With a whole universe of fitness systems and ways to exercise, it can be quite tricky to understand if what you are doing will lead to long term health.
Often, the way we move comes down to what we find the most enjoyable and this is a huge part of staying at something long term.
What doesn’t help is we live in an insta-filled era where quick results are promised and quick results are demanded.
On the flipside, it's not just about how long we spend on planet earth either.
It’s all well and good living until 85-90 but if your hips or back give out much earlier than that, then this has clearly had an effect on how much you could truly enjoy your time here.
One of my biggest fears is not being mobile or healthy enough later in life to enjoy my son and his family.
Ok, he’s two years old, long way to go, I get it!
The problem is we only do something about it when we're in the shit. More often than not, we could have prevented immobility, poor health and movement.
So if we are in this for the long term and not just a 21-day burpee fest, what’s the answer?
“People only say mind your head after you’ve bashed it!” - Lee Evans
People want to hit the treadmill when they have weight to lose.
People want to learn exercises to manage back pain when they already have back pain.
People look for diets when they’ve been eating crap.
Truth is, if we took a long term view of our health and wellness, we can avoid these issues in the first place.
So what is the answer?
The hierarchy of long term health and fitness
The Crossfit way of thinking is the best way for creating all round, long term health and fitness.
(By the way, I’m not promoting Crossfit here…just the mindset of a cross fitter!)
Crossfit defines itself as "constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains”.
What that essentially means is that we don’t stick to one form of exercise. We mix things up across multiple methods of working out (gymnastics, cardio, weights), in different ways (longer aerobic or shorter sprints) with a focus on whole body movements.
There is a hierarchy to health and wellness that is in the Crossfit community but I’ve tailored it slightly and all of these areas play a role in long term health.
Let’s talk through each of these, why they’re important and the knock on effect.
Nothing happens without the head being onboard. It’s the foundation for everything we do.
At a simple level, it’s in our mind that the choice is made to exercise or not, to eat well or tuck into the sourdough pepperoni pizza and IPA…sorry, got ahead of myself there!
Far more complex though is controlling our emotions, controlling our thoughts and the chimp that runs amok inside our heads.
Constant negative thinking can spiral out of control and ripple through all areas of your life, not just exercise. If we don’t get a grip of it, it can be devastating.
Which is why mindset is the foundation of everything. We can’t thrive without a positive mindset.
A big topic in the fitness world is nutrition.
There are so many diet plans, ways of eating, theories around health benefits of keto, paleo, low carb-high carb that it can be confusing.
There’s no hiding from the fact that nutrition is the next foundational layer. If we get this right, we supply our body with the right nutrients to not only grow but to function too.
Our internal, hormonal universe is largely effected by what we eat and drink.
A good example is a high sugar intake which can lead to our insulin levels rising and crashing dramatically, which effects our energy levels. At worst, it can make us diabetic by numbing the insulin receptors in our body.
That’s the power of nutrition.
Get it right though and our energy levels will remain constant, allowing us to tackle our day to day lives with everything we have, as well as allowing our bodies to grow and change positively.
Mobility / flexibility
The CrossFit hierarchy has this above Metabolic Conditioning but, for me, mobility and flexibility are pre requisites for movement. Metabolic conditioning can’t happen without movement.
We need the space for our joints and muscles to move well, be strong and be safeguarded against injury.
Which is why there needs to be a focus on this.
In my opinion, this is the least cared about area of fitness, maybe because it’s not as sexy as bench pressing. Stretching is usually a half assed 30 second quad stretch before we head home from a leg session.
Long healthy muscles can lead to increased strength and even help you look better since there’s more muscle to recruit.
Yoga and specific mobility drills need to be part of a training program to help maintain and improve our body's abilities to move and nullify the effects everyday life has on us, such as sitting at desks and in cars.
If we don’t apply any focus to this, we open ourselves up to injury and decreased range of motion later in life.
Do you wanna be the person with dodgy hips or still move freely like a young un’?
With a high range of motion, we can increase the intensity and push our body without injury.
Metabolic conditioning relates to our bodies ability to deal with work at varying lengths of time and this taxes different systems.
By varying the length of our workouts, we are ensuring that all our energy systems are being trained.
Our cells require a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to supply the energy that it needs. There are 3 energy systems our body relies on and each one is trained differently.
Phosphagen is responsible for supplying our body with quick energy meant for high intensity work such as sprints or heavy weight lifts.
Glycolytic takes over after around 10 seconds, to produce energy upto a few minutes. Think longer weight lifting sets or sprints. Like before, this system needs time to recover too, passing the baton over to...
Oxidative, for longer durations of work, such as cardio, 5ks etc.
By training across all three areas, we're training our body to work well in all scenarios.
With our ability to work to varying degrees of intensity, we can work to increase our strength.
Gymnastics, yoga and callisthenics uses our own weight to increase our strength. In doing so, the body is being taught to work as a whole. The muscles never work in isolation, they’re always working together so we’re creating efficient strength within the body.
This is important as a pre-cursor to lifting heavy weight.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen poor squatting in the gym because of poor mobility, flexibility or weakness in the chain of muscles being recruited which could have been fixed or prevented if we had worked on creating space and strength within the body first.
This is why increasing relative strength in the body is important before jumping straight into weights, which will only enhance the flaws in our movement.
Plus, handstands, pistols and arm balances are cool as hell!
With a good level of strength, we’re now ready to improve our absolute strength.
What that essentially means is our ability to handle external weight that exceeds our own bodyweight. Think compound bodybuilding (squats, deadlifts) as well as olympic lifts (cleans, snatches, push press).
By focusing on everything else that went before this area, we’ve created a solid foundation to be able to handle this weight with the least chance of injury.
We’re getting into a more sport specific area here but it’s the body’s ability to generate power as quickly as possible.
Exercises that are more power focused are quick and explosive in nature, like clapping push ups or jumping lunges.
Either way, we need the space, the strength and the balance in our posture to be able to generate the force through the body and into the movement.
A good training program doesn’t just focus on each of these in turn but factors in these areas alongside as a complete program.
This hierarchy of fitness will ensure that you are creating a body that is built for longevity and safeguard yourself from future issues that we simply link to “old age”, leading to a long, healthy and happy life.
Hope this helps!
In a bit.