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DEFINING FITNESS - PART 4

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DEFINING FITNESS - PART 4

Patrick Rahm

In Part 3, I presented profiles of some fitness brands and athletic disciplines by using the six components of fitness as a framework. While I hoped that profiling would promote further understanding of the six components explained in Part 1, my primary intent was to introduce the S.A.I.D. principle and emphasize it's value in assessing the relative utility of a brand or discipline. 

For those newly familiar to the S.A.I.D. principle, it suggests that we can expect specific training efforts to yield specific improvements in fitness. As in, if you'd like to maintain or improve your mobility, a high percentage of your efforts should require mobility.

If we rephrase the message of the principle, there is more learning to extract. See this rephrasing:

A training effort is likely to cause an improvement in SOME, but not ALL components of fitness.

What is valuable in this rephrasing? You may have noticed that whenever you're encouraged to try a sport, discipline, or exercise you are rarely informed of what it may NOT do for you. I realize that this is bad marketing, but I believe when people are made aware of the whole story (including limitations) good things can happen. Good things such as: 

  1. People can get smarter (or at least better informed)
  2. People can better determine if it's worth their efforts ("is there relative utility?")  and...
  3. People (if they do decide to participate) can better determine how to supplement their training to address any limitations

Number three would be especially valuable for a fitness generalist. In case you forgot from Part 2, this is because the generalist attempts to distribute their training efforts somewhat evenly across the six components. As I also noted in Part 2, this is a worthy approach because it typically results in a body that is healthy and versatile in it's abilities.

This healthy versatility is one reason why there is utility in a fitness specialist (at times) steering their training approach towards that of a generalist. Many people who have spent significant time trying to specialize in only ONE component of fitness have experienced the apparent adverse effects associated with the highly focused efforts. If a highly focused specialist slightly redistributes their training efforts, that may be enough to prevent or attenuate the severity of adverse effects.

If someone has chosen their speciality well and / or is just very resilient, specializing may never result in any apparent problems. But, there may be other insidious conditions that a specialist would do well to address.

Here's an example: a 40 year old powerlifter (a muscular strength specialist) recently made aware of his strong family history of cardiovascular disease may want to tweak his percentage of training efforts accordingly. From the S.A.I.D. principle, we know that efforts to improve cardio endurance are likely to yield adaptations that can decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Hence, there is relative utility in adding some cardio endurance efforts for this power lifter. If he valued his long term heart health, this may be how his percentage of training efforts profile would change:

Here’s another example: a 50 year old female yogi (a mobility specialist) recently diagnosed with osteopenia may do well to tweak her percentage of training efforts also. From the S.A.I.D. principle, we know that efforts to improve muscular strength are likely to yield increases in bone density. Hence, there is relative utility in adding some muscular strength efforts for this yogi. If she wanted to further decrease her risk of osteoporosis, this may be how her percentage of training efforts profile would change:

(Note: Devoting more efforts to one component doesn’t mean you need to devote less to others. While that may be appropriate at times, you may just have to spend more total time training!)

Improving health isn't the only reason a specialist would redistribute their training efforts; there are instances where they would do so to improve performance. For example, a marathoner could improve their running economy by increasing the number of efforts done to improve muscular strength. (Can you visualize how their training efforts profile would change?)

(Note: If a specialist redistributes too many efforts to another competing component, it could be detrimental to their performance. However, with smart program design and good coaching, this should not be a concern.)

How can the generalist benefit from adopting the approach of a specialist? Just consider this example: this is how the profile of a generalist who is experiencing an age related decrease in muscular power would shift their profile towards that of a muscular power specialist:

One last note...specifically in regards to the True Generalist profile presented above. While it may be a worthy goal, I'd bet that very few / no one adheres to the true generalist profile. And even if they do, considering health and training history, individual variation, and personal preferences towards exercising, it’s a rare occasion where that profile is 100% appropriate.

I'll use myself as an example for this one. After many years of specializing my training towards that of an American football player, I shifted my training profile towards that of a generalist. Considering my age, training history, strengths and weaknesses, and personal preferences this is how my profile has shifted:

I hope that's been enough notes, examples and pie charts for you to start to understand what I mean by using the S.A.I.D. principle to:

  1. assess the relative utility of a brand or discipline (and their associated efforts) and
  2. to use that knowledge to make a better training decisions for yourself. 

In Part 5, I"ll wrap up this series by drawing some conclusions and offering several take home messages.