If you spend any time working out at the gym or at home, you know there are three basic elements of fitness: stretching, cardiovascular exercise, and resistance training.
Stretching is designed to develop and maintain mobility and flexibility so that we can mode fluidly. Stretching the upper body helps with posture, which in turn helps with breathing, which in turn helps with energy. Cardiovascular exercise improves the circulatory and respiratory systems by making them more efficient. Aerobic exercises like running, biking, and swimming increase blood flow and oxygenation. Resistance training involves pulling and pushing weight in a biomechanically sound fashion which builds strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of muscles.
The first point to make is that these elements are not mutually exclusive. They are by their very nature interrelated, and you can’t do one without the other.
The second point to make is that we only have so much time in a day to exercise, so we’re often eager to get the most out of our workouts, especially if we’re looking to see a change in our body composition and appearance. The problem is it’s not just about working hard–it’s also about working smart.
Overtraining is an enormous problem in the fitness world. Related to other addiction behaviors, overtraining occurs when we fail to approach exercise with a holistic, playful, exploratory mindset attuned to what our body needs, and instead approach physical activity with obsessiveness and insecurity.
On the flip side, the same kind of obsessiveness and insecurity can actually keep people from working out at all. They don’t want to be seen at the gym and compared to other, fitter individuals. Or their obsessions and addictions to other behaviors prevent them from putting aside time.
For individuals on both ends of the spectrum, the greatest challenge and the greatest necessity is to find an engaging, substantive, meaningful, enjoyable way to train. Meeting this challenge means developing a deeper understanding of the anatomy and physiology at plan in breathing, in heart rate, and in muscle movement.
Most importantly, it means developing a crucial respect for the body’s need to rest and recover. When we work out, we’re essentially tearing our bodies down. They need time to rejuvenate and build back up before our next session. And recovery isn’t just about skipping the gym for day. It means eating nutritious and staying hydrated during the day, and getting quality sleep at night.
The three elements of resistance training are frequency (how many times you do an exercise), duration (the amount of time you draw that exercise out), and intensity (how hard you work during that exercise). Until you understand your own body’s relationship with these elements, until you have a higher consciousness and awareness of the systems at work inside yourself, you’ll always be slave to numbers like weight and reps, numbers that are a poor replacement for true understanding, for the ability to design and redesign your own program each and every time, utilizing cross training to kill two birds with one stone and avoid injury, keeping things fresh, fun, and effective.