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The Perfect Triad of Fitness - Are you fit?

By Jessica Kelner, D.O. - August 12, 2019

People will often tell me that they feel they are in shape because they exercise a few times a week.  Is this true?  Does just the simple fact that you make an attempt to exercise qualify as being "in shape"? 

It really depends on what kind of exercising the person is doing.  If all the person does is lift weights, they may have a rockin' 6 pack, but they are most likely not "in shape".   When this person is asked to bend over to touch their toes or to run a 5k, they may not be able to do that.  

To be truly "fit" or "in shape", one must have a balance of strength, flexibility, and endurance.  Imagine an equilateral triangle with each one of these components sitting at each pointed end of the triangle.  One needs to have as much endurance as they do strength as well as be just as flexible as they are strong.  This is what I would call the perfect triad of fitness. 

Daily life is busy.  It is hard to manage the adult responsibilities that we have to do every day.  People get busy with work, kids, other life stressors and they may not make time for exercising at all (which is no excuse).  Those that do exercise, may exercise in a more habitual way (I am guilty of this), where they may gravitate toward one type of exercise or activity because that is easy for them to do, easy to access, or they really like the feeling of it. 

Let's use the weight lifting guy again as an example (I just made the person a guy for ease of discussion); He may really dislike endurance training because he has trained his muscles for so long to perform at weight lifting activities. He probably is a heavier guy with larger muscles, which makes cardio activity a bit more challenging. Subsequently, this person may shy away from endurance training for that very reason. He may also believe that if he does endurance training, he will lose his muscles and become "too skinny". This is not exactly true.  We aren't talking about completely shifting his exercise to only endurance training.   Then, there is the flexibility component. The weight lifter will be less able to bend and move in certain directions due to his sheer muscle size alone. Without proper stretching and flexibility training the large muscles can become a limitation to the movement of the body, which doesn't lead to being "fit". 

How does one achieve "fitness" or be "in shape"? 

Cross Training! 
Cross training is when you utilize multiple different sports or exercises to train.  I wrote more about cross training in this blog called " Active Recovery vs Rest Days".  You want to maintain balance between your strength training, endurance training, and flexibility. There are many ways to achieve this and for each person, their training schedule may be different based on their interest, body type, health, and goals.  One way to achieve this is to choose different exercise activities like yoga, rock climbing, swimming, and basketball. You will get your endurance from basketball and swimming, strength training from rock climbing, and flexibility from rock climbing and yoga. 

What is endurance training? 
Endurance training is a type of training that utilizes the aerobic system to make energy.  This means  your body is utilizing  oxygen to make energy for your muscles. This is what people like to think of as "cardio". 

Anaerobic Exercise 
Cardiovascular or endurance training is different, in contrast to anaerobic exercise which  is a form of exercise that is intense, short (<2 min) and causes lactate to form in the muscle.  Cardiovascular exercise works on steady state, long term activity, while anaerobic exercise is focused on short term strength/energy bursts. Lactate is an acid that forms in an energy demanding environment in the body that doesn't have enough oxygen. An example of this is weight lifting. 

It is important to train utilizing both aerobic and anaerobic training.

Why does any of this being "in shape" or being "fit" matter when it comes to my health? 
1. Cardiovascular activity is actually protective for your heart. 1 day of cardio activity protects you from having a heart attack for 9 days after!
2. Having balanced muscle tone and strength in your body will prevent injuries and pain.   For example, having core strength will balance out your back muscles and prevent you from lower back injury and back pain. Another good example is the shoulder. If the shoulder is balanced, you're less likely to have shoulders that are rolled forward and less likely to tear a rotator cuff muscle when you try to lift that dog food out of the car. 
3. Being flexible and maintaining that flexibility will also prevent you from injuring or tearing things.  Imagine if you have a really tight tissue that you then go to use, it is more likely to tear, like a frozen rubber band will snap. 
4. Flexibility will also allow you to perform at activities that you may not otherwise be able to do.  For example, with rock climbing, while you have to be strong, you also have to be flexible enough to flex your hips and legs to climb higher. 
5. Flexibility allows for the rest of your body to have the ability to utilize proper biomechanics.  Your body is a machine that has to be allowed to freely move.  If parts of the machine are tight and restricted, it can cause a kink or a blockage in the machine.  You may develop abnormal or compensatory movements, which can cause further injuries. 
6. Endurance allows you to do physical things, like hike a mountain (or hill), clean your house (or pool), walk for long periods of time. Imagine going on a trip to NYC and not being able to walk around all day long to do sight seeing because you physically can't do it. 

At FORM Medical, we can perform a biomechanics analysis, guide you in correcting your imbalances, treat any injuries you may have developed and help you achieve your goals of getting in shape.