We all strive for success in our lives. This drive is controlled by both external and deep-rooted internal motivators, which determine our journey in the pursuit of happiness. Most of this energy and vision is channeled towards success within our families and careers . However life can sometimes get the better of us meaning we neglect what is most important to us and to achieving these goals – our health and well-being.
Fortunately, adaptability is one of our greatest traits. Not only within our fast-paced modern lifestyle, but physically our ability to breakdown and rebuild at the cellular level is astonishing. Every person has the opportunity to improve their physical capacity far beyond their self-imposed limits. Yet we remain in that pre-contemplation stage with self-doubt and anxiety.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” ~ Plato
Human Performance involves all aspects of physical performance that enable us to meet the demands of our environment. Fitness considers both biomechanical (movement) and metabolic efficiency. They are dependent of each other. The less energy we use for a movement the more efficient we will be, resulting in less energy leak (less metabolic cost) and greater fitness capacity .
Before putting it into practice, it is important to identify the variables that pertain to Human Performance. For the purpose of this blog post we will consider preparation, strength & power, energy system development (ESD), regeneration, and fueling.
P r e p a r a t i o n is the priming of the physiological systems within us. Whether you’re an Olympian, Weekend Warrior or someone that is performing for general health and wellbeing, preparation must be our starting point. Warming up should be integrated within training and not thought of as a separate component. By integrating the warm-up, we are able to specifically prepare ourselves for the task in hand. The key elements for great preparation include myofascial (soft tissue) release, mobilization and activation.
Self Myofascial Release (SMR) is essentially a self-massage technique used to release certain trigger point areas of the muscle in order to break up scar tissue that could potentially inhibit performance. Studies conclude that SMR techniques have increased range of motion and flexibility which is an essential component to all warm-ups. Particularly in a society where it is not uncommon for individuals to sit at a desk for more than five hours a day in a typical work week. This type of postural positioning for long periods of time can have negative effects, especially on our soft tissue. Effectively using SMR techniques can increase the range of motion and flexibility throughout this overactive area, helping us become more functional for training.
The second component to our preparation – mobilization – includes flexibility exercises, and overall mobility. This is an opportunity to work on any existing energy leaks that are inhibiting our performance. Individuals may require specific exercises for areas that they are in particular lacking mobility, which is important for the future of their training. In a group setting we can address the major areas. The thoracic spine is huge for functional movement as it has the capability to work in all planes of motion. A stiff, immobile, thoracic spine leads to several implications throughout the kinetic chain such as incorrect shoulder positioning and/or lumbar (lower back) hyper-extension, which can significantly inhibit movement. The kinetic chain can either be affected from the top down or from the bottom up, allowing the pelvic/hip region to cause lower-back problems as well. This is often the case when there is a lack of mobility in the hip joint due to overactive short agonists and long weak antagonists.
Activation comes last in our preparation phase and its main purpose is to raise the core temperature, initiate nerve firing, while stimulating the major and stabilizing muscle groups. Dynamic stretching and movement integration are great ways to prime the body; the dynamic stretching and movement integration enables us to mimic basic motor patterns, which will translate directly to the intended performance goals. This is a good opportunity to perform corrective exercises to encourage more efficient biomechanics going into the training. When performing activation exercises it is important to target major muscle groups without fatiguing the system. Stick to 4-6 dynamic stretches, holding stretches between 2-5, seconds and movement integration should be specific to the training.
S t r e n g t h & P o w e r is a huge component to fitness. Undergoing the recommended strength training 2-3 times per week can help decrease the risk of certain diseases, or disabilities, such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and type II diabetes. In addition to improving sleep and reducing depression, there is no reason strength and power training shouldn’t be a priority in your regiment.
Another benefit from strength training is the significant release in growth hormone and testosterone. Growth hormone and testosterone are our builders. They are responsible for the increase in muscle fiber cross-sectional area, as well as increasing fat metabolism, resulting in a more lean, mean fighting machine. Working major muscle groups with multiple joint actions will stimulate the release of these building hormones. Research has identified that both moderate intensity (>70% 1RM) and high volume significantly increases the release of growth hormone. It is important to understand that females compared with males have 15- to 20-fold lower testosterone concentrations. So for the females that think they are going to get big or “too muscular”, when strength training, think again!
The first component of strength training is stability, which is predominately core stability. Core stability refers to our postural control, which, as mentioned, is affected by our lifestyle. It is something that needs attention when beginning any type of strength and power system. Creating stability in regions that require it, enable us to build upon a strong foundation.
Functional strength is a component that allows us to perform movements in the same way we function day-in day-out and for athletes it is relative to their sport. Our aim isn’t to mimic everything that we do on a functional basis but to move efficiently with stability and control.
Strength training is beneficial for all ages. We have all heard the phrase “Use it or lose it” and sarcopenia (the deterioration of muscle mass and strength which occurs as we age) can occur when we don’t “use it”. This is worsened with decreased production of our building hormones, which are catalysts for muscular growth and development. Therefore it is essential for adults to perform a periodized strength system that will decrease their risk to both sarcopenia and injury.
The perceived concept of power and how it relates to performance or livelihood, can sometimes be misleading. Understanding that power is a product of work/time, and or force x velocity, we can see how power is related to EFFICIENCY. The more work we can do in a given time, the more powerful and efficient we are. Or the more force and speed we can produce, the greater production of power. With the correct program and guidance from a performance coach, we can significantly increase power. This will prepare us to adapt to different scenarios in any environment, whether it is reacting to a fall or changing direction to avoid a collision.
E n e r g y S y s t e m D e v e l o p m e n t (E S D) – the efficiency of the energy systems. We are always training the energy systems, and we can enhance their efficiency by regulating intensity and duration. The energy systems can be divided into three different systems: immediate, intermediate and oxidative. The purpose of these systems is to provide Adenosine Triphosphate (energy) to working muscles, at their respective rates. ESD consists of both aerobic (utilization of oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) training. This type of training can significantly reduce the risk of many diseases such as; cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity. The American Heart Association guidelines suggests 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise fives times per week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three times per week. The biggest dilemma for Weekend Warriors is knowing what to do in order to train the energy systems. Taking a common goal for example – to lose body fat percentage and increase lean muscle mass – we all need a balance between strength and ESD training to reach this outcome. Secondly we need to determine the intensities and duration. Finally, we can use different methods, such as high intensity interval, fartlek or continuous long-duration exercise. When comparing high intensity interval training versus continuous moderate intensity over longer duration, the high intensity interval training has shown greater reductions in blood pressure and fat storage, as well as contributing to reducing a number of implications associated with obesity and heart disease. The high intensity interval training has also shown greater improvements with performance parameters such as aerobic capacity and lactate threshold. Other advantages of this high intensity interval training include increased release of our building hormones that are essential for muscular development and fat metabolism.
Running can be considered as high impact on the joints and although it is beneficial in the process of building bone density in our earlier years in regards to decreasing the risk to osteoporosis, it sometimes is beneficial to perform lower impact forms of ESD training; especially for individuals that endure a high volume of running within their sport. Using a mode of conditioning tha