5 Pillars of Training for a Well-Rounded Fitness

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenics
best forms of trainings

Drawing from extensive expertise in fitness training, I have honed the concept of a well-rounded fitness regimen into five essential pillars: VO2 max and sprint interval training, functional strength training, explosive training, Zone II cardio training, and stability training. These pillars stand as more than theoretical concepts; they are the practical, accessible cornerstones of a well-rounded fitness approach designed for everyone. Tailored to be inclusive, they cater to adults across all ages and fitness levels, from beginners to those looking to enhance their current routines.

Each of these five pillars of training targets specific anatomical and physiological adaptations, contributing to a comprehensive fitness strategy. VO2 max training is designed to elevate cardiorespiratory capacity, enhancing maximum aerobic output for improved endurance. Sprint interval training, on the other hand, focuses on developing anaerobic power, speed, and performance, vital for activities requiring short bursts of intense effort. Functional strength training and explosive training work in tandem to develop muscular strength, size, and power, while also improving the functionality of muscles in performing everyday activities. These training forms are essential for building a solid muscular foundation and enhancing overall physical capabilities. Zone II cardio training plays a crucial role in optimizing heart health, working to strengthen the cardiovascular system and improve its efficiency. Meanwhile, stability training is instrumental in creating a strong, balanced physique. It targets the core and stabilizer muscles, enhancing balance and reducing the risk of injuries.

Collectively, these methods present a balanced and holistic approach to physical training. They guide individuals not just in routine workouts, but on a transformative journey towards achieving longevity, functionality, and vitality. This comprehensive training philosophy is about much more than fitness; it’s about cultivating a resilient, capable body equipped for the demands of everyday life and the challenges of high-level physical activities.

VO2 Max Training and Sprint Interval Training

Doctors Rhonda Patrick and Peter Attia extensively discuss on YouTube the importance of training our VO2 max, as it has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of mortality as we age, thereby automatically increasing life expectancy, longevity, and especially the quality of life in later years. The relevance of VO2 Max becomes significantly more important after the age of 50 and intensifies sharply after 60. Transitioning from a low to a moderate VO2 Max can greatly enhance life quality and even prolong life itself. However, it’s also about the fact that without a higher VO2 Max, we won’t be able to climb hills, stairs, or engage in various sports and physical activities.

VO2 Max, in simple terms, is the maximum aerobic capacity. It’s a cardiorespiratory indicator that determines the efficiency of oxygen use during prolonged efforts at very high intensity.

It’s a tiring and stressful form of training, but with visible and beneficial effects on fitness. We all benefit greatly from such training as it increases the basal metabolic rate, leading to high calorie and oxygen consumption even after the workout. It makes us feel athletic and adapted to intense efforts. Essentially, it greatly increases lung capacity and oxygen transport to the muscles.

To effectively boost your VO2 Max, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is key. A typical session should include 4 intervals of near-maximal effort, like intense running. Each interval should last 4 minutes, followed by a 4-minute rest period. It’s crucial to begin with a warm-up of light running for about 10-20 minutes to prepare your body, and then wind down with a 10-minute cool-down. You can also cycle, swim, or perform any other exercise that similarly stresses the respiratory system and can be sustained and paced for 3-5 minutes at submaximal intensity.

Including a VO2 Max training session each week is, I believe, the minimum necessary, but it can be relatively sufficient.

The primary distinction between sprint intervals and VO2 Max intervals lies in the intensity and duration of the effort, especially when the chosen exercise is speed running. In sprint intervals, the focus is on running at your absolute maximum speed. This type of training is anaerobic, meaning it doesn’t rely on oxygen as the primary energy source. Because of the high intensity, sprint intervals are relatively short, often lasting just a few seconds to a minute.

On the other hand, VO2 Max training involves running at a high but sustainable pace. The goal here is not to reach the maximum speed but to maintain a pace that’s challenging yet doable for the duration of the interval, which typically ranges from 3 to 5 minutes. This type of training is still aerobic, aimed at improving the body’s ability to consume and use oxygen efficiently.

Finding the right pace for VO2 Max intervals can indeed be challenging for those new to this type of training. It requires a balance between pushing hard and ensuring the pace is sustainable for the entire interval. This is in contrast to sprints, where the focus is on short bursts of maximum effort followed by periods of rest.

Both sprint intervals and VO2 Max training are valuable for improving different aspects of fitness. Sprints enhance anaerobic capacity, speed, and explosive power, while VO2 Max intervals improve aerobic capacity and endurance. Incorporating both types into a training program can lead to a well-rounded improvement in overall athletic performance.

When incorporating sprint interval training into your fitness regimen, a variety of interval lengths can be highly effective. I recommend including intervals of 10 seconds, 20 seconds, and 30 seconds, each performed at full speed. These short, intense bursts are key to maximizing the benefits of sprint training.

For the 10-second sprints, focus on explosive power and maximum speed. These are about quick, intense bursts that challenge your anaerobic system. The 20-second intervals provide a slightly longer duration, pushing your capacity for sustaining high-speed efforts. Lastly, the 30-second sprints test your ability to maintain near-maximum speed over a more extended period, bridging the gap between pure speed and endurance.

It’s important to allow adequate rest between these sprints. Typically, a rest period of 1 to 2 minutes between each sprint is advisable, depending on your fitness level. This rest is crucial for recovery and ensures that each sprint is performed with optimal effort and form.

Remember, the quality of each sprint is more important than quantity. Focus on maintaining proper form and all-out effort during each interval. As with any high-intensity training, it’s essential to start with a proper warm-up to prepare your muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Incorporating a cool-down phase after the sprints is equally important for recovery.

Sprint interval training is an excellent way to improve speed, power, and the anaerobic energy systems. It’s a versatile form of training that can be adapted to various fitness levels and goals, making it a valuable addition to any workout routine.

Functional Strength Training

Functional strength training goes beyond standard resistance training, focusing specifically on enhancing maximum strength and activating fast-twitch muscle fibers. This form of training is best achieved through compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. While heavy weightlifting is a common and effective approach to achieve this, bodyweight exercises can also be utilized. However, it’s worth noting that bodyweight training, or calisthenics, often presents more complexity. The biomechanical variations in bodyweight exercises make it challenging to isolate specific muscle groups effectively.

Despite these challenges, the essence of functional strength training – whether through weights or bodyweight – lies in its practicality and relevance to everyday movements. Therefore, I advocate for exercises that mimic real-life activities and movements rather than isolated exercises that target individual muscles. By focusing on functional training, you’re not only building strength but also improving your overall physical capability, coordination, and balance, which are essential for daily activities and athletic performance. Additionally, through resistance training, you will also increase muscle mass, which brings many other benefits. If you’re interested, I have a training program that aligns with what I recommend in this article: New High Volume Calisthenics Program.

Explosive Training

An excellent method to engage and strengthen fast-twitch muscle fibers is through explosive power exercises, commonly found in plyometric training. Plyometrics are dynamic and involve powerful, rapid movements that help build speed and power. Examples include variations of jumps, such as squat jumps or box jumps, and upper body exercises like clapping push-ups or pull-ups with grip changes. These exercises require muscles to exert maximum force in short intervals of time, making them highly effective for developing explosive strength.

Integrating these plyometric exercises into your training routine complements traditional resistance training. While resistance training focuses on building muscle strength and endurance, plyometrics enhance the ability to perform movements with greater speed and power. This combination offers a well-rounded approach to fitness, improving not just muscle strength, but also agility and athletic performance.

Zone II Aerobic Training

Zone 2 cardio training, while related to VO2 Max training, differs notably in both intensity and duration. Zone 2 training falls into what is often referred to as the ‘green zone,’ characterized by moderate to relatively hard effort. This level of exertion allows for longer training sessions, primarily utilizing aerobic metabolism, and is crucial for building endurance and improving overall cardiovascular health.

In contrast, VO2 Max training is categorized as Zone 5 training or the ‘red zone,’ which involves submaximal effort. Just beyond the VO2 Max zone is the completely anaerobic zone, where the body operates without oxygen, relying on energy stored in muscles. This highest intensity zone is typically used in very short bursts of activity, like sprinting, and is not sustainable for extended periods.

Understanding these zones and their respective roles in training is essential for developing a well-rounded cardiovascular fitness regimen.

Turning our focus to cardio training, unlike VO2 Max training which primarily develops maximum cardiorespiratory capacity, cardio training specifically targets the heart muscle. It induces hypertrophy (an increase in muscle size) in the heart, strengthening and adapting it to become more powerful. Essentially, cardio training is about conditioning the heart and the circulatory system.

A solid aerobic base fortifies the heart, enabling it to pump a greater volume of oxygen-rich blood with each beat. Additionally, cardio training is highly effective in developing muscular mitochondria and enhancing the capillary network. These physiological adaptations not only improve endurance and efficiency of the muscles but also contribute to a superior level of recovery.

This makes cardio training a valuable complement to other forms of exercise, enhancing the overall effectiveness of a fitness regimen. By improving heart strength and circulatory efficiency, cardio training lays the foundation for a robust and resilient body, capable of handling various high-intensity physical demands and recovering more effectively from intense workouts.

Stability Training

Stability training, though less commonly practiced compared to other forms of training, plays a vital role in overall fitness and injury prevention. This type of training concentrates on enhancing both static and dynamic balance. Static balance involves maintaining equilibrium in a fixed position, while dynamic balance focuses on stability during movement.

Incorporating stability exercises into a fitness regimen is crucial for several reasons. First, it helps in preventing falls and serious injuries, particularly as we age or engage in various physical activities. By improving balance, stability training equips the body to better handle unexpected shifts in movement, reducing the risk of accidents.

Moreover, stability training develops the body’s reactivity and coordination in space. It trains the muscles, particularly the core and stabilizer muscles, to respond effectively to changes in body position and movement dynamics. This leads to improved posture, enhanced movement efficiency, and a lower risk of overuse injuries.

Whether performed as a standalone workout or integrated into a broader training program, stability training is essential for a well-rounded fitness approach. It not only complements other training forms but also contributes to a higher level of functional fitness, allowing individuals to perform daily activities and sports with greater ease and less risk of injury.


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Two-Week Training Plan

I believe it’s quite challenging to cover all these forms of training within a single week, although it’s achievable if you train 5-6 times a week or allocate more time to each training session. Plyometric exercises for developing explosive power can be integrated with strength training. Then, aerobic training can be combined with VO2 Max training. Training for leg and core strength can be complemented with stability training, allocating about 20 minutes for stability at the beginning of the session, followed by 10 minutes of plyometric, then strength exercises.

You can do VO2 Max training on the first day, then dedicate three days to strength, plyometrics, and stability, focusing on upper body, lower body, and core. After that, you should do Zone 2 cardio for 2-3 hours per week, divided into sessions of about an hour each. Spread over two weeks, you have time to include some sprints, in addition to VO2 Max.

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