There is a general school of thought that endurance-based activities produce the fittest individuals. Cyclists, tri-athletes and marathoners are often regarded as the fittest athletes because of their great cardiovascular and respiratory capacities. Enhanced cardiovascular and respiratory fitness has long been associated with having a healthy heart and lungs, and therefore a healthy body and mind. Consider this though: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance are only two components among an array of physical characteristics. Stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy are also recognised components of fitness. Furthermore, endurance training primarily stimulates only one of the body’s three energy systems, the aerobic or long-term system. The phosphagen (short-term) and glycolytic (mid-term) systems are not stimulated sufficiently by this form of training to elicit improvements in their capacity. Finally, there is research showing that the fit may not necessarily be healthy and such research generally examines endurance-trained individuals. What does this tell us? That maybe, if your training is focused solely on improving cardiovascular and respiratory endurance while neglecting many of the other recognised fitness domains and energy systems, you might not be as fit as you think. That maybe, those considered to be fit by the general school of thought are not health protected because of their lack of competency across all fitness domains.
I am not saying that being a tri-athlete or marathoner is a bad thing, but don’t believe that training like one is going to give you fitness that is above other forms of training; just as, for example, training solely like a power-lifter or 100m sprinter precludes you from attaining elite optimal fitness. Optimal fitness is achieved through gaining competency in each of the abovementioned physical domains and through enhancing the capacity of all three energy systems. When you achieve a compromise between each of these physical characteristics you are gaining optimal fitness, and you’re on the path to optimal health. It is important to note that diet forms the basis of fitness and health. That is a topic in itself though. For now, you need to consider what you should be doing physically if you’d like to protect yourself against the negative effects of age and sickness.
Your exercise regime needs to be varied. Perform a variety of movements and drills in an endless amount of combinations. Life and sport necessitate that the movements you perform to condition yourself are functional. Functional movements are those that are essential to your ability to perform in everyday life or sports. They are movements that improve your strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. Finally, your exercise regime needs to stimulate each of the body’s energy systems. Put simply, you need to be able to move heavy objects over long distances quickly; you should be able to complete any physical task presented to you.
Chew on that for a bit. In the next post we’ll delve further into what functional exercise constitutes and what groups of exercises you should be performing to forge optimal fitness.