Fitness professionals use a term called “qualities” (or sometimes synonyms of that) to describe, categorize, and organize various types of fitness that can be trained and improved. Different end goals are best served by emphasizing different fitness qualities. Some sports or activities favor a heavy emphasis on a small number of qualities (often just one single one), while others require a broad range of qualities, meaning less time can be spent developing each one. For example, long distance running (such as a marathon) has a large, almost singular emphasis on aerobic endurance and does not require much in the way of balance, flexibility, strength, and so on. On the flip side, something like gymnastics requires a high development of many qualities (mobility, power, strength, agility, and much more). For the typical adult who just wants to be “in shape” it can be a little confusing on where to start – do you focus on just one, or do you try to train everything like the gymnast? To help minimize confusion and to give your training some direction I’d like to offer my two cents on which qualities to focus on:
The above are not necessarily in any magical order, although I think strength is generally the LEAST trained by most people and, if you are reading this, you probably know it is a huge emphasis of what we do at our gym … I mean it’s even in the name 🙂 For most adults you want to balance all three of these in your training for optimal results – look great, feel great, perform great. Each of these qualities can be subdivided into niches within the larger category, but try to not get lost in the minutiae … below are some general guidelines to help get you started, be it in your own training or when looking for a gym:
Strength is incredibly important and largely undertrained by most adults. Strength training is the best way to build muscle, which has many other collateral benefits including improving your physique, increasing bone density (this is especially important for women), and improving your hormone profile / metabolic function. Even if your primary goal is weight loss, strength training is “magical” in that it will improve your resting metabolic rate, or how many calories you burn even in the absence of exercise.
Strength is also arguably the most “functional” quality to train when it comes to carry over to outside-the-gym activities. For example if you need to move heavy furniture up and down the stairs you want your STRONG friends to help you … their flexibility and endurance are not really relevant 🙂 Here is a real-world example that happened to me last summer: Mira and I were at the beach with our bulldogs, and our girl Suh came up lame on her leg and couldn’t walk. I ended up having to carry all 75lbs of her about ½ mile across the sand back to our rental house (Mira had just recently had shoulder surgery so she couldn’t help). Needless to say if I wasn’t strong enough to pick her up and carry her then we would have been in quite the pickle.
As for training strength there are many philosophies and methods, but again the point of this is to simplify, not confuse. Your bare minimum is train at least one upper body strength movement (push ups, chin ups, bench press, military press, etc.) and one lower body strength movement (deadlift, goblet squat, lunges, Zercher squat) etc. For those that want a more comprehensive training program, we tend to break strength down into “movement patterns” and I recommend having at least one exercise you do regularly in each area:
• Upper body pressing
• Upper body pulling
• Hinge / deadlift
• Carry weights for time or distance (I also loosely lump the Turkish Get Up into this).
Endurance is usually the most approachable exercise quality for people, and because of that I think more people gravitate to it than any other quality. Strength training, by contract, can be initially intimidating for some people, and without proper guidance people are reluctant to try it. Endurance, on the other hand, usually is approachable enough that people are willing to try it on their own – be it walking, using the elliptical machine, taking a spin or Peloton class, or running outside.
As with strength training, there are many sub-categories of endurance that exist, but don’t let that overwhelm you initially. If you are new to fitness, start by just going for walks … in fact you should probably do that regardless of if you’re new to fitness or not. Try to build up to being able to comfortably walk for an hour without it being too hard. As your endurance improves and you want to push yourself more, there are tons of other options. One of our favorites is a method we call HIRT or High Intensity Repeat Training – you see this a lot in our Kettlebell classes (available both in person and streaming On-Demand) as well as in our Strength & Conditioning classes in person. There are subtle yet important differences between HIRT and HIIT (the later is what is more familiar to most people) … an explanation of HIRT and details on those differences another time.
Mobility is about so much more than just “stretching” – in our eyes we want you to be strong and IN CONTROL of your range of motion (ROM), and have sufficient ROM to do all of the exercises and activities you want to be able to do, plus a little room to spare. Doing some dedicated mobility work will yield a ton of benefits, including helping you feel better, keeping your joints healthy so that you can do the exercises you want to do, and giving you a little buffer if you accidentally find yourself in a position / circumstance you didn’t plan for and would rather not be in. Mobility work is especially important for those who do a lot of endurance exercise, because endurance training (unlike strength training) tends to happen in a pretty small ROM and the body eventually “gets stuck” there if that is the only stimulus it is exposed to regularly. If you think of walking, running, or cycling as examples, the hips only work through a fairly small range of motion, and if you don’t add in dedicated mobility work you will probably end up paying for it.
As for how to train mobility, again there are many methods and sub-categories, and future blog posts will dive into some of these a bit more. Things like foam rolling and static stretching are good starting points, but a lot of benefit is left on the table if that is all you do. Things like specific end range strength training is a powerful tool that is underutilized by most people, and is something we’ll look at in a future post. For some examples of mobility work you can check out the complimentary content section of our On-Demand site, and we also upload 15-min mobility workouts 5x weekly to our Monthly Membership part of the site.