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DEFINING FITNESS - PART 3

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DEFINING FITNESS - PART 3

Patrick Rahm

In Part 2, I introduced a second definition of fitness and explained the terms fitness generalists and fitness specialist. The general take away was that we have a choice to primarily abide by either definition of fitness.

At the end of the article, I wrote that I would explain what I mean by percentage of training efforts and how these percentages can shape you into more of a generalist or specialist. So, here we go...

To my students, I describe a training effort as any planned physical act that is done for the purpose of improving a single or multiple component(s) of fitness. Some common training efforts include:

  • Picking up a heavy weight to improve muscular strength
  • Running a long distance to improve cardio & muscular endurance
  • Jumping up on to a high box to improve muscular power
  • Practicing a skill (i.e. golf swing, dance routine, etc.) to improve neuromotor proficiency
  • Attempting to improve one's flexibility to improve their mobility

I propose that by designating which components are utilized during a training effort, one can determine a percentage of training efforts profile for a single workout or a training program. Because the percentages represent the efforts, I tell my students that these percentages can also represent the likelihood for each component to be improved by a workout or training program.

To better demonstrate this proposal, I'll show them the percentage of training efforts profile for some common fitness brands and athletic disciplines. To cater to my visual learners, I present pie charts of these profiles. To keep it simple, I assign each component a percentage out of one hundred. Below are several examples.

As you view these profiles, here are some caveats you should keep in mind:

  • These aren’t meant to be universally accurate; they are generalizations based on my observations of how many of the participants in these brands and disciplines train. 
  • Because priorities of fitness components shift over time, these are just “snapshots” of what may occur at one time over the course of a longer term of training.
  • It's impossible to isolate all improvements to ONLY one component when executing a training effort. For example, you will improve muscular endurance as you execute an effort to improve your cardio endurance. That's why you won't see any zero percentages in the profiles. 

As you move through these profiles, I’ll offer some additional strengths and limitations associated with participation in these brands and disciplines: 

Yoga Profile.jpg

STRENGTHS

Mindful intentions to move well through a variety of movements and postures that don't typically occur within one's activities of daily living is, in short, probably a good idea. Appropriately prescribed and executed poses may help with specific mobility restrictions that can help to regain and retain normal joint ranges of motion. Yogis are primarily specialist of mobility

LIMITATIONS 

Moving joints beyond their normal ranges of motion in an effort to become “hypermobile” may, at times, be more troublesome than beneficial. Poses incorporating excessive spinal flexion may increase risk of spinal fractures in those with osteopenia / osteoporosis. There are only modest to no gains in cardio endurance, muscular strength and muscular power.

Running and Cycling.jpg

STRENGTHS

Runners and cyclist are primarily specialists of cardio enduranceHigh levels of aerobic fitness (that can be accrued with cardio endurance training) have been associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease risk factors. Walking and running (in moderation) can be done safely by most and at a low cost for the participant. Initially, intensity doesn't need to be high to incur improvements and health benefits.

LIMITATIONS

The repetitive forces involved in running can cause minor to major aches, pains, and injuries if technique is poor and rest and recovery is insufficient. The lack of variety within the repetitive, cyclical movement limits improvements in neuromotor proficiency and can cause boredom for some. There are only modest to no gains in muscular strength, muscular power, and mobility.

Zumba Profile.jpg

STRENGTHS

Dancing can be an alternative for those who want the benefits of training for cardio endurance but find running or other endurance efforts boring. The dynamic, continuous, multi-planar, full body nature of Zumba seems to improve both cardio endurance and neuromotor components of fitness.

LIMITATIONS

Like running, Zumba has the potential to cause overuse injuries. Someone who has mobility restrictions may be able to gain some range of motion but these restrictions may actually predispose them to injury before mobility gains can be made. There are only modest to no gains in muscular strength or muscular power.

STRENGTHS

Powerlifters are primarily specialist of muscular strengthWith more muscular strength, it becomes easier to subsequently improve the other components of fitness, especially muscular endurance and power. It's arguable that muscular strength is the most important component to improve when trying to maintain or increase bone density. Also, there is evidence suggesting that improving strength is associated with a decrease in all cause mortality (aka dying from anything). 

LIMITATIONS

Mobility gains may be limited due to the specific ranges of motion necessary for successful execution of the powerlifting exercises (back squat, deadlift, and bench press). Learning safe and proper exercise technique requires access to an adequately equipped facility and instruction from a qualified and attentive coach. There are only modest to no gains in cardio endurane and muscular endurance.

Olympic Lifting Profile.jpg

STRENGTHS

Olympic weight-lifters are primarily specialist of muscular powerIn addition to improving muscular power, the olympic weight lifting exercises (the clean and jerk and the snatch) can yield improvements in mobility and neuromotor proficiency. Anecdotally, it seems that the ability to move heavy weights quickly through space breeds a high degree of confidence and mental toughness. 

LIMITATIons

Many people lack an adequate base level of muscular strength, mobility, and neuromotor proficiency to safely and effectively execute the olympic weight lifting exercises. Locating a training environment with the proper equipment and good instruction from a qualified and attentive coach is of the utmost importance. There are only modest to no gains in cardio endurance and muscular endurance.  

Body Building Profile.jpg

STRENGTHS

Great increases in total muscle mass occur from bodybuilding. More available muscle not only means a greater potential to improve muscular strength but also greater caloric expenditure at all times. Also, because the high volume of work required to build so much muscle demands a large intake of calories, eating "too much" is rarely considered a problem.

LIMITATIONS

Even though you get to eat alot, the stringent dietary requirements / restrictions necessary for bodybuilding success can be time consuming, expensive and challenging for many to adhere to. Training for a blend of mostly muscular strength and muscular endurance makes for only modest gains in muscular power.

Part 3 WRAP UP

My primary intention of showing these profiles to my students is to introduce them to the S.A.I.D. (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle. The principle says that exactly how your body changes (desirable or not) is based exactly on how and what you continually and repetitively demand of it. To serve the purpose of this article on fitness, I think it's safe to simplify the message to this: specific improvements to fitness are yielded from specific kinds of efforts.

For example, Yogis are mobility specialists because many of their training efforts require, utilize, and hence increase the mobility component of fitness. Runners are cardio endurance specialists because many of their training efforts require, utilize, and hence improve the cardio endurance component of fitness.

While the message of this principle may seem obvious, many people don't consider it when assessing the relative utility of a fitness brand or athletic discipline. I believe that if people consider the S.A.I.D. principle when assessing the personal usefulness / appropriateness of a brand, discipline, or even an individual exercise, they will be able to make better exercise and training decisions. In Part 4, I will explain this important ability in more detail and suggest how you may want to apply it to your current and future fitness goals.

In the mean time, consider these questions:

  • Would you profile these brands and disciplines differently than I did?...If so, how?
  • Can you think of a brand or discipline where the participants could be considered primarily specialists of neuromotor proficiency
  • Did you notice how I didn't label Zumba or Bodybuilding participants as specialists? When comparing their profiles to the others, can you see why?
  • How would you profile other brands and disciplines such as Pilates, Barre, or Crossfit?