The 4 things you should be able to do in the gym now and forever
One day, about 5 years ago, I watched an elderly woman in a walker trying to make her way up a flight of stairs. I was with my son, who at the time was 5 years old. He waited at the bottom of the stairs watching patiently as I helped the women make her way to the top of the stairs. When I got back down to him, with a confused look on his face, he simply asked, “Dad? When did she stop being able to go up the stairs by herself?” The question forced me to really think about how important it is to think about fitness long term. What fitness looks like when I am 40 and also when I am 80. We have to look at what we are doing now for our movement practice: running, jumping, pushing, swinging, squatting. Also, we should strive to be able to have these same capacities when we are 60, 70, and 80 plus years old. If the movements are what we truly call functional, meaning they apply to everyday life, then we should be able to express these for years to come in the gym and outside the gym as well. We may not be able to swing a 60 lb kettle bell when we are 70 years old but we should use the same mechanics when we pick up a grandchild or a bag of groceries, butt back, knees out, back flat!
The answer to my son’s question was simple. The woman stopped being able to go up the stairs when she stopped practicing going up the stairs. The functional movements that we use don’t differ by kind from the elderly women to the olympic athlete, they only differ by degree. The elderly woman squats to a toilet and walks up the stairs while the olympic athlete back squats 200lbs and steps up on a box. In looking at this approach to fitness, I have found certain markers that are indicative of what we should hold as gold standards. These movements demonstrate our ability to stave off decrepity and not become that elderly women who could not make it upstairs on her own.
These movements that I have identified are all movements that we could all do at some point in our lives. It is because we fell out of practice with some of these movements that we can no longer express and execute them in a way that is functional. Yes, I think there is a strong correlation between being able to complete these movements in the gym and being healthy, fit, and having a baseline for capacity over a lifetime.
These are the basic movements that everyone should be able to complete with practice.
Push Up - Being able to push your body weight up off the ground. When this stops, usually you are unable to live on your own, because if you fall, you most likely aren’t able to get up.
Full Air Squat - You should be able to squat down with your hip below your knee. Ever sat on a toilet before? This is a necessary unless you want to go back to diapers.
Running - Yup. I’m not saying you have to run a marathon, but you should be able to run across the street if you have to…..or better yet, play tag with your grandchildren!
Pull Up - You could do this when you were 5 years old. You should be able to do this forever. I believe that this expression of being able to pull your own body weight over a bar is a symbol of longevity, fitness, and a diagnostic for a true expression of fitness over a long span of time.
If you are deficient in any of these capacities, it’s ok. Remember, that we aren’t talking about expressing these capacities in intense ways. I’m not asking for 100 pull ups in a row. Just work towards the expression of a single pull up, push up, full squat, and the occasional short run. I’m encouraging you to keep these skills, which means you have to practice them once in awhile, and continue to chase down getting better at them if they are already in your arsenal.