Ed. note: Jon Ingram in Geneva is writing our newest blog, on fitness issues.
The 1970s saw a revolution in the world of fitness – the introduction of aerobics. Led by Dr Kenneth Cooper, a former Air Force Colonel from Oklohoma, physical fitness was first thrust into the mainstream conscious.
Cooper published several books such as Aerobics (1968), Run For Your Life: Aerobic Conditioning For Your Heart (1974) and The New Aerobics (1979). Jogging became the new craze and improving the cardiovascular system was the pathway to a life of health and vitality.
Fast forward 40 years and not too much has changed. Cardiovascular training still dominates the fitness world. Jogging remains the number 1 fitness activity for most people and the ultimate test of fitness is entering a marathon or triathlon.
Personally I have no problem with running or entering marathons, but the truth is that aerobic training is a very narrow measure of fitness. Think about the attributes that we ascribe to modern day athletes who are very fit, for example strength, speed, agility or power. If we consider those athletes to be fit, wouldn’t we also want to develop those attributes?
What about if we compare a marathon runner to a sprinter? Who is the fitter athlete? A sprinter needs to be strong, powerful, mobile and agile but endurance is low on the list of priorities. A marathon runner, on the other hand is extremely weak compared to a sprinter, but has far more stamina.
Both athletes are extremely fit as per the demands of their sport. However, the lesson for the fitness enthusiast is that if you want to get in shape, you must develop more than just cardiovascular endurance. This means adding more modalities to your training than simply jogging.
For me, being fit means being able to do a multitude of tasks at a good level. I want to be able to sprint, climb, throw, pick up and carry heavy weights and compete in a variety of different sports. For some, it might mean being able to pick up the kids and play with them in the garden for 30 minutes. If we break that down, it means developing strength (picking up the kids), endurance (playing for half an hour), mobility (crouching down into positions level with the kids) and agility (chasing kids around the garden). Jogging might help with the endurance side of things (although playing with kids would be more of a stop-start activity than steady state like going for a run) but will do little for strength, mobility and agility.
The message here is that getting fit means developing and practicing a multitude of different skills. Aerobic training like swimming, jogging and biking is a part of that, but a bigger part is resistance training, flexibility work, gymnastics.
The easiest way to incorporate some resistance training into your workout routine is with calisthenics. Squats, push ups, pull ups, planks, lunges and burpees are all fantastic exercises that can help to develop strength and mobility. You don’t need any equipment and these can all be done outside in a local park.
The benefits of such training are myriad, from improved fat loss, increased strength and bone density to better posture. Simply put, if you are not doing some kind of resistance exercise in your current routine then you are missing out on a huge part of the fitness puzzle, so get out there and start doing some squats!