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As creatures of habit, we lock easily into patterns. These patterns can be the food we eat, the time we go to bed or the order in which we do errands.
We also apply the same habits to the manner in which we approach exercise. This is best recognized when we confine our workouts to habitual methods of training. Often these patterns show up in twos. For example, cardio and resistance training, spin class and body sculpting, or resistance training and basketball.
The bottom line is that for full fitness development, it benefits all of us to apply as many different kinds of movement and athleticism into our training curriculum as possible. Doing this does not necessarily mean more time, but consolidating a greater variety into what we do. It is also not age-dependent as the rest-to-work ratio, weight we use, number of repetitions, time of recovery and the specific activity itself can all be controlled by the person performing the program.
After all has been said and done, a "fitness functional" life is recreating the events we encounter in day-to-day living and applying them into our fitness routine. One of the reasons that fitness boot camps have become so wildly successful is because the use of implements (sledge-hammers, ropes, tires and obstacles) very accurately depict the kinds of unorthodox challenges a person could encounter while working outdoors, hiking, climbing, kayaking, running on sand, chopping wood or carrying heavy objects up a ladder to load into a crawl space.
Whether it's a function of time, opportunity or lack of creativity, it seems that the tendency for many people is to choose two facets of fitness improvement and leave it at that, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, the more varied your training program is, the more adaptable your body becomes to any number of challenges a person can encounter in work and in play.
Listed below are some of the things you can add to spice up your training program. While you might not be as proficient at some of these things, in time you will be pleasantly surprised at your increased level of general fitness, improved muscle quality (and very possibly, muscle mass) and overall ability to efficiently perform a wider variety of physical tasks:
Heavy bag: All right, so you might not ever be called "Rocky," but hitting a heavy bag is a tremendous cardio workout that taps very effectively into the muscles of the back and chest. It always helps to ask for assistance in the proper way to make a fist and keep your wrist straight. If permitted within the gym you train, learning how to both punch and practice a low kick to that same heavy bag will have you "happily gasping."
Sprinting: As we get older, our ability to use our faster twitch muscles decreases. The more dominant muscle type are our endurance or slower twitch muscles. Practicing sprinting need not look like you're training for the Olympics. If your joints can handle it, try adding a handful of sprints to your regular workouts to keep that faster twitch muscle ready to respond if it ever needs to.
Yard work: Now I'm not just talking about raking leaves, but if you ever tried moving earth you know exactly what I mean. Instead of hiring the neighborhood kid to dig holes or move soil, try doing it yourself. Unlike gym equipment that offers the perfect handle in the perfect place, physical labor often forces you to work at angles that force the body to overcome resistance with even more work.
Bleacher runs: I love bleacher training and took full advantage of these when I was a football strength coach. They can be used to run up, perform lunges, explosive leaping, single leg movements for agility and countless other movement and strength exercises that have a wide carry-over into strength, heart health, balance and coordination.
Very simply put, take the time to "break the tradition" of your training programs. Not only will variety add to your level of fitness, but becomes a terrific way to avoid plateaus and boredom while building the fittest body possible.
Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and online at http://theflashpoint.org and http://VictorFitnessSystems.com.