How not to exercise

How NOT to exercise

It doesn’t matter what exercise you do – whether it’s CrossFit, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, aerobics or gymnastic training: all of them can damage your body – badly! On top of that – if you’re in a class of 20 people, the trainer can not possibly be mindful of your unique form. So you need to know your body pretty well to avoid injuries. And, since sitting is the new smoking, even your couch isn’t safe anymore. So, how do you push yourself into your edges, without falling over the edge?

The basics of movement

You are one incredibly well-designed creature – from the billions of neurons in your brain, to each of those 206 bones in your body. For you to drive this intricate system of movement, consider these key ingredients:

1. Attention & Awareness

Try this: take a few seconds, close your eyes, and scan through each of these body parts with your mind: the tips of your elbows; the skin between your fourth and fifth toes; the middle part of your spine; the skin in the fold of your elbow; the inner joint of your elbow. Now repeat. How does each body part feel? Is it warm or cold? Is there pain, comfort or discomfort? Is there numbness, or a general vagueness about it – like you’re not sure how it feels?

If it was tricky for you to know exactly what the sensations were, that’s okay. Your brain is an efficient project manager, who only pays attention to the most urgent matters, which means some parts of your body are just…well, ignored. You basically forget about your elbow – until you hit your (not so) funny bone on the door frame.

Once your body starts moving, then, your brain needs to pay attention to thousands of signals at once. And if there are body parts that you’re used to ignoring, they will probably be in the line of fire. (Which may explain the amount of times you’ve stubbed your small toe.)

So, if you want to train your body for optimal movement, you need to train your brain in optimal awareness.

2. Assessment

Once your brain starts paying attention to the position of your pelvis, the movement of your thigh and the rotation of your ankles, what do you do with that information? That’s where a proper, professional assessment comes in. And we’re not simply talking about ‘How many push-ups can you do?’ or ‘How fast is your heart beating?’ To get true value, opt for a functional assessment by someone who studied the human body in detail – preferably a sports scientist or bio-kinetic.

Is this always necessary? YES! Let’s imagine you grew up in a family who believed that chairs were evil; so whenever you weren’t standing, you were either squatting or lying down flat. And let’s imagine your neighbours worshiped chairs, but believed that lying down was evil. Whenever they weren’t sitting, they were standing or walking.

How do you think the shape your skeletons, hips, legs and spine would have compared? More importantly – how would you move differently to your neighbour? His spine would likely be a lot more compressed than yours. Your hips would be a lot more mobile than his. Your postures, joints, muscles, tendons – everything would be different. Can a trainer, teaching a class of 20, really give both of you the same instructions?

The answer is pretty obvious.

3. Tailored training

A tailored suit may be a luxury, but tailored training is an absolute necessity. You may think that your body isn’t that different from your neighbour’s, but even if you don’t belong to a strange cult with weird beliefs about chairs, each person’s body is so, so, very unique! And not just in the obvious ways – your hip size or arm-length – no, it’s often due to the slight curve of your spine and rotation of your shoulder that you either break a record, or a leg.

4. Form follows function

The human body is way too sophisticated to have broad-stroke goals like “Run a 10km” or “Lose 5kgs”. We’re not saying that those goals are bad, but they are limiting. When we look at training programs and goal-setting, we like to keep in mind one fundamental question:

“How do we optimise your body’s movement for the whole of your life – now, in 10 years, and when you’re 90?”

If you’re a mom of three with a small frame and your parents suffer from osteoporosis, the genetic and functional demands on your body is vastly different from your husband  – a 6 foot, burly man who sits behind his desk for 8 hours a day. There is really no point doing the same exercises as him – not unless they were modified.

Learn to ask the bigger questions of WHY you do what you do, and train your body to serve you for that more expansive purpose.

Move freely

Before you mindlessly sign up for the next fitness-fad, talk to us here. Your body has a fantastic, complex design, and we’d love to help you enjoy it to its full potential.

We don’t move our bodies to get fit and strong.  We get fit and strong, so we can move our bodies.

This article was written by my colleague Shaun Brooking who is a specialist personal trainer in London.

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