I see it all the time with new clients, they are very proud of the fitness they have gained in a particular discipline and I am happy for them. However, in many cases, I could line up what I see as the X men or women of fitness, and here is what you would see: Yoga Woman, Strongman, Pretzel girl, Cardio Queen, Power Ranger, Pilates Queen, Gym king, Running Man, Bicycle man. I am sure I could come up with some additional categories, but you get the idea.
Even though to the average person someone who can run 20 miles, bike 100, do numerous days of Pilates and yoga may seem fit to the layman, they may possess huge gaps in their fitness. I see different super heroes of fitness all the time. The cyclist that possesses great cardio and quad strength, but are so hugely deficient in many other aspects of fitness, balance, and strength. They wonder why they are always having little nagging problems in their backs, hips, shoulders etc. and never reach their full potential.
With this in mind I wanted to talk about the components of fitness. Obviously, different sports lend themselves to different skill sets. However, you as an athlete, should have a minimal proficiency in all areas of fitness which will open the door to greatness in a specific discipline. This is the first step to become great in a specific sport. It is similar to your general education requirement in an undergraduate degree. It is important that you have a foundation of overall education before you get to upper division classes, and eventually a graduate within a specific area.
This is also where the difference in exercise and training present themselves. Most people exercise. Spinning classes, circuit classes, walking, etc. These are all good forms of exercise, but typically focus on one dimension of fitness. Building an athlete for peak performance is like building an office building. There are so many dimensions that need to be addressed. Exercise is better than not exercising, but training and building a body for performance is a completely different animal. Unfortunately most people cannot see the difference. The public perceives value by how hard the workout is and not by the true value of building better performance.
What goes into building this foundation of fitness?
Our bodies are built to move, but even if you averaged 2 hours a day of exercise 7 days a week, you are only exercising for 8% of the total time in a week. The rest of the time most people are sitting or driving or sleeping.
If most of our time is spent not moving then we have to undo much of what happens to our body sitting slouched over our desk, driving in our car, etc. All of this inaction causes immobility. What many clients miss is that you need proper mobility in hips, shoulders, spine, knees, ankles, etc. If you do not spend time on mobility and flexibility you will continue to build a body on a weak foundation. You just magnify the problems. You watch a small child move and you see how our bodies were meant to move. Overtime we get further and further away from this optimum movement. Foam rolling, dynamic warm ups, hip activation, shoulder mobility, etc., are musts.
The problem with fitness today is that it rarely focuses on improving body movements. It is all about burning calories and going hard. I try to explain to clients that sometimes the boring stuff is more important.
Next is stability. Stability is something that is often overlooked. This is important in preparing you for the more ballistic work when training for power. Spine stability is necessary for executing the heavier lifts. Landing is as important as jumping.
Both mobility and stability are works in progress. You should be regularly revisiting these exercises to insure integrity in your body so higher levels of fitness can be reached.
I see way too many instances of this being overlooked by individuals to the detriment of their fitness.
Strength is the bedrock of most athletic performance. Strength is your ability to generate a force. I also believe that lean body mass is your best defense against illness and disease. I see so many cardio queens and kings that believe fitness is only about cardio fitness. Strength training adds so much to any athlete and even more so as we age.
Power is a concept that most people confuse with strength. Every sport has an X factor of power needed to be proficient at a sport. Power is strength with speed. Some have called it speed strength. A shot putter has an X factor requirement of power of a few throws. His training focuses on absolute power production. This type of sport attracts larger individuals. If the X factor is higher the size of the athlete typically will diminish. Although if you watch premier league soccer lately the players are getting bigger and bigger. A road cyclist is seeking a high power to weight and not as much absolute power. This is because the X factor is very high with a huge number of revolutions in a race. Tri-athletes are looking for a high average power output over the entire race. Rarely do you see sprinting in the race.
As stated in the movie Zombieland; Cardio was very important to not being eaten by zombies and is also important in most sports. As the X factor increases the power produced diminishes and the need for multiple repetitions require other energy systems to support the production of power over longer periods of time. Absolute strength is not the limiting factor in a bike race. Oxygen delivery (V02max) and oxygen utilization within the muscle become of great importance. There is a balancing act between supporting the cardio requirement with the maximum amount of sustained power possible.
So, if you want to do a quick evaluation of your own fitness look at these components and see where you are not at a minimum level. Spend time improving these areas and you will make a great leap in your sport of choice.
One of my clients recently said that what we do so well is prescriptive exercise. We evaluate the client to determine what components of fitness we need to focus on today so that we can be better tomorrow.
Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!
Jacques DeVore, CSCS
President of Sirens and Titans Fitness