At its most basic level, fitness is the act of moving your body in pursuit of one health goal or another. But not every movement is created equal. In fact, there are four distinct categories of movement. Each has its own purpose, but they’re all important and interconnected. Whether you’re new to fitness or you’ve been flexing for years, it’s always good to be reminded of the role the “big four” play so you can keep your exercise routine moving in the right direction.
Anyone who’s spent time in a gym or gone for a run is probably familiar with strength and endurance movements. Those types of movements are great for building bone density, increasing cardiovascular strength, and stimulating muscle growth. But without introducing balance and flexibility, you’re missing out on the chance to make the most of your workouts. So we’ll start by covering those building blocks, before diving into the types of movement you might more typically associate with exercise. And for each type of movement, you’ll find practical advice to integrate them into your workout.
How can Tom Brady keep playing in the NFL past his 45th birthday? The answer isn’t avocado ice cream. He’d likely tell you his secret is “pliability,” which is really just his way of referring to flexibility and its close cousin, mobility.
Simply put, flexibility refers to your body’s ability to get into a given position. Mobility is the ability to get into that position and then get back out of it with strength. If you’re looking to improve your posture and sit up straighter, for example, flexibility makes a difference. And if you want to lift properly through a full range of motion during strength training, it’s important to know how to get and keep your body in the right place.
Passive and active stretching are the two primary ways to add an element of flexibility to your workout. Passive stretching refers to the standard long-hold stretches we often associate with warming up or cooling down. Active stretching is more dynamic, incorporating more movement and using muscle contractions, sometimes incorporating weights or other tools to deepen a stretch.
Yoga, pilates, and barre are all good ways to work on your flexibility while also building strength through a wide range of low-impact motions. But you don’t need to commit to an hour-long class to get the benefits of feeling more bendy. For a passive but powerful boost to your flexibility, add thoughtful movement before or after your main workout. Dynamic warm-ups can also help get the blood flowing, and wrapping up a workout with static stretching is a great way to end on the right note.
What does your sense of balance have in common with muscle mass, bone density, and cardiovascular strength? All of them can diminish as we age. Weakening muscles and joints coupled with other changes in the inner ear can conspire to make staying upright harder than it used to be.
The good news is that balance can be trained and restored over time through dedicated movement. Standing on one leg for a predetermined amount of time is a good first step (literally). If that feels easy, close your eyes, but have something nearby to steady yourself if needed. Still too easy? Open your eyes and move your non-grounded foot around and touch different points on the ground.
Even if you’re young enough that you aren’t worried about toppling over, honing your balance can help solidify your gains in the gym. Unilateral (single-leg or single-arm) exercises can offer a simple way to ramp up the difficulty and add variety to a workout. For example, if traditional deadlifts are starting to feel too easy with 25 lb dumbbells, a single-leg deadlift with the same weights would instantly double the load on that side of the body. Of course, you should start light and work your way up. From the very first set, you’ll notice how much effort your body has to exert to maintain good, balanced form.
That’s part of why unilateral lifts are great for home workouts: not only can they improve your balance, but you can continue your strength training progression without needing to buy heavier weights just to feel the burn. So if you aren’t afraid of feeling a little wobbly, balance-focused exercises are an excellent way to round out your fitness regimen while lightening the load on your wallet.
Here’s where we start to get into some more familiar moves. Also known as resistance training or weight training, strength-focused movements increase lean muscle by using some form of resistance. While lifting weights or using machines at the gym may come to mind, it’s entirely possible to complete a satisfying strength workout with nothing more than your own body weight.
Depending on your goals, your strength training may involve specific exercises, pieces of equipment, different ways to manipulate intensity, or various styles of training. The main thing to remember is that strength training is vital to achieving any fitness goal. Even if you’re focused on getting skinny instead of looking swole, making the proper effort to build muscle can put you on the path to fat loss.
There are plenty of strength exercises and movements to consider adding to your routine, many of which can get you sweating without any equipment at all if incorporated properly. Here’s a rundown of strength exercises to consider adding into your routine for well-rounded movement that can help improve your everyday life:
Use a barbell, dumbbells, a kettlebell, or even just your body weight to get that butt down and keep that core tight. Squats are great for standing up and sitting down with ease as you age, upping your hiking stamina, or hitting your booty gain goals.
It doesn’t have to be with a barbell - you can deadlift with kettlebells, dumbbells, or bands, too. This movement strengthens your ability to hinge at the hips and pick things up without injury, and the upper back and core engagement helps polish your posture. And do I need to mention booty gains again?
From your basic push-up to the chest press, strengthening your push movements makes it easier to get yourself up, or reach high, overhead places. Focused on toned arms? Pushing heavy weights around plays a major role in those muscles.
You don’t have to climb aboard a boat to get rowing. Think of them as the “pull” counterpart to push exercises, and you’re on the right track. Whether with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, machine, or even a pull-up, the benefits of adding rows to your strength training include toned arms, and making sure you never lose a fight with a tough to open door ever again.
We don’t think about carrying weight as a form of exercise until we try to bring all of our groceries up three flights of stairs in a single trip. From the waiter’s walk to the duck walk, there are plenty of ways to grab something heavy and get moving. Weighted carries work your entire body if done properly, and they’re a great test of grip strength too. Adding this strength movement to your fitness plan will make your next moving day feel a whole lot easier.
Think of “endurance” and you might picture someone crumpling into an exhausted heap at the finish line of a marathon. In reality, “endurance” just refers to any aerobic training or cardiovascular activity (aka “cardio”), which relates to the heart’s ability to efficiently transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.
The good news is that you don’t need to run anywhere close to 26.2 miles — or even at all — to get that endurance-boosting cardio exercise in the mix. Low-impact endurance movements like walking, swimming, stair climbing, riding a (moving or stationary) bike, or non-impact high intensity interval training (like battle ropes) can get your heart pumping without pounding your joints, muscles, and tendons. On the high-impact side of things, think running, jumping, or any type of movement that gets both feet off the ground and you’re pretty close.
Before getting started, remember that cardio can be one of the most intense things you put your body through. Make sure you’re strong enough for the high-impact activity of your choosing, or start with something lower-impact and work your way up. The good news is that there are plenty of cardio options fit for almost any set of circumstances, so don’t be afraid to switch things up to keep it fresh. The endorphin rush is absolutely worth the effort.
Figuring out the best way to integrate all four types of movement into your fitness regimen starts with picking a meaningful goal. Once you have that north star, try to find the “why” for each type of movement. In what way will they bring you closer to that goal?
For example, your goal might be to get stronger. In this case, the “why” for strength movements is obvious: they’ll help you build mass. But to do that properly, you’ll need flexibility to make sure you can achieve the full range of motion for each movement. Balance will help stimulate your body and challenge you through unilateral exercises. And endurance makes it easier to deliver oxygen to your muscles, so you can lift more weight for longer.
Now that you know why all four movements matter, let’s put them together in a workout that showcases each of them at multiple points from warmup through cooldown. I call this one “Legs Miserables” for reasons that should feel obvious by the time that finisher hits.
Warm up: Start with dynamic movement to increase the heart rate and warm up the body while introducing a little flexibility. Incorporate single leg work here to add a bit of balance and wake the body up.
Main work: We’re doing Dumbbell Goblet Squats and going heavy, so this phase is definitely about strength. Getting that full range of motion is important to making the most of this movement, so be mindful of your flexibility.
Accessory work: Step ups are on tap to blend balance with strength. Work with a higher rep range to test your endurance, and make sure you step high enough to get a full range of motion for maximum glute and quad flexibility.
Finisher: Single Arm Kettlebell Swings and core galore. On top of balance, the goal here is to get the heart rate up and push the body through one final bit of endurance work before you cool down. Thanks to added resistance, weighted cardio like this checks the strength box, too.
Cooldown: Chill out with some longer static holds for flexibility, and focus on your breathing to bring a sense of calm to your central nervous system while helping the body kickstart its recovery.
For more workouts that move you in the direction of your goals, team up with a Future coach. They’ll create a custom workout plan that’s balanced enough to keep you on your toes, flexible enough to fit your hectic schedule, and strong enough to deliver genuine results. Your Future coach is always just a call or message away any time you need the advice, accountability, and motivation. Don’t just endure your relationship with a personal trainer. Be genuinely moved.
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