On Improving Weaknesses (Not Polishing Strengths)
Too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing.
Playing to our strengths is a natural inclination.
Sometimes in life this can be a positive thing. We can take advantage of our natural aptitudes whether at work or play to excel at things that we are good at. Plus, it’s true that we also tend to enjoy doing the things we are good at, one feeling supporting the other.
However, the downside of playing to our strengths - is that it’s very easy to ignore our weaknesses; and when it comes to thinking about our fitness this can really be a problem.
That’s because the vast majority of us aren’t professional athletes. We aren’t competitive bodybuilders. We don’t require an utter devotion to one type of physical attribute to the detriment of others. We need balance, in our body, training, in our life.
Components of Fitness
Restricting ourselves for the moment to consider just our physical fitness we can identify a number of different components of that fitness. Different definitions exist, but a commonly used list is drawn from research carried out in the 90s (Tancred 1995 - *1), and is as follows:
· Strength - the extent to which muscles can exert force by contracting against resistance (e.g. holding or restraining an object or person)
· Power - the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movements. The two components of power are strength and speed. (e.g. jumping/plyometrics)
· Agility - the ability to perform a series of explosive power movements in rapid succession in opposing directions (e.g. zigzag running)
· Balance - the ability to control the body's position, either stationary or while moving (e.g. a yoga balance)
· Flexibility - the ability to achieve an extended range of motion without being impeded by excess tissue, i.e. fat or muscle (e.g. touching one’s toes)
· Local Muscle Endurance - a single muscle's ability to perform sustained work (e.g. rowing or cycling)
· Cardiovascular Endurance - the heart's ability to deliver blood to working muscles and their ability to use it (e.g. endurance events)
· Strength Endurance - a muscle's ability to perform a maximum contraction time after time (e.g. lifting a weight with high repetitions)
· Co-ordination- the ability to integrate the above listed components so that effective movements are achieved.
Fit for Life - Balance leads to Sustainable Health
I’m sure most people studying this list will identify areas that they are a little stronger with, and areas that they are weaker at. That’s natural.
But. If our goal is to become fitter for life, not to compete as a high jumper (all about the power) or work as a limbo dancer (focus on the flexibility) we need to be giving attention somehow to all of these aspects of our fitness.
It’s by bringing attention to all of these we will become balanced and well-rounded in our fitness, and it’s that type of fitness that leads to long-term sustainable health.
Giving too much focus on any one of these aspects is going to throw the body out of balance. Too much even of a good thing can be a problem.
Flexibility is great, and many people need to work on stretching and mobilising for their health. But, the people who are naturally very flexible, maybe even hypermobile, stretching and stretching isn’t going to be healthy in the long term.
In fact studies (*2) have shown an increase in hip problems in women practising certain types of intense yoga and aerobics, without also working on corresponding strength exercises.
As Doctor Taunton at the Mayo Clinic observes “gentle yoga helps the hips, but excess bending can become too much of a good thing.”
Anecdotally. I personally know a number of senior martial arts teachers, who spent hours and hours in the youth practising techniques on their knees without suitable warm-ups and protective exercises. Now the number of knee and hip replacements is both telling and distressing.
Time for Introspection
I don’t want to scare you away from your favourite activity! You must keep doing the things that you enjoy which are good for your fitness. This is so important for overall health and well-being!
But. Perhaps take the time to a little critical introspection. Think about the areas of your fitness that perhaps you neglect a little. Try to add in some extra activities that work those areas. Speak to a fitness professional and get some support and advice.
You may even find that widening your fitness portfolio adds more fun and more interest to your training. I think you'll also find that the different types of training support and complement each other, leading to an all-round, overall, fitter and healthier you.
(*1) TANCRED, B. (1995) Key Methods of Sports Conditioning. Athletics Coach, 29 (2)