Put simply, fitness is a matter of doing activities you love without pain. What allows you to do that? It all starts with having a solid foundation. When a person comes into the Tisch Performance Center for an assessment, we take a look at the fundamentals: body composition (maintaining a healthy ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat), joint range of motion/flexibility, strength, cardiovascular fitness, and postural alignment. Think of these components as pieces of a puzzle; put together, they allow you be active safely and improve your performance by making you more aware of your body.
Look at your fitness goal and ask yourself – Do I have the pieces in place to be able to do that without getting hurt, and to do it well? You might be a fantastic athlete, but if you can’t move through your shoulder properly and flexibility is an issue, you’re limiting yourself and placing yourself at risk. Often we find that the individuals who come to see us are experiencing some sort of pain or injury because they’ve focused on things like speed, agility, and power, without realizing that they don’t have the building blocks in place. For example, maybe someone’s mobility is limited, or their shoulder stabilizers are so weak that their shoulder is falling out of alignment. By assessing their basic movement patterns, or seeing how their posture aligns when they’re standing still, we can identify potential issues and offer corrective instructions that eliminate the cause of the problems which makes them better at their activity. Core and stabilization exercises, which many people do not spend a lot of time on, can make a huge difference in not only how you feel day-to-day but also when you play a sport or practice an activity.
An important thing to remember when you are thinking about your fitness level is that there’s a minimum, but you don’t necessarily have to push to the maximum. You don’t have to be at the 95% percentile of everything, as long as your program is well-rounded and you are maintaining some balance in your exercises. We all do what we like to do because we’re good at it and it comes more easily to us, but it’s not necessarily what we need. If you like to lift weights at the gym, maybe incorporate some circuit training to get your heart rate up. Remember that you don’t have to think about each exercise in isolation. There are plenty of activities, like basketball, that incorporate muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, and balance for a full body workout. We also live in a world where many of us are sitting all day, so it’s helpful to get a full view of what your activity levels are like both in and outside of the gym.
So how do you convince yourself to do the exercises that you don’t like as much? Give it a chance! Often we don’t do certain things because we feel we won’t be good at them. And how do you get better at things? By trying them, learning, and practicing. Also don’t be afraid to reach out to a certified fitness professional when you’re starting a new activity to get some guidance and make sure that your form is correct. Most importantly, don’t compare your fitness levels to others. It’s not about how much you can bench or squat compared to someone else. This is your journey to keeping your body healthy throughout the course of your life-keep your goals in sight, ask for help and support when you need it, and give yourself credit for all your efforts along the way.
Polly de Mille is the coordinator of performance services at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a registered clinical exercise physiologist, exercise specialist and exercise test technologist. She is also a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach.
Jason Machowsky is a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and certified personal trainer at the Tisch Performance Center. He has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a masters degree from Columbia University.
Jamie Osmak is a certified strength and conditioning specialist at the Tisch Performance Center. Jamie is a USA Track and Field Level 1 coach and corrective exercise specialist with a degree in Exercise Science from Rutgers University.