As human beings, we are all different and consequently, there is no single ‘right way’ when looking at how to get fit that will work perfectly for everybody, all of the time. However, while there may be many varied approaches to becoming fitter, the health benefits remain clear and there are certain key principles that we can all apply, no matter where we are in our quest for fitness.
Ultimately, your own route to getting fitter should always center around your own interests and enjoyments. Whether that means hunting for the best rowing machines (opens in new tab) to blast out some home-based cardio, or hiking to enjoy the view from a remote mountaintop, build your routine around elements that you enjoy. That way, when things get tough, you’ll be able to fall back on activities that you get a kick out of.
What does being fit mean?
Firstly, what do we actually mean by ‘being fit’? According to Professor Glen Davison, a BASES accredited sport and exercise scientist, “This seems really simple, but when you dig deeper into the details it can become a little more complex. In part, this is because fitness means different things to different people, and it is different for different situations or contexts.
“In the most basic terms, it could be defined simply as being healthy or free of disease. Alternatively, we might be referring to the ability to do physical tasks, and how well we can perform these tasks. This could be tasks of daily living or it could be other activities like physical activity and exercise.”
Professor Glen Davison attained his first degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences at Sheffield Hallam University in 2001 and MSc in Exercise Physiology in 2002.
He commenced his PhD on “Nutrition and Exercise Immunology” in 2002 at Loughborough University. Professor Davison is also a BASES Accredited sport and exercise scientist (Physiology) and a Chartered Scientist (CSci). He has worked with amateur, elite and professional athletes from a range of sports, including football, rugby, hockey, athletics, triathlon and cycling.
What are the different components of fitness?
Generally, the following elements are considered to be the key areas to focus on when engaging in a holistic fitness regimen. Agility is key, according to Davison who states that this is “the ability to respond to something unexpected and take the necessary action, quickly. In sport, this could be reacting to an opponent then taking appropriate action such as attempting a tackle.
It is more complex than just being able to move quickly or change direction because it involves the cognitive components of processing of cues, and then decision making.” Agility has real-world implications too: “In everyday life, this might be avoiding an unexpected obstacle to avoid a fall,” adds Davison.
Balance is key, allowing the body to maintain steadiness throughout a range of movement, while speed is classed as the ability to move various body parts in a quick fashion, an element that is aided by coordination. Cardiovascular endurance (or aerobic power) is defined as the ability of your heart, lungs and blood to transport oxygen throughout sustained exercise, whereas explosive strength (or anaerobic power) defines how able your muscles are to overcome resistance.
Flexibility, muscular endurance and reaction time are all key components too, and while no area should be ignored, it’s worth considering which areas are key to you, depending of course on your fitness goals and your lifestyle.
Different ways to get fit
As mentioned above, it is key to consider how you plan to utilize your increased fitness when determining how to make changes. With so many areas to work on, specificity is important. As Davison states, “fitness is specific to each context, for example, a marathon runner might be very fit in terms of their endurance performance and their cardiovascular system, but they may be ‘unfit’ in other areas: they could have low muscle strength in their arms, so their fitness in this area of activity might be relatively low by comparison.”
Figuring out what you ultimately want your body to be able to do is a vital prerequisite to beginning a fitness programme. Contacting a qualified personal trainer or simply conducting your own research should be your first port of call here.
Find something you enjoy doing
Enjoyment is the key to building a solid, sustainable routine. Several studies – such as this 1997 one published in the International Journal of Sports Psychology (opens in new tab) – have shown that people who are enjoying a particular form of exercise are much more likely to continue doing it.
Another review of evidence, published in Frontiers in Psychology (opens in new tab), also suggested that athletes could find their motivation dropping if they stick to the exact same exercise routine. The authors attributed this dip in motivation to a lack of perceived progress and, ultimately, boredom.
As such, it’s important to find a form of movement that works for you. And if you find yourself no longer enjoying something, try taking a step back if it’s too hard or pushing up to a more challenging tempo if it’s too easy. This should keep things novel and interesting for you.
Get your rest in
While exercise is proven to boost your energy levels, it’s also vital that you give your body time to recover. Rest days are essential for key processes to occur, including muscle repair and growth, not to mention glycogen (or energy) replenishment, which occurs from an intake of carbohydrates.
Regular rest intervals also reduce muscle fatigue, meaning you’ll perform better in your next exercise sessions.
Crucially, rest days can help you avoid injury. According to research published in ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal (opens in new tab), a lack of recovery time can also lead to numerous health problems, including depression, chronic injuries and menstrual changes.
Eat right, sleep right
If your fitness goals happen to include adding, or shifting weight from your frame, then you cannot afford to ignore what you put into your body. Gaining weight requires you to be in calorie surplus while losing weight requires calorie deficit (opens in new tab).
Likewise, you also need to ensure that you are giving your body enough sleep for it to perform vital functions such as muscle tissue recovery. A lack of sleep can affect muscle strength, meaning you won’t be performing to an adequate standard, nor will you feel the benefits of exercise.
The good news is that not only does exercise help you to sleep better, (meaning you can get that required 7 to 8 hours), it also helps your body to maintain its circadian rhythms.
However, a review published in the Circadian Journal (opens in new tab) states that while it’s widely accepted that exercise can have a beneficial effect on circadian rhythms, more research is needed into the optimum time to exercise. For now, it’s recommended that people stick to diurnal (daytime) exercise if they’re trying to improve their sleep – for more tips, read our piece on the best time to workout (opens in new tab).
Putting it all together
Get the above elements into place and you’ll soon be seeing real gains in your quest for improved fitness. Remember, in the same way that getting out of shape is a process, the same is true for improving your fitness. Be patient, be consistent and enjoy yourself. Everything else will take care of itself.