According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (aka endurance training) and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity (aka resistance training) per week . Although not included in the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, research suggests that regular mobility training may help to improve balance, reduce the risk of falling, increase efficiency of performing activities of daily living, and combat frailty in older populations (i.e., > 65 years of age) and thus should also be performed in addition to regular endurance and resistance training . Unfortunately, research shows that most Americans fall well short of these recommendations .
Additionally, although most Americans may know the importance of regular physical activity, many do not know how to develop a comprehensive training plan. The purpose of this article is to provide simple, but effective, training recommendations for resistance (to include core), endurance, and mobility training for adults. While some of the proposed exercises may be contraindicated for specific medical conditions and/or injuries; age, by itself, is not a disqualifier . As a result, the proposed training recommendations are applicable to and appropriate for adults of all ages. Even so, the volume, intensity, and/or frequency of the proposed exercises may need to be reduced or increased based on an individual’s age and current level of fitness.
According to Sullivan & Baker , resistance training is the most biologically and functionally complete method of training available. In addition to improving muscle strength and size, resistance training has also been shown to improve
aerobic capacity and body composition, as well as decrease the risk for sarcopenia and osteoporosis. Research shows barbell training to be the most effective method of resistance training for improving bone density and preventing osteoporosis . In fact, only exercises that place significant axial stress on the spine (e.g., squats, standing presses, and deadlifts) have been shown to improve bone mineral density . Body weight, resistance band, machines, and exercises performed sitting or lying down promote little to no improvements in bone mineral density. In terms of application, three sets per exercise is sufficient for most individuals. Perform sets of 3-5 reps per set if the primary goal is to improve strength. Perform sets of 8-12 reps per set if the primary goal is to improve size.
Research shows the importance of regular core (aka torso) training for improving balance, performing functional tasks, and reducing the risk of falling . Sit-ups are a popular method of core training, yet current research suggests that performing high volumes of sit-up training may cause damage to outer layers of the intervertebral discs resulting in or contributing to low back pain . As a result, researchers now believe it may be more effective and safer to train the core isometrically . In addition to training the core isometrically, it is also important to train each region of the core to prevent muscle imbalances (i.e., midline, obliques, and low back). An example of core training that is both isometric and targets each region of the core is the McGill Big Three .
The McGill Big 3 (Figure 1) consists of the McGill curl-up, side plank, and bird dog. Performing these three exercises regularly has been shown to help improve trunk stability and reduce injury risk by strengthening the various muscles surrounding the lumbar spine ,. In terms of application, all three exercises of the
McGill Big 3 can be performed collectively within a single session
or separately with one exercise being performed in isolation.
Regardless of which method is used, each region of the core
should be trained at least once per week. Six sets of 10-second
holds per exercise is sufficient for most individuals. For the side
plank and bird dog, this equates to three sets of 10-second holds
per side (Figure 1).
According to Sullivan & Baker  the addition of low-volume,
high-intensity endurance training to resistance training results in
a comprehensive training plan that addresses all general fitness
attributes. Although distance running is a popular method of
endurance training, research suggests that individuals who
perform distance running exclusively lose muscle strength, size,
and bone mineral density over time . Instead of traditional
distance running, Sullivan & Baker  recommend exercises like
sled pushes or performing Tabata protocols on a cardio machine
that involves both upper and lower body musculature (e.g., Airdyne
bike, elliptical trainer, rower, etc.). A common Tabata protocol
is 20-seconds of high-intensity work followed by 10-seconds of
rest for 3-5 repetitions. Some research suggests that low-volume,
high-intensity endurance training (e.g., high-intensity interval
training [HIIT]) may yield more favorable effects than low- to
moderate-intensity endurance training (e.g., low-intensity steady
state [LISS]) on mortality and disease risk ,.
However, other research suggests that frequency may be more
important than intensity . In terms of application, individuals
should perform at least some low-volume, high-intensity
endurance training weekly (e.g., 2-3 days per week) with low- to
moderate-intensity endurance training being performed on the
other days. Examples of HIIT include 3-5 bouts of 20-yard sled
pushes or 3 sets of 3 x 20-seconds hard / 10-seconds easy with
3-5 minutes of rest in-between sets on an Airdyne bike. Examples
of LISS training include 30-60 minutes of brisk walking.
Regular participation in flexibility training has been long
associated with potential benefits such as reduced injury potential
during exercise, decreased muscle soreness following exercise,
and improved athletic performance. However, current research
debunks these claims ,. Additionally, other research
suggests that dedicated flexibility training may not be necessary if
resistance training is performed regularly and through a full range
of motion . As a result of these collective findings, Nuzzo  recommends that flexibility training be de-emphasized in
the prescription of exercise for most populations. Even though
dedicated flexibility training may be unnecessary for some, most
individuals would likely benefit from performing regular mobility
Mobility training combines aspects of flexibility, balance, and
strength and plays an important role in posture as well as the
ability to perform functional tasks. As a result, it is recommended
that individuals perform mobility training at least 2-3 times per
week. Some examples of effective mobility exercises include the
squat warm-up routine by Dr. Aaron Horschig (Squat University,
2020b) and the deep squat pose (Figure 2), aka Garland or
Malasana pose ,. In terms of application, the squat
warm-up routine may be better suited prior to resistance training
involving the lower body lifts (e.g., squat, deadlift); whereas the
deep squat pose (e.g., 3 sets of 30-second holds) may be better
suited after endurance training (e.g., HIIT, LISS), (Figure 2).
Provided below are some sample training plans for novice,
intermediate, and advanced athletes. A novice athlete is classified
as anyone with less than 6 months of resistance training
experience. An intermediate athlete is classified as anyone with
between 6 months and 2 years of resistance training experience.
An advanced athlete is classified as anyone with more than 2 years
of resistance training experience (Table 1,2,3).
Katherine SH, Eric TH, David RB, Susan AC, Mercedes RC, et al. (2020) Systematic Review of the Prospective Association of Daily Step Counts with Risk of Mortality, Cardiovascular Disease, and Dysglycemia. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, UK.
Squat University (2020b) The Greatest Squat Warm-Up Routine.