The Ten Components Of Athleticism (And Why They Matter To You)
The Life Of A Royal Marine Commando
In 2009, when I was a 30-year old whipper snapper (and Royal Marines Commando) we used to achieve some crazy physical feats. Our barracks were on the edge of a very hilly national park and there was an amazingly hard six-mile running circuit that started and ended at the camp gates. This route was known as the Rollercoaster and had some ominously named sections, such as Killer Hill and the Dragon’s Back. We used to run the Rollercoaster for breakfast, five mornings a week, week in, week out and think nothing of it. Sub 40-minutes was seen as a decent time. Anyone who took more than 45-minutes received gentle (or not so gentle) teasing.
We would often include intervals, such as sprints, push-ups and other bodyweight exercises. We didn’t really understand it at the time, but for some reason, these intervals increased our rate of improvement. We would manipulate the variables associated with these intervals, systematically experimenting with various durations of work, intensity, duration of running time, etc. Despite our limited knowledge about the science of why, we certainly knew how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of our training sessions.
After completing the Rollercoaster run, we would spend five to 15 minutes at the pull-up bars on the sports field putting equal amounts of thought and trial and error into our calisthenics programming. While at the pull-up bars, occasionally we’d see a lone Marine in the sports field stretching after his run. “Stretching? Training for the next beauty pageant are you?! Stop slacking and come do some pull-ups, you pansy!”Your body is only as strong as your weakest component.Click To Tweet
Every afternoon we’d hit the gym to lift weights, box, climb ropes or play sports. The only reason we lifted weights was for aesthetic purposes. Programs were for bodybuilding only with one end goal in mind – getting buff and meeting women. The other gym activities were for fun. Quite regularly we would be deployed on training exercises where the physical feats would reach new levels involving carrying heavy packs and equipment (in excess of 100lbs), tens of miles over uneven mountainous terrain.
Occasionally, we would be tested and have to run with this weight during an eight-mile off-road distance in less than 70 minutes to prove we were battle ready. Every couple of years, we would deploy on real operations to Afghanistan where the physical feats would reach into the realms of ridiculous.
Back then, I thought I was physically elite and in my prime. I foolishly didn’t consider myself to possess any weaknesses. Weakness had been worked out of our psyche during the past few years of Commando training. However, there were a couple of dazzlingly, bright signs indicating that, in fact, this type of training didn’t work and we weren’t as elite as we thought. We were too blind, arrogant and uneducated to see these signs. They were:
- The unit’s rehabilitation center was always full with Commandos who had injured themselves training.
- The vast majority of Commandos who have served more than ten years are permanently physically broken.
I look back now and see the problems as clear as day. We fell for a rookie mistake in terms of training that I see as a leading cause of weakness and failure in all fields of fitness training: We defaulted to our strengths. We lived in a bubble of cardiovascular capacity and power-endurance. We were really good at running long uneven distances, sometimes carrying weight, and doing high rep sets of bodyweight exercises. We were so good because that was all we ever did.
I didn’t even know what strength meant until I started my personal trainer education, let alone how to train it or why it was important. Flexibility didn’t factor into it and my level of mobility was laughable (not being able to touch my toes by at least six inches). Speed and power were nonexistent aside from that which was required in the amateur boxing ring. Sure, we had to use speed and power operationally, maybe to dash out of the way of incoming fire, to kick down a door or tackle an obstacle, but specific training was never considered.
Running, push-ups, pull-ups and strength of mind are all you need!Click To Tweet
I ended my Bootneck career at the age of 32, a broken mess. I have a permanently broken wrist, permanently damaged shoulder (having been operated on), weak ankles (having inverted them numerous times) and a reoccurring abdominal hernia. The good doctors told me I’d never be able to work overhead again and declared me disabled. Thanks.
After eight humbling years in the fitness industry, I’m stronger than ever before (and approaching 40 years old). Although my old self could drink my new self under the table, I now feel as flexible as a yogi. I’m faster at running over any distance and thanks to Indian clubs and kettlebells my shoulder has made a miraculous recovery (although it’ll always be missing some stuff after they stuck the knife in). I’m also acutely aware of how much more there is to learn. If I could travel back in time 15 or 20 years, this is the message I would send my younger self:
Focus on your weaknesses. Take all the components that make up complete fitness and athleticism and self-assess. Acknowledge that the whole single organism that is your body is only as strong as your weakest component. Forget running long distances and bodybuilding. Focus on flexibility. Become strong by lifting really heavy stuff. Become agile and fast over short distances and your performance will rise to new heights in all the activities you value the most. Failure to acknowledge your weak components will lead to game-changing injuries and everlasting weakness.
The Ten Components Of Athleticism
Here at Strength Matters, we believe there are ten components that make up complete physical fitness or what we refer to as complete athleticism. Our goal is to help everyday people become more athletic.
As explained in my previous post, this means more efficient at carrying out everyday physical tasks and better at exercising. No matter what your age is or where you start your journey, you all possess the following ten abilities to one degree or another. As a default, you’ll naturally steer toward the components that require the least effort (mentally and physically) and the things at which you excel. Your beautiful body can only reach a certain level before it becomes injured or plateaus if it’s being held back by one or more ignored components.
|Components Of Athleticism||What They Mean And Why You Need Them|
|Strength||The ability to create force.
What if you did not have the strength to climb back to your feet after falling to the floor.
Imagine being able to move furniture and lift heavy bags on your own.
What if everything in the world around you felt lighter.
|Speed||The ability to minimize the time cycle of a given movement.|
|Power||The ability to create maximal force in minimal time.|
|Mental Toughness||Mental resilience. The ability to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Being able to separate brain from body and ignore pain (disclaimer: musculoskeletal pain is an important signal and should not be ignored). The capacity to maintain positivity and calmness when the going gets tough. Having the means to pick yourself up and continue regardless if you fall. Is this ability innate or purely an environmental adaptation? Can you train it? Stay tuned.|
|Endurance||Your capability to sustain long periods of activity such as walking, running, cycling or performing a high number of repetitions.|
|Cardiovascular Capacity||Your heart and lung’s ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles and carry out a given task effectively.|
|Balance & Coordination||Perform movements with precision and grace. Control the placement of your body with accuracy.|
|Agility||Move quickly from one movement pattern to another, being nimble on your feet or on the floor.|
|Stability||Consciously and unconsciously preventing movement in one part of the body while creating movement in another, thereby protecting vulnerable areas.|
|Mobility||Flexibility in motion. Range of motion through muscles and joints.|
Self-Assessment And How To Apply
Consider the above components and for each, score yourself out of ten. Take the three that you score lowest on and focus on improving those elements for the next three to six months. Forget about everything else, especially the things you’re good at. Mix it up! Shock your body into changing. Your body is the great adaptor and will adjust to any stimulus you consistently apply. Over the next series of posts and through our Whiteboard Wednesdays we’ll be delving into each of these components in more detail. We’ll offer simple ways to self-assess and easy-to-apply training methods.
May The Force Be With You.