After biological health, I would suspect fitness would be next on most people’s minds when asked about their health. I agree, it should be, but what many overlook is that by increasing the attention you pay to the areas that aren’t directly related to your biological health, you will drastically improve your biological health. Fitness, in the context of this article, is one of the 6 ways of measuring health. With that in mind, we should probably set some targets. My opinion of what a fit, healthy adult with no prevailing medical conditions should be able to achieve, are based on Greg Glassman’s definition of fitness as ‘increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains’. If we break this down, we should have the ability to perform work, in a wide variety of tasks, for all manner of time frames. Everything from a 6 hour walk carrying kit, down to moving a heavy sack 10 metres as quickly as possible, and endless permutations in between.
The tasks I would expect a healthy adult to be able to perform are:
Hike for 6 Hours with 15kg in a rucksack
Swim 200m without assistance
Squat with 1/0.75 times body weight (any iteration) for 10 repetitions without rest
Lift 1.5/1.25 times body weight from the floor to standing
Lift 1/0.75 times body weight from the floor to overhead
Run 10km under 60 minutes
Perform 10 pull-ups without letting go of the bar/beam
Perform 10 dips without stopping
Hold a plank for 2 minutes
Perform 15 burpees in one minute
Farmer’s carry 2x32/24kg weights for 100m without stopping
Climb a 20’ rope unaided
2 footed jump onto a 30” platform 10 times in succession
The assessments listed above are exactly that, assessments. They are not training methods in their own right and the stated standards are not indicative of form. This list may seem overwhelming to some, easy to others. For the majority of people, I suspect, there are some tasks which will be ok, others that would be a struggle. This gives a starting point as to which aspects of your fitness need the most work. Whilst in the initial years, there is a direct correlation between improvements in these assessments, and total health measured via biomarkers, it is worth noting that there comes a point where risk outweighs reward. As an example, increasing your deadlift from 1 times body weight to 1.5 times body weight will undoubtedly accompany general health improvements, whereas increasing it from 2.5 to 3 times body weight might increase the chance of injury to an unacceptable level, whilst improving overall health very little, if at all.
The tasks above indicate a well rounded level of fitness, that requires competence across various movements with all parts of the body working in harmony. These tasks demonstrate basic ability across all of the 10 Physical Skills, and comfortably cover all time domains, energy systems and planes of motion.
Results in trained adults will inevitably decline after a certain age. Whilst this tends to be slightly later in women, you can expect your best effort in the majority of these tasks to yield less reward after your early to mid thirties. There is a notable exception for the upper echelons of endurance, where notable athletes have peaked well into their forties. It is also worth noting that whilst adjustments need to be made for gender when lifting weights or performing explosive tasks, this imbalance all but disappears over longer time domains.
So now you have an idea of what a well rounded adult can achieve with training, how do we train for it? Since I have no better version of CrossFit’s methodology, we’ll stick with ‘constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity’. Training predominantly functional movements means that we’re training the motor patterns we need for our daily life, but these ordinarily compound movements give more bang for your buck than bicep curls and quad extensions. This is ideal for those whose aim is health, and who have limited time. These larger movement patterns also help our mind muscle connection grow stronger, increasing coordination, balance, accuracy and agility, in addition to the obvious physical benefits. By varying these movements, we train all ranges of motion and are better prepared for any eventuality. It also helps us to avoid overusing specific body parts and helps keep strength, mobility and size proportional across all muscle groups. High intensity is the magic ingredient. Performing these workouts 5 or 6 days per week, with a high level of effort, will yield unmatched results, that transcend just fitness, and impact directly on all other areas of your health.
So if your training programme doesn’t sound like that, find one that meets these needs. If you’re already doing something that sounds like this, you can still optimise your training to further hone your fitness. The following are the 5 small changes I’d recommend implementing:
Swim once every week or two
Set aside 20 minutes just for mobility once or twice each week
Perform one lower intensity session per week. Switch between yoga, hiking, or a longer run or bike ride. Be able to converse without breathlessness at all points.
Add in an extra 10 minutes, 2-3 times per week, or core work. Focus on static holds.
Build the foundations with solid technique, then add intensity and load as technique permits.
If you have your own way to optimise your training, or have had a good experience with any of the methods listed, please share your results in the comments. Likewise if you have any questions, or want clarification, ask away! Enjoy introducing something new, and the results that follow!