Prioritize Your Workout Program Using the Iron Crew Fitness Pyramid

The Hierarchy of Exercise Programming

What is Fitness?

The dictionary defines fitness as “the condition of being physically fit and healthy”. This is a very broad and vague definition of fitness. Based on this definition, “fit and healthy” can be measured through internal markers (resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) and/or external markers (strength, flexibility, stamina, etc.).

As a generalist at heart, I like this definition of fitness. It allows for a healthy (pun intended) debate as to what makes an effective exercise program. With so many things to consider when it comes to your fitness, it can be challenging to intelligently structure a training program.

Where to Start?

When programming workouts for yourself, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Iron Crew Athletics places special emphasis on certain principles when it comes to overall fitness. Internal and external measurements are factored into the equation.

The Iron Crew Fitness Pyramid is a general guideline for people looking to increase their overall health and fitness. When in doubt on what to do in the gym, start at the bottom of this pyramid and work your way up. Keeping these principles in mind will result in optimum fitness over the long haul.

Let’s examine each layer of the Iron Crew Fitness Pyramid.

Nutrition/Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic Capacity, aka “Cardio”

At the base of every fitness program, there should be equal emphasis placed on Nutrition & Aerobic Capacity.  Refer to the Iron Crew Nutrition Pyramid for more details on nutrition.

Aerobic capacity simply means how well your body transports the oxygen you breathe from your lungs into your muscles for use in performance.  In training, performing certain exercises at a “slow and steady” pace will build your aerobic capacity.  This is the baseline of any successful training program and is highly emphasized in Iron Crew programming.

From an external marker standpoint, having a solid aerobic baseline is imperative or else the rest of you training will not be optimized. From an internal marker standpoint, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. There is no doubt that having a strong aerobic base helps improve cardiovascular function and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Common activities that full under aerobic capacity are distance running, rowing, biking, jumping jacks, jump rope, and highly repeatable calisthenics. Perform these movements for 20+ minutes at a pace where you can hold a conversation while doing them.

Why Equal Emphasis?

You’ll notice that Nutrition & Aerobic Capacity are prioritized the same on this pyramid. In a perfect world, Nutrition should be placed with higher priority. Unfortunately, that perfect world does not exist.

Iron Crew Athletics always strives to create realistic, practical, and simple methods for you to implement into your life…FOREVER. Sustainability is what we are after, and should be the main focus for general health and fitness. What good is perfection if it is unrealistic?

Aerobic Capacity is equally important because we tend to crave healthier foods when we are physically active. Many can relate to this after a great workout, and all we want to do is eat something healthy. This creates a trickle effect…you eat healthy, go exercise, then your body craves more healthy foods.

This is a cycle that is important for fitness longevity. When we exercise regularly (particularly with an elevated heart rate), we crave healthier foods and create sustainable habits. Hence, the equal emphasis on Nutrition AND Aerobic Capacity.


The Key to Optimum Performance

Mobility is next on the priority list, and you should be doing stretches and drills at every training session. In your Warm-Up, there should be dynamic mobility exercises/drills to improve stability in specific areas. 

In your Cool Down, there should be passive stretching to increase end ranges of motion. Without dedicated mobility training, you are susceptible to injury, muscular imbalance, and a decrease in performance.

Mobility is crucial to optimizing performance during exercise. Without full range of motion and stability within those ranges of motion, you will not be able to maximize muscle recruitment. Without recruiting all of your muscles, your body will adapt and grow at a much slower rate.


Master Your Own Bodyweight

Bodyweight/Gymnastics refers to moving your body through full ranges of motion WITHOUT added resistance. Common movements in this category are Push Ups, Sit Ups, Air Squats, Pull Ups, Burpees, or any other movement that requires you to move just your bodyweight. Developing baseline strength and stamina in basic bodyweight movements is imperative before adding resistance through weightlifting.

There is no sense in adding intensity (load) to a movement that is not sound. A basic Air Squat must be high quality and stable before adding weight to it. Adding weight to a severely flawed movement is a recipe for injury and over compensation.


Strength, Power, Speed

Weightlifting is the best way to build strength, add muscle, and burn fat. It is also a great way to develop bone density, prevent injury, and reduce chronic pain. Weightlifting should appear often in your program, with an emphasis on simple movements that work through full ranges of motion. 

Common weightlifting movements you should perform are Back Squats, Front Squats, Deadlifts, Standing Overhead Presses, Power Cleans, Muscle Cleans, Bent Over Rows, and Bench Press. There must also be an emphasis on single leg/arm (unilateral) weightlifting movements. Examples of these are single leg RDL, single arm DB Arnold Press, and weighted Split Squats.

Sport Specifc

Sport Specific Goals Come Last

Sport Specific exercises are very unique and individualized based on a target goal.  Being able to achieve a sport specific goal usually (but not always) requires mastery of all other elements in this Fitness Pyramid. 

If you wan’t to run a sub 5 minute mile, it will take a very specific exercise program to get there. This would include interval training, sprint workouts, running-specific weight training, running-specific mobility, etc.

Most programs should not contain sport specific training protocols. Not because they are bad for you, but because they are often time consuming. Most exercise programs would be better off using that time for something else.

Perfection Before Moving Up the Pyramid?

Is it necessary to obtain a mastery level of Nutrition & Aerobic Capacity before working on Mobility? Does your Air Squat have to be perfect before adding weight with a Back Squat?

Absolutely not. The most effective training protocols will simultaneously include work on the first four levels of this Fitness Pyramid. You can, and should, be working on your Aerobic Capacity while increasing your ability to perform bodyweight movements. You should also be adding load to your weightlifting movements, as long as it is safe.

When to Add Load?

How do you know when it is safe to add loading to your bodyweight/gymnastics movements? There is no cookie cutter answer to this, which is why having a trainer or coach is highly valuable. A coach can give you feedback on your movement and make corrections to prevent injury.

In general, you should be striving for AT LEAST 80-85% perfection in technique all bodyweight movements before adding load. This is hard to gauge for a novice, hence the value of a trainer.

For example, your Air Squat mechanics should be 80-85% sound before adding weight in the form of a Back Squat.

FREE 26 Page Sample Exercise Program

Download your FREE 3-Day Sample Workout Program for a more detailed breakdown of these concepts, how to implement proper Warm-Ups/Cool Downs, & full training sessions from start to finish.

Customized Exercise & Nutrition Coaching

If you’re looking for customized nutrition and/or exercise programming, I’d love to work with you. Click HERE more information!

About the Author

Danny Burde is the founder of Iron Crew Athletics and holds Bachelor’s degrees in both Psychology & Kinesiology. Danny is a CrossFit Level 2 Coach and was Head Coach at NC Fit for 2 years before starting Iron Crew Athletics. Danny has been immersed in fitness since he was 12 years old and has a passion for helping others.

Danny specializes in helping people find sustainable exercise and nutrition plans. His vision is a world where everyone stays in shape and eats healthy forever.

Learn more about Coach Danny HERE.


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