Fundamentals of Fitness for Everyone - Not Just the Elite Athlete!

Jasper Richardson, Manager of Medical Fitness for VUMC Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, translates the Fundamentals of Fitness from the elite athlete to the general population. He shares tips on how to begin exercising, how to determine the best exercise for each individual, and how to safely improve strength, endurance and agility. Listen to learn more about how to add physical activity in your life and take your fitness to the next level.

Begin Transcript

Bridgette Butler: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Bridgette Butler with Health Plus. Today, we are speaking with Jasper Richardson, manager of Medical Fitness for Orthopedics and Rehab at VUMC. He is discussing the fundamentals of fitness for everyone, not just the elite athlete. Jasper, as an athletic trainer, what role do you play in the care and development of athletes?

Jasper Richardson: In the most simplified form, the athletic trainer is basically the first-stop shop for all medical for an athlete, so from the time they get hurt on the field to basically running their rehab to getting them back to play and doing everything we can along the way in guiding it. Specifically, for me, I am in the unique position that we actually have a medical fitness component to orthopedics, so we kind of live in the realm where we are trying to fill in the gap, so someone who is finishing therapy, but trying to get back to an active individual or an active lifestyle - we are there to kind of help guide that process and push them along where they should be pushed.

Bridgette Butler: I understand you've been an athletic trainer for the U.S. Olympic Taekwondo team. Were there any changes to your role in that capacity?

Jasper Richardson: In that role, I was more of the true, traditional athletic trainer, standing mat side and hoping to fix whatever got broken or fixed them between fights or before the next round. So, it is interesting that a lot of stuff you see with an elite athlete translates really down to either someone coming out of therapy and trying to recover and get back to activity, or even someone who is relatively sedentary and is trying to get into things. So, the role was pretty much the same, but it is an interesting group to work with because the level is completely different.

Bridgette Butler: So, how common is a sedentary lifestyle?

Jasper Richardson: It is becoming increasingly common. Whether we like it or not, as technology improves, we become more efficient at the task we have, but the physical demands decrease. I mean, if you think back to the point where if the phone rang in your house, you had to get up and go answer it, to where I now can answer the phone on my watch. And so, we are becoming much more efficient, but our level of demand definitely decreased, and so for a comparison, if you think back a century ago when farming was actually a pretty common activity, those are the people that would get up first thing in the morning and were on their feet or carrying hay bales or working core muscles and shoulder muscles - all the things we do in that kind of setting that no longer exist. We spend the majority of our time in a seated position, and we kind of end up paying the price of it.

Bridgette Butler: What are some of the health benefits of being physically active?

Jasper Richardson: Well, I think the common ones is strength and cardiovascular shape and is your blood pressure down or can you keep your weight down, but I think there is a compounding answer to that, and it is that if your weight is down because you are in better shape, it is less stress on your knees, and from an orthopedic clinical standpoint, it is less likely that you are going to require a total knee replacement or something down the road. The stronger you are, even if it is two to three times a week that you are doing strength training, that means that you are less likely to get hurt or you are more active and able to do things. So, for parents or grandparents that have small children, the ability to do those types of things definitely translates in there, the ability to walk upstairs without thinking about it. But also, generally, the better shape you are, the less likely you are to have some other general medical conditions, so the less likely you are going to physicians, the less likely you are requiring prescription medications. So, it is definitely a compound and exponential kind of benefit on that.

Bridgette Butler: What are the key fundamentals that you have found ... key fundamentals of physical activity for adults?

Jasper Richardson: There are some interesting things, again, from having seen the elite side of things and then working with a population that is not necessarily elite, as they come back from therapy and they may have gotten to a clinical endpoint where they are able to walk, they can go to the grocery store, they can go up and down the stairs of their house, but they want to go back to playing tennis and they want to go back to playing golf. The stuff you see at a higher level with athletes are things you can dial down into a population that has just never done anything and they are very sedentary. Recovery is one that we just don't think about, and your body, when you exercise, you challenge your body. It doesn't get stronger when you exercise. The strength gains come during recovery, when your body is down and says, "Okay, we've got some rest period, but we did some weights on the biceps curl that were challenging. Maybe next time it would be easier if I got a little stronger.” It is during that downtime that your body rebuilds and gains. We always forget that that elite athlete probably has 90 minutes to, at most, two hours of a workout during the day, and then the rest of their day is taking a nap, going to lunch, getting a massage. So, their day has built-in recovery. So, picking and choosing what you do, based on what you have recovery for, is important and it keeps you from getting hurt, especially if you are starting out. The second one is just the concept of specific demand. Your body reacts to the challenge you give it. So, if you give it something that is very easy to it, if you do that every other day for the next six months, when you get done with six months, how much stronger are you going to have gotten? Absolutely zero, because your body recognizes that it can handle and it is not going to use any resources to make you stronger. So, you have to give it something of a trigger, some type of challenge, whether it is difference in weight or difference in reps, something it is not used to that it then has to say, hey, I need to get ready for the next time they ask this. The other component to that sometimes is - what type of exercise are you doing? Well, it depends on who you are and what you've got going on. So, if you are looking for cardiovascular shape and cardiovascular endurance, then going to a spin class and getting on a spin bike is a great exercise to push that system. If you are a person who has osteoporosis or osteopenia, that is a non-weight bearing sport. So, your cardiovascular shape is improving, but you haven't given any specific demand in terms of gravity or force to the muscles or bones, so it is not helping you get any stronger or helping you deal with that condition or that activity - so, picking and choosing the right thing. Is it the appropriate exercise for you? Really, the last one is we have become very reliant on machines, and so if you walk into any fitness center, any gym, they will have rows and rows of machines. You will get on the machine and work, supposedly, a specific body part and it is going to isolate that. If it is going to be a row for your back, you are going to do a row, and it is basically just the back firing and that is what you've got, but you then take that individual and say, "Hey, can you pull a heavy bag of groceries out of your car," you are still pulling a row activity to pull the bag to you, but if you can't fire your hips or your core correctly, you can't get the groceries out of the car. So, we become so stuck on isolating that we get stronger, but we don't necessarily actually get better. Go find where the football players work out, you will almost find nothing that is a stack machine over there. It is all free weights. It's all, "We are going to challenge you to do something, but we are also going to ask the core to fire and we are also going to ask your balance to be involved." So, multiple segments firing and multiple segments involved translates into day-to-day life better.

Bridgette Butler: If somebody has been, for the most part, sedentary, do you have a first good step for someone who is interested in adding more physical activity into their life?

Jasper Richardson: I think definitely just the hardest step is just getting through the door. Make it a habit. Go start with some simple stuff. The machines are great for someone who is starting out. They may not have the control to do everything. Get in a habit. Go through the exercises. Get rolling with it. Once you kind of feel like you have a base, most places have someone you can talk to, either a personal trainer or an exercise specialist or a fitness associate, someone to give you a little guidance. Someone at the facility will be there to help, but ask them, "I've done this; how do I make this more challenging? How do I make this more efficient?" So, trying to build a program that you can do, but realistic, gradual progression. So, getting it to where you are getting moving, you are getting a good workout. Your body will get there.

Bridgette Butler: Thank you so much, Jasper, for sharing your insights, this information and these strategies. Jasper Richardson: You're welcome. Bridgette Butler: Thanks for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast on the form at the bottom of this page. If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at