What does it mean to be physically fit? Fitness comes in many forms. Some people possess great strength or power while others have superior stamina. When you think of the former, an image of a bodybuilder or powerlifter probably comes to mind. In terms of stamina, you might envision a marathon runner. But these aren’t the only components of fitness. In fact, there are five elements of balanced fitness. If you can optimize all of them, your functionality will vastly improve. You use each of these components, not just when you play sports, but in daily life. These elements all work together to help you function at your best. Let’s look at each one.
Stamina or Endurance
Stamina or endurance is a person’s ability to sustain sub-maximal or moderate-intensity exercise. This type of exercise primarily uses oxidative pathways, or oxygen-using pathways, for energy. One measurement of a person’s aerobic capacity is called V02 max. It’s a measure of how efficiently your heart and circulatory system delivers oxygen to tissues and how effectively the tissues convert that oxygen into energy.
How do you know if you have a high V02 max? There’s a test for that. You walk or run on a treadmill while wearing a mask that measures oxygen intake and the release of carbon dioxide. Gradually, the technician increases the incline on the treadmill and the task becomes harder. To meet the added demand, oxygen delivery to the muscles you’re working has to increase as well. At some point, your ability to use oxygen peaks. Using this information, a technician can measure your V02 max or aerobic capacity.
How can you improve your V02max or aerobic capacity? By doing sub-maximal exercise like cycling or running. However, high-intensity workouts, like high-intensity interval training, also improves aerobic capacity and some studies show it’s more effective than moderate-intensity exercise for boosting V02max. Being fit aerobically is important for stamina but that’s not the only reason to get aerobically fit. Studies also link a higher aerobic capacity with lower mortality.
People with a high fitness level shouldn’t have weak muscles. That’s why it’s important that runners and cyclists lift weights too! You won’t develop a great deal of strength cycling or running and the strength you gain will quickly plateau. The strength that you build with these exercises will be in your lower body. Your upper body and core need to be challenged too!
Why is strength so critical? A lack of strength makes you less functional, especially as you grow older and continue to lose muscle mass. Without strength, you can’t lift heavy packages or climb the stairs. Lifting packages takes upper body strength and climbing the stairs requires a strong lower body.
How to get stronger? You probably already know the answer. Strength train. To build strength, do a portion of your training using a weight of 80 to 90% of your one-rep max since that’s optimal for strength gains. But, you also lose muscle size as you age. So, do a portion of your sets at 60 to 80% of your one-rep max, as this resistance is best for hypertrophying the muscle.
Power is the ability to move a particular resistance or force quickly and it has a strength and a time component. Just as strength declines as you age, you lose power capabilities as well. In fact, studies show the ability to generate power declines at a faster rate than strength, so we need power training as well. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Exercise showed power training is more effective for improving functionality in older people than strength training, although both are important.
How can you improve your power capabilities? Lift lighter weights at a faster tempo. When you strength train, you only improve one component of the power equation, strength. You still need to work on time. To do this, add explosive moves to your training by moving the weight through space quickly. Select a weight that’s around 70% of your one-rep max and move it with explosive force. Examples of power moves include power cleans and snatches, but you can increase the speed with which you do a variety of exercises you already do to increase your power capabilities.
Plyometrics are also effective for building power and you don’t even need to use weights to get the benefits. Add lateral leaps, tuck jumps, squat jumps, and other plyo moves to your routine to build power. For upper body power, medicine ball throws are effective.
Balance is what keeps you upright and it’s something that declines with age. Loss of strength, power, and balance are the main reasons older people fall and end up in a nursing home or rehab center with a broken hip.
How can you improve your balance skills? Static balance is the ability to hold your body in place at rest. Work on this by standing on one leg whenever you get the opportunity. How about when you’re washing the dishes?
Then, there’s dynamic balance, the ability to hold your body upright when you’re moving. To work on dynamic balance, train more on one side at a time. For example, do one-legged squats and deadlifts. Lunges are another excellent exercise for improving dynamic balance.
Finally, there’s flexibility, the ability to move your joints through its full range-of-motion. As you might expect, flexibility declines with age too. Joints become stiffer as the ligaments and tendons that encase the joint lose water and become stiff and more rigid. You feel stiffer in the morning and feel less fluid when you exercise.
How can you improve flexibility? Do static stretches and foam rolling several times per week. Progress until you can hold the stretch for 30 seconds but start slowly and don’t push yourself to hold a stretch when it’s painful. Save static stretching for after a workout, not before. Stick to dynamic moves like butt kicks, high knees, leg, and arms swings during the pre-exercise warm-up. Also, consider adding yoga to your routine to help with flexibility. It’s a good way to relieve stress as well.
The Bottom Line
Keep your fitness training balanced. These are the five components of training that everyone needs to work on. Doing so will help you stay fit, fast, strong, and flexible.
Ladenvall P, et al. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2016;doi:10.1177/2047487316655466.
Int. J. Exerc. Sci 2(2): 131-151, 2009.
PLoS One. 2013; 8(9): e73182.
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