February 27, 2017In TrainingBy Sean Lerwill9 Minutes

You may or may not have heard the term “Fit for Purpose”. We used it in the Royal Marines when discussing the types of exercises and physical tests a Recruit or trained Marine should go through in order to be most suitable for the job and various roles of an elite infantry soldier. There’s no point having a 110kg man mountain if he can’t run 5miles. Equally, there’s no point having a super quick runner over 5km if he can’t pull his own bodyweight through a window to enter a building while wearing body-armour, personal kit and carrying a rifle. There are certain things that are specific to a Marine’s role/job that he should be able to do at all times, thus he is tested 6 monthly or yearly to ensure he can do those things and is thus, fit for purpose.

What do you want to be fit for?

What’s your purpose? If you looked at your life and had to answer the question, what would you say? Unless you are in the military, security services, play sport professionally or rely on your physical abilities for you work (labourer/tree surgeon/acrobat etc)  then you are unlikely to be thinking about your job when answering this question. You may be thinking about your after work activities, sports or hobbies. Or family, carrying a baby/toddler, walking the dog or coaching a pre-teens football team.

For example, if you’re keen hiker or landscape photographer maybe you need to be fit for purpose to walk up hills/mountains with a bag of camera kit or safety stores. If you’re a young mother or father, maybe you need to be able to manpack (carry) a small person and all their extras (the things non-parents wouldn’t even consider until they are lumbered with the problem!). If you are a keen golfer you need to be able to walk the 18holes and be supple enough to rotate through the hips. If you are a keen martial artist, you must remain flexible and strong enough to complete your activity safely without injury. You get the picture.

Answering the question “What’s do I want to be fit for purpose for” is often a great way to inspire you to follow a health and fitness regime. For a professional infantry soldier, no longer being fit for purpose could lead to losing their job. In another line of work it may mean changing from that enjoyable active role to one behind a desk. For you, it may mean giving up the golf or not being able to carry the little one when their legs get tired. Not being able to do what it is you want to do should inspire you to stay fit for purpose and thus train specifically for it.

Programme Design

Answering the question should also help you work out what sort of training you should be including. It’s not always as simple as doing the thing you like to do. Let’s take a runner as an example. Most runners get to the point where they want to beat a certain time over a certain distance. That might be a runners’ milestone like a sub 40min 10km or their own personal best set previously. For them, being fit for task is running. However, many runners think the only training they therefore need to do is running. Perhaps a bit of swimming for cardio training without impact. A surprisingly large number don’t realise and thus don’t perform any other training to support their running. However, those that know/learn that they should supplement their running with strength and conditioning work, soon see their PBs and running goals fall by the way side.

This isn’t just the case for sporting prowess. Yes someone who plays a sports like rugby, football, MMA, tennis or a whole host of others is likely to be fitter for purpose and thus more successful if they supplement their sport training with strength and conditioning, but the same is true for a new parent, a labourer or even someone with a large puppy. A new puppy? Am I mad? Maybe.

Purposely fit

Believe it or not, changing the physical demands on your body quickly and suddenly can lead to injuries. For those used to training in the gym, think about what happens when your first start a new programme. DOMS. As your body gets used to the programme they tend to subside. If you progress the weights etc properly they can still be there, but when you switch to the new programme they are worse again.

What do we do when we get DOMS? We rest. We rest those muscles or the whole body before training again. What’s the problem with a new baby, new puppy or a labouring job? Not easy to rest is it? Often people suddenly find they are performing new movement patterns (have a look at my movement patterns article to find out what this means) and this causes aches and pains. The problem comes when they can’t rest and then an acute injury (short term) turns into a chronic injury (long term).  But its not that easy to just stop holding/carrying a new addition to the family.

The key then is becoming fit for purpose. As I said at the beginning of this article, work out what is it you need to be fit for. If it’s walking a new puppy, its core, shoulder/arm and grip strength for lead walking an ever growing, ever more powerful dog until its fully trained. People underestimate the aches and pains dealing with these animals can cause during the training period. The same with a new born baby. The biceps, the shoulders, the core all put under pressure as the new parent bend, lifts at a distance and cradles. For both new dog and new child owners aches in the shoulders, neck and arms are all too common.

A final word

The examples above are just that, examples. I could have just as easily spoken about someone new to gardening. Someone renovating a house. A new labouring job. Suddenly spending all day on your feet in retail. Whatever you change, all of a sudden you change what your “purpose” is. You therefore need to be fit for something new, and this is what you need to be fit for purpose for. Be more self aware, look at what you do or maybe more importantly will be doing, and ensure you are fit for purpose to avoid injury.

Diving is a great example of needing to be fit for purpose for something very unique.

Featured “tug of war” photo: Tom Miles