“What’s your fitness philosophy?” That’s probably the most frequently asked question I hear from potential clients. I’ve written about it before in a post found here. But, in short it can be summed up in two words. Be ready. Our bodies were designed to move. I don’t need to quote any scientific data to enforce that point. Go for a four-hour drive and listen to your body scream relief when it’s able to move/stretch at the first rest stop. You may be wondering, “be ready for what”? Well, life is going to send some challenges your way. In the name of self-preservation, you may need to move fast to get out of the way of danger, an out of control car heading onto the sidewalk is one example. There’s a current trend in the world of fitness that is very anti-cardio. The doctrine of never doing any cardio often comes from meatheads that focus on the explosive movements in Olympic weightlifting techniques. While it may be true that cardio isn’t a necessity in burning fat, it is a necessity in being ready. It breaks my heart when a deconditioned person hears me talk about the importance of readying the body for the unexpected and they assume that I’m speaking from a place of judgment. The truth of the matter is that I don’t give a fuck what anyone’s body looks like. I don’t train people to sculpt a certain look. I train them to make sure they are strong, healthy, and above all else ready. If you find yourself running to catch the bus or running to reach a cab before some other joker reaches for the same door handle, you’ll want to be ready. The way the joke goes, two guys see a bear in the woods…
Guy 1: *takes off shoes*
Guy 2: What are you doing?
Guy 1: I run faster without my shoes.
Guy 2: You can’t outrun a bear.
Guy 1: I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.
“Now wait a minute, Jet! I have a car. I’ve never had to run for a bus, cab, or from a bear. This is poppycock!” Fair point. You may never have to encounter those situations. The point that I’m trying to make is that being ready is about expecting the unexpected. Do you need to run? No, running is like Dunkin Donuts’ coffee, some people swear by it while some people fucking hate it. There are other ways to be ready. I find it interesting when people apologize to me for their level of conditioning. “I’m sorry, I’m really out of shape.”, they’ll say. I hear phrases like that as if I requested some explanation for why they were tired or struggling. But, hearing phrases like “I’m out of shape”, “I need to get in shape”, and the most confusing quote “I have no muscles”, begs the question… What does it mean to be conditioned, fit, or “in shape”? Here are 10 components of fitness. Surely, you’ll find other lists that are shorter/longer. This is my opinion based on what is often tested/researched, consistently measurable, and applicable to real world situations (in no particular order).
1.) Agility & Reaction Time (skill-related): While these two aren’t the same thing, I’ve placed them together because both of them have a mental acuity component. Your reflexes and reaction can’t be sharp if your mind is not. Be ready for what? Ever changing terrain. Whether you’re on a trail run or walking on an urban sidewalk, you may have to dodge rocks, broken glass, poop (from horses/dogs/humans), and other fun surprises. How? Here are some exercises to get you started on improving agility. Here are some exercises to get you started on improving reaction time.
2.) Balance (skill-related): This isn’t just about standing on one foot, it’s about equilibrium. Although, it’s true that some of the strongest people I know are unable to stand on one foot, with eyes closed, for 30 seconds. Have you ever tried a “walk the line” sobriety test while sober or a balance concussion test with a clear head? Be ready for what? While I don’t know of any cases wherein someone has become ambidextrous overnight, I encourage clients to begin asymmetric exercises with their non-dominant side. I often remind people that if we get injured we don’t have the luxury of choosing which side. Learn how to use your non-dominant hand before life forces you to do so. I can drive a stick shift with my left hand. Why? Because I want to be ready if I should ever need to do that (trust me, it’s come up a few times due to injuries). Further, the greatest concern amongst the elderly population are fall hazards. I’ve worked with elderly clients to improve their balance. It’s ideal to get out in front of that sort of thing and proactively work on your balance starting now. How? Here are some exercises to get you started on improving your balance.
3.) Body Composition (health-related): No matter what I write here, someone with a societal-defined less than desirable body composition will be upset by my words (read: butt hurt). Some may even try to call me a body shamer because I *gasp* mentioned the idea that we have more control over our body composition than we care to admit. I want to reiterate, I don’t give a fuck what your body looks like. I don’t care about what percentage of fat you have versus muscle. I’m just pointing out that the human body was meant to move. You already know this. If your body isn’t very active, your body will eventually revolt. It may revolt in the form of weaker bones, weaker heart, or a weaker immune system. But, body composition is often an easier indicator than checking bone density for example. [Side note: Did you know that due to the absence of gravity, astronauts have to workout six hours a day to prevent bone loss!] Be ready for what? Many accident survivors have something in common, a high amount of lean body weight. That information is anecdotal not scientific. I’m unaware of any study that has been done on the body composition of (car/skydiving) accident survivors. I have seen data that supports an increased amount of blood in conditioned athletes versus sedentary humans. To put that in simpler terms, person A with low body fat (and usually higher cardiovascular endurance) has more blood in their body (pound-for-pound) than person B with high body fat (and usually lower cardiovascular endurance). To put that in even simpler terms, if persons A and B sustain the same wounds and begin bleeding out, person A has a higher chance of survival if they make it to the hospital around the same time because they have more blood to lose. [I want to be clear, I’m not suggesting that a low body fat percentage will make you invincible, it will make your body more efficient. That’s not a judgment, this isn’t about looks, this is about ability.] How? Your first order of business should be to throw out your bathroom scale. Stop weighing yourself on a daily/weekly basis. There’s a scale at your gym or doctor’s office. Use that one and check your body fat percentage no more frequently than once every six weeks. Unless you’re training for a specific sport that involves a weigh-in just get off of the scale. Be sure to ignore your BMI as well. BMI can be a useful tool for your RD to perform some calculations. It can also be useful for your insurance company to find a reason to deny you coverage. But, it won’t serve you. To put things in perspective, my BMI lists me as overweight despite having a low body fat % and dense bones. Beyond that, there are hundreds of ways to reduce body fat. Discuss it with your coach.
4.) Cardiovascular (Aerobic) Endurance (health-related): Aerobic power, stamina, staying power, or the ability to go the distance. Be ready for what? When the elevator goes out, when the car breaks down three miles from the nearest exit and *gasp* you have no cell service, or when your friends want to go for an “easy” hike and your group gets lost resulting in many more miles than planned you should be ready. How? So, you’re not a runner, swimmer, or cyclist, eh? No problem. Find your own thing. Perhaps it’s dancing. Get out on the dance floor with a sexy partner and make a deal that you’ll only leave that dance floor for water/bathroom breaks. You can make the same agreement with your partner in the bedroom and build up your cardio endurance by making sweet love… a lot. Running isn’t the only way to build up your stamina to go the distance. *giggety*
5.) Coordination (skill-related): In the previous bullet, I mentioned dancing and that word strikes fear into the hearts of many. “I’m not very coordinated, Jet!” I hear it a lot. You already get your arms and legs to do many different things for one purpose. (Hint: It’s called walking.) Be ready for what? The myth of multitasking. Yes, multitasking is a myth. Humans can either do one thing well or multiple things poorly. Below I’ve posted what I’ll call exhibit A. Nevertheless, the pace of life and technology has created a world in which we are forced to attempt multitasking. Coordination will help in certain situations. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know what I mean. How? Sign up for a dance class. Play naked Twister. Find ways to challenge your mind’s ability to synchronize your appendages to accomplish a singular goal more complex than walking.
6.) Flexibility (health-related): There are contortionists, there are people that can’t reach past their knees, and there are the rest of us. Many muscle injuries occur due to limited flexibility. Be ready for what? Surprise movements. Tight muscles and fast movements cause injuries. This is why dynamic stretching is encouraged before activity. Be supple and flexible to avoid many muscle-related injuries. How? Many gyms have partner flexibility classes. Basically, someone leans on you until you get into a new position. Sounds freaky deaky. Sign me up. You can also check out this site from my friend Kristina and order her DVD.
7.) Muscular (Anaerobic) Endurance (health-related): The difference between anaerobic and aerobic endurance is conversation. If you can have a conversation, you’re in the aerobic zone. If you don’t have enough oxygen to chat it up, you’re working on your anaerobic endurance. Be ready for what? Have you ever been chased by a dog? Do you want to wait until you get chased to find out that you have limited sprinting ability? Anaerobic is defined differently based on one’s ability level. So, your anaerobic threshold may happen during a walk up hill. How? Start by walking up that hill and carrying some groceries with you when you do it. Push yourself to the point of non-conversation and keep going until you’ve reached your personal limit. [Don’t be a hero. Don’t try to prove anything and pass out. Be smart and know your body well enough to know when enough is enough.]
8.) Speed (skill-related): Move quickly from point A to point B. Be ready for what? I live in the Bay Area and I often see techies wearing a Google t-shirt while running for their commuter bus. They seem to be late and they’re running with everything they’ve got and I often watch them miss the bus. Be ready to make the bus because you’ve got speed on your side. How? Some believe that you’re born with speed. Some believe that it comes from training. There’s more science to support the latter but, generally it’s a combination of the two. You’ll only be as fast as you train. There will be a boost of adrenaline on race day that will improve your time. But, if you want to get faster, train faster.
9.) Strength (health-related): Be able to lift the heavy things and appreciate the catharsis therein. Over time as training decreases, so will muscle. But, elderly people that were well conditioned in their youth have a much better quality of life in their golden years. Be ready for what? A woman once posted that she felt a job was discriminatory because one of the listed qualifications was the ability to lift 50 pounds. I responded that she was being sexist (and a dumbass) to suggest that only men can lift 50 pounds. The women I know can lift much more than that. Be ready for that job interview. Be ready to grow old with strength and grace. How? Start by ignoring anyone that ever tries to convince you that 3 pound weights will make you stronger. “But, Jet, I don’t want to get too muscle-y.” Shut the fuck up. That’s not a word. Take a moment to weigh your daily gear. The bag, laptop, shoes, clothes, everything that you carry on your person in an average day. You shouldn’t be surprised to find that it weighs more than 6 pounds. So, it’s simple logic that if you lift lighter than the weight you already carry around, you won’t get stronger. Lift heavy things, put them down, repeat. Be sure to focus on the repetition. Two sets of an exercise won’t do as much to build strength as five sets will. Try pyramid sets (increasing weight while decreasing reps per set) or burn downs (begin with a challenging weight, perform the same number of reps, decrease weight in small increments each set) to keep things interesting.
10.) Power (skill-related): Power is what happens when strength and speed combine. Be ready for what? To save someone’s life. I can think of more than one occasion when a friend was on the ground and needed to be carried to a safer place. I was the one doing the carrying. I’m glad that I was ready. How? Add explosive movements to your training. This is one of the reasons that Olympic weightlifting has gained in popularity in recent years. Please consult a coach (not a video) before starting Oly lifts.
There is a component of fitness that I don’t know how to coach. I’m unable to coach patience and that’s the most important element of fitness. None of the aforementioned training will happen over night. Do the right things to get “fit” and be ready. Once you start down the path, be patient. No one has ever seen results (other than psychological) in a week. Find a reason for pursuing a fit lifestyle that will keep you going into your golden years. While it’s never too late to start, there’s no sense in waiting. My motivation for a fit lifestyle is also the reason that I’m patient with results. My paternal grandfather died of a heart attack on the Ford assembly line when he was in his 50s. All six of my paternal uncles died of heart attacks. None of them saw their 46th birthday. My father is alive and still talkin shit in his 80s. To the best of my knowledge, the only difference between my father and the uncles I never met/barely remember is that my father lifted weights. Is that why he’s the last man standing? I have no fucking clue. Will that guarantee I’ll live past the age of 46? There are no guarantees that come with life. But, I’ll take my chances with a fit lifestyle over a sedentary one.
Takeaways from this post. If you don’t remember shit else, remember these bullets.
*The human body is meant to move. If you are unable to move it at the speed of life (a speed over which you don’t always have control) that could work against you. Don’t get eaten by a bear because you’re slow.
*Don’t miss out on an opportunity because you’re unable to lift something.
*Don’t obsess over numbers or training. The worst thing you can do with your training is suck the joy out of it by obsessing or over training. Work hard and play hard is a stupid motto. Rest. Don’t be a dumbass. Train, rest, recover, repeat.