In order to achieve your optimal level of fitness there are 4 pillars to be aware of.
Without these 4 pillars activated, you will never fulfill your potential.
In this podcast, we will explore the importance of strength, flexibility, balance and stamina.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Welcome to episode number 74 of the Be Ultimate Podcast, “The Four Pillars of Fitness.”
We all know that exercise and fitness has many incredible benefits. That’s no secret, right? But what we may not know is the clarity of this information and knowledge of these four pillars.
You can write books on the amount of exercise benefits.
Some of these include boosting your happiness levels so you’re not walking around depressed and sad. You know how good you feel after you do a good workout. When you sweat it out, you feel so much better even if you’ve had a very rough day.
It also reduces the risk of heart disease which is the world’s number one greatest killer.
It helps us sleep better. If you’re not sleeping well, then you’re not feeling well. You don’t have the energy. You don’t have the vitality you need to move through the vicissitudes of life. It’s going to improve your energy, so you have more oomph in your relationships. If you’re a parent, you have more energy to give to your children, and you have more energy to exercise patience when you’re your child or your spouse or your boyfriend/girlfriend challenge you. We need energy to get through that. When we are low-energy, we’re exhausted. That’s usually when we act and say things we regret.
It also improves the memory so we can remember all the beautiful moments of our life with greater clarity. Improves your self-esteem which is very, very important. Again, this has been proven to show that when we exercise, this is a great antidote to depression. There’s been a lot of studies on this. We’ll talk about one study in particular where exercise benefited participants in a study on depression.
And it makes you more disease-resistant. And now the recording that we’re doing right now, we’re just coming out of this this crazy, intense, unprecedented time in society where we just move through COVID-19 and the coronavirus, and it’s a good reminder that now more than ever we need to have a lifestyle where we are improving our immunity so we don’t become a victim to diseases like the flu or COVID-19 if it continues to morph in different strands. We want to have a system that can handle these pathogens we come into contact with on a daily basis.
Lastly, it helps us to live longer. So not a bad thing, right? We want to live a long, healthy, happy life. We’re all entitled to that.
There are many different ways to exercise. Growing up, I loved playing sports. I’m not the biggest dude in the world, but I loved football. I loved playing basketball. You can play soccer. There’s CrossFit. There’s running. There’s swimming. There’s surfing. There’s cycling. There’s boxing. There’s martial arts. And my favorite style of fitness exercise is yoga.
In order to maximize your fullest, greatest, fitness potential, we need to focus on the four pillars of fitness. These four pillars are strength, flexibility, balance and stamina.
I know for myself, there had been long periods of life, many years, where maybe I was good at one or, if I was lucky, two of these things. But things like balance and flexibility in particular, they didn’t come until later on in my life as I found yoga. And really as I matured, I started to work on these other parts of me that honestly were weak. They were not things that I was practicing.
If you want to get good at something, then you have to practice it. Repetition is the mother of mastery.
Pillar #1 – Strength
So let’s go ahead and dive into first pillar of strength.
Americans lose an average of over six pounds of lean muscle mass every decade of their life. So naturally, once we pass the age of our 20s, really, if we don’t have a strength training regimen, we begin to lose this lean muscle mass which is going to have a negative impact on us later in life and actually will decrease our lifespan. We want to make sure we are doing things that invoke muscular and bone strength within our body.
It’s also estimated that the metabolic rate decreases 3 to 8 percent each decade after the age of 20 due, probably, to this decrease in muscle mass. So we know from science that the greater our muscle mass, the more fat that we burn, the greater that our metabolic rate is. And we want to make sure we don’t have an accumulation of unnecessary bodily fat because that can lead to all sorts of complications, illness and disease.
Now, in order to build strength, we have to overload the muscles, we have to put positive stress onto our muscles to make them stronger. And this is something that is a gift that we have all been born with.
The body thrives off being challenged. Our body, really our entire holistic being thrives by moving through things that test us, through adversity.
Adversity makes you stronger and awakens potential.
So in order to build strength, we’re going to have to move beyond what’s comfortable, we’re going to have to move beyond what’s easy. And that means that we have to make peace with adversity. We have to make peace with discomfort. The whole key is to do it in a way that is sensitive. You’re not being a moron about how you stress the body. You’re being intelligent. You’re being smart. You’re finding what we call the sweet spot. You can overload these muscles by using weights, so you can use dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells or you can use your natural body weight.
By using your natural body weight, which I’m a big fan of, you’re never going to look like The Rock, you’re never going to look like this huge beast, but you are going to look like you have built proportionate strength for your natural body weight. You’re going to look good, but you’re not going to look freakish or unnatural. Not that there’s anything wrong with looking like The Rock if that’s your jam. All good!
The benefits of strength training include greater lean muscle mass, healthy blood pressure, stronger bones and joints. We have to think about overloading not just the muscles in the body but also the bones. The bones have what’s called osteoblasts. When you overload the bones, those osteoblasts go to make the bone tissue become stronger and more healthy.
We’re also going to increase, as we talked about in the study, the metabolic rate so you’re burning more fat with more of the lean muscle mass.
And then lastly, you’re going to have better brain performance. When you have greater strength, when you have greater muscle mass, this has been shown to decrease DNA damage. We also produce more of the hormone called BDNF which helps your brain cells to regenerate themselves even as you get older. We used to think that as you got older these brain cells would just die off, and they couldn’t be regenerated. But now we know that you can actually regenerate new brain cells even as you get into the later decades of your life.
Pillar #2 – Balance
All right. Now let’s segue into the second pillar of balance. Balance, if you’re like me, was often overlooked. Growing up, I never was like, “Oh, I need to work on my balance. I need to improve my balance.”
Teaching yoga, this is often the thing that I see within beginners the most, they struggle with this more than anything. So I’ll put them in a pose, like Tree Pose, Vrksasana or maybe Warrior III, Virabhadrasana III, and people are falling out of the pose, which is okay. It’s okay to fall. You fell when you were a little kid learning how to stand up and learning how to walk.
It’s not the fall that you defines you, it’s how you deal with the fall that matters.
We need to bring this same approach where when we fall, we just fall having fun, we fall with grace. And through practice, your balance will get better and better. The first time I went to yoga and started working on balance, it was frustrating. It’s frustrating feeling like you look like the fool in the room that’s falling. But so much of yoga practice is not about practicing from your ego which gets self-conscious when you fall, but it’s just about practicing from that place beyond ego which couldn’t care less, so having a childhood mentality of light heartedness.
Balance improves proprioception. Proprioception is the awareness of the position and movement of your body in space. And this is really important because so much of yoga and mindfulness and meditation is about this greater development of awareness.
We have whole meditations like a body scan where we are moving our awareness throughout the whole entire field of the body and feeling it’s sensations. So proprioception, in a way, is like a sport or fitness or athletic awareness meditation.
The other good thing about balance is how much it demands your focus and your presence. When you’re balancing, chances are, especially if it’s newer to you, you’re not thinking about anything else in your life. You’re not thinking about the bills that you have to pay, the argument that you had with your loved one, the fact that you have these stresses in your life. You’re letting all of that go. In that moment of presence is a moment of freedom. You become free of all these things, all this chitter chatter and clutter in the head that’s often bogging you down. That’s a really beautiful thing.
Balance is also good for your brain. So I like to think about when you’re balancing, you’re also providing fitness for your brain. The neurocircuitry in the brain is lighting up when you’re balancing.
There was a study done in 2014 in a medical journal called Stroke. They took 1,400 men and women, and they had them try to balance just on one leg for about 60 seconds a minute. The people that couldn’t break the 20-second barrier, they were found to have a reduced cognition. They also found micro-bleeding in the brain which is often a sign for minor strokes.
So balance, we know that as we get older, it becomes a bigger and bigger issue. One of the greatest causes of death in people that are elderly is from falling. So we want to make sure, especially as we get older in life, and again, this needs start in your 30s and 40s because it’s a gradual decline if we’re not on this, is that we’re challenging that balance, we’re keeping the brain nice and healthy, we’re keeping the neural circuitry of the brain activated, we’re allowing the brain to speak and to communicate to itself and also throughout the whole entire nervous system so we’re sharp.
Balance also is very good for you core muscles, your stabilizing muscles. In order to balance, your core has to be activated, has to be strong. This is going to benefit your posture so as you’re moving through the day, you’re not hunching through the spine. When you’re standing at the bus station, the train station, you have good posture. That’s very, very important also for the spine.
Most car accidents happen at intersections. Similarly, most yoga injuries happen at the intersection between poses. Bring as much awareness to your transitions as you would to the pose itself.
And lastly, balance is going to reduce the risk of injury. Again, if you fall out or you stumble out of something, very often where injuries happen in yoga and other forms of sports and athletics is the transition out of a posture or a movement. So if you fall out, then you’re going to lose integrity within your anatomy, and this is where people get hurt.
Pillar #3 – Flexiblity
All right. Now let’s talk about the third pillar of flexibility.
I love this quote by Bruce Lee that says, “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
Now, we all know that Bruce Lee was a legend. Bruce Lee was the embodiment of really these four pillars that we’re talking about: strength, balance, flexibility, stamina. So when we’re talking about this idea of flexibility, we’re talking about not snapping, we’re talking about not being cracked. If you’re all strength and no flexibility, then you are going to snap. Being flexible, supple, agile, having dexterity, this is very, very important.
We’ve all seen people that just focus on strength, and their muscles are huge, but they don’t have flexibility. They’re not able to use the strength. So the strength becomes an imbalance. The strength becomes a hindrance.
I’ve also seen runners jogging down the road, and they’re speed hobbling down the road. It’s like you can tell their body is stiff. You can almost see their joints screaming out in pain. I love running. I’m a runner. I’m not knocking runners. But what I’m saying is, “Hey, look. If you love to run, just make sure that you incorporate flexibility into your fitness regimen. If you’re just running all the time, really what you’re doing is improving the fourth pillar of stamina, cardio,” which we’re going to get into soon.
Without flexibility you are on the fast track to injury and misery. Because if you’ve ever been injured, you know what happens. It sucks. It doesn’t feel good. You can’t do what you love to do. Our bodies are meant to move. And when we move with awareness, this is medicine for our body. We change our chemistry. This benefits our physiology. So the last thing you want is to be injured.
Tom Brady is an undisputed, amazing, prolific football player, who will go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the game. One time a reporter asked Tom Brady and said, “What is your secret? The older you get the better you get. How is this possible?” And he said, “Pliability.” He explained, there’s a cycle in football that often happens. The guys, they go into the weight room, they lift weights, so they’re working on strength. And as they work on strength, the body gets tighter, the body gets stiffer. They lose flexibility. Now they’re out there, practicing really hard or playing a game, and then what happens? Just like the Bruce Lee quote, they get cracked, they get snapped, they get injured. After the injury, they often need surgery. So now, doctors and surgeons are going in there to repair whatever the injury is. And when you go in, and you do surgery, you damage the fascia in the body, you damage the connective tissues, and you start to create a type of scar tissue. And in scar tissue, which is disorganized tissue, you no longer have a proper flow of circulation and therefore hydration into those cells. Once they recover from the surgery, the football player goes back to the gym. They’re back doing their weights. They get stronger, but they get stiffer, they get tighter, they lose flexibility, they’re back in another game, they get injured again. So Tom Brady, his reply, his wisdom was, if you want to break the cycle, then you need to bring playability into your regimen. Tom Brady is another great example of somebody who incorporates the four pillars of fitness. I remember some paparazzi took a picture of him apparently on a beach somewhere, and everybody was talking about, “He doesn’t look like the most buffed out dude.” He’s in good shape, but he’s not– again, he doesn’t look like The Rock.
When you have these four pillars you have the potential to be an elite athlete. You are going to be amazing!
The older that we get, the stiffer and tighter we become. And this is because of various factors, but one of those is because of something called hyaluronic acid, which I talk quite a bit about in my book, “A Journey Into Yin Yoga.”
Hyaluronic acid is like nature’s moisturizer. And this moisturizer is what moves through the deep fascia in the body. And the more this hyaluronic acid that we have in the body, the more suppleness we have. Instead of the tissues being more like leather that’s dried up and brittle it becomes more like a spongy substance. And when we have that spongy, healthy, hydrated tissue, this is like a shock system within the body. When the body encounters challenge and adversity and overload, the shock absorption of the well-hydrated tissues can meet the challenge. But as we get older, that hyaluronic acid begins to decrease if we don’t have a deep stretch regimen in our life. Tissue begins to dry up, harden, and now we lose the shock absorption. So when we do face challenge, when we do face adversity, now your body is much more susceptible to injury.
When doing deep stretching, we’re continuing to produce this hyaluronic acid, we’re continuing to hydrate the fascial matrix of the body. Yin yoga is great for this.
Having excess tension in the body is like trying to drive with the emergency brake engaged.
Your body was built to be moved in all these miraculous ways, and then tension and stress got in the way. Flexibility is the perfect antidote to this tension. As you stretch open and you get lighter and more supple, you’re no longer feeling bogged down, you’re able to move with greater efficiency. Flexibility releases tension and increase range of motion. It’s going to hydrate the deep fascia. It’s going to reduce risk in injury. It’s going to help you age with grace. I often say that Yin Yoga is like the ‘fountain of youth.’ We all want to age with grace.
Maybe most important of all, it’s going to keep you doing the things you love to do longer, like my mom who loves to hike, she loves to bike, and she does yoga, one of the main reasons is so she can continue to do what she loves to do and enjoy those activities. So if you like playing tennis, or you like jogging or whatever it is, whatever your thing is, by doing these stretches on a consistent regular basis, it’s going to support you within those activities that you’re passionate about.
Pillar #4 – Stamina
All right. Last pillar is stamina. Stamina is related to cardio and endurance. It has a correlation with good cardiovascular health.
Life is an ultra-endurance event.
We need to have good stamina. It comes back to being able to have good energy to fuel our way through life. Without good cardiovascular health, walking down the block to take the dog on a walk can feel exhausting. Traveling to go to some really cool country, just going through the airport from one terminal to the next can feel exhausting. Just doing simple mundane things in life, again, it becomes an energy-depleting activity when your cardiovascular health is not up to par.
We want to think about the ability of having great stamina, challenging our cardio. When we have good cardiovascular health, this is going to clear the arteries, raising the good HDL cholesterol and then lowering the bad LDL cholesterol in the body. It’s going to lower blood pressure. It’s going to reduce blood sugar, which is a big thing. High blood sugar can trigger all sorts of illness and disease like diabetes.
It can reduce asthma. I grew up as a kid with asthma, and I know the stronger my cardio is, the stronger my cardiovascular health is, the less likely I am to have asthma. My lungs are pure. My heart is strong. With coronavirus, COVID-19, again, this becomes more and more important.
Having good cardio is going to improve your sleep. You’re going to sleep like an angel. And good sleep is so important to our health and our well-being. We want to wake up looking, good feeling good.
Good cardio is also going to invoke fat loss. We’re going to burn unnecessary fat in the body.
It will strengthen the immune system.
Like some of the other pillars, it also improves your brain performance.
Your brain starts losing tissue after the age of 30. Having cardio and cardiovascular health is going to slow this process of losing brain tissue. Losing brain tissue can trigger things like Alzheimer’s.
It also improves your mood. You can have a bad day, you can have a frustrating day, a bad day at work, a bad day at home, and then you go and you do some form of cardio, and you feel like you’ve just moved through a baptism of sweat. You feel pure. Your whole state and physiology has shifted and changed.
They took participants suffering from depression and had them go on a treadmill and do basic interval training for 30 minutes. After 10 days, every single participant in the study had reported a significant reduction in depression.
You could argue that for some people, exercise and good cardiovascular health can be more effective than medication. But I’m not a doctor. I don’t claim to be a doctor. Make sure that you consult with your doctor before moving forward on reducing any forms of medication if you’re taken it for depression.
Look at your heart like the engine under the hood. You want this engine to be strong like a sports car. Your sports car is now moving through life with all that life force energy and vitality as opposed to some beat up old pickup truck, which reminds me of the first car that I ever had growing up which was this horrible, awful Mitsubishi Mighty Max truck, this red pickup truck. I tried to make it look cool by putting all these stickers on the back of it. I probably had a hundred surfing and skateboard stickers on the back, so I thought it looked cool.
But the damn thing could not make it up a hill on the highway or the freeway! I get past 45 miles per hour, and it would just start totally shaking, and I’d have to pull over to the side, and it was embarrassing. So this is like having a bad cardiovascular heart. Be a Porsche not a Mighty Max truck!
All right, you guys, so final takeaway for the four pillars of fitness, it’s all about the balance of these four. By finding the balance of these four pillars — strength, balance, flexibility, stamina, you will be ultimate, you will be elite. Most people, myself included, we avoid what we’re not good at. We avoid our weaknesses, and we gravitate and focus on what we are good at, what our strengths are.
If you really want to improve yourself, work on your weaknesses more than your strengths.
As we do this, over time with consistency and persistency, we all have the ability to transform our weaknesses into strengths. This is how we grow. Think about what have you been avoiding because you’re not good at, and have a growth mindset, have a level up mindset, “All right. My flexibility sucks. I love lifting weights, so I’m a strong person. My cardio is great. My balances is average. My flexibility is horrible. I can’t even touch my toes. And I don’t want to do it because I don’t like it. I’m not good at it.” Well, guess what? The things that you’re not good at, are the things you need to practice the most if you want to grow.
There’s been phases in my life where I’ve explored all these, and I’ve been good at one or two things and not so good at other things.
Growing up, being a guy, number one priority was strength. So I lifted weights. I’ve done kettlebell training, kettlebell work-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, calisthenics.
For balance, I’ve often done mountain biking or surfing, especially earlier on in my life. Now I challenge myself by doing handstands and yoga.
Flexibility. There was a time in college where I had to take ballet, and it was a joke. It was so embarrassing because I was an uncoordinated– very, very stiff type dude surrounded by mostly females that just– it was just embarrassing. But I had to work on something that I wasn’t good at, and I did improve over that semester. Sometimes now, I work on splits. Splits has always been a challenge, and I’ve really improved by focusing on them. I’ve gone through periods of the year where I’ll say, “All right. For the next three months, every night, I’m going to do splits for 5 minutes, 10 minutes.” Eventually, I was able to do a split. But it took time. It took me moving through the phase of what we call the ‘messy middle’ where you’re not good and things feel– they don’t feel natural. You have a lot of resistance towards it, but you have to move through the messy middle to get to the end of what your goal is.
Stamina, cardio, boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing. Last December, I ran a 50K. When I was training for the 50K, I had to put some of the other pillars on the back burner, so the main thing was really training and getting these miles in where I was really working on my stamina and cardio, but I still did some strength training. I didn’t neglect everything else. I still did some balance training. And every night, I was doing Yin Yoga, so I was working on my flexibility. Stamina was on the forefront, but those other three were still part of the training process. So, you may find that in your life where one rises above the rest, but you want to make sure the other three are still present. It’s a holistic way of looking at your fitness. Also HIIT training, High Intensity Interval Training, a great way to improve your stamina and your cardio to really activate all the four pillars.
Think about it like you want to cross train. Whatever it is that you love to do in your life, do it. You love to run? Run. You love to do CrossFit? Do CrossFit. But make sure you’re also cross training by doing other things, whatever that is.
You want to be like the Shaolin fighting monks that were named after the Shaolin trees that can withstand any storm they encountered. These trees like the bamboo or the willow that Bruce Lee spoke about were strong, but they were also supple. That’s the holy grail of your ultimate health and fitness, it’s the synergy of all four pillars.
Power yoga is the ultimate Cross Train incorporating the 4 pillars of fitness — Strength, Balance, Flexibility, and Stamina.
And for me, one of the greatest modalities that I know of that hits all four pillars is Power Yoga. Some forms of yoga may just focus on flexibility, some may focus more on balance or one of the other pillars, Power Yoga and my style of yoga, Holistic Yoga Flow, we incorporate all four pillars. So you know when you do a good Power Yoga class, I’m going to get you on strength, I’m going to get you on cardio, I’m going to get you on balance and I’m going to get you on flexibility. You’re going to finish that class, and all four pillars are going to be activated.
Lastly, I could say a secret fifth pillar is all about your mind state. But we go into mind state quite a bit on many of the other episodes of The Ultimate podcast, so check those out.
Make sure you’re incorporating all four of these, and you will notice benefits not just within your fitness but within all aspects of your life.
All right. Let’s finish now with the ultimate prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear.
May we bring compassion where there is suffering.
And may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate.”