The purpose of this article is to talk about the aspects of physical fitness that one should pursue to develop a well rounded capacity of the body to do everyday physical work. If you are a beginner I would suggest you stop reading this right now. Because for a beginner doing literally anything is way better than sitting on the couch. However if you have been exercising for sometime now and are confused about if you are progressing in a direction which will give you long term sustainable results then this article might help you. The advice in this article is mostly anecdotal but I am sure there will be someone who will be able to relate to it and if even a single person is able to take something away from it then this article has done it’s job. So let us get straight to the point. In my opinion the three things a person should concentrate on are Strength (just plain brute strength), Flexibility and Cardiovascular fitness. Why these three? Let’s investigate each of them individually.
I have seen a lot of people(guys and girls) who shirk away from weights as though it is something unholy. Putting your body under physical stress by lifting weights will make it stronger which in turn will help you perform your day to day activities a lot easier. There have been periods in the last 10 years when I have taken a considerable time off from the gym. It is really astonishing the difference in little tasks like carrying groceries, walking up the stairs when you have been doing strength training regularly. Everything literally is just easier. A lot of your physical ailments like joints pain, back pain can be alleviated just by putting your body through some strengthening routine. One important strength training fact that took me a long time to understand can be summed up by the following equation
Strength ≈ ( Flexibility + Cardiovascular Capacity )
Lack of flexibility when when strength training can lead to reduced/incomplete range of motion which in turn can lead to injuries (looking at you quarter squatters). Also if you have poor cardiovascular fitness you will be never be able to do enough volume because you will be winded and as a result you won’t be as stronger as you could be.
The program I like to follow is Kris Gethin’s 8 Week Trainer (which is available for free on his website) with the following caveats:
- I do compound exercise like squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings religiously every week. I try to substitute machines with free weights as much as possible.
- I do not do any exercises that involve internal rotation of shoulders. So no upright rows and modified lateral raises. A good resource about why you should avoid this and how to modify exercise is the Athlean-X channel on YouTube.
- I don’t do any direct abdominal work mentioned in his program. Instead I do Pilates twice a week which is bloody hard and has done wonders for my core strength.
- I do not do as much cardio as mentioned in the program.
If you are one of those people who think strength training is more important than doing flexibility work then I have bad news for you. You will end up injuring yourself. Been there done that. Also bragging about how much you can bench is no fun if you have trouble tying your shoes. Flexibility work is something that I incorporated in my routine due to necessity (hello injuries my old friend) and it is to me as important as strength training if not more. Strength training with weights , on the heavier side, and incomplete range of motion is asking for trouble. The current job environment where most of us are sitting for the majority of the day adds to the problem. Tight hips, hamstrings, hip flexors are some of the more obvious issues that emerge from sitting long hours.
If you are strong and not flexible I promise you that you are not as strong as you can be. Not able to reach the bar when doing deadlifts which can lead to inadequate glutes and hamstrings activation or not able squat enough because your ankles are not flexible enough and as a result the bar is not directly over your center of gravity are some of the manifestations that come to mind. However on the other end of the spectrum if you are hyper mobile but not strong enough you can end up over extending beyond the ideal range and end up injuring yourself. Deadlifting, squatting with an overextended back are some examples.
So I urge you to put in some flexibility work if you want to keep training for the long term. Some of my favourite resources for learning about proper positions and how to rectify your issues are
- Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starret. If you have to read one book make it this one.
- Deskbound by Kelly Starret. A toned down version of Becoming a Supple Leopard. Especially useful for people with sitting jobs.
- MobilityWOD channel on YouTube.
In addition to applying advice from the resources above I practice yoga a few times a week and visit a physical therapist once a month for general tune up. Take flexibility seriously.
At last we come to cardiovascular fitness. Something which is often dreaded (conjures up images of a hamster running on a wheel for me) but is one of the most important pieces of the fitness puzzle. Not only does your heart function better, a focus on cardiovascular fitness helps you become a lot stronger. In my personal experience a high volume strength training regimen has led to a very fast increase in strength and muscle tone. Such a high level program would not have been possible without an accompanying program to improve my cardiovascular health. I have noticed regular exercise of any kind including strength training will improve your cardiovascular fitness but nothing beats getting heart rate up for a sustained period of time.
Once you have a regular program aimed at improving your cardiovascular fitness you will find that strength training becomes a lot easier. You can go for intense workouts without looking like someone having an asthama attack. You will also recover faster. In turn being stronger and flexible will help you perform whatever cardio vascular activity you choose much more efficiently and without the risk of injury.
I have to admit that I have been a little lax with the cardiovascular aspect of my fitness. My endurance has surely increased but the progress has been slow as I have been mostly strength training and doing yoga. But recently I got back into running or rowing everyday which has greatly accelerated my progress and helped me break through plateaus.
So these are my thoughts about how to develop all aspects of physical fitness. I really believe that it is important to address all of these aspects as they feed into each other. I have not talked about nutrition and rest here obviously which deserve their own individual posts. If you think I may be wrong do let me know as I will be more than exalted to learn something.