The Body Beautiful: Part II of II(Continued from Part I of II)
Most people have fitness goals. Few people reach them. On the occasion that one does actually achieve a fitness goal, it has usually been replaced by grander and more far-reaching goals. This is the nature of growth, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, remembering to congratulate yourself along the way is very important.
Basic maintenance of the human frame is relatively simple. Health needs must be met, of course. These include, but are not limited to, substances, conditions, forces, and influences such as:
- Sufficient daylight and sunlight
- Adequate fresh, clean air
- Maintenance and continual reinstatement of emotional poise
- Clean, pure water
- A generous portion of high-quality rest and sleep
- Appropriate food choices
- Consistent doses of invigorating physical activity
In this article, we will address only the last of these elements of health: physical activity. Maintaining the body of your dreams is really a lifetime endeavor, as:
- You will always want to make minor improvements once the major work is done.
- The meter keeps running. That is, you keep getting older. While aging, per se, does not cause you to lose fitness, it does often make it more difficult to find friends to play with. Once you arrive at the body beautiful, there is plenty to do, simply to attempt to stop the clock and maintain your position.
- Life has a way of inflicting itself upon us with myriad injuries, setbacks, distractions, interruptions, dings, and other priorities that challenge us in keeping to our plan.
- You wouldn't want to achieve a dream body and then lose it. The whole point of obtaining your dream body is to keep it for a lifetime.
- As you age, your idea of a perfect body will change. This ever-changing perspective will definitely make maintaining your dream body a lifetime pursuit.
- Along the way, you may realize that the perfect body is just a meager exterior facade and that your truly most valuable possession is that of optimal health.
Still, rising to the challenge of maintaining a healthy and impressive physique is a task that most, if not all of us could take on. What stands between us and the body of our dreams is often a lack of understanding of the principles involved. For physical maintenance, these two considerations are worthy of serious attention:
- Knowing the difference between maintenance activities and growth/development activities.
- Understanding the various aspects of your fitness well enough to prevent some of them from slipping away prematurely.
Maintenance versus Growth
Positive physical adaptations arise when the body is presented with feasible physical challenges. If the challenges imposed are well within the body's ability to handle, then no physical changes will take place, and at best you will maintain but not develop that aspect of your fitness. Conversely, if the challenges are too great and therefore unreasonable, you will typically lose technique and injure yourself. Only those activities that are appropriately challenging—that place a realistic and reachable demand upon the body's abilities—result in growth and development.
The Facets of Fitness
A comprehensive training program has several components. All of them are necessary for optimal physical development, no one more important than another. These include 1) flexibility, 2) strength, 3) endurance, 4) neuromuscular skills, and 5) cardiovascular activities. For certain sports activities, you may choose to focus on specific aspects of training and place less attention on others, but all of the facets of fitness must be addressed to reach our fullest fitness potential. After all, your fitness can only be as good as its weakest link.
As much as we would like to separate them from each other—putting our attention at the moment on, for instance, speed, and later putting it on strength—all of the facets of fitness interrelate. And many human activities involve more than one, or even all five of them. Balance is almost always at play to some degree. And all movement requires some amount of muscular strength, even if only to overcome the resistance of friction and gravity.
Let's take a look at each component of fitness:
- Flexibility: The old saying that you are as old as you are flexible has a great deal of truth in it. People who are rigid in their ideas are often equally as inflexible physically. Flexibility training is quite rewarding, too, as progress is often quite dramatic. Stretching should be done toward the end of a training session, once you are fully warmed and limbered up. There are many methods of stretching—static and ultraslow being the most risk-free.
- Strength: Developing muscular strength is an important training tool for keeping muscles and bones strong. No supplements will strengthen bones; they develop along with the musculature. Strong arms and legs help to keep you from overloading your back, as well.
- Endurance: Muscular endurance is developed when we repeat an action that requires little strength, in an ongoing fashion. Bicycle riding, swimming, and running are examples of muscular endurance activities, as are painting the ceiling, carrying groceries, and holding a half-squat position. Every aspect of training is specific, so having good muscular endurance as a runner does not help you develop the muscular endurance required by a swimmer, as different primary muscles are used.
- Neuromuscular skills: Neuro skills are perhaps the most interesting to develop. Balance, agility, coordination, proprioception, (the ability to sense movement and posture of the body) and kinesthetic awareness (the ability to sense position of the body) are all neuro skills. These develop with the same type of training technique as all other aspects of fitness: specific overload coupled with adequate recovery. They are often more interesting to perform, because the mind-body connection is so brightly highlighted, and body awareness is significantly enhanced when performing them. For many people, this also makes the development of neuro skills tremendous fun. Circus performers often have highly developed neuro skills. Juggling, tightrope walking, acrobatics, and mime are practical examples of neuro skills.
- Cardiovascular training: Cardio training requires the uptake, delivery, and utilization of oxygen, and hence is often referred to as aerobic activity. Certainly, it gets you breathing, but in a specific, sustained fashion. Anaerobic activities, which can all be done while holding the breath, will also get you breathing. They are so difficult to perform that you cannot sustain them for very long because of the severe oxygen debt you develop. Hence they are done in spurts. Rowing, skating, and cross-country skiing, as well as running, swimming, and cycling are considered classic cardiovascular activities.
Strength activities are usually done at very low repetitions using the heaviest weight that can be safely lifted four to eight times, sometimes even fewer. Strength activities do not necessarily require the use of weights. Your own body weight is often quite sufficient to challenge your strength, depending upon the position it is in. Most people cannot do pull-ups, for example.
Here are a few examples of simple strength builders that require no weights. Try going downstairs, slowly, two at a time. Just before you touch the step, try to halt your momentum, or even reverse it and step back up. From a push-up position, try walking your hands forward, until you are fully outstretched, and back. Or, sit on the floor, legs outstretched. With hands between the knees, can you push the floor with your hands in order to raise your feet and calves off of the floor? If you can, try it with your hands closer to your feet. As you move your hands progressively closer to your feet, the movement will require increasingly more strength.
Overlap often occurs between activities, and one activity may be appropriate for meeting many fitness needs. Running, for example, develops both cardiovascular and specific muscular endurance abilities. Depending upon the type of running, it may also require and develop strength (on steep hills, explosive starts, and changes of direction) and neuro skills (moving around a specified course, following a ball, or responding to the movements of other people). Most dedicated runners recognize the need to do separate flexibility training, as running does not address that aspect of fitness.
Include all five aspects of physical development in your training in order to ensure that your approach to fitness is well rounded, interesting, and varied. Keep strengthening the weakest links of your program for the most return from the least effort. Pay attention to the details of your physical development, but remember that the big pictures in life are also important.