Fitness and training
Health and fitness go hand in hand. They always have and always will. I am sure it doesn’t come as a surprise to you when I say that we (the human race) are now collectively more unfit and unhealthy than ever in history. I find it alarming that being overweight and even obese is now normal (according to stats over 50% of people fall into that bracket in certain countries), which of course comes with various other side effects. We could argue, that we are victims of our own brains, as the modern lifestyle has produced an environment where comfort and convenience reign over physical activity. Physical inactivity now ranks among top 5 biggest killers in some countries.
From an evolutionary perspective our bodies have not kept up with our technological and cultural evolution, which means that our bodies are still built for the hardships of the Paleolithic hunter gatherers. According to research chronic disease was virtually unknown to them and they tended lead very active lives. Of course the modern society comes with numerous positives to counter many of the negatives, but still there is a cost for our biology mismatching our environment.
I have been observing over the last few years a new trend in the fitness industry and I am giddy with excitement about it. People are starting to get out of the gyms and unimodal exercise and starting to seek variety in their exercise and training routines. This is great because it is slowly returning us towards the fine Paleolithic specimens that our ancestors once were.
Why - If you have ever felt disinterested in exercise, been stuck on a plateau or suffered recurring injuries from training I have good news for you. According to Einstein the definition of lunacy is to continue repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The solution to your problems lies in changing your training habits. Obviously something is not working for you - change it. See, you are not alone in your predicament. I would say that most of the people face the same issues due to the modern fitness ideal and the modern fitness methods. Doing cardio in a smelly room with total strangers without going anywhere bores us to tears. Lifting weights while isolating the stimulus to a single muscle at a time will always produce injuries. Paying yourself sick to partake in the local 10K running race is quite sickening. Getting injured when trying to do anything different on a holiday is heartbreaking.
What - The new way is actually the old way. Engaging the body in numerous activities across different levels of intensity is the way we always used to exercise. Some people talk about calisthenics, cross-fit, insanity, and even functional training. We also have the supporters of Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. Then there is the martials arts group. We mustn’t forget the adventure racing and multi-sport crew either. What is common to all of these people is that they are thriving. They enjoy their training and competitions and they look forward to the sessions, as opposed to the traditional fitness and gym people who generally are unenthusiastic at best.
As we boil this all down to the very essence of what is working in these different approaches we are left with something very simple - meaningful movement. This is a life affirming way of expressing yourself. It’s not about the numbers. For most it’s not about the medals. The process of challenging yourself to learn new skills and to hone the existing ones towards perfection resonates with us on a very deep level. The whole body engagement in movement produces a torrent of stimulus to our brain (in an understandable format) that it triggers all of the chemical reward pathways and even starts the production of new brain cells.
How - Use your imagination. I don’t care what your chosen competitive sport is. I know that you will benefit from adding heaps of variety in your training. I am not telling you to stop all your event specific training, come on - that would be silly. I am asking you to add variety in any way possible. Your imagination literally is the limit in utilising your body. There are very few rules, but I will give you three basic ones here.
- Have FUN - You need to enjoy yourself, otherwise you will get bored.
- Listen to your body - Push when you feel strong, pay attention to niggles and don’t force it. Your body is constantly giving you feedback.
- Keep an eye on your form - No exercise is inherently bad but a lot of exercise is done badly.
You can take advantage of our ever increasing collection of videos on this site as well as absorb influence from any discipline of movement/training/exercise you wish. Broadening your body's adaptive range can only be a good thing as it leads to improvements in athletic performance and reduces the likelihood of injuries.
Remember that your exercise and training is not confined to the gym. You can train and learn anywhere, any time. An hour spent in the gym doesn’t go very far in helping you if you are hurting yourself with the remaining 23 hours each day. Insert little movement episodes into your day at regular intervals, even if it’s 30 seconds of each hour. It’s enough to keep the process going.
If you are a Beginner - You are embarking on a fantastic journey. Pick a handful of skills that you would like to learn, choose an event that you want to complete, and find a training buddy or a group near you. Get to work. Make a start with anything. Youtube is filled with tutorials and great ideas. Keep in mind the three cardinal rules and start learning. You will fall over. You will get sore muscles. You may get carried away and pick up an injury. It’s all learning.
If you are a recreational athlete - You are in a position where you can turn your athletic career around. You can improve your physique across the board and truly become an athlete - someone who excels in any sport and any challenge you set your mind on is within your reach. You may need to go back to the very basics to relearn what your body is truly capable of and to dramatically alter your movement efficiency, which leads to better performance and much reduced risk of injuries.
If you are a professional athlete - You need to be mindful of your salary and to make sure you don’t deviate from your normal pattern too drastically too soon. During competitive season you can use more creativity in your recovery sessions and days off, as well as simply being mindful of your movement in your daily activities. In the off season you can go nuts and let your creative juices flow. This approach will help with your body awareness and ability receive accurate feedback from every system in your body.
Take Home Message - I hereby grant you permission to explore various different training and movement modalities and urge you to enjoy yourself in the process of learning new skills and to thrive in the new challenges.