Think about an athlete’s training week, it’s going to include:
- Conditioning Sessions
- Skills Sessions
- Injury Prevention
- Mental Practice and Headspace
Now this is not to say that you need to dedicate more time out of your week to looking after your health and fitness. The point being made is Variability. While athletes have their focus sport, they participate in other forms of training to ensure that they are performing at the highest level and remaining at the highest level (avoiding injury). Their week is going to include something that elevates their heart rate for an extended period, something that makes them stronger, more stable, faster, and more agile. I would also like to take this moment to note that agility is not just the ability to move quickly, it needs to include an unknown component such as being able to move in unexpected direction in response to an external stimulus.
At all ages, variability in training is beneficial and necessary for health.
For healthy development in children, they need to be exposed to a variety of different forms of movement. Physical activity at this age strengthens children’s bones, muscles, heart, and lungs; they are also more likely to remain physically active as they age. Not to mention the obvious benefits to their physical health such as improving their strength, coordination, and balance. While their physical activity may include weekend sport or school sport, a large amount of children’s movement should be achieved through active play. Allowing kids to learn about their body and what it can do for them maintains their curiosity and nurtures a healthy relationship with movement. The Australian Guidelines for Physical Activity for children aged 5 and older recommend that they participate in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, with at least three days including activities that will strengthen bone and muscle. These 60 minutes can be accrued throughout the day in smaller sessions. These guidelines also recommend that recreational screen time be limited to no more than 2 hours per day.
Pre-teens and Teens
It has become increasingly common for children to begin specialising in their chosen sport at far younger ages than previous. This is a by-product of the level of elite sport now and the training regimes invoked at earlier ages. Athletes are being scouted younger and their training is being specified earlier (think an NRL player of a certain build at age 11 being trained for only one specific position on the field). Not only does this impede their development but it can welcome the likelihood of injuries, particularly those of a chronic nature stemming from overuse. For healthy development and in turn improved performance and health benefits, participating in different styles of training or even being able to participate in a multitude of different sports will result in well-rounded movement. For those children that are not as inclined to participate in sports, encouraging enjoyable “play” or movement will foster a healthy relationship with movement through their youth making them more likely to continue to be active as they age.
When an athlete gets injured, barring contact injuries, it is most likely in an area where they are poorly trained or when their training is unbalanced. Take runners for example, this is solely a straight-line sport, though humans are not only designed to move in straight lines, but also move side to side, rotate, bend and extend, and so forth. While runners are great at moving in a straight line, if this is their only form of training, they are exposed to injuries in all these other planes of movement. Injury prevention and training for runners needs to not only look at what is going to make them faster but also what they are not doing. For another example, take the 30-year-old adult that decides they want to take up a social sport, such as touch football or netball again, after having done either no regular activity for the past 10 years or maybe they have just been in the gym performing a regular strength/hypertrophy program. During that 10-years when they were not participating in sport, a lot has happened to their bodies. There are age related factors such as your type two fibres (those that contribute to fast movements like sprinting) become more like type one fibres (those that contribute to endurance related activities), loss of muscle mass, ligaments are less elastic and the collagen levels in your tendons and cartilage are lower. There are also environmental factors such as you simply don’t sprint or run or jump anymore. That’s often injuries such as Achilles ruptures, ligament tears, tendinopathies, and stress fractures occur because your body is not ready for the task you are asking it to do. It is also not quite as resilient as it was in your teens. For adults aged 18 and older, the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. It is also recommended that muscle and bone strengthening exercises are performed on at least 2 days per week. They also recommended limited periods of unbroken sitting or lying time.
Take an older adult who is wanting to prevent chronic disease or falls risk. Power and agility are two of the largest indicators of maintaining physical function and preventing falls, yet they are likely the least trained aspects of fitness in older adults. The ability to create movements quickly and respond to changes in the environment are crucial for older adults. These aspects of training also play a key role in maintaining their ability to perform activities of daily living, continue to participate in hobbies, maintain a social life, and keep their independence for as long as possible. Power and agility should be prescribed as part of a strength program. The exercise routine should also address balance, mobility, and cardiorespiratory health.
What it all boils down to, is you can only get good at what you train. Therefore, to be well rounded in terms of your health and fitness, you need to do a bit of everything to make sure all aspects are being addressed. Not only is this going to improve performance, but it will fend off chronic disease and preventable injuries. Designing a well-rounded training plan that nurtures your strengths, addresses, and improves weaknesses, allows for recovery and is tailored to your goals can be overwhelming to say the least. We are not all elite athletes whose sole focus is movement; we are often time-poor between school, family, work, maintaining a social life, not getting enough sleep, suboptimal nutrition and feeling exhausted. Engaging with services in allied health such as Exercise Physiologists is the best way to address all these aspects without it feeling like such an overwhelming task to get on top of your health and fitness.