Five Types of Fitness
The new buzz phrase today in the fitness industry is Functional Fitness. It just means that all the fitness and health activities we are doing mean nothing if they dont improve our fitness, give us healthier, happier lifestyles and help us be disease free and live longer; it all needs to be functional or relevant to our lifes.
There used to be a time when people were either fit or unfit. How we defined the two was usually the size of the person, the sport or fitness activity levels they had and maybe if they smoked or didn’t smoke. But now fitness has a range of definitions and meanings.
A barrage of tests now can show us exactly how fit or unfit we are. We can have blood tests done to show us how healthy our body systems are, body composition test tells us if we are in ideal weight ranges, and if our body fat, muscle mass and hydration ratios are OK; and then there are all the different fitness testings that show us if we have good cardio fitness, how strong we are, how flexible we are; we can even have cat scans to see how fit our brains are!…and if we fail any of these tests, we are then told what we need to do to improve that area of our fitness….My God, its like a full time occupation keeping your fitness levels right.
However, fitness levels remain a very personal thing, and it’s the individual who dictates how fit they want to be. For example last week I was bemoaning how unfit I was feeling and how my bodyfat had risen 5% in the last few months, and yet I ran for 3 hours on Wednesday morning…many people would look at me and think ‘what is she going on about?’, but for me, I didn’t feel as good as I should, so I have decided to do something about it. Then there is the person who just wants to be fit enough to play with their kids or walk for half an hour…which is just as good a goal as my ultra marathon one. Older people just want to stay fit and healthy so they can get through life’s normal range of activities, like the right amount of cardio fitness to walk up the stairs at home or strength to open a jar of jam…it is all relevant to where you are at and what rate you put on your own fitness levels
There are 5 categories of fitness and although it seems like a lot to try to be the best at all five, just being aware of each level and knowing where you are at, is a good thing
The term cardiovascular relates to the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular), and is used in reference to how effectively the heart pumps blood, and how it then is pumped through the body. So when we refer to cardio fitness we are talking about working the heart and in turn pumping the blood….so it’s all the activities that work this system harder; like running, cycling, dancing, aerobics etc
The idea of improving your cardio fitness is to get your heart pumping at a higher level and to keep it there for an extended period of time, approx 45mins to an hour
Other ways to improve it more are to take your heart rate and blood pumping through a range of levels, like doing short fast spurts of speed interspersed by recovery running, these sessions are called tempo or interval training
Running- Running is all about cardio fitness, most runners have high levels of cardio fitness, but not always. If you have been running for years and run the same distance or pace every time you go out there, then you will find your cardio fitness could still be at a lower level. Most of us know when we are working at a high cardio level for ourselves, we should feel our heart pumping, we should be breathing heavy and we should be hot or sweaty
Cardio Fitness activities reduce the risk of cardio vascular diseases and high blood pressure: they also reduces the risk of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
2 Muscular Strength Fitness
This is when we do exercise or activities to build and strengthen our muscles and muscle groups. It usually means giving your muscles a resistance (weight) and getting them to lift it or move it over several repetitions. After a few weeks of doing this resistance work, the muscle responds, by growing and getting stronger, you then need to add more resistance to continue to grow the muscle and strengthen it. Strength training is good for toning and the stronger and bigger the muscles the more calories they burn. Strength training is also good for maintaining bone structure.
Running is not generally known to be a strength training activity, however, strength is all about meeting a resistance and pushing it and in running, the resistance can be hills, stairs, sand etc, all of these things can build the muscle strength in your legs.
However, the best way to work on overall body strength is to do a weights or gym session, or swim, or Pilates…on the days you do not run.
3. Muscular Endurance Fitness
Looks similar to above but it is very different, it is where your muscles are resisting continually for quite a long time, so building muscle as well as endurance. This builds the muscle in a different way and often builds a leaner muscle. Muscular endurance activities like cross country running (where there is lots of resistance whilst you are running), long distance running (over 2 hours) where the muscles are always recruiting to keep you upright and still running, boxing, where the arms are held high for a long period of time etc., rowing machines and steppers for longer periods also are good for muscular endurance. Muscular endurance fitness is good for reducing the risk of cardio vascular disease, diabetes, and obesity related conditions
Running- as mentioned cross country running is ideal for muscular endurance; your muscles are always working due to the various terrains and undulations. Also long distance running, especially half marathon and marathon running.
I know runners cringe when they hear this word, but it doesn’t just mean being able to touch your toes or wrap your legs around your head! Flexibility refers to just being able to go thorough daily life, moving freely and not be in pain. Ideally we want every joint in our body to perform the FROM (Full Range of Movement), and flexibility allows that. To be able to get in and out of the car without pain, go up and down steps, get out of bed etc, once we have trouble doing those things or experience pain doing them, then it is time to look at working on your flexibility. Stretching after sporting activities, yoga and Pilates or exercise in water are all really good at improving flexibility
Running- Running does cause muscles and tendons to shorten and tighten, especially through the hips and legs. Ideally you should stretch after each run for at least 10 mins, you should also look at not running every day to give the muscle and joints a chance to recover, and fitting in one yoga or Pilates session would be ideal
5. Body Composition
Ok, your thinking , if I do the four above, then I shouldn’t have to worry about this one, it should be ok after all that exercise….sorry, but not always true. Body composition refers to the make up of your body...your body is made up of bone, muscle, blood (and fluids) and yes it has fat as well. Fat is vital and needed, a low body fat can be just as dangerous as a high body fat, so all we need to be in the recommended range, and yes all the above fitness activities do help that.
However, it is still true that we are what we eat, so high fat foods, greasy takeaways and lots of sugar and alcohol are not good for our body compositions. Not all fat people drop dead of heart attacks, or have high cholesterol or high blood pressure and diabetes…in fact I know lots of active, fit people who suffer from some of those diseases
It is no good following the first 4 and thinking everything is ok, body composition and what is going on inside doesn’t always match what is going on the outside and how you may look or what size clothing you fit into
That is why it is so important to have annual health checks, go to the doctor, get your blood pressure checked, and make sure you know what your cholesterol levels are.
If you are starting a fitness program, make sure you know the base you are at, and have it measured along the way (ideally every 3 months). Body fat scales are good for this, because if you are exercising to lose weight or reduce your body fat levels, then you need to know that all the work you are doing is correct, often with body compositions it just increasing your exercise and cutting out some bad food selections from your diet.
Running- most runners are very fit and running is the best form of fitness activity you can do, however it doesn’t mean you can eat, drink and never have to worry about your health again if you are a lifetime runner. Diet is very important in running; you need the right mix of nutrients to keep your body running, and of course the correct fluid intake. Many runners tell me about times that they feel flat with their running or not improving or struggling and often it’s more about what they are eating and how they are fuelling their runner’s bodies. So eat healthily!
I know, now you are thinking of all the things you are doing or not doing and how to fit all of the above in. But don’t stress it, its no good being fit and healthy physically and then dropping dead of stress!
Ok you run three or four times a week, that is fantastic…however to make sure you are getting the most out of your running and improving your health; make one run a short speed session, make one your long easy run, make one on a tougher course (hilly or cross country) and one , what I call and uncomfortable run, meaning it is about 7-10km in distance and your are pushing it, always trying for a PB; on the days you don’t run do some other cross training activity, like cycling or swimming; stretch after each run , don’t run everyday, and if you feel you need help with your flexibility, do a yoga or Pilates class once a week or fortnight. Eat well, and make sure you have annual health checks….there , all 5 steps covered , Its easy!