"Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning."
- Thomas Jefferson
Along with the 9 cognitive skills necessary for success, I believe that these 6 principles of fitness conditioning can help take your game and yourself to the next level. Be mindful of this list before you start setting new fitness and/or life goals.
1. Individual Differences: because we all are unique individuals, we will all have a different response to an exercise program. It is very important that you create an exercise program that fits your needs. You have to be very mindful of what your current abilities are in order to create the best program moving forward. It is only by properly assessing where you are today that you can set realistic and sustainable goals for the future.
2. Overload: a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to take place. In order for a muscle (including the heart) to increase strength, it must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is used to. This means that you will have to increase the amount of reps or weight that you train with. You have to challenge yourself in ways that may be uncomfortable to you in order to make the progress you seek. Doing 20 pushups a day won't cut it.
3. Progression: implies that there is an optimal level of overload that should be achieved, and in a specific time frame. Progression has to be gradual to avoid any risk of injury. If overload occurs too slowly, improvement is unlikely, but overload that is increased too rapidly may result in injury or muscle damage. When you set goals for yourself, It is very important to give yourself enough time to make the needed progress, and enough time so that you can push yourself in a healthy way that won't put you at risk of injuries. Progression also stresses the need for proper rest and recovery.
4. Adaptation: refers to the body's ability to adjust to increased or decreased physical demands, including coordination and balance. Adaptation is excellent for athletes who need a lot of repetition and athletes who seek "perfect adaptation" (golfers, basketball players, football quarterbacks, etc). However, if you want to get stronger and keep making progress, you will have to add variety to your exercise program or you will plateau and will be at risk of giving up. You have to keep your body 'guessing' so to speak and not fall into the monotony of the same exercise program day in and day out.
5. Use and Disuse: your muscles hypertrophy (growth) with use and atrophy (wasting) with disuse. If you don't use it, you lose it. This is very true when it comes to conditioning and making progress in sport. Be mindful of adaptation and variety of exercise here and keep in mind what your goals are. I always recommend doing a lot of full body core conditioning. Keeping a strong, centered core will enable you to train harder and more safely than you normally could.
6. Specificity: to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must perform that exercise or skill. A runner should train by running, a swimmer by swimming and a cyclist by cycling. I know this sounds simple by principle but I see this too many times, at gyms, people not doing the work or exercises they should be doing. It's always a lot easier to do the exercises that we are comfortable doing, but if you want to learn how to do pulls up or push ups, there are no better way than to actually do them.
Reference: Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 3rd Edition. 2005. Human Kinetics Publishing.