I love physical activity. From hyper-competitive youth soccer to beer-league baseball, I’ve tried many different forms of physical activity. Tens of thousands of hours spent intently practicing, casually dabbling, and always enjoying different sports and activities has put me in the unique position to inform you, dear reader, of the pros and cons of several different modalities of physical activity.
The purpose of this article is to educate you on the benefits and potential downfalls of various forms of physical activity that you might try (and hopefully fall in love with) for the first time. With that being said, I’ve excluded many sports and activities that a) are considered “team sports” that have set practice times and games (I want you to be able to participate whenever your life schedule allows for it), and b) are activities that I’ve personally spent at least 200 hours practicing, in order to give you a fair assessment of that particular activity (so I can’t talk about snowboarding – it’s fucking awesome! Or that one time I did a spin class – it sucked). Ok, here we go…
Yoga is great for relaxation. A solid yoga practice can improve respiratory control which has many downstream effects including but not limited to: reduced anxiety, decreased blood pressure, and increased focus. The ancient art of breathing and stretching also improves interoception, which is the ability to focus on internal sensations. Now if you’ve never had great interoception you won’t know why it’s important until you improve it… but trust me, in the age of constant external stimulation through screens and gadgets, the ability to tune out from the external and get in touch with the internal is imperative for optimal health.
Unfortunately yoga cannot improve cardiorespiratory fitness or strength. It may also lead to injury by focusing too much on flexibility, rather than mobility training. Too much stretching into ranges of motion that you have little to no strength or control in will only lead to injury in the long run.
There is probably no better tool for improving mental toughness than long-distance running. The name of the game is to take one step at a time, no matter how shitty you feel; you’d be surprised at how well that translates into the rest of your life! Obviously running also increases cardiorespiratory fitness. But not so obviously, it’s a great way to improve mental wellness via increased time spent outdoors.
Running can feel mundane at times, which is a bummer – but hey, doing it when it’s no fun is part of the discipline! There is also a huge risk for injury if you lack proper running mechanics (see a coach) or fail to cross-train properly (see a coach).
Boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are awesome. The huge movement variability in combat sports makes for huge gains in any and all aspects of physical performance. Moving in so many ways and in so many planes of motion can increase joint function, coordination, balance, and stability, as examples. Furthermore, the dynamic nature of combat sports (paradoxically) makes it the best brain training out there in comparison to other physical activities. Depth perception, reflexes, visual acuity, and improvisation are just some of the brain-functions that get a workout when you train to fight. Finally, no other physical activity can improve all of the health-related components of physical fitness like martial arts can (cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, strength, mobility, body composition).
There is a high injury risk related to martial arts. The same factors that make it great for your health – movement variability and complexity, and the need for mental acuity – create a huge injury risk in those who lack the prerequisite mobility and coordination required to roll, strike, and tussle with other human beings. However, all that risk can be mitigated with a good coach who knows how to coach the basics well.
The way that squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting has improved the lives of so many formerly physically weak people, myself included, is absolutely astonishing. Obviously the physical benefits of powerlifting include increased strength and bone density. But really the magic of powerlifting lies in its ability to boost mental confidence. The way in which powerlifting improvements can be quantified – improvements made by hard work – leads anybody who spends enough time with a barbell to develop a strong growth mindset (read Carol Dweck’s work if you’re not sure what I mean).
Unfortunately powerlifting cannot improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Furthermore, if a person were to only squat, bench press, and deadlift, they would be in all kinds of orthopedic trouble due to the lack of movement variability and mobility required to perform those three basic movements.
As always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.
Patrick Koo – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond