In today’s world with obesity and morbidity increasing at an exponential rate, fitness has become a very hot topic. But how many of us actually know what fitness is? Are elite middle distance runners truly fit? Are weightlifting contestants at the Olympic Games truly fit?
To me the answer lies very much in how we view the term fitness. In my opinion being fit doesn’t come down to excelling in one or two disciplines, but rather being proficient in multiple domains and being able to cope with whatever life throws our way. If I go back to my example of the runners, yes their cardiovascular endurance and stamina are both excellent but what about their strength, power and coordination? Our weightlifters are obviously very strong, incredibly powerful, flexible and well coordinated but as a direct result of these attributes their cardiovascular endurance is going to be limited.
Obviously these athletes are training for very specific sports and the training they do is specific to what they want to achieve. For the majority of us however, we are training to excel in the sport of life or in some cases it’s a matter of survival! Life has a way of serving up the unexpected and at any given point in time it is impossible to know what is just around the corner. This said, so many of us train in one domain the vast majority of the time. Often when I’m at the beach running a bootcamp session, I see the same faces running by every day, eventually they might stop in and try bootcamp out. They tell me they keep pretty fit running 10 or so kilometres every day, I smile and say, “Great! You should be fine then.” Straight away I know these people are going to be limited in their strength, speed, power, agility and coordination. I know their weaknesses, just by knowing their training program is limited to one specific activity over a fairly specific distance/time. Let’s throw a real world situation in here. Say a few friends are out one day running on a bush track and one of them stands in a pothole badly spraining an ankle doing some real damage. All of a sudden they are in serious trouble, as our runner has little hope of supporting even a moderate amount of his injured friend’s bodyweight all the way back. This is one example of a thousand different possible scenarios that life could well throw our way at any given time.
So, if a runner trains for their sport by running and a weightlifter trains for their sport by lifting weights, how do we train for the sport of life? In a sense we have the toughest but most rewarding job out of all three examples. We need constantly varied stimulus, we need to constantly vary the duration at which we train and every now and then, we need to lift some heavy shit!
Training for endurance is easy. Go for a run, swim or a bike ride. Training with some moderate resistance is not so difficult. Go to bootcamp, do a class at your local studio or gym, but lifting heavy is somewhat of a sticking point with many people. I hear all the time, “I don’t want to go heavy because I might hurt myself,” or “I’m not sure how heavy I should go,” or my favourite, “ I don’t want to get too bulky.”
Let’s attack the first two points relating to getting injured and how heavy to lift. Firstly, lifting heavy is incredibly dangerous if you are doing it with poor technique. Not only is it dangerous, but generally also less efficient. This means you won’t get the same kind of strength gains. Secondly, knowing how heavy to go takes a little time and practice. There are a number of lifts which should never be performed heavy unless under supervision. Having someone experienced with the lift is incredibly vital, particularly when first going heavy. Nothing is going to affect technique like heavy load and fatigue. So don’t go heavy unless you have someone who knows what they are talking about watching you!
As I said earlier, my favourite question refers to getting bulky. This topic will have its own article in the very near future but for the purposes of this article, I’ll keep it short and to the point. Lifting heavy weights will more than likely cause an increase in muscle mass, however this effect will be far more profound in males than females due to the much higher levels of testosterone in males which aids muscle growth. Let’s not forget those massive bodybuilders and power lifters you see in the muscle magazines dedicate their lives to lifting heavy weights and are training for a very specific goal. We’re not talking about lifting heavy every day, but simply developing a varied and balanced training program.
Let’s put another potential real world example in here. We’ll use a small child as an example. It’s quite conceivable that a toddler may weigh in the vicinity of 20kg. If he or she found themselves in a dangerous position, you are not going to hesitate to remove them from that situation, even if it means racing over and picking them up. This action is going to rely on you having an ability to lift 20kg off the ground quickly and is also going to rely on you having the ability to control an external weighted object at speed. This control is similar to that required to perform a deadlift or a clean (as in “clean” the exercise, as opposed to wiping down the bar).
Humans are designed to move heavy objects from time to time. Training in one domain day after day might make you good at something,but it will not best prepare you for what life can and will throw your way. So get out there and train your weaknesses because that’s what is holding you back!