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 that unloads the joints such as a bike, rower, power runner or slide board are several ways in which we can perform lower impact conditioning. By manipulating both intensity and duration it is possible to effectively train the energy systems in this manor. However, for athletes, specificity of the conditioning is always a key component to maximize performance.
R e g e n e r a t i o n involves all recovery practices that are essential to evolve and enhance performance. Exercise results in muscular damage and a metabolic cost. The extent of the damage depends on the intensity and duration. This is a natural response and it is what makes humans unique in the fact that we are able to adapt, rebuild, and become stronger and more efficient. With any type of training, it is necessary to include recovery time. Without sufficient recovery the body will fall into an overtrained status leading to decreased performance and an increased risk to injury. Recovery can be as simple as complete rest (no training/limited physical activity); active recovery which is low intensity exercise designed to increase blood flow and remove markers of inflammation, metabolites and lactate; cold water immersion and other forms of cryotherapy can be used to reduce muscular soreness by decreasing inflammation.
Sleep is an essential part of recovery; it allows us to recover more efficiently due to the ability of the building hormones to work in the adaptation process.
Nutrition and hydration are also vital to enhance the recovery process. After one hour of training we deplete our energy systems. To optimize recovery it is essential to intake both carbohydrates and protein as soon as possible post- training.
Self myofascial release (SMR) can also be used to stimulate blood flow similar to active recovery. Regeneration application can be very individual and should be utilized to maximize performance goals!
F u e l i n g is providing sufficient energy and nutrition to our body and as with should be tailored to the individual. An adolescent athlete that has training five to six times a week with multiple resistance, specific conditioning and skill sessions will require a much greater caloric intake compared to an adult that trains three times per week for one hour each session. For any person striving to reach a training goal, nutrition is a priority to attain results. With hundreds of different “diets” and numerous recommendations it is not easy to distinguish the best option. A high fat, sugar and salt diet is not uncommon in our busy modern-day lifestyles, but unfortunately hinders results, leads to poor functioning and eventually sickness and disease. At APEC we have six fueling pillars that are crucial for reaching performance and aesthetic goals.
Mindset- We must understand that everything we ingest will affect the body. We want to make sure that we effect the body positively by taking in high quality foods with the most nutritional value.
Eat Clean- There are simple steps to greatly improve performance and body composition. Never mind counting calories or trying to stick to a specific diet, the most important aspect of fueling is the quality. Firstly include the quality nutrients that we are lacking, such as vitamins & minerals, omega 3, protein and water. Adding these high-nutrient foods allows our body to work more efficiently and increase metabolism. Then limit or completely cut out certain components of our current nutritional intake including high sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed (enriched) products and alcohol. These types of foods and beverages disrupt our metabolism by causing an imbalance with hormones resulting in decreased performance and increased fat storage. Alcohol depresses the circulatory and neuromuscular system, as well as increasing cholesterol and blood cell dysfunction, which can significantly increase our risk to certain diseases and decreases our rate of recovery. If we amend our deficiencies, let go of bad habits, exercise regularly and control portion sizes we are on the right track. Consistency will then be the key to to reach our performance and aesthetic goals.
Eat Often- Eating small portions throughout the day will enhance the body’s metabolic rate, control appetite, maintain energy levels, and build lean muscle.
Hydration- We must remember that even slight dehydration can cause a significant decrease with performance, recovery rate and energy levels. Staying hydrated will allow you to maintain focus throughout the day.
Power- It is vital to eat 1-2 hours prior to training or an event. Fruit, whole wheat bread, peanut butter, natural oatmeal with berries, almonds are all great fueling sources.
Recover- After we have completed a training session or event, it is essential to replenish the muscles with both carbohydrates and protein. This enables the body to start the recovery and adaptation process. Protein supplement and fruit, whole wheat bread and eggs, lean protein and mixed vegetables with brown rice are all great recovery foods.
Human Performance is comprised of different elements (preparation, strength & power, regeneration and fueling) that together help us perform in all areas of life. Each is dependent on another and requires strategic planning to achieve sustainable results.
Ranson, Craig. Joyce, David (2014). Enhancing Movement Efficiency. High Performance Training for Sports; 29-40
MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, Cuconato AL, Drake CD, Behm DG, Button DC (2013).