Sunday, June 2, 2019

How do I improve my fitness? 7 ways to boost fitness

What is fitness?

In any consultation with a client, 9/10 they want say want to 'increase fitness'. I reply back "ok, what does that mean to you?" The reply back is never certain and goes something like this "to get fitter really". Riiight. The problem here is, people don't know what 'fitness' is or what it is they want to get fit for. If I was to ask you 'what is fitness?', what would your reply be right now?

"The ability to perform daily tasks with vigor and alertness without undue fatigue and the energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and the ability to respond to emergencies" - According to the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention. This is almost bang on, but misses out (in my opinion), 'to be able to do more than daily and leisurely activities that tax and stress the body-in a good way.

Below are the 7 components of fitness, that can be measured to help you build 'all round fitness'.

Cardiovascular endurance: Train your heart

'Cardio' is the ability to get oxygen around the body efficiently.  The heart and lungs are the work horses in cardiovascular training. Their job is to get oxygen in the body and pump oxygenated blood to supply the muscles with O2, to suit demand.  Ways to determine your heart and lung health are:
  • Blood pressure (measured mmHg)
  • Heart rate - Beats Per Minute (BPM) 
  • Lung capacity - Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV) and Forced Vital Capacity (FVC)
  • VO2 max- maximum amount of oxygen that a person can use during intense exercise

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance is the ability to perform a given amount of repetitions with load. Examples of basic tests are completing the following to failure;
  • Press ups
  • Squat holds against a wall
  • Holding a plank
Though it's always important to make the challenges relative to your goal.

Muscular power: Use the force

To get a accurate assessment of this, again you need a lab. But by yourself, it could the measure of the maximal amount of weight you can get moving, ie a one rep max (1RM). Great exercises to use are the deadlift, bench press and squat.
Strength training increases testosterone and HGH (Human Growth Hormone). As well as have massive positive impact on the central Nervous System. Lifting 90-100% of your maximum effort, increases motor unit activation, particularly if done at speed. This will have a functional carry-over to increasing your power and acceleration. Make sure your technique is on point though.

Balance: Hold still

Balance and stability are essential in injury prevention and becoming ‘in tune’ which the body. Proprioception is ‘the bodys ability to find itself within space’. An example of the necessity of proprioception, is when you trip off a curb and your ankle rolls over. The automatic reflex of the muscles to stop you injuring yourself, are a results of proprioceptive signals sent between GTOs (Golgi Tendon Organs) and muscles spindles. Their job is to detect the speed and force of the ‘roll’ and limit damage, by bringing you bank to ‘centre’, without any undue physical harm.
Working on balance will help improve this, particularly as you age.

Flexibility:  About as much as an ironing board

Neglected by some more ‘classic’ styles of training, as it’s uncomfortable and hard (as years of not improving flexibility tend to make it). I tend not to encourage ‘static’ stretching for a lot of people in the traditional sense. I work to mobilise joint and improve range of motion through movement. A debatable subject, but what I tend to find is that static stretching is good for increasing static flexibility. For instance, you did an elevated hamstring stretch, with a straight leg on a box and a hinged at the hips (as if to touch your toes). Holding this stretch will get you better at just holding that stretch.

Another example: If you stretched your hamstrings before a Romanian deadlift (almost straight legged deadlift), then you’ll ‘desensitise’, (ie momentarily weaken) your hamstring muscles, needed in the exercise. If that happens, the next group of muscles that are used in the movement, supporting the spine, will now be under more ‘stress’, as they'll have more work to do.

Remember I mentioned ‘proprioception’? If we static stretch our hamstrings, great, I’ve eased and ‘loosened’ them. But when I start walking again, my proprioceptors have been conditioned to a certain walking pattern I'd have had for much longer period of time and will kick back into that pattern again.  Stretch the hamstrings if you need to, but you now need to re-train the hamstrings, (and the rest of the kinetic chain) to be able to react to this new pattern of movement.

Last point. It’s important to know if your muscles ‘tight’ or ‘tort’. Your hamstrings may ‘feel’ tight, because they are being pulled under tension, because the hip flexors and quadriceps are tight. They might actually be the 'bullies' that need stitching instead.

Speed: Get faster

The faster athlete will normally win, or as my BJJ instructor used to say "train slow, fight slow". Increasing speed is a combination of CV endurance, muscle endurance and muscular force. But it will obviously depend on what you want to get fast for.
Caution: If you're tempted by external sprint equipment like parachutes, dragging tyres, running with weight etc. They can adapt motor unit recruitment and change biomechanics, thus making making you slower. Use them for changing stimulus, but not with a means of making you faster.

Body composition:  Get leaner 

The less fat you're holding on to the healthier and fitter you will be. A great way to measure your body fat, is with skin fold callipers, though challenging and inaccurate to do it yourself. You can opt for bio-impedance machines found on gym floors, or purchasable online, they're just not very reliable. However they do give you a 'measuring point'.

Witness the fitness

If you're looking to get fitter then a general inclusion of all these components will benefit you. Looking to increase performance? Again including more of and increasing other components will help you too. The main thing take away is this, fitness isn't just boring cardio on the treadmill.

Keep it real folks


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