A lot of people want to just ‘get fit’ or be a ‘bit fitter’, and that’s great. Other people are looking to ‘lose weight’ or ‘tone up’, again being clear on what you mean will help you in your training. But what do those really mean? There are lots of different component to ‘fitness’ – strength, endurance, power, agility, flexibility, etc, etc.
What do you mean by fit?
So the important questions to ask yourself are: What do you want to be able to do or achieve? What do you mean by fit? Are there particular parts of the body you want to tone up? How much weight do you want to lose? When you are clear on those, you can start to focus on what activity and training is going to help you get there. These will also shape your goal to measure progress and success against. Similarly if you are training for a particular sport or event you need to make sure that the training you are doing is helping you achieve that goal, and not counter productive!
Make you training specific to your goals
In short specificity of training is important – what that mean is that you need to understand the demands of the sport , event or challenge you are training for and ensure that the training you do is the most effective to prepare you for the physical demands you are going to face. If your goal is weight loss or toning this is still important, but the focus is then on what activities and exercise will be most effective in burning fat and target the areas you want to work on.
To illustrate this, think about Ussain Bolt and Mo Farrah. They both run, but the demands of their respective events are very different. A sprinter is all about delivering maximum speed and power over a short distance. So training will be all about building the strength to deliver that explosive bursts, moving at high speed and sustaining that over the short distance required. A long distance runner needs much greater endurance at a slower pace, plus the ability to generate a sprint finish or speed lap at the end of the race. So their training will include a lot of distance running. It will also include strength training and sprint training but that will be longer sprint intervals and developing the strength for endurance and delivering the speed needed late in the race.
Even if you are not training for a particular activity, challenge or personal goal knowing what you want to focus on will help shape your training. That could mean changing the focus of your training each week or month, or having a weekly routine that challenges and develops different elements of your fitness in each session.
So what are the demands of you sport or the challenge you are taking on?
Quite simply what activity does it involve? Is it endurance based like a cycle ride or half marathon? Is it power based requiring explosive movements? Then you need to train your body for the demands of the activity. And that mean training both the main muscle groups for the activity as well as ensuring you train the energy systems you’ll use in the activity.
For example if you look at sports like netball or football, it isn’t just 60 or 90 minutes or constant activity. Realistically these are actually more like a series of short intense bursts of activity and breaks in play or more gentle activity – then length of the bursts of activity would depend on the position the player is playing in. So, while a steady run would give you endurance for the duration of the game, interval training better replicates and trains you for the demands of the sport – why not try some HIIT sessions.
Alternatively, think about increasingly popular ‘tough mudder’ type obstacle races / challenges. These are endurance events with a 5km, 10km or more run, with a variety of strength sapping obstacles throw in along the route. So steady paced runs will be great for the distance to be covered, but you’d be wise to include some strength training to give you the upper body strength to get over walls, the leg strength to wade through mud, or whatever evils the organisers choose to throw at you.
For purely endurance events increasing the duration of your activity could eat up a lot of time and won’t necessarily guarantee success or improve your time. If you were going to do a cycling challenge, then spending some time off the bike doing strength work on your legs would help enormously, particularly if you are heading off on a hilly route. Also including a regular weights session will bring quicker strength gains in your legs than trying to do this on the bike.
Most distance runners will include some speed intervals in their training. Although they need to be able to run at a reasonably steady pace over a long distance, if you only train at a steady pace you won’t actually get any quicker! By adding intervals at a faster pace the runner is getting their body used to a hard pace and over time will be able to sustain a faster pace over the distance than before.
What other training would benefit you?
Cross training does have many benefits. It can allow other muscles and energy systems to recover and provides variety for your workouts, as well as complementing your specific training. Other areas to consider are working on include:
- Core muscle – these are important for most activities and sports as well as everyday activities, and maintaining good posture.
- Flexibility and mobility – all activities require this. You may already stretch after a good work out to maintain flexibility and help recovery. However, adding a flexibility session, yoga or Pilates to your fitness routine will help your performance and benefit you in everyday activities.
Are there activities that would be counter-productive?
Spending time training the wrong muscle groups or energy systems for your chosen activity will waste your time. You may also be spending time on things that could work against you.
For example if you do a sport that requires you to go hard and fast over a short duration, doing long steady paces training runs will develop the wrong energy systems and won’t prepare your muscles or the work you are going to ask them to do.