Do you feel like something is missing from your fitness practice as a whole? Or are you stuck not making progress toward your goals or resolutions? Whether you're a weightlifter who wants to touch your toes or a yogi who can't quite muster a pullup, if you're new to exercise or you're a seasoned fitness veteran, here are five simple steps to help transform your protocol into a healthier, more balanced, and integrated practice.
A balanced fitness practice is not a static target; it is a tool that brings us toward experiencing greater wholeness and ease in movement. Yogic philosophy approaches balance through the principle of opposites. Effort and rest. Tonification and reduction. Yang and yin. Action and inaction. Strength and softness. Similarly, sports conditioning advises pairing opposites to optimize performance like strength and cardiovascular training with regeneration and recovery.
Balance is a dynamic, nonlinear state of being that demands awareness, persistence, and fluctuation. It's a practice in and of itself, so as you work through these steps, take time to reflect, ask yourself whether you're willing to apply your effort consistently in the direction of your goals, and accept that long-term progress is a slow, wavering, and exciting experience.
1. Define your goals and pathways.
Let's look at fitness as your ability to perform a specific task. Do you want to hold a free handstand? Do you want to be able to deadlift more than your bodyweight? Are you training for a marathon, or do you just want to be able to take a hike with your kids without getting winded? First, get clear on your goals so you can create pathways toward those goals. For example if your goal is to do pullups, you'll need to build core strength, and if it's a handstand, you'll want to begin with increasing shoulder flexibility.
2. Identify your capabilities and limitations.
Are you naturally flexible, or do you always feel stiff and tight? Are you more into CrossFit or Pilates? Whatever you primarily are drawn to do is both your superpower and your kryptonite.
Instead of trying to incorporate every component of exercise into a generic, one-size-fits-all recipe for success, consider your present capabilities and limitations and how to implement their opposites in order to determine what modalities will balance your current state of fitness.
For instance, yogis can be hypermobile, very flexible, and have core strength but lack stability in their joints and strength throughout their range of motion. To balance out these limitations they could consider exercises that focus more on strength inside of stretch like weight training.
On the flip side, powerlifters can recruit lots of muscle very quickly but often lack muscular flexibility and range of motion through many of their daily movements. They'll want to consider practices that encourage flexibility so they can work toward a larger range of motion. Practices like yoga or Pilates could be particularly helpful as they emphasize stretching.
3. Evaluate your stress exposure.
Stress is a nonspecific response of the body to any demand or change. That means that your body doesn't know the difference between the challenge of lifting really heavy weights or being chased by a lion. When designing a balanced fitness protocol that challenges the body and allows it to recover (aka adapt and reach your goals), you need to consider both the direct physiological stress that results from your exercise AND the cumulative extrinsic and intrinsic stress factors in your life.
Take some time to consider how much stress you experience regularly from toxic chemicals, disease, work demands, intensity of exercise, and pain or injury. Identifying some of the major stressors in your life will help you determine which type of exercise will best serve your needs at that point in time.
4. Recovery is the road to success.
Incorporating recovery and regeneration into your fitness protocol is the best way to make progress toward your goals and to ensure that you don't overtrain or undertrain in any areas of your fitness and health. Recovery is an activity designed to heal the body and facilitate adaptation. Regeneration is a component of daily training implementing specific self-care strategies.
As an experienced and full-time yoga practitioner, I usually don't need more stretching—I use powerlifting and strength training as my primary recovery modalities because they complement (or counteract) my practice. This approach might not work for other people because everyone has different backgrounds, goals, stress factors, and interests.
It's best to make time in your fitness protocol to nourish yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Reflect on what activities you can implement to bring yourself closer to balance based on your current training modalities. This way you avoid burnout and keep training while making positive adaptations.
Regardless of your specific goal or desired outcome, remember that balance in your fitness protocol is a tool to bring you to wholeness, to make you feel more even and at ease. Ask yourself every day, "How am I showing up, and what do I need to progress?"
Identify where there is imbalance, and commit to taking small steps, consistently every day, to create balance. This integration over time and with awareness is the key to becoming powerful, adaptable, and healthy for your whole life.
How to combine fitness and recovery.
While there are endless ways to incorporate fitness and recovery, here are a few suggestions to get you started:
General training day
- Warm up
- Movement skills
- Strength training
- Regeneration (Stretching/Breathing)
- Self-massage, soft tissue
- Static or dynamic stretching
- Joint mobility
- Low-impact cardio
- Moving meditation
- Cold-water immersion
- Compression therapy
- Nutrition & hydration
- Meditation, visualization
- Breathing techniques
- Nature immersion
- Positive social interaction
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.