Friday, 27 December 2019

Tai Chi - Components of Fitness Part 1

The martial arts of China have a fascinating centuries long history from which modern day Tai Chi for Health springs. Some instructors find it tempting to stick with old ways of teaching without asking, 'Could I teach in a better way?'

Tai Chi Chuan at Kung Fu Corner, Kowloon Park, Hong Kong
Tai Chi Chuan at Kung Fu Corner, Kowloon Park, Hong Kong
Image by Jakub Hałun [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

One of the ways Helen and I think about describing Tai Chi and Qigong to modern audiences stems from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) the industry standard for health and fitness instruction.

The ACSM uses evidence from research to constantly update and revise best practice when teaching activities to groups or individuals for their health and enjoyment. They describe health and exercise in terms of components. Different types of activity and exercise tend to emphasise particular components.

Let's take a look at those components. They break down into five health-related components and six skills-related components:
Health-Related Components of Physical Fitness 
  1. Cardiovascular Endurance
  2. Muscular Strength
  3. Muscular Endurance
  4. Flexibility
  5. Body Composition 
Skills-Related Components of Fitness 
  1. Speed
  2. Power
  3. Agility
  4. Balance
  5. Coordination
  6. Reaction Time
So, how do the ACSM's fitness components fit with regular Tai Chi practise?

Research suggests the following health-related fitness components for Tai Chi include:
cardiovascular endurance,
muscular strength,
muscular endurance,
and flexibility; 
and the following skills components of
and power.
The slow continuous movements of Tai Chi load the hips and legs constantly with the transfer of body weight from stance to stance. This continuous shifting load of body weight from one leg to the other builds strength and muscular endurance and improves agility, balance, and power.

In a similar way to the legs and hips, the shoulder girdle and arms benefit from the slow continuous load and coordinated movements of the extended arms and hands.

With a little regular practise Tai Chi improves range of motion (flexibility) in both the upper and lower limbs. We find participants start to report their increased confidence in their ability to enjoy activities of daily living as they begin to master the movements of their leg and arms along with carrying themselves with improved posture.

Tai Chi in Haikou Peoples Park
Tai Chi in Haikou Peoples Park
Image by Anna Frodesiak [CC0]

Surprisingly, evidence appears to show a marked improvement in cardiovascular endurance with regular practice of Tai Chi as seen on an episode of the BBC series, Trust Me I'm a Doctor.

We can say with some confidence that regular practise of Tai Chi has no reported adverse consequences, and research supports the claim that regular practise of Tai Chi will support people to continue to enjoy a high quality of life into older age.

As instructors and practitioners in the 21st century Helen and I constantly reflect and ask the question of ourselves, 'How can we facilitate the learning and enjoyment of Tai Chi as an accessible activity that inspires confidence in our participants from their very first class?'

As we move into 2020 we continue in our journey to offer people Tai Chi for Health from an evidence based perspective.

We look forward to the New Year and sharing our journey with you.

All the best

Phil & Helen : )