Recently I had to write a paper for my conditioning class (ironic, like horizontal running). I actually enjoyed having to write this paper because it combines two of my favorite things: writing, and fitness. I thought this would be a great topic to share with you guys as a #FitnessFriday post. The word “fitness” has so many definitions because everyone thinks of it differently. To some it is all aesthetic, some believe it to be strength, and some cardio. I know that my idea of fitness has changed significantly over the years. When I was younger, fitness meant going to the club and running on the treadmill. When I was a gymnast, fitness meant being active through cardio and strength. Now, I practice all five components of fitness because they are equally important in order to live a healthy life, and being able to do everything I want to do as I get older. Fitness is not just a hobby, it is a lifestyle, that is applicable to ALL ages.
1. Cardiovascular Fitness
The first component of fitness is cardio. Big surprise there. Cardio is not all about seeing how many calories you can torch before your lungs start to burn, and trying to beat the person next to you on the treadmill…well, that last one isn’t true. It is actually a great measure of fitness because your body starts to adjust to what you demand. Most people forget the “vascular” part of cardiovascular, and that is the most important reason for doing cardio in the first place. Sure, burning calories is great, but strengthening your heart and lungs, increasing circulation, and oxygen flow, is the most important part of it all. It may not be easy to tell, but cardio improves overtime. Change in heart rate is a great way to see if your cardio has improved, as well something as simple as shaving off a couple seconds on your mile time. This is why we were required to run the mile growing up, do those annoying step tests, pacer tests, and resting heart rate tests. Back in high school, I could jog one lap around the indoor track and my heart rate would be at 204 (I’m not kidding). Now, I have to full out sprint to get it above 160! My mile time has also gone from nine minutes back in seventh grade, to around seven minutes now. The best, and easiest, forms of cardio are running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, and walking. Anything that gets your heart rate up! It is important to change up intensity because your body will adapt to what you are doing after a while, making it not as effective. While it may feel like you are dying since cardio is hardio, it’s actually preventing you from dying 🙂
2. Muscular Strength
Muscular strength is fancy talk for weights. I know a lot of people have the stereotypical image in their heads of a body builder walking around with their protein shake, cut off tank, and lifting 300 lbs of iron. A lot of women avoid weights just because this is what they imagine, don’t have a game plan, are intimidated, don’t know the importance of it, or don’t want to get “too big.” Building muscle is not exclusive to just throwing around some dumbbells, or lifting heavy things. Being a gymnast, I was fortunate to learn that body weight exercises are just as effective, as gravity is a great resource! Yes, muscle is built by heavy lifting, but it is also built through resistance training, body weight exercises, as well as low weight and high rep exercises (get out those soup cans!) Weight training is beneficial in order to lose fat, boost metabolism, increase bone density, but also, it is a great confidence booster as you start to see progress by being able to lift heavier, do more reps, physically see results, or hit a new PR. Not going to lie, I used to be scared of venturing into the weight room, but after retiring from gymnastics, I have started to incorporate free weights, machines, and TRX along with my body weight exercises. It doesn’t require anything extensive, as most of my circuits are found on Pinterest, or watching fitness gurus on Instagram. Deadlifts aren’t dead, y’all.
3. Muscular endurance
This one can sometimes be confused with cardio because muscular endurance is the ability for the muscle to perform without fatigue. Yes, we get tired and feel like we can’t take another step when we run, but cardio has more to do with “sucking air.” For example, bad muscular endurance is only being able to do one push up, or doing one lat pull down on the machine. The best way to improve this component is by practicing that motion over and over. An increase from one push up to two push ups is even a gain. Just like endurance is improved when you do more of it in cardio, it goes the same for your muscles. And just like endurance can be gained, it can be lost, which is why it is important to focus on both your cardio, and your strength. I will say, my muscular endurance has decreased a bit since I had to stop gymnastics, as I can’t pump out the pull ups like I used to, simply because I don’t willingly choose to do pull ups (like any normal person). Use it or lose it!
4. Body Composition
The fourth component of fitness is body composition; the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital parts of the body. This one is kind of a given, as the reason most people work out in the first place is to change, or maintain, their body composition. When I say body composition, it is not just focused on body fat percentage. A lot of us are guilty for only focusing on body fat, as humans are great at honing in on the negative aspects of ourselves, and forgetting about the positives. The reason body composition is an important part of fitness is because it an essential part to overall well-being. For the fat we do have (we all have it and need it), it is important to know if it is subcutaneous (harmless), or visceral (more dangerous as it wraps around your organs). This is why it is important to focus on body composition, not just for looks. Knowing how much muscle you have compared to fat, is important because a lot of people only focus on the numbers. When I say numbers, I’m talking about the typical bathroom scale, or BMI chart. It is so dangerous to rely on these only because they don’t show the whole picture. I look at transformation pictures on Instagram where people go from losing body fat, and gaining muscle; it looks like they’ve lost a ton of weight, but in reality, they stayed the same. BMI charts don’t factor in how much muscle someone has, so it may say someone is overweight when in reality they are made of muscle. This goes for the scale, too. Instead of stepping on the scale, it is a lot healthier to base body composition on how clothes fit, or getting a scale that shows the breakdown!
Last but not least, flexibility. This is important because flexibility prevents so many injuries at any age! I’m thankful to have been in a sport that heavily enforced this, and made a habit in me to stretch after every single workout. You can be the strongest person in the world, but it is useless if your hamstrings are so tight that you can’t bend over to lift up the barbell. That may be a bit exaggerated, but flexibility is often overlooked! Sit and reach was MY event during fitness testing, and we wouldn’t have been tested on it if it weren’t important. Just like endurance decreases when it isn’t practiced, flexibility gets so much worse as you get older unless you keep up with it. Flexibility can be compared to taking care of a kid, or a plant (but don’t compare your kid to a plant). If you water it or feed them once a week, and expect it/them to function the same by the next week, you are so wrong. This is why I made a vow when I retired to be able to do the splits and touch my toes until the day I die! I can be easily found in the gym doing the splits everyday, along with my other creepy gymnast stretches that make people stare at me like I have two heads, Lastly, without my flexibility, how else would I shave in the shower if I couldn’t put my leg up on the wall?
As I mentioned before, fitness is a lifestyle, not a hobby that stops once you leave the gym. Why? How are you going to run after your kid’s basketball that is furiously rolling down the street, or sprint to get the last pair of Lulu leggings in your size on black Friday, if your cardio is not up to speed? How are you going to lift your screaming toddler out of a crib, or carry giant grocery bags to the house if your muscular strength is non existent? Imagine how hard it would be to quickly shovel the MN snow off the driveway if you don’t have enough muscular endurance to do the same motion over and over again (move to Florida, problem solved). Body composition helps to keep overall health intact, and helps when trying on jeans from the previous year, praying that they still fit. And lastly, flexibility allows for bending over to get the laundry out of the wash, getting the paper off the driveway, or simply showing off the splits as a cool party trick. All of these are needed to carry out everyday tasks, and to live your life!
My challenge for you this week is to focus a little bit more on one or more of these aspects that you tend to put on the back burner. Have a fantastic Friday, folks!