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Eight Habits for Long Term Fitness Success–#3 Work on Mobility/Stability

There are thousands of different workout programs and methods to use to become more fit.  These range from at home workout videos, to aerobic or yoga classes, to bootcamps and group functional training workouts.  Methods, benefits, and risks/drawbacks could be debated until our last breath and often are among fitness professionals.  One thing I’ve come to learn in my twenty years in this industry is that dogmatic approaches rarely pan out, and you are better off steering clear of anything or anyone who claims any one method of training is optimal and a cure all for everyone under every circumstance.  However, I do believe that there are some universal habits that will vastly improve someone’s fitness.  For the sake of this article, I will stick with habits which only involve movement, with an understanding that nutrition, rest, recovery, stress management, and body weight all impact fitness as well.

To know what habits will best improve long term fitness, we must first define the term.  There are three definitions of fitness. The first (and newest, brought on by the growth of the fitness industry) is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This definition misses the mark as it uses the root of the word in it, and doesn’t really tell us anything.  The second definition is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”  This definition is a little bit better.  We can see here that the fitness required to be an NFL offensive lineman and the fitness required to run the Ironman in Hawaii is much different.  This still doesn’t get to what most of us think of when we describe someone as being fit.  The third definition, and the one I find to be most relevant to the general population, is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.”  Put differently, your ability to reproduce and pass your genes onto the next generation.  At first glance, this may seem like a poor definition.  If we go back 100-500 years to a time where modern technology and medicine couldn’t “fix” everything, this definition is ideal.  If someone is over or underweight, they struggle with fertility.  If someone has major health complications, injuries, etc. they would have a hard time attracting a mate, defending themselves/home, or feeding themselves.  Certain lifestyle choices will absolutely reduce fertility rates (smoking, drinking, stress) therefore decreasing one’s fitness.  Operating with the biological definition of fitness, I find that the following eight habits will set you up for a lifetime of greatness.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Work on Mobility/Stability

Make sure you can move each joint through its maximal pain free range of motion.  On top of being able to move through that range, we also want to be able to control or “own” that range of motion.  This can be done by using full range of motion in your strength exercises, as well as incorporating some full body warm ups that address each.  At Fenton Fitness, we try to hit 2-3 hip stretches, 1-2 thoracic spine/shoulder stretches, and 2-3 activation/stability drills at the beginning of each workout.  If an individual has no restrictions, a good bang for the buck warm up can be seen in this video. This type of work can be done daily, but I would suggest a minimum of 3 days per week to maintain your movement quality.

 View the video here

Eight Habits for Long Term Fitness Success–#2 Get Stronger

There are thousands of different workout programs and methods to use to become more fit.  These range from at home workout videos, to aerobic or yoga classes, to bootcamps and group functional training workouts.  Methods, benefits, and risks/drawbacks could be debated until our last breath and often are among fitness professionals.  One thing I’ve come to learn in my twenty years in this industry is that dogmatic approaches rarely pan out, and you are better off steering clear of anything or anyone who claims any one method of training is optimal and a cure all for everyone under every circumstance.  However, I do believe that there are some universal habits that will vastly improve someone’s fitness.  For the sake of this article, I will stick with habits which only involve movement, with an understanding that nutrition, rest, recovery, stress management, and body weight all impact fitness as well.

To know what habits will best improve long term fitness, we must first define the term.  There are three definitions of fitness. The first (and newest, brought on by the growth of the fitness industry) is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This definition misses the mark as it uses the root of the word in it, and doesn’t really tell us anything.  The second definition is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”  This definition is a little bit better.  We can see here that the fitness required to be an NFL offensive lineman and the fitness required to run the Ironman in Hawaii is much different.  This still doesn’t get to what most of us think of when we describe someone as being fit.  The third definition, and the one I find to be most relevant to the general population, is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.”  Put differently, your ability to reproduce and pass your genes onto the next generation.  At first glance, this may seem like a poor definition.  If we go back 100-500 years to a time where modern technology and medicine couldn’t “fix” everything, this definition is ideal.  If someone is over or underweight, they struggle with fertility.  If someone has major health complications, injuries, etc. they would have a hard time attracting a mate, defending themselves/home, or feeding themselves.  Certain lifestyle choices will absolutely reduce fertility rates (smoking, drinking, stress) therefore decreasing one’s fitness.  Operating with the biological definition of fitness, I find that the following eight habits will set you up for a lifetime of greatness.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Get Strong(er)

Strength is probably one of the greatest indicators of longevity and quality of life that we have.  How strong is strong enough will get you different responses depending on what strength coach you talk to and what population we are talking about.  However, one thing is for certain.  You can almost always get stronger at something, and there is virtually no drawback to being stronger.  Most people will be best served by having 5-6 movements that they focus on getting really strong at, and keeping those in their training plan for 6-12 weeks at a time.  I typically recommend picking one movement from each movement category (Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Push, Pull, and Carry/Crawl) and getting as strong as possible on that given movement.  Pick movements that you feel comfortable with, are pain free, and of which you have maximal range of motion.  Stick with 2-6 repetitions, 3-5 sets, 2 times per week for best results.

Eight Habits for Long Term Fitness Success–#1 Move Daily

There are thousands of different workout programs and methods to use to become more fit.  These range from at home workout videos, to aerobic or yoga classes, to bootcamps and group functional training workouts.  Methods, benefits, and risks/drawbacks could be debated until our last breath and often are among fitness professionals.  One thing I’ve come to learn in my twenty years in this industry is that dogmatic approaches rarely pan out, and you are better off steering clear of anything or anyone who claims any one method of training is optimal and a cure all for everyone under every circumstance.  However, I do believe that there are some universal habits that will vastly improve someone’s fitness.  For the sake of this article, I will stick with habits which only involve movement, with an understanding that nutrition, rest, recovery, stress management, and body weight all impact fitness as well.

To know what habits will best improve long term fitness, we must first define the term.  There are three definitions of fitness. The first (and newest, brought on by the growth of the fitness industry) is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This definition misses the mark as it uses the root of the word in it, and doesn’t really tell us anything.  The second definition is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”  This definition is a little bit better.  We can see here that the fitness required to be an NFL offensive lineman and the fitness required to run the Ironman in Hawaii is much different.  This still doesn’t get to what most of us think of when we describe someone as being fit.  The third definition, and the one I find to be most relevant to the general population, is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.”  Put differently, your ability to reproduce and pass your genes onto the next generation.  At first glance, this may seem like a poor definition.  If we go back 100-500 years to a time where modern technology and medicine couldn’t “fix” everything, this definition is ideal.  If someone is over or underweight, they struggle with fertility.  If someone has major health complications, injuries, etc. they would have a hard time attracting a mate, defending themselves/home, or feeding themselves.  Certain lifestyle choices will absolutely reduce fertility rates (smoking, drinking, stress) therefore decreasing one’s fitness.  Operating with the biological definition of fitness, I find that the following eight habits will set you up for a lifetime of greatness.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Move Daily

This is so simple, yet like many things in life, the simplicity of this basic habit causes it to get overlooked or ignored.  This is by far the most common habit among fit individuals.  Don’t over think it or complicate it–just move.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous or difficult.  When looking at the small number of individuals who are successful with long term weight loss, researchers have seen that doing 4-5+ hours/week of planned exercise/activity is a staple.  This comes out to 30-60 minutes per day.  Walk, ride a bike, kayak, paddle board, roll, carry, crawl, do a movement flow (as seen in the video) or whatever.  Just get off your butt and move around at least 30 minutes each day.  It doesn’t have to be all in one shot, but make it happen, and make it intentional.  Daily movement helps manage stress, regulate hunger, and has big cognitive benefits as well.  The only stipulation I would make is to avoid activities with high risk of injury.  After all, if you get substantially injured it makes daily movement a bit more difficult.

See video of some simple movement patterns: here

Fitness Success Secrets

WSJ and My Fitness Success Suggestions

A member at the gym brought in this *article from the May 20, 2017 issue of the Wall Street Journal.  The article had some good tips on exercise compliance but fell short in other areas.  Take the time to read my suggestions.  These habits have been time tested, proven winners in multiple studies on real world people who were successful in making fitness a lifelong habit.

Get Some Help.

Numerous studies have shown that individuals that seek the assistance of a personal trainer or fitness coach are more successful in long term exercises compliance.  The guidance from a fitness expert improves motivation, goal attainment and is more time efficient.  Scientific understanding of fitness and the best training practices have changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, and your knowledge is probably behind the times.  A good coach will temper your “beginner’s enthusiasm” and make it less likely you will over train and/or injure yourself.  A professional helps you reach goals despite physical limitations or prior fitness challenges.

Personal Performance Evaluations.

In school, you have tests to see if you are gaining knowledge and ready to advance in a specific subject.  The same should be true of your training program.  The minimal requirement is a Functional Movement Screen.  This simple test can prevent 90% of the fitness related injuries we see in the physical therapy clinic.  Keep a record of relevant performance evaluations—a good trainer can help you with this.  Your initial successes with exercise will come in the form of better strength, mobility, and work capacity.  An ongoing record of “fitness victories” strongly reinforces the exercise habit.

Have Reasonable Goals.

The infomercials for fitness products promise big changes in extremely short periods of time.  Television shows document massive fat loss in a single month.   The healthiest changes in body composition occur slowly and steadily.  Make those body composition goals, but also make performance goals such as being able to perform a pullup, twenty lunges, or a full pain free squat.  I can think of no better goals than being able to eliminate blood pressure medication, normalize blood sugar levels, or decrease the use of anti-inflammatory medications.

Place Your Exercise Session At the Beginning Of the Day. 

The University of Michigan department of psychology found that individuals that are successful with long-term exercise compliance train in the morning before other aspects of life have a chance to interfere.  Consistency is King–an exercise plan will never work if you are not able to maintain a schedule.  The most consistent attendance happens when gym members train in the mornings.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

*Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2017, Rachel Bachman, Five Secrets for Steadier Workouts

Many of life’s activities involve using our legs in a reciprocal pattern.  Find out why training in half kneeling position can help.  Exercise instruction and demonstration included in a video link. Learn the four steps to a successful fitness program and how to correctly use the Concept 2 rowing ergometer.

Download Here

PDFIn this month’s issue, Mike O’Hara presents tips for preventing shoulder pain and injury.  Jeff Tirrell addresses the secret to maintaining a successful workout program, and the benefits of single leg hip thrusts are described.

Download Here

The New Year brings millions of people back to the gym, determined to make exercise a consistent part of their life.  Six to eight weeks later, they start arriving in the physical therapy clinic with sore lower backs, aching knees, post-surgical shoulders, and painful feet.  Injury is the number two reason people stop exercising.  Lack of results is number one.  In an effort to make everyone more successful at reaching his/her 2015 fitness goals, I have some suggestions:

Do less of what you are already doing

Most of us have occupations or hobbies that place far too much stress on one area of our bodies.  If your day consists of multiple hours of driving in a car, sitting at a desk, slumped in front of a computer, or planted in a recliner, do not go to the gym and sit.  If you use your hands all day to grip tools, pull on handles, or build widgets, do not perform 100 repetitions of resisted wrist and elbow exercises.  If you bend over and lift for a living, do not perform more forward bending during your fitness program.

Consider your posture

The question mark spine is as common as Under Armour in today’s fitness centers.  It is probably related to an overall lack of fitness and/or our newfound love of staring at social media.  It is a pain-producing problem that keeps physical therapists and surgeons busy.  If you resemble a human apostrophe, do not go to the gym and perform activities that pull you further into that posture.  Drop the medicine ball rotational crunches, stop doing the extremely slouched over barbell rows, and leave the “ab circuit” alone.  Perform activities that pull you up and out of the position.  Find a physical therapist or trainer for instruction on these activities.  Six weeks later, you will move, look and feel better.

It is always better to do too little than to do too much

Most fitness related injuries occur when training volume is ramped up too quickly.  Many of the internet and late night television fitness programs play a role in this all too common problem.  Rampage, Infinite Hypoxia, and the Warrior Death Workout have been wonderful for the physical therapy business, but they are less than ideal for the deconditioned person returning to fitness.  Remember, you are not a Navy Seal.  Have an honest conversation with a qualified trainer and let him/her help determine where you are on the strength and mobility spectrum before adding more to your program.

Have some respect for pain signals 

Physical Therapist: So, how long have you had that hip pain?

Patient:  Eight months.

Physical Therapist:  How did it start?

Patient:  Running on the treadmill.

Physical Therapist:  What do you currently do for exercise?

Patient:  I run on a treadmill.

In my work as a physical therapist, I have a version of this conversation once a week.  It has been my experience that the fitness beginner is more prone to this problem.  Ignoring pain and training through symptoms is a fantastic method of taking a fairly manageable problem and turning it into an inflammatory nightmare.  Pain is not “weakness leaving your body,” it is the disc bulging in your lower back, the meniscus being shredded in your knee, and the abdominal hernia evolving in your groin.

Set reasonable and worthwhile goals

If you watch infomercials for fitness products, you are bombarded with incredible fat loss testimonials.  Please remember the best body composition changes occur slowly and steadily.  Make those body composition goals, but also set performance goals such as being able to execute a full and pain-free squat, hike with your grandchildren, or do ten perfect push ups.  Consistent exercise can produce life changing improvements in health.  I can think of no better goal than being able to reduce blood pressure medication, normalize blood sugar levels, or decrease the use of anti-inflammatory medications.

Have someone help you

You know what they say about the lawyer who represents himself or the doctor who treats himself.  Losing fat, gaining muscle, and moving better are some of the hardest things to do.  Lots of people want to become more fit, but few people succeed.  If you have been away from exercise for some time consider hiring a qualified trainer to evaluate your present physical capacity and develop a training program.  A trainer will help you manage present physical limitations and make plans to conquer prior fitness challenges.  The people who enlist in some help do much better in developing and maintaining the fitness habit.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

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