Being truly fit is so much more than being strong and having cardiovascular fitness. Even after you see that, you might be thinking "Well, what else is there? Won't I have arrived when I am really strong and have cardiovascular stamina?"
If you dissect many workout plans, they only focus on these two components. Most routines generally include something to improve someone's cardiovascular stamina (running, elliptical, spinning, etc.) and to build muscular strength (resistance training with free weights, weight machines, body weight).
But if you stopped there, only emphasizing those two aspects, you would never reach your full potential.
Why? Because in my personal opinion & experience, there are not just two essential components of fitness, but six!
You could be really missing the boat, here! Let’s learn about each of these six different aspects to fitness. I will teach you why you need each of these and how to get it.
Shall we start with the obvious?
1. Strength. Having strength means you can lift and move a heavy load. It also means you can brace and resist moving when you need to.
To be strong, you need muscle mass—a certain amount of muscle fibers that are able to contract at any given time. When you are strong, your body is able to be rigid and firm, not slack and "noodle-like".
Having strength and muscle mass will make you less prone to injury, make your bones stronger, contribute to better circulation and cardiovascular health, balance and regulate your hormones, and simply make you feel more capable!
How do you get strong? You challenge your muscles against resistance, whether that resistance is your own body weight or an external load like dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands.
To become very strong, you need to move progressively heavier loads within a lower repetition range (6-12 repetitions max at a time). This is why your strength potential will always be limited doing bodyweight workouts (like yoga, barre, Piyo, etc.). Doing an exercise with no external load for 20-40 repetitions will not make you the strongest you can be!
2. Cardiovascular fitness and stamina. This is your heart and lungs working together to get oxygen to your working muscles. Your lungs pull in the oxygen and connect it with your blood, which your heart then pumps to the needy muscles. The more cardio-fit you are, the more efficient and long-lasting this system works.
One way to challenge your cardiovascular system is to simply elevate it, making it work harder, and then sustain that intensity for a period of time. Going for a run or a bike ride at a sustained pace like this would be called steady state cardio.
Doing short bouts of really hard work combined with rest is another, more beneficial form of cardio called intervals. The fantastic thing about intervals is that you don’t have to do it running. You can do traditional resistance exercises in an interval format, which equally challenges your cardiovascular system. Try burpees, lunges, push-ups, squat jumps and other total body exercises set to time.
Work really hard. Rest. Work really hard. Rest. Best thing ever.
3. Power. Another component of fitness that we completely miss sometimes is power. Power is the ability to be strong and fast. How quickly can you contract your muscles against a heavy load?
Think about traditional power-lifting for a minute, like a barbell snatch. You have a heavy load (the bar and weights) that you are trying to thrust above your head very quickly. When you use power, you can typically move more. If you were to lift that same barbell overhead moving slowly, it would be nearly impossible.
Power is something that disappears as we age. Unless we challenge our power capacity, our muscles will become incapable of contracting forcefully and quickly. This is how people get injured. If you slip on an icy sidewalk, your leg has to quickly move into position to catch your fall. If your leg isn’t powerful enough, you’ll pull a muscle. Or worse, you’ll fall and break something.
You do not need to do traditional powerlifting to become more powerful. You simply need to be strong and confident with certain strength training exercises, and then try them faster. Do a squat jump. Do a medicine ball slam. Do a fast push-up or jumping push-up. Do a burpee. All of these things can make you more powerful.
4. Balance. This is almost always ignored, yet until someone has good balance they will always feel like something is missing. Nine times out of ten, my new clients are shocked at their lack of balance. It suddenly becomes a big source of frustration. “I feel like I should be able to do this!”
Unless you specifically work on your balance, it will disappear. Women in their thirties can be just as unbalanced as women in their seventies. I see it all the time.
A lack of balance is another cause of injuries. If you are in a situation where you have to balance on one foot or your center of gravity is shifted and you don’t have the balance to handle this, you could fall and hurt yourself. This is how ankles get twisted and rotator cuffs get torn.
To improve your balance, do many of your strengthening exercises on one leg, one arm, or in a position that you have to work with a shifted center of gravity. Single arm or single leg planks, single leg squats, lunges, pistol squats, single leg dead lifts, and cross-behind lunges are all exercises that improve your balance.
There are two more components of fitness that you're probably ignoring in your workouts. Curious? Come back tomorrow and learn what these last two components are. I will also teach you how to integrate all six of these aspects into a well-rounded workout routine.
Make sure you're not just doing resistance training and running.
Your body should be challenged in far more areas than just strength and cardio. Start thinking about how you can also improve your power and balance, then return tomorrow for the other two components.
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Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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