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We should all aim to be well fit. To be as fit and physically healthy as possible, allowing ourselves to work optimally and ward off a multitude of diseases and injuries.
Defining well fit
Obviously, there are different definitions, different ways in which to break the idea of ‘fitness’ down, but this definition suffices for our purposes today:
Very broadly speaking, there five components of physical fitness:
- cardiovascular endurance
- muscular endurance
- muscular strength
- body composition
Thinking of fitness in this way allows us to cover everything we all need to cover to make inroads into living a healthier, more active life.
You should try to work on all of them, if you can (though, obviously, we all have different goals and so will need to emphasise different facets at any one time). If you can work on them all, either simultaneously or a couple at a time, in rotation, you will have a very well-rounded, healthy level of fitness.
Though body composition will generally have more to do with your diet than what you do in the gym (mostly, though a mix of steady and intense cardio and good musculature from resistance training will also be needed), you can work on all the others in any gym or training setting. You can become well fit with the right venue.
Becoming well fit
We generally call your heart and lungs’ ability to supply oxygen to your muscles for protracted periods at an elevated rate your cardiovascular endurance. The better able your heart and lungs are able to do this, the better your cardiovascular endurance is.
Basically, if you can perform ‘cardio’ work – run, swim, cycle or in any other way keep up your heart rate – for an extended period, you will have decent cardiovascular endurance. Push yourself through longer periods, or slightly harder workloads, and you will be working your cardiovascular endurance.
You don’t want your heart rate to go too high for the most part – keep it below 85%, with the 60-70% range being a good aim. This will allow you to work for extended periods, over longer distances and time periods. Think of steady jogs, long walks and hikes, swimming for 20-30 minutes at a time.
You should also bring harder stimuli to strengthen your cardiovascular system. Think of HIIT classes, boxing, sprints, and so forth, to build up your heart strength and lung capacity.
Then we have muscular endurance, which obviously will go hand-in-hand with cardiovascular endurance. If your cardiovascular endurance is your heart and lungs’ ability to keep you going for long periods of time, muscular endurance is the same for your muscles – all fairly straightforward thus far.
Muscular endurance revolves around your muscles’ ability to perform lighter contractions for extended periods of time. This will be things like the strokes performed during swimming, or the work undertaken by your legs and core during a long run, or the full body effort that goes into boxing.
It can also refer to resistance work undertaken over high rep ranges. Think of compound work like squats, lunges, and jumps. Take these into the 20+ rep range and you’ll be working on muscular endurance.
Where muscular endurance represents your muscles’ ability to contract over longer periods of time, muscular strength is their ability to contract under heavy load for short durations.
Think of the heft and power you need to carry heavy things for short distances. Think of low rep, low duration, high effort work – squatting for sets of 5, benching your one rep max, working the heavy bag for brief periods of all-out intensity, sprinting lengths of the swimming pool.
This is muscular strength.
A good level of muscular strength makes everyday tasks both possible and, as you get stronger, more manageable. Your muscular and skeletal systems will also reap a large array of benefits, and your muscle mass should improve (hypertrophy: muscle growth).
Focus on heavy compounds in the gym. As above, go for squats and bench presses. Deadlifts, overhead presses, lunges, rows and so on will build up your muscular strength. Don’t overlook your core – layouts, planks, hanging leg raises and so on will be vital for building core strength, which in turn will be vital in developing full body strength.
For pure strength, aim at single figure reps. For hypertrophy, aim for the 8-14 rep range.
Flexibility and mobility
In the rush to improve various hard metrics – how much you can bench, how fast or far you can run, the ratio of your shoulders to hips, or chest circumference to waist – it’s all too common to overlook flexibility and mobility.
Don’t fall into this trap – if you want to be well fit, you need to look after your flexibility and mobility.
Keeping on top of them will improve your performance in any other athletic sphere as you are able to perform any actions demanded of you with proper, full range of motion. Good flexibility and mobility will also give you great posture, which has a wide range of benefits, and will keep you safe from injury in both the short and long term.
Flexibility is measured by any given joint’s ability to open to a full range of motion, supported externally. Mobility is kind of the same, but without external support, so that there is an element of strength to it. For flexibility, think of your ability to touch your toes. For mobility, think of your ability to raise one leg up in front, straight.
Dedicated disciplines like yoga work well, as do flexibility and mobility classes. Beyond this, make sure you work through a wide range of motion in each relevant joint before training – your hips, knees and ankles before squats, your shoulders before overhead pressing, and so on. Make sure you stretch properly and fully after each training session. Dedicate ten minutes a day to mobility and stretching work, even (especially!) on your rest days.
This will keep you truly, properly well fit in the long run.
Finally, we have body composition. This is the ratio of fat to lean mass – everything else, in simple terms, including things like bone, muscle, organs and so forth.
An accurate conception of your body composition will generally rely on accurately measuring your body fat. This can be easily measured using callipers or electrical impediment, and most gyms and personal trainers will be able to do this for you.
With this, you can then work out your fat to lean mass ratio.
For example, somebody who weighs 100 kilograms, with 25 kilograms of fat, will have 75 kilograms of lean mass. Their ration is 25: 75, or 1: 3 and a body fat composition of 25% (very much on the high side).
Ideally, men will have a body fat composition below 17%, whilst women will be below 24%.
Maintaining good musculature will be vital here (as this will both increase the lean mass side of the ratio and raise your metabolic rate, helping to burn fat). Cardio will be important too, as it will further help you to shift fat. However, most of the work will be done in the kitchen and dining room – keep to a good diet, with a caloric deficit if you need to lose weight, and you should be able to maintain healthy body composition.
In turn, you should be able to stay well fit.