The McBryde Guide to Cheerleading went up last week, and our final post in the series is our fitness guide. There are five major components to fitness, and those are: cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance, body composition, and flexibility. We’re going to examine what each of those mean and how to achieve them.
A quick heads-up: before beginning any fitness regimen, consult your doctor and make sure that you’re not going to do more harm than good. We suggest keeping it simple and not falling for the latest fads – healthy eating, exercise, and lots of water are key. If something makes claims that are too good to be true, they’re pulling your leg.
What is Cardiorespiratory Fitness?
Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to fitness of your heart and lungs, and how effectively your heart can move blood through your body – and use the oxygen your lungs bring in – during physical activity.
Improving your cardiorespiratory fitness requires doing activities that increase your heart rate for a sustained period, activities like a brisk walk, jogging, cycling, or swimming. The idea is to start out slowly, gradually increase the intensity, then gradually reduce the intensity again.
When you exercise, you’re strengthening your heart so it’s able to pump more blood, which moves more oxygen through your bloodstream. Your heart will change when you exercise regularly: if your athletics are strength-based, the heart wall gets thicker. If you’re working on endurance, the ventricles expand.
The lungs’ function may not change or improve much, but your body will learn how to better use what the lungs bring in, so that’s pretty important.
Muscular Strength and Endurance
Exercise contributes to building muscle strength as long as those muscles are worked on a regular basis. There’s no particular secret to this – any activity that you do that works muscles until they’re tired will strengthen them with time. Protein contributes to muscle growth, too, as it helps provide fuel for the expansion of muscle cells.
On the flipside, when you build endurance instead of strength, you’re not increasing muscular size because the body’s more concerned with making sure those muscles are getting the oxygen they need to keep performing. In that case, the focus is on cardiovascular systems instead of the muscles themselves.
Your body has two types of muscle fiber: fast twitch and slow twitch. Your fast twitch fibers tire quickly, don’t need blood to function, and are white in color as a consequence. Slow twitch fibers are the red muscle fibers that are able to do stuff without tiring. An example of slow twitch fibers in action would be a long distance runner, who would be running for long periods of time without getting tired.
Different exercises encourage different types of muscle, so you’ll want to tweak your routine depending on what it is you want to develop.
On Body Composition
When we talk about body composition, we’re referring to the muscle, bone, water, and fat in the body and their amounts. Different sports benefit from different compositions, and someone can drastically shift a set of ratios while remaining the same size – for example, building muscle at the expense of body fat. Figuring out exact body composition is a science in and of itself, but that’s not why we mention it.
We mention body composition to point out that, in your fitness endeavors, you may find that you don’t lose any weight. This isn’t a failing. Your body is changing for the better no matter what size you are, it’s simply a matter of shifting priorities. Are you less soft and more solid? Congratulations, you’re now a powerhouse.
Flexibility and Fitness
The range of movement that your joints can accomplish improves as you exercise tendons and they loosen up. What flexibility refers to is the range of movement that your joints are capable of, and the better that gets, the better it is for you. It means your joints can go through their full range of motion instead of being limited.
People tend to work on flexibility using stretches. When you do your warm-ups, this is generally what you’re doing, so improving flexibility is one of those things that comes along with taking up a fitness routine.
How to Get Fit
Actually getting fit is a process that’s easier for some people than others.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: if you’re not invested in this process, you’re not going to make it. You have to want fitness. It’s not an easy thing, it’s going to require lifestyle changes, and if you’re not ready to make those changes, you’re going to fall flat on your face.
With that said, even just adding regular exercise to your life is better than nothing.
So, just what’s involved with getting fit?
Figuring Out Fitness: Goals
One of the first things you ought to be doing is figuring out what your fitness goals are, even if it’s something as simple as “be able to climb the stairs without getting winded”. Start small. The key to goals is making them something that you actually can achieve, like being able to run a marathon.
If goals aren’t a thing that tickles your fancy, you can instead opt to make new habits, like drinking water instead of pop or taking the long way to class. Whichever way you do it, you have to understand that these are things that you have to work toward and you’re not going to change in a day.
Food and Fitness
Food is fuel.When you’re lighting a fire, if you try to use the wrong fuel, you’ll just wind up with smoke or nothing at all. You have to use the right combination of fuels to get the flame you want, and to make it last as long as you need.
Our bodies are similar, and the quality of fuel matters, too.
We’re not telling you to go on a no-GMO, all-organic, whatever-the-latest-fad-is diet or anything like that. First off, all your food is genetically modified – it’s called selective breeding. It’s why corn is the way it is instead of being the dinky plant of its ancestors. It’s why we have specialized dog breeds and a zillion different types of tomato. No, what we’re telling you is to cut or reduce the crap and get with the good stuff.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats (or their vegetarian substitutes) provide the nutrients your body needs to run effectively. If you can’t afford fresh, you get what you can afford – frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh, and canned are still better than none.
Don’t change your diet all at once. Make gradual changes, like replacing your usual snacks with vegetables or cooking more meals at home.
Oh, and, of course, you’ll want to drink more water. Lots of water. Hydration is super important, especially when it comes to the exercise part.
Pick an Activity and DO IT
The other portion of getting fit is the one where you do a lot of moving.
It’s recommended that you have 20-30 minutes per day of movement, though more is better.
The only way you’ll stick with whatever activity you choose is if you actually enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to try several different things, take classes, check out videos, whatever it takes to find something that you like doing… and then do it.
That’s basically all there is to it: eat better and move.
Whatever activity you go with, it needs to get your heart pumping and you need to warm up your muscles with some light stretching before you actually get to it. Small changes are better than nothing, and it sometimes helps to have a friend (and lots of support) taking the journey with you.
One last thing: stop working to the point where you’re in pain. “No pain, no gain” is bad advice, seriously, that’s how people wind up with injuries and give up on their fitness goals.
What finally got you to stick to your fitness goals? Comment or contact us and tell us your story!