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The 10 Elements of Extraordinary Fitness

To take any activity or sport to the next level, you must heed these principles.

Furthermore and Cole Haan have partnered to bring you the elements of extraordinary in fitness, travel, nutrition, and mindfulness. We tapped our team of experts and high-performers to learn how to eat well at every mealtruly experience a vacation, and level up your workouts. 

Athletes of all ages and abilities have one thing in common: They want to get better. But to really take your fitness to that ultimate level, it comes down to training smarter before you train harder, says Matt Berenc, CSCS, the director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in Beverly Hills, California. Adds Samantha Carmean, a Tier X coach at Equinox 92nd Street, “Being well-prepared physically and mentally sets you up to be able to accomplish anything.” Here, what goes into building an extraordinary fitness routine.

(1) Readiness: “A lot of people focus on, ‘How hard can I push it?’ rather than, ‘Is my body ready to push it that hard?’” says Berenc. He points to the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) as a good way to go from good to great. For example, performing a bodyweight overhead squat (arms up in a V; sit back and deep into a squat) can show both mobility and stability from shoulders to hips to knees to ankles and any issues there may be. “If the arms drop forward, it could be because of a lack of mobility or stability," Berenc says. Your best bet is to get an analysis with a trainer, even if you’re not planning to work with him or her long-term.

(2) Laser-focused Goals: Most people who aim to be extraordinary have a specific goal in mind—and that means your training must also be on point toward that goal. “If powerlifting is your focus, then you need to put your attention on lifting and practicing the three lifts for the event,” says Berenc. “If you’re a marathon runner, the primary focus is on progressively building up your mileage over weeks and months ahead of the event so your body learns to adapt and adjust to the distance.”

(3) Number-Crunching: There are a multitude of strength and endurance benchmarks, Berenc says, that can give you an indication that your fitness is on the path to extraordinary. Simply being aware of the numbers is the first step towards achieving them. Just keep in mind the above (setting your goals with laser-Focus) when determining which of these numbers to target.

Strength

●      Squat: 1.25x bodyweight (women)/ 1.75x bodyweight (men)

●      Deadlift: 1.5x bodyweight (women)/ 2x bodyweight (men)

●      Bench press: 1x bodyweight (women)/ 1.5x bodyweight (men)

●      One-arm overhead press: 24kg (women) / 48kg (men)

●      Pull‐ups: 5 reps (women) / 15 reps (men)

●      Push‐ups: 30 reps (women) / 45 reps (men)

Aerobic capacity / Endurance

●      Single-arm kettlebell swings: 100 in 5 minutes at 16-24kg (women) / 24-32kg (men) (based on bodyweight)

●      Kettlebell suitcase carry: bodyweight split between two hands for 250 feet over 90 seconds (both)

●      Timed 2,000-meter row: 8:45 (women) / 7:15 (men)

●      Timed 1.5 mile run: 9:30 (women) / 9:00 (men)

(4) A Growth Mindset: People who achieve extraordinary fitness seldom rest on their laurels. “They don’t see their skillsets as a fixed entity,” Berenc says. “They have an innate talent, but instead say, ‘I’m here because of hard work, and there’s always an opportunity to get better.’” Sometimes the returns are going to be diminishing the more advanced you become but there’s always room for growth. This attitude not only allows you to see your abilities as limitless, but also keeps you from experiencing major setbacks as total losses—especially important because plateaus and even injuries can (and do) happen to anyone.

(5) The 10 Percent Rule: During a training cycle, about 10 percent of your program should keep “contradictory” elements in mind, says Carmean. Even the very best runner must incorporate strength training and flexibility training, too. On the flipside, “cardio is really undervalued in the strength-training world, but actually helps serve strength goals by increasing your work capacity and recovery,” Carmean says.

(6) Meditation: “It's so easy to go on autopilot with workouts,” says Michael Gervais, yoga instructor and creator of Equinox’s Headstrong class. “A meditation practice helps you learn to focus and train your mind not to be distracted, which will come into play when you need it during a workout or athletic training.”

(7) Balanced Priorities: When you’re focused on a goal, it’s extremely easy to obsess and for your time to be fully consumed by all things training-related. Resist that. “You can be the fittest person in the world, but if your family hates you because you spend no time with them and you’re always in the gym, then why?” Berenc says. You must find balance—you want your people to be there to celebrate your victories, and also if you need to lean on them through rough patches. 

(8) Self-Care Practices: Athletes thrive on tough workouts but only if they have the energy (and lack the soreness) to tackle them. That requires sleep (seven hours or more, typically), and self-care measures such as foam rolling and massage. “Recovery is equally, if not more, important as the actual work you're doing,” Carmean says. “Training for any sport is at its core stress management. If you're not sleeping well, eating properly for performance, and managing stress, then you're putting yourself at risk for underperforming, over-reaching, and potential injury.”

(9) A Recovery Cycle: “Every sport has an off-season for a reason,” says Berenc. That means building in periods of your training during which you de-load and take a step back. This could be anywhere from two weeks to two months. A recovery cycle could include working on your form or exploring other areas of fitness you may be neglecting during your training. Carmean explains: If you’re not training for a specific race or are between specific fitness goals, you should be spending more time on supplemental work—say, about 30 percent of your workouts—that will help you perform better when you do return to your go-to activity or sport.

(10) The Work:Play Ratio: Athletes can learn quite a bit from kids: the element of play is just as key to adults’ physical and mental health. Playing means experiencing new things in fitness which could be a dance class, rock climbing, or even using a new “toy” such as a ViPR or TRX. It could even be playing one-on-one basketball with a friend. Not only does this provide a mental break from the monotony of day-to-day workouts, it also can help your body adapt better to that training.