BALANCE Series: FITNESS

A US Marine Doing Pull-ups.

Everybody’s favorite right.  FITNESS.  We are referring to physical fitness this time.  This is not quite the same as weight.  I am talking about athleticism.  I am talking about physical preparedness.  I am talking about feeling strong and able in your body.  When accomplished, this is one of the greatest feelings in the world.  To FEEL GOOD and capable physically.  Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t always pay attention to balance in our fitness.  You see it everyday in gyms across the country.  There are giant “meatheads” lifting enormous amounts of weight without being able to touch their toes.  There are the “chronic cardio girls”that STILL have the mindset in place that doing endless hours of cardio is the answer to that weight problem.  There are the people who are always STARTING the fitness program soon.  “It IS soon I promise.”  Most of us fall somewhere in between some of these extremes examples.  As humans, it is easy to fall into our ruts.  Our routines.  We forget to mix it up.  We forget to be creative and balanced.  So let’s look at a few areas of fitness.  Crossfit defines 10 different areas of fitness to work on and I think they have an excellent model.  For our purposes, we will not be going into 10 areas.  We will briefly discuss a few that I feel are important to focus on for good balance in the body.  Let’s get started.

CARDIO:  Cardio is important.  I am not talking about chronic cardio.  It seems that with the new “paleo” movement, people have turned against cardio.  Why?  People have been doing cardio for as long as people have been on the planet.  Sure, we weren’t jogging endlessly on treadmills or ellipticals.  However, we have been hiking, swimming, walking, and doing outdoor work for a very long time.  Cardio is great for pumping the heart, lymph, and general circulation.  Switching it up is always recommended.  Jogging, brisk walking, hiking, bicycling, kayaking, SPORTS, WORKING OUTSIDE, etc.  The goal is to get the heart-rate up but not to strain too much.

STRENGTH:  I am lumping a few categories together here.  What do I mean by strength?  The fitness of my muscles?  I believe that the most important type of strength for a healthy body is muscular endurance.  The type of strength that you build by doing functional movements with a light to moderate weight.  Things like bodyweight exercises, chopping firewood, hiking in hilly terrain, kayaking hard, etc.  Bodyweight exercises are perfect for anyone wanting to develop some overall strength and endurance.  There are hundreds of exercises to choose from.  Then you have “brute strength.”  This is what comes from “pumping iron.”  Lifting weights.  Heavy weights.  The heavier the weight; the more power you will build.  While I think this has its place; I feel that it can easily be overdone.  Are our bodies really designed to do this sort of thing all the time?  A few targeted exercises are all you need for this one.  Think compound movements.  Deadlifts, squats, bench presses, shoulder presses, etc.  The biggest thing is to keep your WHOLE BODY in mind.  Don’t just focus on building a big chest and arms while maintaining chicken legs. A good idea is to focus on your WEAKNESSES instead of your strengths.

SHORT-EFFORT:  This is pretty simplistic.  Max effort for short duration.  Sprinting and lifting heavy weights go into this category.  Easy to overdo here.  Make sure that you are recovering from this type of exercise properly.  In modern life, this is probably the least important aspect of fitness.  I will note that doing this type of thing once a week or so has been shown to boost hormone levels, repair processes, and strength rapidly in the body.

FLEXIBILITY:  This one is overlooked.  Especially in us guys.  We spend most of our time developing a good LOOKING physique.  Well does it do us any good if we are just a model?  Don’t we care about being able to do anything with that physique?  Lifting weights and building muscle requires stretching and connecting to be functional.  I am not talking about doing endless hours of yoga here.  Focus on major muscle groups.  Chest, hamstrings, quads, arms, and back.  A brief 10 minute stretching routine can do wonders for your fitness levels.  

AGILITY/BALANCE:  Another overlooked area.  With treadmills, guided weight machines, and static postures we are used to having things made easy.  Straight lines are NOT always your friend.  Free weights, unbalanced terrain, and unpredictable conditions are great for challenging the body.  You may need to get creative with this one.  SPORTS are great for this one.  Forget about the competitive nature of sports for a day or two.  Things like basketball, touch-football, ultimate frisbee, swimming, etc are all great for improving agility, coordination, and balance.  Think rapid changing of movement, hand-eye coordination, and unpredictability.

RECOVERY/RELAXATION:  While this is not directly a fitness category, I believe it is worth mentioning here.  We often forget to recover from exercise.  We forget to relax.  This often halts or slows our progress dramatically.  SLEEP is the biggest factor here.  Doing “work-in”  exercises is also great.  Things like qi-gong or slow yoga.  Deep breathing is great also.

That’s it for the most part folks.  Let’s look at where we are out of balance.  Do I have huge biceps but the inability to run a mile?  Do I have great cardiovascular fitness without the ability to turn around or quickly shift my weight?  Whatever it is, it can be fixed.  Fitness is just one aspect of a healthy life.  Let’s bring it into balance.

-Joe  

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