooks.org