Lostende Personal Fitness
...because your health is your wealth !
Allan Reeves, CSCS, ATC.
Serving clients in Marin since 1992
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What Your Fitness Training Should Be About !
Let me be honest with you; there is no short cut to attaining and sustaining a physically fit body. Furthermore, there isn’t one type of exercise activity that will meet all your physical fitness needs. If this is what you believe then I predict that you will become frustrated in your efforts to get fit. So what does it take to get fit? Ultimately, physical fitness is a life style choice, one that revolves around consistent and correct behavior that promotes a healthy body. Therefore, it should be viewed as a lifetime endeavor. This may sound daunting, but it isn’t. In fact, it is simple once you understand the difference between what is helpful and what isn’t. Eventually, over time, the right choices that promote fitness become the easy ones, while the wrong choices become painfully obvious due to their “hangover” effect.
Physical fitness can be divided into four parts, with each part responsible for a “piece of the fitness puzzle.” The four divisions are: 1) cardiovascular fitness, 2) muscular strength, 3) flexibility and 4) lean body mass. When these pieces are put together they provide an overall perspective of the health and capacity of an individual. Each of these four areas has a specific type of training to improve upon its capacities. There is of course some overlap from one form of conditioning to another. In fact, whenever one thinks of fitness it is important to realize that there is an interdependent relationship between these components of fitness, and it would be incorrect to consider them as totally separate and unrelated to one another.
Absolute physical fitness cannot be achieved without being attentive to each of the four areas that define fitness (muscular, cardiovascular, flexibility, and lean body mass). Do not expect or believe, for example, that a form of cardiovascular exercise, such as running or cycling, will concurrently train to a sufficient degree the muscular system, or for that matter sufficiently improve flexibility. There is an overlap from one area of fitness to the other, but not to the extent that each domain can benefit to its utmost. Yoga by itself is not the answer to total fitness, and neither is running. Therefore, in order to improve muscular strength, resistance training (weight lifting) must be done; flexibility improvements require stretch training; cardiovascular fitness relies on cardiovascular exercises; and lastly, lean body mass is achieved through proper diet.
Again, there is carry over from one area of training to the other. For instance, the primary intent of resistance training is to build muscle mass and improve strength. Concurrently, it will also improve metabolism, which will assist in improving lean body mass, as does cardiovascular training for that matter. These are examples of the interdependence between the components of fitness. But resistance training should not be practiced to control or lose weight. Instead, weight management is controlled principally through proper eating (diet), while an ideal method of weight control is a combination of diet, weight training and cardiovascular conditioning. The moral of the story: put attention and focus on all the domains to achieve maximum physical fitness.
Now that I’ve explained what physical fitness is, I can go into some detail and explain what are the methods, benefits and logic of how to train each piece of the “fitness puzzle.”
I’ll start with muscular fitness. What exactly is it? The muscular system, and I am talking about skeletal muscles, has three functions. Muscles provide mechanical strength to create motion and sustain posture, they provide protection in the form of padding to other structures in the body, and they help to sustain temperature in the body by creating heat. The main concern for our purposes is the first function, motion and posture. Muscular strength is important in order to insure proper motion. Imbalances in the muscular system can lead to a break down of “correct” motion (biomechanics) and posture. Typically, this type of scenario can lead to a repetitive stress injury due to compensation patterns. Muscles that are kept strong perform their responsibilities more effectively, and the pattern of movement is less likely to break down. Injuries are less likely to occur, and aches and pains often go away when related to poor muscular support. From an esthetic point of view, strong muscles also look better. Strong muscles also have another advantage; they take more energy to sustain. The more muscular you are, the more energy you burn. If you improve your muscle profile, you will also increase the caloric needs of your body, which helps to maintain a leaner body.
Therefore, strong muscles are important to help prevent injuries, reduce joint stress by providing strong support, ensure proper mechanical motion, improve athletic strength and endurance, and help to sustain a lean body. The next question then is how do you improve muscular fitness?
Muscle tissue responds to resistance, any kind of resistance. Therefore, adaptations to the muscular system are affected through some form of resistance training. The most obvious and also the most effective and efficient form of resistance training is weight training, but there are others, such as resistance with rubber bands and tubing. If you are extremely feeble because you are recovering from an injury, than the resistance need not be much to induce an adaptive response. However, if you are healthy then a more intense form of resistance, such as weight training, is necessary. The important concept is “overload.” In order for muscle strength and endurance to improve there must be a stimulus that overloads the muscle. Weight training provides the best means by which a maximum overload can be applied to your muscles. Yoga can overload muscles, but not to the extent that weight training can. Running provides a muscular stimulus greater than walking, but not nearly as much as weight training. Join a gym and start weight training, the benefits will astound you. Furthermore, at a gym you will find a vast selection of weight training equipment that will allow you to target and train all the muscles in your body easily.
Weight training, sometimes referred to as strength training, is an integral part of any athletic program. There was a time when popular opinion alleged that weight training would cause athletes to become slower due to bulky muscles. Scientific studies and experience have proved the exact opposite. Any athletic program that does not integrate a strength-training component is at a disadvantage. Anyone not participating in a strength-training program for his or her own fitness is at a loss in establishing a high level of physical fitness. The adaptations to muscles are numerous, as are the benefits. Increased strength is a result of both muscle hypertrophy and neurological efficiency. Therefore, people who are in good muscular shape enjoy the benefits of efficient, strong and coordinated muscles. The process of aging affects the muscular system in the exact opposite way, by means of a slow degradation of neurological sensitivity and muscle mass, resulting in inefficient, weak and uncoordinated muscles.
Cardiovascular fitness is different from muscular fitness. The cardiovascular system is responsible for the pumping of blood throughout the body. Blood is the vehicle by which oxygen, nutrients and hormones are distributed to all of the cells in your body, and how carbon dioxide and waste products are picked up for removal. Your heart is the pump that pushes blood through the matrix of blood vessels that zig zag throughout your body. Cardiovascular fitness, from an athletic standpoint, is associated with the efficiency of pumping blood through the body, the delivery and use of oxygen, the removal of carbon dioxide, and maintaining a proper pH balance. Poor cardiovascular fitness puts an excess stress on these systems, particularly the heart and blood vessels, and it diminishes the overall work output that one can do.
The cardiovascular system will also improve its capacities through progressive overload training. Running, biking, swimming, or any other sport that relies on a combination of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning will improve cardiovascular fitness. The gradual overload can be adjusted by either intensity or duration of exercise, or a combination of both. Intensity refers to the speed at which you would try and run, and duration is the distance. Therefore, if you increase your average speed you upgrade the work effort and cause adaptations. If you increase the average distance you also increase the work effort.
You should train your cardiovascular system at least three times a week, and if you are truly interested in establishing a high level of cardiovascular capacity you should train five times a week. The duration of your activity should be on average about forty-five minutes. There is a common belief that if you want to lose body fat you should keep your training intensity within a moderate aerobic threshold. This is a partially true principle, but unfortunately the stimulation of fat as the primary energy source is not quite so simple. There are other factors to consider, such as the duration of the training session, which has a significant impact on the physiological processes that determine the preferred energy substrate consumed. I would advise that you concentrate on performing your cardiovascular conditioning at the highest intensity possible, challenging your anaerobic threshold, especially if you only have a half hour to forty-five minutes to train. In this way you will enhance your cardiovascular adaptations, which is more effective in expending more energy anyhow. Ultimately, a cardiovascular training program is something that needs to be linked with your fitness goals, taking into consideration the time you can commit to training, along with your current physical state and the type of physical fitness you desire.
In the past ten to fifteen years’ flexibility training has increased in popularity, in large part due to the yoga craze. Yoga is not simply about stretching; it also includes benefits associated with mediation, breathing, physical consciousness, and muscular endurance. However, it does provide an excellent venue from which people can improve their flexibility and thus reap the rewards of an unencumbered body. I mentioned earlier that muscle imbalances could have an impact on proper biomechanical movement. Poor flexibility is also responsible for the same type of complications and aggravations.
The human body produces movement through a system of levers. Every joint in your body is a lever, and when the muscles and joints are recruited to move in an organized fashion (something referred to as a kinetic chain) motion is generated, such as running, walking, or throwing a ball. The ease and fluidity of the activity is affected in part by flexibility. If one of the levers involved in the kinetic chain is compromised by tight muscles, the ease of movement is compromised and the potential for injury and discomfort increases. In order to keep those levers functioning properly there is an imperative need for muscular strength and flexibility. Flexibility, like the cardiovascular and muscular system, must be trained in a format that is specific to it.
You should stretch everyday. Sometimes you may only stretch for fifteen minutes, other times a half hour, and some days you may have the opportunity to do an hour or more of yoga. Again, the benefits will amaze you, and they are an integral part of your physical fitness and capacity. Remember, our bodies adapt to the stress imposed upon it. Organized stretching is a controlled manner by which you impose a lengthening stimulus on the muscles and tendons. Gradually there will be improvements in flexibility and in muscular balance. A person who enjoys these benefits typically is free of physical discomforts. They usually aren’t the type to complain of back pain or something similar because their bodies are in sync.
Lean Body Mass
The last piece of the puzzle concerning physical fitness is your body weight, or more specifically, how much body fat do you have? Your body weight alone is not enough information to give you an accurate picture of how skinny or overweight you may be. People come in all different sizes and shapes, with different compositions of muscle tissue and bone sizes. Two people can be of similar height and weight, but they can be miles apart when it comes to fitness level and body composition. Or, someone can start a fitness program, improve their muscular mass, lose body fat, and end up weighing more or the same. Therefore, the more important data is how much body fat do you have, and consequently how do you look, and not how much you weigh.
I mentioned earlier that weight management is regulated primarily through diet (what you eat). Believe me, you will never be able to lose body fat and achieve a lean look without eating well. Today in America there is a problem with obesity, and it is obviously related to the American lifestyle and eating habits. This lifestyle consists of too much sedentary time and a dependence on processed and fast foods. In a nutshell, this is the lifestyle pattern that causes people to gain weight; a lack of physical activity coupled with a high calorie diet. However, eating well involves more than just limiting your calories. It consists of eating foods that promote and support good health. When you eat well you have more energy, you stay lean, and you feel better. When you eat poorly your energy levels are erratic, you gain weight, and you feel bad.
What exactly should you eat? To start, try and eat foods the way nature created them, whole and unprocessed. The more a food is packaged, processed and preserved, the less likely it is optimally healthy. Limit your intake of high sugar foods, and limit your intake of high saturated fat. Better yet, don’t eat deserts, candy, ice cream, donuts, soft drinks and such junk; don’t eat fast foods, pizza, and dairy. If you do this you will lose body fat. Try and eat a diet that is vegetarian based, combined with whole grain products and reasonable amounts of protein. Lastly, don’t eat too much in one sitting. Regardless of what you eat, if your caloric intake at a meal exceeds your energy needs for the next 2 hours you will gain body fat. You need to feed your body using a drip system effect, which means eating smaller amounts throughout the day, as opposed to binging on food once or twice a day.
There is of course much more to understanding food and its impact on your body. What I have mentioned are some simple concepts that work and are very important, but there is more. Your diet needs to be varied, choosing from a broad category of foods, in order to insure that you getting a solid dose of all the nutrients your body requires.
Most people I talk with who are unhappy with their body fat composition are eating foods that are high in calories and low in nutrient density. A simple profile analysis of the foods they eat allows them to see clearly the depth of their problem. I encourage everyone to make the effort to keep a log of the foods they eat for at least a week. With this information you can determine the type and amount of calories you consume. In all likelihood you will be surprised by the difference between what you think you are eating and what you are actually eating.
Hopefully you can now see the importance of an integrated and comprehensive approach to your fitness training. The benefits of a lean and strong body are attained when there is a focus on all four parts of physical fitness (cardiovascular, muscular, flexibility and lean body mass). The next step in developing your fitness is to educate yourself on the proper techniques associated with each domain of fitness. These techniques are neither easy nor difficult to master, but they do take time because they must be practiced. Gradually you will become more in tune with your body, that is to say more aware of how your body feels. In turn, you will become more aware of what is beneficial to you and what is damaging. As this understanding evolves you will find that the right choices will come automatically.
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