An explosion in exercise classes has pushed participants to the edge of their fitness level — think CrossFit and boot camp-types of classes. While there’s much to be gained by sweating and grunting for an hour, the goal of sustainable, well rounded fitness requires skills that you often don’t get in these high energy classes. Boot camp-type classes push you to the ‘anaerobic’ zone — this is where you develop power and the foundation for endurance. This zone is very recognizable: breathing hard, sweating profusely, and feeling like you are going to lose your breakfast are signs that you may be working out so hard that your muscles cannot get enough oxygen to supply their energy needs. Luckily the body has a backup system to provide muscles with energy even when oxygen is in short supply and, while it is vital that we work this anaerobic zone periodically, we also need the benefits that come with lower-energy workouts as well.
Recently I filled in for a boot camp instructor who was on vacation. I had taken his class periodically and knew how to create the anaerobic workouts he was known for, but I was curious to see how well-rounded his regulars were after doing primarily anaerobic exercise for the better part of a year. I set up my circuits in a way that would test their ability to balance on unstable surfaces, and was surprised to find that these very ‘fit’ people had very poor balance. At the end of class we worked the core muscles — muscles of the front and back of the torso — and flexibility. Again I was surprised to find that isolated core strength was lacking despite repeated squats and burpees, and their flexibility was very limited. When I asked them about the apparent deficit in balance, core strength and flexibility, they explained that they only had so much time to exercise and felt that those abilities weren’t really necessary – what they had was ‘good enough.’
Your body’s anaerobic systems are extremely important to train as we age. For example, power such as the ability to run up a hill or cross the street while the light is still green, begins to wane unless we exercise in a way that challenges the body’s ability to work hard in short bursts. If that is the only exercise that you do, then there is a huge hole in your fitness. Anyone who has sat with me for more than ten minutes knows that I am passionate about fitness and, if it isn’t well-rounded, it isn’t fitness. Classes that challenge your balance and core like yoga, pilates or barre are vital for stability, back strength and complete fitness. It’s not just the body that needs fitness; consider adding meditation to your lineup. Training your brain is as important as training your body! All of us have limited time to do the things that we enjoy as well as the things that nourish our body; don’t short-change your fitness by getting stuck in the bootcamp-rut. When you think beyond anaerobic workouts, your fitness level, your wellbeing and your body will thank you!