The Six Elements of Physical Conditioning

THE SIX ELEMENTS OF PHYSICAL CONDITIONING
Other than a positive attitude which gives you the motivation to do it, physical exercise may be more important than any other factor in creating health. I encourage you to heed the advice below.

– Norm Shealy

Western civilization was at one time a largely unmechanized agrarian society where physical, often backbreaking, work was a given. Today a far more sedentary, indoor culture predominates. For adults to achieve the health advantages of sustained, consistent physical effort requires planning and self-determination. They are confronted by an often confusing array of choices from personal trainers, to the dazzling machines of a local health club, to a wide variety of sports, to specific physical disciplines such as Hatha Yoga and Pilates. Which way to go?

One way of making choices is to consider the ''Six Elements of Physical Conditioning''. Keeping these in mind, adults can balance their preferred physical activities so that together they incorporate all the elements. No one activity is going to address all of them completely (though Hatha yoga comes close). Furthermore, a variety of physical activities not only engages the ''six elements'' across a wider spectrum, but also makes physical conditioning more fun.

The Six Elements of Physical Conditioning

  • MUSCLE TONE: Strengthen both external muscles such as the biceps and abdominal groups, and the internal muscles, such as the heart and, especially for women, the muscles of the pelvic floor.
  • FLEXIBILITY: Can you bend over, knees straight and put your palms on the floor? Flexibility declines dramatically in most teens and continues as the years go by. Yet, body flexibility protects us in a variety of ways. It can be retrieved and improved. If the body is supple, injuries may be less likely to occur. Remember Humpty Dumpty!
  • BALANCE: Balance declines surprisingly in most adults as they move from their late 20's into their 30's. Yet, by practicing daily exercises that require balance such as standing on one leg and then the other for a sustained time, balance can be retrieved and enhanced.
  • COORDINATION: Some adults accept a lack of coordination as ''just the way I am''. Yet, by engaging all four limbs in challenging work that demands equal effort and balance, coordination can be markedly improved. Skiing, rowing, and hatha yoga offer challenges to coordination.
  • POSTURE: Perhaps ideal posture can be depicted as a dynamic in which the body is in balance with itself. In this posture the heart and lungs function optimally without the burden of slumping shoulders. The spine rests upon itself like a ladder, the neck upright, not pushed forward as one sees commonly in our ''hurry-hurry'' society. The trunk muscles are upright in balance with themselves back to front and side to side, comfortable, not stiff and forced. The facial muscles and scalp are relaxed. The legs are straight; the knees are not hyperextended. The feet comfortably and evenly support the entire load. Dynamic posture is closely dependent on balance, coordination, flexibility, muscle tone, and breathing.
  • BREATHING: Breathing sustains life and so much more. Intentional deep breathing releases tension, and efficiently allows the body to take in oxygen and release those waste products that are excreted through the breath. The martial arts use breathing as a way of focusing attention and enhancing strength. An active physical conditioning program always promotes efficient respiration.

Enlisting the ''Six Elements of Physical Conditioning'' while remembering to engage the limbs symmetrically and bilaterally at least part of the time provides adults lots of options. Like to play tennis? Great. Just remember that tennis does not engage the body symmetrically; that can lead to some annoying physical problems. Solution? Part of your physical conditioning effort has to engage the body symmetrically. Hatha yoga does that, for example. Are you a jogger? Fine, as long as you address the elements of flexibility and upper body strengthening as well.

The ''Six Elements''