Updated: Oct 25, 2019
In October of 2002, Greg Glassman (founder of CrossFit, Inc.) wrote an article titled “What is Fitness”, where he objectively defined health and fitness, and how to meaningfully pursue it. In his article, Glassman wrote a profound line that has impacted me since first reading it.
In October of 2002, Greg Glassman (founder of CrossFit, Inc.) wrote an article titled “What is Fitness”, where he objectively defined health and fitness, and how to meaningfully pursue it. In his article, Glassman wrote a profound line that has impacted me since first reading it. “The needs of an Olympic athlete and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.” I was mesmerized when I first read this. Should kids, athletes, the average adult, grandparents, and everyone in between really train the same way as top athletes do? What the does this mean when it comes to general health and fitness? How, and why, should any normal person train the same way a world-class athlete trains?
We all have the opportunity to live healthy (absent of sickness) and fit (physically competent, or able) lives, regardless of career, ability, age, gender, etc. Furthermore, we have a moral responsibility to ourselves to live healthy and fit lives, to live as meaningfully as possible. So what does it mean to be healthy and fit? Living a “healthy” life can be defined many ways, but for simplicity’s sake, think of it this way; living a healthy life is experiencing the least amount of sickness over your lifetime. Living a “fit” life is simply being able overcome or adapt to all the physical challenges in our lives. In order to take advantage of our opportunity, there are two choices to make concerning living a healthy and fit life. The first, is deciding that health and fitness is important, and the second, is choosing the best method for pursuing health and fitness. Both choices are vitally important. This post is going to focus on optimal methods for movement and exercise. If you are reading this, you probably believe health and fitness is important. After reading this post, I hope you understand how to proactively pursue health and fitness for yourself and those you care about.
Let’s start with movement. The same kind of training that an Olympic-level athlete performs is available to everyone. Exercises and regimens can (and should) be modified for each person, but the intended stimulus (how the workout communicates to your body to change) remains the same. You see, physical exercise should be optimizing the performance of your body, and that is exactly what our highest level athletes are doing. This kind of training is characterized first by functional movements that are natural to humans, and second by intensity of those movements. Let’s take a deeper look at those two characteristics.
Functional movements are movement patterns and ranges of motion that are inherently natural to us as humans. These are movements that we have been doing since we first learned to crawl as children. We were born able to do squats where our butts touch our calves, hanging and pressing with our arms directly overhead, walking on all fours, picking up heavy things off the ground, etc. If you want more examples of functional movements, watch a small child play for ten minutes. They will demonstrate nearly every movement that humans are capable of.
Another way to see these movements is how our body moves mechanically. A functional movement will start from your core, use multiple joints simultaneously, utilize the full range of motion that your joints are capable of, and most importantly, they are unique in their ability to express power. Functional movement allows the human body to perform necessary functions, optimally. To train effectively, functional movements are the kind of movements we need to be performing. To be healthy and fit, we should all be performing squats, presses, pulls, deadlifts, lunges, etc. To be functional, train your body to do what is built to do.
We now know which kind of movements to perform. Let’s take a look at the degree, or intensity (from here on, I’ll refer to degree as intensity, their meanings are exactly the same though). Remember, this is where our exercise programs should vary, in their degree/intensity, not kind.
Intensity can be looked at as work completed. In physics, work is seen as an amount of weight, moved a certain distance, in a certain amount of time. The greater the weight, the further the distance, and the shorter the time, the more work that is accomplished. Therefore, to complete more work (and increase intensity) the workout must increase weight, or move weight a further distance, or reduce the time it takes to complete the workout, or, a combination of all three. This where our grandparents and the Olympic-athlete must differentiate their workout. Intensity must be relative to the person’s own work capacity (their ability to perform a workout). To lower intensity, we can lower the weight, move weight a shorter distance, or increase the time it takes to complete the workout, but, will still use the same movement patterns. These “modified” workouts will provide the same intended stimulus to create adaptation in the athlete.
Below is an example of an elite athlete level workout:
5 Rounds for Time:
9 Overhead Squats 135/95#
7 Bar Muscle Ups
All of these movements are the kinds of movements we should all be performing. However, I would never ask my grandmother or a young child to perform this workout. The total workload and movement complexity is too intense to be completed as written. So, I’ll change the intensity, but keep the same kind of movements.
Grandma Pat’s Workout-of-the-Day:
5 Rounds for Time:
50m Fast Walk
9 KB Squats (Goblet Squats)
7 Ring Rows + Ring Presses
Here is another version of the same workout, this time for modified for kids, or adults who are beginning to pursue health and fitness meaningfully.
5 Rounds for Time:
9 Perfect/Slow Squats
7 Ring Rows + Push Ups
Grandma Pat’s and the kid’s workouts achieve the same stimulus. They are both long and varied workouts consisting of complicated (but functional) movement patterns that challenge the athlete to keep their heart rate elevated, but also maintain a high level of body control. The bottom line: both workouts optimize the human body’s performance by using it’s natural movements, and executing those movements at a high intensity relative to the individual.
So, how does this apply to you, the person reading this post? Take a look at what you are doing currently to take advantage of your opportunity for health and fitness. Hopefully, you are exercising regularly, if not, now is the time to start. You can start by learning or performing functional movements well, adding intensity as you go. Regardless of your exercise history, age, career, disability, attitude, etc., you can start to move, performing the kind of movements with intensity, that allow you to pursue health and fitness meaningfully. If you are already exercising regularly, choose to pursue varied, functional, and meaningful movements and perform them the best you can, always striving to move better, and add intensity (weight and/or speed) in order to be as healthy and fit as possible. Performing the kind of movements that world-class athletes do, at an intensity relative to your capacity, will allow you to live a minimally sick, physically competent, and meaningful life.
My vocation is helping people move better, so they can move with greater purpose, to live healthier, fitter, and more meaningful lives. If you would like help pursuing greater health and fitness, or have questions regarding this exercise and training, please reach out, I would be more than happy to help you in any way possible.
Move better. Move happier. Move meaningfully.