What is the Fitness Triad and why should you care? Any guesses? Unless you are a present or former seasoned athlete, you likely do not have any depth of understanding of how much you do not know about that which you do not know. If there is a single thing that I think can without failure, be pinpointed with folks failures with weight loss and physical fitness programs, it is a lack of knowledge. When it comes to failing a weight loss and or physical fitness program, a lack of knowledge is going to kill your loss or gains no matter how much effort you expend in the gym. The only caveat to this, is there are some people who are outliers who do well in spite of themselves.
The Fitness Triad is akin to a three-legged stool. All three legs must be equal in length for the stool to be stable. The Fitness Triad is Exercise, Nutrition and Rest for recovery. All three elements have equal roles in your progress with exercise of any kind. There are no exceptions to this rule, ever. Exercise, Nutrition and Rest all share equal importance.
I will address exercise first. Friends, always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen. You do not want to find out the hard way that you have developed an unknown condition that could possibly make exercise dangerous for you.
Next, understand that not being obese is not necessarily a sign that you are in shape. You could very well be within your healthy weight range, yet be what is referred to as skinny fat. You probably know the type even if you do not recognize this term. This is the individual who has a soft body despite being thin. Skinny fat can be worse than outright obesity as skinny folks assume that because their weight is not high, they are in good health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having served in two separate branches of the Armed Forces, Navy and Army, I have seen skinny fat folks get in physical trouble during their basic training as they are just not physically ready for the demands of the training.
Weight training is my exercise of choice. I also like to go out and take very brisk walks at about a 3.7 mph hour pace for anywhere between 5 1/2 to 7 miles at least twice, sometimes three times per week. I lift four days per week, and walk on my non lifting days. Your choice of exercise is totally individual for what works for you, however, know that unless it is elevating your heart rate, it is really not doing much for you. While it is certainly better than sitting on the couch eating bon bons, without an elevated heart rate, the benefit is greatly reduced. If you are going for weight loss, you need your heart rate up at least an average of twenty minutes in order to burn through your glycogen stores before your body begins to burn fat as fuel. You really need to get through the glycogen stores!
There are too many types of exercise to address all, so I am going to limit this mainly to strength training and cardiovascular exercise. No matter which route you take, be kind to your body and buy the best shoe that you can afford for the exercise of choice. You want shoes that will provide you stability and support. Even weight training has special training shoes which have a harder sole with a heel rise. The harder sole gives you a more solid foundation when you are doing lifts that require standing such as Squats, Dead Lifts and Over Head Presses etc. Shoes for your cardio need to fit well and have proper arch support to prevent painful conditions such as Plantar Fasciitis and blisters.
If you are new to either strength training and/or cardio, my next advise is to get yourself on a set program in order to know what to do, and in order to track your progress. There are many apps out there you can download to your phone for free. You really will benefit more by doing this and placing trust in programs that have been put together by experts that have already learned the hard lessons you really do not want to have to learn yourself. This can help prevent burnout and injury too. Again, you may not know what it is you do not know. For running apps, there are a few good ones out there such as C25K, or Couch To 5 K. It is an excellent program that will move you from walking to running 5K or 3 miles in a methodical manner of progress.
Starting Strength by Coach Mark Rippetoe is a great app for beginning strength trainers, male or female, young and old alike. There is another app that is quite similar and is a bit of a rip off of Starting Strength called Strong Lifts. These are two quality programs based on five sets of five repetitions for compound body lifts; Squats, Dead Lifts, Bench Press, Barbell Rows, and Over Head Press. The beauty of using these program apps is you do not need to think about which weights to use or the set/rep scheme. The apps do it for you. Next, is you will have a definite measurable progress to gauge your success on. For any ladies who think these programs sound too difficult, I am currently coaching my co-author Brenda in Starting Strength. Brenda is 61 years young, just in case you might think age is a limiting factor beside gender. Both Starting Strength and Strong Lifts, begins you with very little weight in order for you to learn the proper form for each lift before progressing to heavier weights. Read Brenda’s journey with the iron in Iron Maiden parts One and Two.
Often I hear ladies say they want to strength train, but do not want to bulk up. They then proceed to lift weights using light weights and very high reps in order to tone. This is not what you want to do if you do not want to bulk. Light weights for high reps results in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which results in bulk if you keep after it. What this means is you cause microscopic tears in the muscle which result in inflammation which causes fluid retention in those muscles and the end result is bulkier muscles. The only thing to keep in mind though, is if you are female, your body does not produce the testosterone to get truly bulky as a man will. There’s no way you can get bulky without trying to do so!
Lastly, on cardio and strength training. Be sure to ease into your routines and always without fail, ensure your form is proper for the exercise. There is even proper form for running in that your stride can hurt you if it is not right. And for heaven’s sake, do not over do it when you are not ready, and sometimes even if you think you are. An example of what poor form can do for you, combined with over doing it would come from push-ups or bench press. Flaring your elbows out during either movement can cause painful impingement of your shoulder girdle and, you can end up with painful tears or strains to the connective tissues besides the muscle tissue. Another problem of over doing it, which results in these injuries, is you will end up with muscular imbalances where the strength in a pulling muscle might exceed the pushing strength of the mirror muscle which will result in injury. Injuries like this can not only be painful, they can also be permanent.
Getting to the next leg of the Fitness Triad is Nutrition. You must eat enough calories to fuel your exercise without getting yourself fat, or fatter. You bet, I meant those words. You cannot out exercise a bad diet, or not for long anyhow. Conversely, you must eat enough to not allow your body to go into starvation mode which will only serve to slow your metabolism and stop your weight loss in its tracks if you are seeking to lose weight. You must eat enough to fuel your body. I strongly recommend you eat only whole and healthy foods which are high in protein, low in carbs, and are not processed meals or contain any sugar. You can join My Fitness Pal for free and find out your base metabolic rate and caloric needs for your specific goals and body type. I promise that even if you only consume 16-1800 calories of whole high protein low carb meals, you will find it difficult to eat this many calories unless you are really physically active all the time. As it is, I aim for 2500 calories a day and find it hard to eat all this even with heavy weight training 4 days per week and power walking 2 to 3 days a week for 5 1/2 to 7 miles at a time. Again, I am going to stress the need that you MUST eat enough whole healthy foods to fuel your fitness regimen. Eat that protein to repair your muscles and connective tissues.
The next and final leg of the Fitness Triad is rest. Your body must have rest in order to recover. When you sleep, your body repairs itself from the strains you put on it during your exercise routine. And it is not just your muscles which need recovery, your central nervous system does as well. If you train every day with no recovery days, you will soon burn out. More is not always better. Repeat, more is not always better. Got that? More is not always better. When you over train and your central nervous system gets fatigued, you may never see it coming. You will be progressing quite nicely. Feeling stronger than ever in your strength or cardiovascular training. Then one day you get up and may feel as if you have the flu, yet you do you have a fever. Your body just hurts and you feel fatigued all over. And the fatigue can last from a day to, in my worst episode a few years back, a solid month.
In summary, remember that if you are new to exercise, get a check out from your physician. Wear proper shoes and clothing for the environment. Be sure to learn from the experts rather than going it on your own. Learn from their mistakes, not your own. Eat clean, and eat enough. Zero sugar and zero processed foods. Make sure that you get proper rest between exercise sessions. These three legs to the Triad are all equally important to your physical fitness my friends. Lastly, no matter what you do, make it fun. Enjoy the great outdoors as often as you can. A little sunshine will always help to chase the blues away.