The Five Pillars of Health - Movement
Movement and Exercise
Welcome back to our ongoing series on the Five Pillars of Health! As a quick refresher, we are covering the five things that you can control which have the biggest influence on your health.
The Five Pillars are:
Physical well-being and nervous system
Click here to go back to the Five Pillars introduction if you missed it.
Today we are covering the most fun pillar - movement. I could write pages upon pages on this topic, but I’ll try to keep it brief.
So much has been written, discussed, and argued online about what is the “best” workout program to promote health. Is it marathon training? Powerlifting? Yoga? Athletic training? Elliptical vs. treadmill vs. bike? Well, the answer to that question is “Yes!” I will outline a great reason why incorporating aspects of all these things is what will be best for health. First, there is some something I need to clarify. Don’t worry - there will not be a sales pitch for any workout book, supplement stack, or anything else in this post. Just principles you can use to make the best decision possible. Keep in mind that the fitness world is full of all kinds of crazy contraptions and “influencers” who need to peddle bogus information and silly products in order to make a living. Shake weight, anyone?
Here is our principle for making exercise and fitness simple:
Perform constantly varied functional movements at a relatively high intensity.
Boom. That’s it.
Here’s where most of the confusion is. We will define exercise as repetitive movements performed at an elevated heart rate with the intention of changing physiology and fitness. Oh, crap. Now we need to define fitness.
Fitness? That’s the ability to run 26.2 miles, right? Wait, no. It’s the ability to squat 700 pounds. Touch my toes? No, wait, it’s the ability to do 100 pull-ups!
Nope. We’re going more broad than that.
Fitness is the increased ability to perform work across broad time domains.
So, both lots of work in a short time (sprints) AND low intensity work over long times (hikes) are both expressions of our fitness!
Let’s break down that principle real quick. Keep in mind that this blog is pointed at those who are working towards the goal of increased health, not for people who are training for a specific athletic event. Your training should look different if you have the goal of competing in the NFL combine. That’s beyond the scope of this post.
How many times have you walked into a gym with nothing really planned and just ended up reading a magazine on the elliptical? Or how many of us have fallen into the old “Monday is chest day” routine? Yeah, I have too. When we have a set routine or small bundle of individual exercises we perform, our progress quickly plateaus and stops. It is better to switch things up every time you walk into the gym. So, maybe one day you focus on squatting movements. The next, pulling. The next, monostructural (what we think of as traditional “cardio”). Better yet, let’s blend all those together! Let’s do some squatting movement, and then do a pulling movement, and then row or run - all in the same session! Try to find new things you haven’t been working on or need improving on. Handstand walks? Sweet, practice those. Can’t touch your toes? No problem, let’s work on that today. Maybe some workouts take 5 minutes while others are closer to an hour (after a proper warm up, of course). You get the idea.
There are so many other websites, blogs, magazines, programs, trainers out there and each one has their own unique idea of what the best training methodology is. Almost everything I see on this topic always is missing key components of fitness and they tend to focus on just one thing, and it’s usually a sport. If we want to exercise in a way that promotes health, we cannot focus on just one aspect of fitness such as strength or agility. We need to incorporate every aspect in order to be well-rounded, healthy individuals. To the left is a handy-dandy chart of what the 10 key components of fitness are. Be sure you try to use at least several ones each time you work out, and hit them all each week!
No, I’m not talking about doing one-footed presses while standing on an exercise ball. It’s not “functional” and just plain dumb. Seriously, stop doing things like that (looking at you, personal trainers).
I want the things we do in the gym to be similar to things we do outside the gym. Things like getting off the couch, carrying groceries, chasing your kids, and picking up the laundry basket all have movements we can do in the gym that can recreate those conditions so we can be stronger and better at them (read: less likely to injure ourselves picking up the laundry detergent).
So, what kinds of things should we work on?
In short, DO THINGS THAT HUMANS DO! Spending hours doing biceps curls or calf raises isn’t going to get you any progress or health improvements. You’d be far better off working on pull-ups or jumping rope.
Relatively High Intensity.
If you can read a magazine while sitting on an exercise bike, you’re not working hard enough. Sorry to break it to you, but exercise should be intense.
The good news is that intensity is relative. Chances are that your high intensity, my high intensity, and an Olympian’s high intensity are all going to look very different. My maximum effort deadlift will be very different than you grandma’s, but that’s okay! The needs of an Olympian and the needs of your grandma are the same; they just vary in degree. Said another way: everyone should do some kind of functional movement but scaled appropriately based on their capacity and skill. As long as we are working hard, we will be seeing positive physiological adaptations. Don’t worry about what Joe Shmo over there is doing, just push yourself and challenge yourself to be better than you were yesterday and you will see progress.
Why does this matter?
Glad you asked! YES! Of course it does. Let’s all get on the same page real quick.
Imagine someone who is able to run a mile in about 8 minutes, can deadlift their body weight, do a few unassisted pull-ups, and run up the stairs to their third floor apartment without getting winded. Is this person relatively fit? Are they probably healthy? The answer to both of those questions is probably “yes.”
Now let’s imagine someone else. This person takes about 30 minutes to walk a mile and has to stop every few yards to take a breath. They have trouble lifting a milk jug, and need to take the stairs one at at time, panting along the way. Same questions: is this person fit? Is this person healthy? No. Does this person have an increased risk of suffering from chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease? Yep. Very much so.
So, fitness and health are directly related. The graphic below is one of my all-time favorite things ever.
Said another way, fitness can be a state of “super wellness.”
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my health, good enough is not ever good enough. I seek to optimize my well-being, and the continuum of health perfectly demonstrates how becoming more fit leads to better health outcomes.
This continuum of health is my why. This is what gets me out of bed and to the office at 7:00 am and keeps me coaching in the gym until 9:00 pm. As we improve our fitness, we are simultaneously improving our health. That’s amazing! I don’t need to really measure your cholesterol or HbA1c. I just need to know if you are lifting more weight, moving faster, and being overall more fit. Super cool.
So to wrap it up. As we become more fit we are
Stronger, better, more useful, and harder to kill human beings.
And I think that’s pretty darn cool.