In our last blog "Top 5 Tips for a Healthier New Year", we discussed five ways you can improve your health for the new year, in this blog we want to talk about five ways you can transform your fitness, or at least increase it if you're already very fit. The amount of progress you'll see in increasing your fitness obviously depends on how fit you are already, however there's always some progress to be made.
First let's quickly breakdown the main components of fitness so we can understand how you can improve in the areas that matter to you.
This is the body's ability to create muscular movement through the supply of Oxygen to the muscular system. This involves several physiological components: the heart, the lungs, the blood and the arteries and veins that carry the blood. In order to have good cardiovascular (CV) fitness, you need the entire CV system to be working efficiently. All exercise involves the CV system to some extent or another, however the cardiovascular system will tune its efficiency for the demands that are put on it.
This is the ability for your voluntary muscles to perform repeated contractions against resistance over time. There are several factors that affect how well this can happen. Your genetic make-up will be the biggest factor in muscular endurance, this is due to your genetic ratio of muscle fibre types. If you have a greater proportion of slow twitch fibres, you'll naturally be better at sustained low-resistance exercise, such as long distance running. If you have a higher proportion of fast twitch fibres, you'll naturally be better at higher power, shorter duration exercise, such as weight lifting. This doesn't mean to say you can't change your ratio through training, but it just means you're naturally suited to one type of exercise more than the other. Interestingly muscular strength also plays a role in muscular endurance. Stronger muscles will work more efficiently and require less Oxygen for function, thus improving endurance.
Is simply the maximum force that your muscles can exert against resistance. This depends on several factors, such as the total amount of muscle you have, the type of muscle fibres, the ability of your central nervous system to activate these muscle fibres cohesively, the efficiency of the individual muscles and your general anatomy (limb lengths, bone density, joint health and connective tissue strength). Strength also needs to be applied over time, so it's also linked to your muscular endurance. Strength is generally tested by measuring your 1 maximum repetition (1RM) in a certain exercise (traditionally bench press for upper body and leg press for lower body). Again you can improve all of these factors with regular resistance training, generally the greater the resistance the greater the strength gains, but this is an over simplification.
The range of motion in a muscular system is determined by flexibility. Considering that a greater range of motion results in smoother, more efficient movements, it's easy to see why flexibility is one of the components of fitness. Muscles are less powerful at the ends of their range of motion (ROM), so by increasing flexibility you are increasing the capacity of your muscles to exert more force over a wider ROM. Greater flexibility also reduces the strain on muscles within their normal ROM, thus reducing the chance of injuries. Flexibility can also allow for movements that those with poor flexibility simply can't do, the classic leg splits is a good example of this.
This is your physiological make-up, such as your body-weight, height, body-fat percentage, skeletal morphology, muscle and connective tissue mass. Again this is heavily determined by genetics, but as with all components of fitness, it can be changed. To see how this affects your ability to perform certain exercises/sports just picture a sumo wrestler trying to run a marathon or a marathon runner trying to wrestle a sumo wrestler!
How to Transform Your Fitness
To transform your fitness, you need to push your body into change, this means thinking outside the box and trying things that you haven't tried before here's five tips to get you started:
1. Reassess Your Goals
Sometimes we can easily lose sight of our goals, particularly if it's been a while since you set them. Reassessing your goals can be a powerful motivator, as it gives you the chance to review what's working and what's not, plus you can tune your goals to really focus on what's important to you.
Taking the time to set SMART goals will really help and it will make you far more likely to succeed. For more information on how to set SMART goals, check out our blog article on "how to achieve your goals".
When you look at your goals, think back to why you set those goals in the first place. Look at how far you've progressed since you first set your goals, this will be very empowering, especially if you've tracked your progress properly.
It's also a good chance to write down your goals, if you haven't done so already and set some new exciting targets, maybe something competitive with either friends or some type of local competition. It's also a good time to go over the next four points below, to optimise your fitness.
2. Train a New Component of Fitness
Often we get so wrapped up in our particular fitness training that we forget to try improving other areas. We discussed the main components of fitness above. All too often people training with weights will only focus on strength or size and completely forget muscular endurance, flexibility and cardio conditioning. The same for endurance athletes who spend all of their training time doing cardio, at the expense of improved flexibility and strength.
Most of us assume that each element of fitness is functionally exclusive from the rest. This isn't true and you could be missing out on significant gains if you start to develop a new fitness component that you're currently neglecting. This works, because each of the components of fitness support the others, in certain ways.
For example, if you are trying to increase your maximum squat and you aren't actively training your glute, hamstring, calf and ankle flexibility, then your posture in the lift is likely to be less than optimum. This will inhibit your ability to lift as much as you'd like. This will have a knock-on effect when you want to increase your muscle mass, as less effective squats will mean a lower training load and therefore lower training effect overall.
There's a reason why professional athletes are very fit in all components of fitness, not just those directly relating to their sport or activity, because it works!
3. Reward Yourself More Often
Seeing your progress when you review your goals is motivating, but not as motivating as a nice treat! Again this is one of the magical elements of goal setting. If you break down your goals into smaller targets and then link these to individual rewards, you'll start to get excited to hit your targets.
The rewards can be small, such as going out for dinner or treating yourself to a special culinary treat. Or you could lure yourself with the promise of a new shopping trip, or an exciting new purchase.
However you do it, adding treats into your fitness plan will have a more positive effect on your fitness progress than just the satisfaction of achieving your goals.
Some people share mutual goals with their partners or training partners and when they both hit their targets they treat themselves together. This team effort can also be pretty empowering.
4. Try a New Sport
The same routine every week can become stagnant. Even if you're progressing and achieving your goals, the fun may start to disappear from your training and eventually your motivation will reduce. Trying a completely new sport or activity can boost your fitness and motivation on many levels.
Firstly, you'll start working completely new muscle groups or the same muscle groups in a different way. Secondly, as you'll be focusing on learning the new skill elements of the sport, you won't be so focused on the training effect, you'll end up working out harder as you'll be less accustomed to the new movements the sport requires.
Focusing on a new sport can help to reduce over-training, as you'll be likely to divert time from existing exercises or activities into the new sport. This will naturally result in less repetitive stress by changing your normal fitness activities and movements.
Also the new sport will give you new reasons to focus on training in different ways, or perform new exercises. The chances are you'll also meet new people, who may help motivate you to train harder, or better.
5. Go Back to Basics
As our fitness improves we often start working on new skills and ways of making improvements to our performance that we focus less on the fundamentals. Going back to the basic pillars of your sport or activity can enhance your fitness as you'll be performing them with more skill than when you started. This can have a motivating effect, it can also help you to advance as the more progressive skills in any sport or skill are based on the fundamentals.
Boxers do this quite often. They may have thrown millions of punches in their career, but they'll spend time going back over the basic punches, checking and sharpening their technique. This helps to refocus the mind and strengthen the neuro-muscular connection.
Going back to basics can also be another way of reducing the training load on your body, whilst still training. This can give you dynamic rest as you'll be doing things that your body is very skilled in and which don't place a lot of stress on your body.
Finally, performing the basics can help you appreciate the more advanced elements of your training and give you a new thirst for training.
A final bonus tip is to treat yourself to some new fitness equipment! Investing in new equipment helps you to commit to your goals and also gives you the feeling that you're treating yourself. Why not have a little look through our clearance section to see if you can find a bargain for yourself? Click on the below banner to have a browse: