Establishing priorities — and maintaining awareness of those priorities — is an important part of developing any exercise, nutrition, or fitness related program. The “awareness” part comes in handy when deciding between pushing through those last few miles during a run, or sticking to a tough diet even when everything in your body is screaming to “EAT THE CHEESECAKE!” The tough part is knowing when to listen to that voice, and when to ignore it.
Generally speaking, fitness priorities can be lumped into four specific categories: Health, Function, Performance, and Form. For the sake of simplicity, this model does not include other important aspects of life such as relationships or mental health. We are talking specifically about fitness-related priorities:
- Health – In this example, “Health” refers to the traditional definition, “the state of being free from illness or injury.”
- Function – Possessing the ability to act in a consciously desired manner, be it athletics, dancing, or normal daily activities.
- Performance – A level of activity that leads to accomplishment beyond baseline levels (athletics, intensive exercise, etc.).
- Form – Physical appearance. Body weight and body fat, shape, and musculature.
The fact is that most of us temporarily sacrifice parts of our self in order to achieve a goal or ideal that we feel is worthy. For example, an Olympic weight lifter attempting to break the world record in the Clean and Jerk is putting her Health at risk in order to accomplish a worthy Performance goal – breaking a world record. It is a calculated risk.
So how does this apply to mere mortals like you and I? Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us are guilty of sacrificing our Health (and Function) at certain times by prioritizing other aspects of life. Drastically cutting certain food groups can help us achieve our Form goals, but may negatively affect Health. Pushing through ten set of grueling squats will improve Performance, but could negatively affect Function (i.e. joint health). This may seem obvious, but here is the tricky part…
If we consistently sacrifice the bottom portions of the pyramid, the top portions will ultimately suffer. Neglecting flexibility training and stretching in order to spend more time pumping iron and pounding the pavement (RUNNING!) will improve Performance and Form in the short-term, but will ultimately lead to injury and compromised mobility. Ironically, prioritizing the top portions of the pyramid without taking care of the foundation will cause the whole thing to fall apart.
Testing limits and pushing boundaries make life exciting and meaningful, but anyone who as ever experienced serious injury or illness will tell you that 6 Pack Abs and a 400 Pound Bench Press don’t matter when you can’t perform basic activities without debilitating pain.
From my own experience, thinking (and acting) in line with this model has led to more improvements in Performance and Form. Specifically speaking, improved flexibility and sound nutrition principles have allowed me to make gains in my own Performance more consistently, and over a longer period of time. Unfortunately it took two surgeries and years or frustration to figure this out. But that’s just me – I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with YOUR fitness priorities!
Scott Hogan, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach (A.C.E.), blogs about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle factors that contribute to peak performance.