When you think of exercise, you may imagine strenuous activities such as running or biking — the ones that make you breathe hard, turn flush and drip with sweat. But aerobic activity is only one type of exercise, and although it is critical for boosting fitness, there are actually three other types of exercise that are also important: strength training, balance training and flexibility training.
Each type of exercise is important in its own way, and doing all four types is the way to maximize your fitness and prevent injury, experts say.
“While aerobic exercise is very important, it’s not as effective for overall health” when done alone compared with when people include all four types of exercise in their routine, said Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota. “They all kind of go together” and complement each other, Laskowski said.
For example, strength training makes muscles stronger, which, in turn, helps to support and protect joints — and this could help prevent injury during aerobic exercise. Meanwhile, balance exercises use muscle strength in a coordinated fashion to stabilize your movements, and can reduce the risk of injuries such as ankle sprains, Laskowski said.
In addition, you could be very fit aerobically, but “if you’re not flexible, you’re still going to pull something when you’re training,” said Kelly Drew, an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine. Flexibility also helps you do strength training, because it improves your range of motion around your joints, ensuring you can perform lifts and other strength moves effectively, Drew said.
To dig up the most important information on these exercise types, Live Science spoke with experts and reviewed the latest scientific research. Below, we’ve linked to our detailed articles about the four types of exercise. Each article discusses the benefits of the particular exercise type, as well as how much you need to do and how to avoid injury during the activity. Finally, we’ll provide ways to incorporate all four types of exercise into your workout regimen.
Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming or dancing, are activities that work your cardiovascular system — they get your heart rate up and make you breathe harder. This type of exercise can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and may even lower the risk of cancer.
Strength exercises, such as weight lifting, push-ups and crunches, work your muscles by using resistance (like a dumbbell or your own body weight.) This type of exercise increases lean muscle mass, which is particularly important for weight loss, because lean muscle burns more calories than other types of tissue.
Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body’s position. This type of exercise is particularly important for older adults, because balance gets worse with age.But balance exercises can be beneficial for everyone, including people who have gained or lost a lot of weight or those who become pregnant, which can throw off your center of gravity, Drew said.
Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and may improve your range of motion at your joints. They can improve your flexibility, and reduce your risk of injury during sports and other activities.
Putting it all together
Ideally, you should include all four types of exercise in your workouts. But that doesn’t mean you have to do four separate workouts, Drew said. You can combine some exercises together, like strength and balance training. For example, you could do bicep curls while standing on one leg. Some workouts, such as yoga, incorporate strength, flexibility and balance exercises.
A sample workout might include running or walking briskly for 30 minutes on a treadmill for aerobic exercise, then doing strength and balance exercises combined, and finishing by doing some static stretches, Drew said. “Your exercise program should include a bit of all four [types of exercise],” Drew said.