Vail Daily column: Why we need fitness standards
July 28, 2014
When you visit your doctor's office, the physician's assistant will take your vital signs. Vital signs are used to measure the body's basic functions. These measurements are taken to help assess the general physical health of a person, give clues to possible diseases and show progress toward recovery. The normal ranges for a person's vital signs vary with age, weight, gender and overall health. There are four main vital signs: body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate.
The reason that vital signs are taken is to consider current state of physical wellbeing and to provide signs of certain underlying conditions. Often a doctor will investigate further and look at a complete blood count. A complete blood count gives important information about the types and numbers of cells in the blood and platelets. A complete blood count helps your doctor check any symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue or bruising, you may have. A complete blood count also helps her diagnose conditions, infections and other disorders.
The medical community has standards. Health care professionals quantify symptoms on exams to appropriately use medical solutions to cure diseases and restore optimal bodily function. We don't widely use measurable standards in the fitness industry leading to a series of potential problems. In this article I will detail why fitness standards are necessary.
LOOKING FOR RISK FACTORS
We need fitness assessment standards for the same reasons the medical community and other industries have standards. If somebody can't touch their toes, we need to ask why and implement strategies to correct this sub-optimal display of mobility. If an individual lacks the ability to touch their toes, it becomes a risk factor for low back problems. Just as high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease.
Furthermore, we need minimum standards in order to drive fitness progress. Too many fitness enthusiasts punch the clock, perform random exercises without any thought to exercise selection, load lifted, repetitions performed, rest periods, frequency, exercise order or heart rate zone. There is nothing wrong with randomly exercising to elevate heart rate, reduce stress from the week or to simply burn calories. But it's silly to expect progress and to achieve specific goals without standards and a plan to achieve those standards.
For example, I think everyone regardless of age (injuries notwithstanding) should be able to perform perfect pushups. All men should be able to, at minimum, perform 30 strict pushups in a row with proper spine alignment and trunk stability. All women should be able to perform 10 strict pushups. These are my personal minimum standards that aren't too lofty for any healthy adult to achieve.
STANDARDS KEEP YOU ON TRACK
Standards promote goal direction, discipline, a sense of focus and achievement upon successfully reaching specific goals. Without standards it's too easy to get distracted and miss out on building optimal fitness.
For example, maybe an individual stretches her hamstrings at the end of every session because it feels good. Even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, maybe she has optimal range of motion and isn't making progress because this pattern is already optimal for her. But perhaps she lacks upper body strength and without a pushup standard, she misses the opportunity for balanced fitness as she avoids this difficult exercise.
Standards can be anything that is currently out of reach in your fitness program that's realistically achievable with focus and hard work. Maybe 30 strict pushups is your goal and you're currently at five. Write that standard down, and design a program that can be worked towards achieving 30 pushups.
TARGET THE WEAKEST LINK
I would suggest finding the weakest link in your fitness and setting a precedence to bring it up. For women, often it's suboptimal stability and strength. Men usually have mobility and flexibility problems. Regardless, next week I will discuss a system that objectively standardizes movements and exposes weaknesses, and detail how to use this measurement to correct fitness imbalances. Stay tuned!
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards' passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.