By: Kurt Hurley
I am a huge supporter and advocate of integrated and phase-based training as optimized methods of health and fitness technologies/systemologies. And it wasn’t until I started researching Tai Chi as an alternative form of exercise (I have been exercising for three-and-a-half decades consistently) did I understand how such a slow-velocity activity can help decrease blood pressure, reduce stress, help develop a greater degree of coordination and diminish the number of falls experienced by the elderly. The affects of resistance and aerobic type activities and their impact on health is unequivocal. Resistance training improves strength and the development of lean muscle mass, as well as an increase in bone-density and cardiovascular training improves the efficiently of the heart, lungs and circulatory function while decreasing mortality rates. However, over the past few decades, Eastern practices such as Tai Chi and Yoga have complimented mainstream fitness training programs by demonstrating comparable health benefits to traditional fitness training. A closer look at Tai Chi is warranted and yes, this is coming from a fitness coach who intrinsically knows and has meticulously practiced and has been the recipient of the absolute benefits of weight bearing exercise for over 30 years.
So… What is Tai Chi Anyway?
Tai Chi is pronounced as “Tie Chee.” Tai Chi can be translated from Chinese to English as “moving life force.” Tai Chi is a form of Martial Art that focuses on cultivating the flow of energy in the body by performing a slow, gentle, and precise sequence of movements that channel potentially destructive energy away from the body. As you could probably glean, Tai Chi requires a high level of concentration when performing a sequence of moves, called Forms. Historically practiced as a martial art, today Tai Chi is used as an alternative form of exercise that requires a greater degree of movement than yoga and eliminates the impact nature of many aerobic or cardio-respiratory type activities.
Vitality: The Health and Well-Benefits of Tai Chi.
Talk about Synergy… The life force or energy in Tai Chi is believed to be in the form of the Yin and the Yang. Yin and Yang represent two opposite halves that come together to create a unified whole. Tai Chi finds its roots in Taoist philosophy, which adheres to the principle that optimum health is achieved through a balanced Chi, or life force. Balance is maintained through the use of focused, mindful breathing, precise execution of movements and by keeping the muscles active but relaxed. Imbalance can result in an array of health problems and a decrease in the over-all quality of life. Tai Chi is a moderate intensity exercise where aggregate energy expenditure is comparable to walking at a pace of 3.5 mph. Overt health benefits such as decreased stress, improved cardiovascular fitness, balance, muscle strength, coordinative reflexes, arthritis relief and flexibility in people of all ages have been reported. The practice of Tai Chi has also been linked to a reduction of falls and injury for the elderly, an important attribute given that one in three adults 65 years or older fall each year. Recent research also suggests Tai Chi to be an effective program in the reduction of blood pressure and blood lipid levels.
Integrating Tai Chi and Strength/Training.
Ahh…yes, a typical Tai Chi session can last five minutes to an hour depending on the experience and fitness and primary conditioning level of the participant. All sessions begin with a few minutes of meditation to calm the mind as well as the body, followed by a warm-up to increase blood-oxygen flow and body temperature. The forms are completed very slowly and consist of many sequential and continuous postural changes from the beginning to the end of the workout session, including both double stance and single stance weight-bearing maneuvers. The forms can be performed in a quick controlled pace to raise the heart rate and induce a greater aerobic intensity. Similarly, muscular effort can be increased by emphasizing knee bends, arms swings, twisting of the trunk and overall body recruitment when carrying out and finishing the forms. While the movements may look simple, proper execution of forms take months of practice. Since Tai Chi creates a state of tranquility, calmness and relaxation it is best to perform the activity on days off from your regular workouts. Depending on how much time you want to dedicate to exercise per week, you have a number of options to consider when planning your session. For example, if you perform an integrated circuit training or peak-intensive workout every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can incorporate a Tai Chi session on Tuesday and Saturday. Alternatively, you may complete the circuit on Monday and Thursday, followed by a short 20-minute cardio session on both days, and practice Tai Chi on Tuesday and Friday. It is absolutely up to you. Just remember… Give yourself ample time for rest, recuperation, and regeneration.
The ancient Taoists were renowned for their study of the arts of health and longevity. The gentle movements of Taoist Tai Chi convey the essence of this tradition to the modern world. In over 25 countries around the globe, people are enjoying the many benefits of practicing Taoist Tai Chi in friendly atmospheric locales. Life is about balancing tasks while nourishing your mind, body, and spirit. Combined with a proper fitness training program and nutrition, Tai Chi can provide the alternative form of movement that you have been searching for. Using a phase-based training approach, Tai Chi is a valuable form of exercise to help relax your body and replenish your energy stores from the intense fitness workouts you are accustomed to, so good luck and may God bless each and every one of you.
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