The answers to those questions will fall into four broad categories: appearance, performance, feel or move better, and major health issues.
Goal: Looking Better
Appearance is the most common and strongest of all of the motivators. One of my Russian coaches thought of it as frivolous. He referred to it as “wanting to look better naked in front of a mirror,” but yet its power can never be underestimated. Bodybuilding strategies are the most common route, but the newer athletic-inspired approaches to training will also produce that desired appearance—with the added benefit of a more functional strength for daily life activities.
Performance means strength and conditioning for a purpose. That purpose may be for sports, military, police, fire, etc. However, in the general public, Special Ops–inspired training and functional training have become very popular in the belief that this type of training will help them reach higher levels of both strength and conditioning, and can be found in various programs like Boot Camps, CrossFit, and so on. Sport Performance gyms have also grown exponentially across the country in the last decade as parents invest in whatever it takes to improve their children’s athletic careers.
Goal: Feeling Better
Feeling better becomes the primary goal when the barnacles of aging reach critical mass. The idea of chasing body beautiful and seriously improving athletic performance fade as the need to “just keep moving comfortably in one’s body” dominates awareness. Wear and tear of the joints (arthritis), loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia), and serious body fat increases (caused by the great American diet combined with little activity) lead to a whole host of life-quality issues that exercise and diet can greatly improve.
Goal: Alleviating Major Health Issues
Major health issues require their own individual approaches to strength and conditioning. Experienced and well-educated experts know the correct approaches for their area of expertise, and the uninformed should not guess at them. Heart disease, MS, COPD, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and brain damage, for example, are very serious issues but life quality can be improved with the right guidance and proper effort.
When There Is More Than One Issue
As complex as individuals can be, you may find their situation to be a combination of the above categories, and therefore they must be ranked in order of importance. Training is also a process along a timeline, so there must be flexibility and the willingness to adjust the program as training progresses.
The “how” to train will be born within the answer to “why” someone is seeking fitness. For any real success, the “why” question must be answered honestly. As stated above (and worth repeating), a technically correct workout could be a total waste of time, money, effort, and perhaps could even be dangerous if the training program doesn’t match the individual’s needs and motivation.
One last comment regarding this issue. There have been many attempts throughout the years to create a universal definition of fitness, design workout programs to address each fitness component of that definition, and then sell the concept that if one truly wanted to be fit (by their definition), one would have to train according to their program. I am sure these attempts started out to be sincere efforts to make Jell-O solid, but morphed into profit-producing ventures with corresponding business agendas (see this post with more philosophy on separating good fitness and nutrition advice from bad).
Please remember, the Fitness Holy Grail is a myth. There is no one perfect workout and the definition of fitness is relative to who is asking and why. I suppose that in some situations that wrestling in Jell-O could be fun, but wrestling with Jell-O is not. First establish your goals and then clearly understand your motives. The proper training program will evolve as a natural result of that process.
This blog was written by Rick Huse, NIFS Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.