What’s the best kind of exercise?

There’s a lot of debate out there regarding what type of exercise is the best. The reason there isn’t one firm answer, is because we all have different needs and preferences. Define best, anyway. Burns the most calories? Builds the most muscle mass? Takes the least amount of time? If I told someone who enjoys swimming that running (highest caloric burn) is the best, I would be wrong. A swimmer who hates running would likely not adhere to a regular running program, thus getting less overall exercise than if he swam every day and ran never. There’s also something to be said for enjoying what you’re doing. Aside from sticking to a consistent program, enjoying your experience will emit positive chemicals in your body like serotonin (making you feel happy) and eliminate harmful ones like cortisol (linked to obtaining belly fat).

So let’s say, if you can pick your exercise, whether it’s swimming, biking, running, or poking a sleeping bear and fleeing the scene, what matters is how you perform. As a trainer, I hate the phrase, “no pain no gain”, but it is kind of true. If you aren’t feeling your workout, it probably isn’t doing much for you. As with most things in life, we reap the most rewards from what we work the hardest for. Work HARD in your workout, and you will see results. But, you only have to work hard here and there. What!? I’m referring to interval training, or the trendy term HIIT (high intensity interval training). This means working at a higher level of exertion of at least an 8/10 (or 80% of your maximum heart rate*) on and off for the exercise bout. The higher the intensity, the higher caloric burn.  Ideally, we want all of these from our exercise, though:

High calorie burn

Muscle building

Endurance and Energy Improvement


Short in duration

To me, the best workout involves all of it, sacrificing nothing.  According to Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times in her article “Powerhouse Renovation” (3/26/2017), The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota did a study comparing weight training, endurance training, and interval training on the cellular level.  That which had the biggest impact on our cells, and even more so on the senior aged group, was the interval training.  Let’s dive a little deeper.  HOW did it impact the cells?

If you’ve ever taken a science class, you learn that the mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell”. I might still have a flashcard that says this buried in the depths of my parents’ basement. But what does it mean?  It’s the component of a cell that produces energy or ATP.  If we want our systems to function properly, there are several players in those processes that need energy (ATP) to do their jobs.  Think of ATP as the food. If we stopped eating, we’d have a hard time walking, moving, speaking, etc.  Without ATP, our cells would have a hard time functioning, too. The more mitochondria we have, and the more efficiently they work to produce that ATP, the better the condition of the body. In this case, Reynolds’ article states that interval training leads to increased productivity of the mitochondrial work specifically in muscle cells, and that there was even an increase in how many mitochondria were present, all based off a biopsy of participants in the study.  We can therefore thank interval training for muscle building and endurance and energy improvement.  That knocks three desirable outcomes off our list.  Now how about the enjoyment and duration?  It’s all up to us from here.

FPC recommends spending at least 30 minutes on your interval training.  Perhaps those intervals look like:

1 minute of hard work/1 minute of rest

2 minutes of hard work/1 minute of rest

3 minutes of hard work/ 30 seconds of rest

This may all depend on your level of fitness and mental toughness, which will inevitably get better with practice!  The hard work may look like:

biking with heavy resistance (rest: biking moderately)

biking all out sprint (rest: biking moderately)

sprinting (rest: jogging)

jogging (rest: walking)

Jumping (rest: stepping)

Push-ups (rest: walking or knee push-ups)

Heavy lifting (rest: easy lifting)


There are so many options, that you can create your 30 minutes to incorporate the other types of exercise you wish to do. Get the best of variety so you never get bored, muscle work so you strengthen while you endurance train, and get it all done in half the time!

As always, if you need help designing your perfect program or want something different each time, call a trainer!

Janna Friedland, Personal Trainer, Senior Fitness Specialist

Fitness Partners Colorado




*Determine Maximum Heart Rate: 220-Age

i.e. if you are 77 years old, 220-77=143

143 is your maximum heart rate, or 100%. To stay safe, do not work above this number. Working at 80% of your max heart rate for an interval:

143x 0.8= 114.4 Therefore, your high intensity intervals should put you at a HR of at least 114, but no higher than 143

***Please note that some medications alter HR and you should talk to your doctor to find out if this effects you***