Training for Optimal Health 1.0
I've been training people for fitness and sports performance for 17 years. In that time, I've also invested thousands of hours researching training methods, reading books and journals, and gathering information from other fitness experts on how to train.
During the earlier years in my career, I thought that training for performance and being optimally healthy were relatively close endeavors and shared a lot of common ground. As I trained more and more diverse populations, saw the lifestyles and issues that high level athletes face, and trained myself in various sports, I began to see that this is not the case.
I can now definitively say that training for optimal health and training for top level performance are divergent paths. That is not to say there isn't a common root. After all, we are talking about exercise in both cases. What I am saying is that there is a definite point at which the two pursuits separate and become more and more distinct.
On the performance branch, you will see increasing rates of dedicated training time, less variation in training, higher risk of injury, and greater specificity in terms of body structure and physiology. These progressions are necessary to enable more time on task as performance gains become harder and harder to come by. Athletes are shaped more and more by their sport and become generally less well rounded as a result.
Where optimal health diverges, we see a broadening of exercise options, less focus on achievement goals, and an ability to shift and change training as needed to help avoid injury or burnout. The tradeoff here is that the ability to pursue high level performance levels off while the daily enjoyment of training and general injury risk goes down.
Many people mistakenly believe that age is a major factor in which path people choose. While this does generally tend to be the case - older individuals often choose to participate in less competitive activities - it isn't always and optimal health practices and lifestyle choices can are commonly demonstrated by people in their 20's (or younger).
The main determining factor is what drives an individual at that point in their life. It is not to say that you can't have very good performance and very good health at the same time, it's just that it is unlikely you can have your very highest performance and very highest health simultaneously. Many people shift in and out of these paths also as they find new activities that they want to either maximize or enjoy.
In future articles, I'll explore the optimal health path in more detail and begin to outline what training (and nutrition) would look like for someone who is looking to head in that direction. If you have any specific questions or want to chat about your own direction and goals in fitness or health, feel free to contact me.
Keep fit and have fun!