When it comes to exercise specificity, start by asking yourself: “What do I want” from my exercise program? Do you want better posture, to be more flexible, to decrease stress levels or improve heart and lung fitness? If you are not sure where to start, and feel there are too many options to choose from, you may want to consult with an exercise specialist to guide you on the path of specificity.
If you can identify activities or tasks that you would like to be able to accomplish or do better, this will help you and your specialist to figure out what will give you the results you want. Exercise may not be the answer to all of your problems, but it is one of the few modalities whose benefits go beyond just physical fitness. “I just want to get fit” is a great goal, but knowing what you mean by getting fit will help you to define and ultimately refine your exercise goals.
What do you want? What do you need?
If you know what your end goal (or intermediate goal), it may fall under one or all of the categories listed above.
Here are examples of what each category represents:
Strength: You want to be able to do a push up. You think it would be great if you could do 10 regular push ups.
Endurance: To be able to stand in the kitchen and bake for 2 hours without pain and without feeling exhausted
Cardiovascular fitness: You want to be able to jog a mile and and be able to breathe at the same time
Joint mobility: Making kneeling for short periods of prayer possible
Flexibility: You want to be able to touch your toes from standing
It’s never too late to try something new
Here are examples of what I do for myself to address the above categories:
Strength: lower body “slider’ lunge series as well as lower body weight training.
Endurance: daily walks to and from work. Continuous non stop workouts like circuits or interval training.
Cardiovascular fitness: steady state running on treadmill or outdoors. Alternate stationary cycling. Interval training is also an option here too.
Joint mobility: ankle mobility exercise using a step
Flexibility: Essentrics is an exercise program where I am able to perform many combined movements and sequences which can address flexibility along muscular or fascial “chains”.
Simplifying exercise specificity
Here is an example to pull it all together.
You are recovering from knee replacement surgery. You are 3 months out. In another 3 months time is your grand daughter’s wedding and you want to be an integral part of the ceremony and reception. Standing and walking for several hours at a time is likely. Navigating on uneven ground is a given (it’s an outdoor ceremony on grass). You will be helping with the organization of the reception, which require you to climb a small set of stairs numerous times. You may need to carry some lighter items like wine bottles, if the server runs out.
You have already been climbing stairs daily but only once or twice as needed. You still need the railing and sometimes need to use a cane as well. Twice weekly you go out for a walk with your friend Pat. Pat’s pace makes you move a little faster than you would on your own, for approximately 45 minutes. You usually take 2 canes to help you keep up. You don’t spend much time on grass.
Based on this description, you would probably need your exercise routine to focus on lower body endurance for standing, walking and stairs. You likely will have some strength gains to be made, to improve your stair performance and ability to walk safely without support (especially if you need to carry a bottle or two). The other focus may be cardiovascular fitness, so you can last the entire day without feeling significantly tired. This will be important as the wedding day progresses, as your risk of falls on grass is higher than it would be on level surfaces. Your ability to make good choices and move with care will be affected by your energy levels. Check out Keeping it real: Physical fitness and VO2max for more on cardiovascular fitness.
So as you can see, there could be many layers to “getting fit” so finding what is specifically important to you will make both the the work of exercise and the gains made from exercise that much more meaningful. And remember, any daily intentional physical activity, like your walks with Pat, will be part of your plan. Take all the help you can get, and start making the changes that will truly have an impact how you live and feel. It’s worth it. So let’s GO!