Designing an exercise program can cover a lot of ground — trimming down and losing the “Quarantine 15,” helping your grandpa walk with less of a wobble, shaving 0.02 sec off an Olympic athlete’s 100-meter dash — and you can choose from an infinite variety of flexibility, mobility, strength, and power training options.
There are 3 final concepts to consider before designing your own “how to,” to make your program more manageable, personalized, and successful:
- Health vs. Fitness
- Necessary vs. Sufficient
Health vs. Fitness
I recommend that my patients start with exercising for health, which is different from exercising for fitness. This is the most important distinction to appreciate, because while you can do the same exercises when training for health or fitness, the goal makes a big difference in how to perform them.
Health implies a length and breadth of effort. You should be able to perform health exercises into your 90s (with modifications) and doing them should up your odds of making it into your 90s.
They should prevent or reverse common medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cognitive impairment, and sarcopenia — the muscle shrinkage that accelerates after the 4th decade.
If you can no longer do intense activities like martial arts or tennis, you should still have an exercise regimen that optimizes your daily life activities. You were a healthy human before you took up sporty activities, and appropriate exercise should keep you healthy if you need to set them aside. Health goals are primarily internal: you strive to be better than you were yesterday, so increases tend to be appropriate to your current level of ability (less risk of injury).
Fitness implies a specific target activity. Exercising for fitness, you are training to meet a particular standard: running faster than the clock or the other guy, or having a particular size to your lats for intimidation or esthetics. Success with fitness is about how well you hit your targets.
This distinction is important because exercising for fitness mandates an external goal focus: faster than someone else chasing you, pecs or biceps bigger than a certain diameter. The further off from these targets you are, the more challenging and risky the training regimen; you tend to find out the hard way (injury) that the goal doesn’t fit your physiology.
The health/fitness distinction is also important because you can absolutely be fit while driving yourself into the grave. An obvious example is training for pure muscular strength: common programs involve lifting heavy weights while eating without restrictions (often while using anabolic steroids). You can get as big as a refrigerator and pull an airplane with your teeth, but doing so is not conducive to a long and pain-free life. Pursuers of mutually exclusive goals should know this.
So Question #1 is Are you training for life, or are you training for an activity?
Necessary vs. Sufficient
Next is that concept from philosophy class: necessary vs. sufficient. They both signify something important over here, but with a key difference. Necessary means that you must have it but that it may not be enough by itself; sufficient means it’s enough but may be more than you need. If you must drive cross-country, tires are NECESSARY, even though you need more than just tires. A cherry red Ferrari is definitely SUFFICIENT for the road trip, but you could make do with a Toyota.
Question number 2, then, is What are your must-have outcomes? Strengthening your ligaments so they won’t tear when you resume your sport? Lowering your blood pressure 20 points? Halting and reversing weight gain? Golf, tennis, jiu-jitsu, and yoga may be sufficient to attain all of those, but that’s an awful lot of running around. What do you NEED?
Less bandwidth = more groaning
The third key concept is bandwidth, which is often equated to time management, but for our purposes is more about effort.
The exercise proposition is usually described thusly:
- your sport, strength, cardio, and mobility training options are infinite
- your time and energy are not
Therefore, you need to be choosy if you’re going to get the results you need.
[Before giving up too much to the casino, keep in mind there’s another option: you can set aside more time and energy for your exercise training. As I covered in the last post and the one before it, if your life is so hectic that you only have enough bandwidth to do 8 minutes of puke-inducing burpees twice a week, I submit that you need to reprioritize your hectic life.]
So finally, Question #3: How much are you willing to dial-in a supportive lifestyle? If health is your focus, then the more you can optimize the other 5 keystones of ancestral wellness, the fewer problems your exercise regimen will need to correct. Ditto, if your focus is fitness.
Or in more relatable terms, the more messed up the other areas of your life — professional, personal/social, nutritional choices, sleep and recovery, inner work, and connection to nature and the diurnal signals — the more intense your exercise will need to be.
Ye must answer me/These questions three
You should answer these 3 questions, to shape your exercise program:
- Are you training for life, or are you training for an activity?
- What are your must-have outcomes?
- How much are you willing to dial-in a supportive lifestyle?
Next time: creating specific exercise plans.
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