Updated: Feb 21, 2019
It is a familiar argument that regular exercise improves health and fitness and this remains one of the key motivations for starting any new fitness regime.
As a general rule health can be defined in this context as a state of complete mental, physical and social well-being, rather than the absence of illness or infirmity, while fitness is seen as the ability to meet the demands of the person’s environment - i.e. how to deal effectively with the life a person leads.
I am a strong advocate of the helpful social element that is central to fitness training. Being a member of a sports club and regularly participating in sport has been demonstrated to develop inter-personal skills, the ability to compete or meet physical and mental challenges and to grow an appreciation of the aesthetic.
Participation in a fit lifestyle, particularly with others, is good for all those who take part in it!
Apart from that, simply to exist and to live a fully functioning life requires a certain level of fitness. Exercise programmes with a focus on a healthy lifestyle can also improve those factors important to sportspeople, such as cardiovascular fitness (the ability to exercise the whole body for long periods of time - otherwise known as stamina), muscular strength (the amount of force a muscle can exert against resistance), muscular endurance (using muscles repeatedly without feeling tired) and flexibility (the range of movement possible at a joint).
Fitness and sports training improves all of these elements and can lead to a specific focus on a particular area, depending on the objective of the person doing the training.
A couple of factors which can shape that focus are body composition (the percentage of body weight made up of fat, muscle or bone) and understanding the body composition of the person concerned. Being clear on these two points helps those taking part in any sport to engage in the correct sporting activity for the body type concerned; heavily built rugby players are more effective in a scrum for example than lightweight players, while more lightly built distance runners will always beat heavyweight runners.
It’s a physical swings and roundabouts equation, really!
And then there is the question of speed, which is defined as the differential rate at which an individual is able to perform a movement or cover a distance within a set period of time (or how quickly an individual can move more generally). A sportsperson’s speed helps such individuals to move into the position they need to be in, or to escape from opponents more quickly, depending on the game they play.
Tuning all these elements, sportspeople tend to follow specific exercise programmes to improve their fitness and performance in relation to the sport they take part in, with a particular focus across the board on improving agility, balance, coordination, power, reaction time and speed.
Outside of the world of semi-professional or professional sports, fitness training can help most people to become fitter and to engage with their immediate environment in a more robust and agile way than they may have done before undertaking such training.
In a modern gym it is possible to quickly face a mental blog with regard to the use of any training programme; dietary rules, exercise/rest schedules, the obsession with measuring progress and what is being eaten - it can very easily become a bore, partly because creativity or perspective can be crowded out by the gym routine itself.
The important thing to remember at all times when training, however, is an individual’s training is what he or she makes of it. Or to put it another way, any training regime should fit the realistic lifestyle of the person concerned and what that person can take from it.
Just like anything in our lives.
I have met many inspirational sportspeople over the years who have come from different social backgrounds and one thing that I have learned is that those who succeed in sport and fitness in the long run are those whose training reflects what they need to live their life and which is suitable to their physical abilities.
The balance of lifestyle, body type and individual effort is what delivers health and fitness results that are worth pursuing, as successful sportspeople know. The individual who understands where that balance lies and who can think strategically like a sportsperson is the one who will succeed with their fitness lifestyle in the long run.
Or, to put it another way, fitness fills the shirt, but sport fills your mind.