We’re takin’ it back today. We’re going old school. Actually, we’re going back to school, back to my Intro to Health & Physical Education class at Adelphi University.
I loved that class, where we sought to see the big picture while dissecting the details. This is the great paradox in exercise. We are so complex as human minds and bodies that it’s impossible to truly isolate anything. At the same time, creating categories is a useful tool for deciding our path.
With that, let’s discuss the the four elements of fitness.
NO, that’s not what I meant, but this is fitting. It’s impossible to truly separate the four components we’re about to discuss. That doesn’t mean it can’t be useful to consider these as four distinct categories:
Stability & Balance
There you have it, folks, fitness in four boxes. Here are definitions of each one, which I’m borrowing from MOVE. Please note that the following four definitions are rather old fashioned:
“Aerobic fitness Aerobic fitness improves overall health and well-being. It helps your heart, blood vessels, lungs, and muscles. Popular activities include walking, biking, jogging, swimming, and dancing. Exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time and for a total of 30–60 minutes most days of the week.
Muscular Fitness Strength training improves your muscle and bone health, and helps with weight loss. Do strength training with free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, household items, or your own body weight.
Flexibility Flexibility allows you to move your body freely. Being flexible decreases your risk of injury. Stretching lengthens your muscles. To improve flexibility, consider chair-stretching exercises or yoga.
Stability and Balance Your body’s core strength helps stability and balance. You can improve stability and balance by doing exercises that focus on the center of your body. A strong core will help improve posture, low back pain, and prevent falls. Consider core exercises (bottom muscles, lower back muscles, and abdominal muscles) or Tai Chi.”
These very basic boxes can provide us with a tool that can be used to reflect on our current fitness practices, and better prepare for our future fitness needs. Let’s ask a question about each element:
How much aerobic fitness do you need?
How much muscular fitness do you need?
How much flexibility do you need?
How much stability & balance do you need?
While the National Institute of Health has their answers to these questions, I’m interested in your answers to these questions. When you’re exercising at your best, how much of each of these qualities do you focus on?
After that consideration, let’s move on to a question that is perhaps more challenging:
How much aerobic fitness is too much?
How much muscular fitness is too much?
How much flexibility is too much?
How much stability and balance is too much?
Again, it’s easy to find a recommendation or research, but I’d like your answer to be an introspective one. Here’s why:
Each of these elements has a particular utility. Let’s consider them to be equals in the big picture, which would indicate that 25% of our time should be dedicated to each one. When we skew how we balance that dedication to one element, the others may suffer as a result. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we?
The cyclist who puts in hundreds of miles per week, but can’t balance without a bike. The powerlifter with an impressive total, but gets out of breath walking the stairs. The yogi who puts Gumby to shame, but can’t do a single push-up. The functional trainee with great balance who struggles to touch their toes.
Considering the elements and your own exercise, perhaps you can identify one that you haven’t practiced with due diligence. We’re drawn to the things that we’re good at, and that makes us better at them. Living in this loop might set us up to miss something later on.
If your last three workouts were a spin class, a yoga class, or a weight class, I don’t think you need another one of those. After a certain point, the utility of practicing one of these elements decreases. The value depreciates. There’s too much of a good thing. You have flooded the market.
In reality, there are qualities within each of these elements that overlap. There are times when we can practice each of them in balance, perhaps at the same time. t’s hard to truly do them all without examining precisely how we prioritize them.
There are times to focus on aerobic fitness, on muscular fitness, on flexibility, or on stability & balance. How you choose to invest your time and balance those elements can profoundly change the results of our hard work.
If you haven’t been enjoying your exercise, or seeing the results that you want, perhaps taking a moment to consider these four elements, and how you’re balancing them, can be useful for you. Take your time considering this: