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Why do fitness? A guide for sportsmen and women.

January 02, 2022 18 min read

Why do fitness? A guide for sportsmen and women.

This article is an automatic translation from our Original French blog. This text may contain translation errors. Thank you for your understanding.

Fitness originated in the research of an American doctor, Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force, Dr. Kennet H. Cooper. He systematised his process in a famous book, published in 1968 and republished many times: Aerobics.

The idea of fitness is based on a simple fact: training strengthens the respiratory muscles and the heart, resulting in a drop in blood pressure and an increase in the number of red blood cells in the blood. This leads to greater oxygenation of the muscles and therefore an improvement in VO2 max, measured by the famous 12-minute Cooper test, which will enable you to determine your maximum aerobic speed (VMA).

For those who know neither VO2 max nor VMA, don't panic, we will explain everything, in particular by highlighting what VMA is and how it can be measured. Above all, we are going to suggest that you measure it in a way other than a 12-minute run, which cannot be done properly by people who are not familiar with running, and therefore with controlling their energy over such a long period.

Taking stock of your physical capabilities will enable you to get more out of your fitness routine and to judge its real benefits in the context of the sport you are doing. You don't have to take our word for it, you will see for yourself that the benefits of fitness are twofold:

- to increase your physical capacities.
- not to injure yourself by practicing activities that are too stressful for the muscle fibres.

Fitness is therefore a perfect complement for athletes who already train hard in their favourite sport. This second advantage is exactly why fitness is interesting for people of all ages, including the elderly.

We will demonstrate the benefits of fitness in stages. First, we will explain the methods that will allow you to make a precise assessment of your physical capacities, and that you will be able to reproduce at regular intervals to see the benefits that the practice of fitness brings you.

Then, we will present you the benefits of fitness, supported by the latest scientific studies on the subject.

Finally, we will introduce you to the different types of fitness so that you can find the one that suits you best.

Gaining strength, gaining endurance: fitness makes no promises

Promises! Perhaps this is an unfortunate word in the field of fitness. Because fitness does not promise anything, it gives. It even gives a lot, because it significantly improves your health and your physical abilities. We will explain to you all about the measurement methods that you can use at home during your fitness training. They are based on VO2 max, VMA and simple exercises to assess your physical strength.

VO2 max and VMA at a glance

VO2 max is the maximum capacity of an organism to consume its oxygen during physical activity increasing in intensity. The point at which the athlete consumes the most oxygen during exercise is called his or her maximum aerobic speed (MAV). Unlike VO2 max, which is expressed in mL/(kg min), MVA has a much more understandable unit of measurement. For a runner, it is expressed in km/h.

Better still, the VMA is such an accurate measurement that it gives rise to a pace table. Once you know your MVA, you can use the chart to plan your split workouts, or to predict your times during a race. It is this MVA that we invite you to know before you start fitness, so that you can appreciate your evolution.

For example, thanks to the table you can know that with a VMA of 10 kilometres per hour, which is a normal VMA for a particularly sedentary non-sporting person, you can run 1000 metres in 5 minutes 15 seconds (without tiring yourself), the marathon in 5 hours 37 minutes 33 seconds (without forcing yourself), and the 100 kilometres in 13 hours and 20 minutes (without forcing yourself either, but provided that you have enough stamina to do it).

How to evaluate your endurance?

Your cardio-respiratory gains are easily measured by the VMA, the maximum aerobic speed, which we told you about in the introduction with the famous Cooper 12-minute test. The problem with a 12-minute test is that it is perfect for runners who have a good sense of feeling. They are therefore able to produce a maximum effort over 12 minutes to achieve the best possible time. For those who do not particularly enjoy running, 12 minutes is far too long.

We suggest that you opt for the half-Cooper, a 6-minute test, which also has the advantage of respecting human running ability at maximum VMA. In fact, as the running-addict website clearly indicates, you can't hold a maximum VMA for more than 8 minutes, sometimes even only 4 minutes. Therefore, the six minutes of the half-Cooper are more than enough to evaluate yourself.

To do this, go to an athletics track near your home. If they are closed to non-licensed runners, go to the route planner, enter your address or test location and plot a distance, or circuit, of about 2,000 metres where you can easily see where you will stop your run.

Then run for 6 minutes at the maximum speed you can maintain during that time. Then divide your distance by 100 and you will know your MVA: for 2000 metres run, your MVA will be 20 kilometres per hour, for 1000 metres run, 10 kilometres per hour, etc.

Repeat this test every three to six months, and you will undoubtedly improve with each test. By the time you reach your final maximum speed, you won't be thinking about stopping fitness, but will be praising its benefits.

Age is not a barrier

You should know that age is absolutely not a barrier to improving your VMA. Although you will read in running blogs and forums that it cannot be improved by more than 15 or 20% after the age of about 22 years, it is important to understand that an improvement of 15 to 20% is huge in terms of improvement of athletic ability. If we take the example of a VMA of 10 kilometres per hour at the beginning of your fitness training, and you improve it by 20%, you will then have a VMA of 12 kilometres per hour. That is, 04 minutes 20 seconds for the 1000 metres (without straining) instead of 5 minutes 15 seconds, 04 hours 44 minutes for the marathon (without straining). The only exception is the 100 kilometres, for which you will not see any substantial improvement.

The gain does not stop there! Because for 15 to 20% more VMA, that's not counting your gain in terms of physical health. By this we mean the favourable evolution of your body mass index (BMI). We are not talking about a diet. We are not telling you that you have to start fitness and follow a diet that calculates daily calories according to rest times, etc. Not at all!

By keeping the same diet, but doing daily fitness exercises for a few tens of minutes, you will lose weight and can hope to go from a fat mass that is far too high to a fat mass of around 15% for men and 20% for women, or even less. This weight gain will have a direct impact on your physical abilities. Having 15 to 20 kilos less to move will not only affect your performance, but also and above all your joints, your cartilage, your tendons, in short, everything that allows you to move.

Practising fitness is therefore the best way to live and age in good health, or better still, to considerably improve a weakened state of health. To further encourage you to practice fitness in the long term, we will now explain how to measure your strength, in a simple way.

How do you measure your physical strength?

To measure your physical strength without dumbbells or other weights, choose three exercises that cover just about every muscle group:

- Push-ups.
- Chair position.
- the sheathing exercise (face down, toes up and elbows up)

For those who suffer from back problems, it is possible that the floor-supporting position is not suitable. Do not do it. After a few weeks of fitness, you will probably find that you will be able to do it without pain because of the strengthened muscles in your back. We will describe below the technique to use to strengthen your back with body weight, without having to arch your back. At the same time, you will sleep better, because the muscles in your back will ease the pain of lying down.

To assess your fitness level when you start fitness, start by doing as many push-ups as possible, following these rules

- arms fully relaxed in the up position,
- One hand flat on the floor, or a glass of water high.

It is up to you to choose the position of your arms (hands at shoulder level with elbows apart, or hands at chest level with elbows along the trunk, etc.). The different positions will work your shoulders more or less hard. Choose the one that suits you best, especially if you have old shoulder injuries. There will always be a push-up that suits you, even if you have to put your knees on the floor to reduce the weight you have to push. Don't forget to record your result.

Then move to the chair position, to rest your abs that were already in a sheathing position when you did the push-ups. The rules are as follows:

- Back against a wall, legs bent at 90° (i.e. at right angles).
- Arms at your side (not on your legs).
- Hold for as long as possible and note your result.

Finally, the sit-up works on the same principle as the chair position. Get into a pump position and rest your elbows on the floor. Your toes and forearms will then support your body weight. Hold the position as long as possible and note your result.

We can already tell you that within a year of serious training you will easily be able to do more than eighty push-ups in a row, hold the chair position for at least three minutes and maintain the sit-up for at least three minutes. We will explain how to do this in the programme at the end of this article.

Repeat these tests once a month, after you've been out of the gym for three days, to allow your muscles to regenerate and reach their full potential.

The many benefits of fitness

Fitness brings a significant improvement in health and helps not only to increase longevity, but also to improve cognitive abilities, or the well-being between mother and child.

Rethinking health: the scientific and philosophical approach to fitness

Fitness is not just a fad. On the contrary, it is part of a real conceptual revolution that began in the 1960s, thanks to doctors like Albert Dunn. The latter, who developed the idea of "wellness", also had the brilliant intuition that "the main bastion that must be conquered involves teaching people to "know themselves". Psychology tells us, from laboratory experiments, that our perception of the external world is inextricably linked with the concepts and emotions contained in our minds as well as in the tissues of our bodies." He thus defined health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

This is exactly the role that fitness plays in this search for well-being. Fitness responds to the search for physical wellbeing, alongside other types of wellbeing that have been developed over the decades by doctors such as John W. Travis, until a recent study that proposed to develop, alongside spiritual, intellectual, social, and professional wellbeing, digital wellbeing. Because digital technology has entered our private and professional lives, implying a growing sedentary lifestyle, fitness is the ideal solution to regain control of our health.
This is how the Ardell wellness model was born in 1977. A model based on three pillars

- the physical domain, based on fitness, nutrition, appearance, challenges and lifestyle habits.
- the mental domain, based on emotional, intelligence, decision making, stress management, knowledge, mental health.
- meaning and purpose, based on relationships, mood and play.
Thus, fitness is not the alpha and omega of well-being, but an indispensable part of a life balance that needs to be found to improve one's overall health.

These ideas are not entirely new, since health psychology has its roots in Aristotelian philosophy, through the hexis proairetike, the possibility for each individual to decide one way rather than another, against the backdrop of the constant search for virtuous behaviour, which is that which stands in the middle of two extremes, according to the Latin adage taken from the Nicomachean Ethics: in medio stat virtus (virtue stands in the middle). In other words, a behaviour which, following the models of the doctors Dunn and Travis, should lead to 'wellness' rather than 'premature death'.

Fitness is therefore one of those adjustment variables whose health benefits have an effect on a multitude of other domains, some of which remained unsuspected for a long time, such as the improvement of cognitive abilities.

Fitness improves cognitive abilities and mother-child relationships

The fact that increasing the number of hours of sport in the school curriculum is a priority for French sports federations is not only based on the alarming observation of a decline in the physical capacities of young people. Recent studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of fitness on cognitive abilities, particularly in the fields of mathematics and reading.

These discoveries should make it possible to avoid having to choose between giving priority to traditional intellectual subjects to the detriment of physical education and sport, on the pretext that it is useless. The studies even go so far as to point out that fitness greatly contributes to brain health, particularly aerobic fitness.

Once this is established, it is still necessary to determine the optimal amount of exercise per day. Researchers at Harvard University have done this. They determined that 150 minutes of fitness per week, based on moderate aerobic exercise, for adults is necessary for good physical and mental health. This is equivalent to only 21 minutes per day. With more intense physical activity, such as running, this figure can drop to 75 minutes per week, or about 11 minutes of sport per day.

This figure even rises to 60 minutes of exercise per day for children, as a simple minimum. As the American researchers point out, fitness exercises have the advantage of being suitable even for pregnant women. When we know that the stress and negativity of a pregnant woman has a direct impact on the health of the baby she is carrying, by inducing, post-delivery, mood problems in the child and attachment problems between herself and her child, the importance of fitness takes on a whole new dimension.

Without losing weight, fitness improves the health of overweight people

This is called "fat but fit". Never again say that fat people are not fit, because this may be patently false. Researchers at Harvard University have found that fitness training reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in obese people, despite their excess weight.
Better still, they found that in addition to helping to fight hypertension, lower cholesterol and limit the risk of diabetes, the more assiduous the exercise, the less likely the person was to develop hypertension and diabetes. The frequency of physical activity is directly related to the lower risk.

Therefore, fitness, or any other sport, should not be seen only as a way to lose weight. Fitness means more than that. As this study reminds us, fitness is the perfect way to improve your metabolism, reduce stress, and improve your immune response, including fighting inflammation more effectively and promoting tissue repair. This is true regardless of the type of fitness you practice.

What type of fitness should I choose?

There are many different types of fitness, from aquacombat to crossfit to TRX, there is something for everyone with significant benefits. However, all these variations can be classified into four main areas:

- aerobics,
- anaerobics,
- flexibility,
- endurance.

Aerobics

This field of fitness is presented in the form of workouts generally carried out via dancing gymnastics. Invented by Dr. Cooper in the 1960s in the United States, the term refers to oxygen. It includes sports as diverse as jogging, swimming and dancing.

The role of aerobics is simple: to speed up the heart and make all the muscles work in order to demand a greater supply of oxygen. This fitness discipline develops the muscles as well as the entire cardiovascular system. Aerobics requires little space and can therefore be practiced at home without any problems.

Anaerobics

Anaerobics is perfect for all athletes who do not like to spend hours training. Anaerobics is a discipline that aims to perform fast but particularly intense exercises. Anaerobic training is used for cycling, running and swimming splits. These are high-intensity exercises, which are performed over a short period of time.

Anaerobics, unlike aerobics, is based on muscular power generated without oxygen. In other words, the famous VO2 max does not come into play here. The effort is calculated in ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a molecule present in every cell that is used to produce energy. This production leads to the production of lactic acid.

It is this lactic acid, measured by taking blood samples during exercise, that enables us to determine the AT (anaerobic threshold), a unit of measurement comparable to VO2 max. Studies have shown that anaerobic exercise reduces the ageing of the heart muscle. Above all, combining an aerobic fitness session with an anaerobic session would lead to a greater reduction in body fat.

Flexibility

Flexibility is about flexibility. It is especially important for children, who should practice flexibility exercises two to three times a week, and is a very good way to increase strength. T'ai chi and yoga are among the most suitable exercises, with the benefits of reducing stress and the risk of falling.

Flexibility is a perfect activity to facilitate ageing and has positive effects on mobility and mortality by limiting functional decline. It is therefore an area that the athlete should not neglect. However, although fitness exercises based solely on flexibility increase strength, flexibility and reduce symptoms of disease in patients, they bring less results than aerobic muscle strengthening exercises.

Therefore, it is best for athletes who wish to perform flexibility exercises to combine them with aerobic exercises. In other words, use flexibility exercises either in the warm-up phase or in the recovery phase.

Endurance

Long-term aerobic exercise, such as long-distance running (at least 5 kilometres) or cycling, produces a large amount of lactic acid. At first glance, this might seem like a negative thing, as lactic acid is commonly associated with muscle pain and cramps.

In reality, the lactic acid produced in the muscles will enter the bloodstream and become lactate. Lactate is an important source of energy, as it helps to form glucose, which replaces the glycogen reserves of the muscles. To do this, the athlete must not exceed 75% of his or her VMA in work intensity. Why should this be the case? Because glycogen becomes the body's main source of energy above 75% of its VO2 max, to the detriment of glucose.

The consumption of glucose as the main source of energy allows, on the one hand to lower the blood sugar level, and on the other hand to burn fat. Above all, the production of lactate induced by endurance will provide a source of energy for the heart, lungs, liver, white and red blood cells, and the brain. Finally, lactate enables tissue repair and promotes wound healing.

So, abandon the old ideas about lactic acid, because its production is necessary for our metabolism to carry out endurance exercises, the cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory benefits of which are no longer in question. When we know that endurance athletes have a heart muscle beating between 35 and 45 beats per minute, everything is said.

The development of a wide range of fitness activities

Now that we have talked about the main areas of fitness, you have all the weapons to choose the type of activity that suits you best. Let's take a look at pound, Crossfit and TRX.

Pound, a New Age calorie burner

The pound, from the English verb meaning "to pound" (to strike the pestle), is a new fitness that comes directly from California. Invented by Cristina Peerenboom and Kirsten Potenza, pounding involves hitting sticks together or on the floor. Performed to extremely rhythmic music, pound acts directly on the cardio.

A high-energy discipline, a single session of this type of fitness is estimated to burn 700 to 900 calories. A significant figure that will make you appreciate the originality of the method, which you can even apply at home, if your neighbours like you a lot.

Crossfit

A new trend in gyms, Crossfit is gaining more and more followers among athletes. A complete discipline, Crossfit seeks to break the routine of endlessly repeated exercises. Based on the idea that you can develop your physical capacities through short, high-intensity exercises, Crossfit easily falls into the category of anaerobic exercises. Crossfit is therefore the perfect supplement to your training. It is not for nothing that it is popular with triathletes, precisely because of this function.

Considered the hardest workout in the world, it has been emulated all over the world since its creation in the United States by the US-American Crossfit company. Above all, Crossfit is recognised by the scientific community as one of the best workouts in the field of high intensity work. It is also said to bring a deep sense of community, great satisfaction and strong motivation.

Crossfit is an important ally of the athlete as a training supplement, allowing hardy people to improve their physical abilities by breaking the long and tedious exercise routine they are used to. A kind of split training for all the muscles of the body, Crossfit is even developing its credentials as a physical activity in its own right. You only have to watch the Crossfit games to get an idea.

TRX

TRX has its own legend: that it was invented by the American special forces. Simple handles attached to straps, TRXs allow for body weight training, and are strangely reminiscent of good old gymnastic rings. So what are US special forces doing in this? Not much, except to use these straps to stay physically fit in hostile environments where the gym is not an option.

Why use TRX? To limit the risk of injury. Bodyweight training limits the risk of injury from lifting weights. In particular, at the end of an exercise, when the athlete is half asphyxiated, he or she twists to push the bar or lift the dumbbell. It is often these changes in posture that lead to injury, when it is not simply the practice of an unfortunate technique.

With TRX, there is no need to worry about the shape of your back or the weight to put on the bar. Your body weight does it all. Don't think that you will find your limits quickly with such a basic tool. By the time you have successfully completed the myriad of exercises made possible by this apparatus, you will have a professional gymnast's body for a long time.

Appreciated by policemen, firemen, soldiers, or even members of the civil security, many of whom suffer from chronic injuries linked to intense training carried out alone, TRXs have totally revolutionised training. Above all, they allow the whole body to be strengthened.

Perfect for those who suffer from back pain, TRXs are the right equipment for building up lumbar muscles. We promised you at the beginning of this article, so here's how you can build up your back without unnecessary pain:

1. Attach your TRX (or gym rings) to a tree branch, beam or pull-up bar, and set them at the height of your raised arms.

2. Grab the handles with your arms outstretched and raise your body, legs bent, until your feet are at the top and your head is at the bottom.

3. Move your legs backwards so that you have completed a 360° turn.

4. Return your body to the starting position. If your abs have worked in the first phase, your back will work in the second to bring you back to your starting position.

With the TRX, no more flat on your stomach, arms spread out and back arched to build up your lumbar muscles. If you suffer from hernia or other spinal problems, strengthening these muscles in your lower back will change your life. Most importantly, over time you will be able to perform the exercise with your legs straight, and even keep the position horizontal, both with your legs in front ("front lift") and with your legs in back ("back lift").

If TRX doesn't inspire you, you can do the same work with a pull-up bar. For a visual demonstration, type "Skin the cat" on Youtube, and you will immediately see the movement to perform.

An idea for an independent home programme

If you don't want to join a fitness club yet, you can start training at home. We suggest simple workouts that can be done in less than an hour, and that will help you build up your shoulders, pecs, triceps, biceps and abs.

Since this guide is aimed at athletes, we're heading for a serious entry-level workout: push-ups, sit-ups, biceps curls, pull-ups.

Push-ups and squats

You start your stopwatch and begin the push-ups. The goal is simple: to do 100 push-ups. To do this, you start your first set until you reach your limit. Then you take a dumbbell of about ten kilos and do as many reps per arm as you have done push-ups. This will allow the muscles used to do the push-ups to rest. Then do the push-ups again, and so on until you reach 100 reps of push-ups and bends per arm with the dumbbell.

If 100 reps is already too easy for you, you can aim for 200 reps. The key is to complete the exercise in under 20 minutes. The ultimate goal is to do 1000 push-ups in one hour. This is where it's going to sting.

Abs

Forget about the good old method of doing sit-ups, the one where you do them with your legs locked and your chest raised and lowered. Apart from working your thigh muscles and breaking your lower back, you won't gain much. No, the abdominals are dozens of different exercises to build up your obliques as well as your rectus abdominis (the chocolate bars).

Instead of giving yourself endless descriptions, go on Youtube, search for "abs workout" and do a Franck Medrano workout, with 10 or 15 different positions, and do each of these positions for 30 seconds or 1 minute.

Finish on a sheathing position, until you can't hold it anymore. That is, not until you are sweating on the floor and your arms are shaking like a washing machine. This workout will take 10-12 minutes in total.

Pull-ups

This is where it gets tricky. Find a pull-up bar, a beam, a branch, anything you can hold on to without falling. You go for 100 pull-ups. Like push-ups, you do your best and then... you go one at a time. In 35 to 40 minutes, you should be done.

In other words, with these four simple exercises, you have enough time to train every day of the week. Ten minutes of abs is doable in the morning before going to work. The same goes for push-ups and squats. As for the pull-ups, they're the icing on the cake and can be saved for the weekend.

There is no doubt that you will make great progress. However, if after having stopped the sport three days before testing yourself, you notice that you are regressing, you should question yourself.

I'm training, but I'm regressing, how come?

With the advice we have given you to evaluate your physical condition, you will not fail to notice, during certain evaluations, that you are regressing. Why, when you are going to the limit with each exercise? For the simple reason that your body is not a machine. It also has its days without, and its physical fatigue.

This can also be a sign of overtraining, which is why it is important to test yourself regularly. If this is the case, consider taking a break, because even if fitness is a gentle sport, you are not safe from a muscle tear or a tendon rupture.

So train intelligently, and don't hesitate to join a fitness club to be advised, accompanied, and surrounded by other sportsmen and women who will help you progress even faster.



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