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Balance Your Lifestyle With The Right Amount Of Physical Activity
We all know that there is the correct dosage of medication to treat disease, just as there is the right amount of exercise to build physical fitness. The minimum amount of exercise to develop physical fitness is called the training threshold. The fitness target zone is the optimal amount of physical activity. There is emerging evidence that the threshold for improved performance differs from the threshold for obtaining certain health benefits from physical activity. It is also true that the amount of exercise needed to maintain fitness may differ from the amount needed to develop it.
The basis for improving physical fitness is to apply the “overload principle”. For a muscle (including heart muscle) to become stronger, it must be “overloaded”, or worked against a higher than normal load. To increase flexibility, a muscle needs to be stretched longer than normal. To increase muscular endurance, muscles must be exposed to sustained exercise for a longer period than normal. If the overload is less than normal for a specific fitness component, the result will be a decrease in that particular fitness component. A normal amount of exercise will maintain the current fitness level.
Based on this principle, there is no substitute for overload in the development of physical fitness. Many people don’t overload themselves enough to develop good physical condition. Often the programs found in health clubs and in exercises described in popular books and magazines do not provide adequate overload. Some people try exercise machines or quack devices that violate the overload principle and are therefore ineffective.
An important law of exercise that must be observed if optimal physical condition is to be achieved is the “Principle of Specificity”. This principle states that to develop a certain fitness characteristic, you must overload specifically for that particular fitness component. For example, muscle-strengthening exercises may do little to build cardiovascular fitness and flexibility exercises may do little to alter body composition.
Overload is specific to each component of fitness and is also specific to each part of the body. If you exercise the legs, you develop the fitness of the legs. If you exercise the arms, you develop arm fitness. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see some people with disproportionate physical development. Some gymnasts, for example, have good upper body development but poor leg development, while some soccer players have well-developed legs but lack upper body development.
Specificity is important in designing your warm-up, training and cool-down programs for specific activities. Training is most effective when it closely resembles the activity you are preparing for. For example, if your goal is to improve your tennis skills, it’s not enough to overload your cardiovascular endurance. You need to perform a workout that requires you to overload your upper body’s ability to swing a racquet and hit the ball with increased force.
The “progression concept” states that the overload should not be increased too slowly or too quickly if fitness is to result. The concepts of training threshold and fitness target zones are based on the “progression principle”. Beginners can train gradually by starting near threshold levels and gradually increasing frequency, intensity and time (duration) in the target zone. Exercising above the target zone is counterproductive and can be dangerous. If you are a weekend athlete who only trains vigorously on weekends, you are not training often enough and thus violating the principle of progression. It should be noted that it is possible to exercise too little or too much to develop optimal physical fitness.
For each fitness component, there is a training threshold and a fitness target zone. The training threshold is the minimum amount of exercise needed to produce fitness gains. What you normally do, or just a little more than normal exercise, is not enough to improve your physical condition. The fitness target zone begins at the threshold of training and stops at the point where the benefits of exercise become counterproductive.
Some people mistakenly associate the concepts of training threshold and fitness target zones with cardiovascular fitness alone. As the Principle of Specificity suggests, each component of fitness has its own threshold and target zone.
For exercise to be effective, it must be done with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration. The first letter of these three words is written FIT and can be considered the formula for fitness.
F: Frequency (how often) means that the exercise must be done regularly to be effective. The number of days a person exercises per week is used to determine frequency. The frequency of exercises depends on the specific component to be developed. Most fitness components require at least three (3) days and up to six (6) days of activity per week.
I: Intensity (how hard) means that the exercise must be hard enough to require more effort than normal to produce health-related fitness gains. The method for determining the appropriate intensity varies with each aspect of fitness. For example, flexibility requires stretching muscles beyond normal length, cardiovascular fitness requires raising heart rate above normal, and strength requires increasing resistance more than normal.
T: Time (how long) means that the exercise must be done for a significant duration to be effective. Generally, a bout of exercise should last at least fifteen minutes to be effective, while longer durations are recommended for optimal fitness gains. As the duration increases, the intensity of the exercises can be reduced. Exercise involvement time is also referred to as exercise duration.
Sometimes a second “T” is added to the FIT formula (FITT) to indicate that the type of physical activity you perform is important. As the Principle of Specificity suggests, different types of activities create different components of fitness.
Lifestyle activities are part of everyday life and can contribute significantly to good health, fitness and well-being. Lifestyle activities include walking to and from work, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, working in the yard, or doing any other type of exercise as part of normal daily activities.
Aerobic activities include those that are of such intensity that they can be performed for relatively long periods of time without stopping. Brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and aerobic dancing are some of the common aerobic activities. Aerobic activity is especially good for developing cardiovascular fitness and helping to control body fat.
Flexibility exercises (stretching) are a type of exercise that is intended specifically to develop flexibility. This type of exercise is necessary because most other activities do not contribute to flexibility. This type of exercise should be done at least three days a week and more often for best results.
Strength training is important for developing muscular strength and muscular endurance. This type of exercise should be done two to three days a week.
Active sports are a type of activity that improves cardiovascular fitness and can help control boy fat if done for relatively long periods of time without stopping. They also contribute to the development of other parts of physical fitness. Examples include basketball, tennis, golf and bowling. Active sports performed more than a few days a week can have many of the benefits of aerobic activities.
Rest or inactivity can also be important for good health. A little time off to relax is important to all of us and, of course, a good amount of rest and sleep helps us recover.
As you become more fit by doing the correct exercises, your training threshold and target fitness zones may change. Likewise, if you stop exercising for a while, they will also change. Your training threshold and fitness target zones are based on your current fitness level and your current exercise habits. Recent studies have shown that the exercise needed to maintain fitness need not be as frequent as the exercise designed to build fitness.
It takes time for exercise to benefit health-related fitness. Sometimes people who start an exercise program expect to see immediate results. They expect to see big body fat losses in a short time or big increases in muscle strength in just a few days. Evidence shows, however, that health-related fitness improvements and associated health benefits take several weeks to manifest. Some people will report psychological benefits, such as “feeling better” and a “sense of personal accomplishment” almost immediately after beginning to exercise regularly. It’s a great time and should be used to build confidence in the fitness process. Please note: the physical result will take much longer to materialize. Good exercise preparation includes learning not to expect too much too soon and not to do too much too soon. Attempts to overdo it and try to get in shape quickly will likely be counterproductive, leading to pain and even injury. The key is to start slowly, persevere and enjoy the exercise. The benefits will come to those who persist!
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