Updated: Aug 2, 2020
In our modern society many of us have developed an obsession with “exercise” to compensate for the lack of movement in the rest of our lives. We fold ourselves into stiff office chairs for ten or more hours a day then head to the gym after work to undo the damage by exercising hard for an hour in a group class or completing a grueling workout designed to meet our aesthetic goals.
We fixate on buzz words like “get the perfect summer body!”, “burn more calories!”, “uncover your rock hard abs!” but pay almost no attention to what matters most: the current state of our body.
Thanks to a lot of clever (and dishonest) marketing in the fitness industry, it’s easy to assume that the day you start exercising your body will instantly start working like it was meant to. Posture will improve, aches and pains will disappear, cardiovascular health will be better, and most importantly, you’ll finally have the six pack you’ve been chasing for years! I won't deny that many of these changes will happen with a regimented eating and workout schedule. That said, there are many other—arguably more important—pieces to the puzzle if you want to build a body that will let you live your life to its fullest potential!
Anybody can transform their physique if they spend enough time on the step mill and eat enough chicken and asparagus, but when it comes to transforming bio-mechanics, by which I mean your body’s overall functionality and performance, things don’t change without an intelligent approach. Before you structure (or pay someone to structure) a new workout program, it’s crucial that you assess your posture, your current alignment, your weaknesses, and your overall lifestyle. If you fail to do so, your body will eventually force you to stop through pain and discomfort. I’ve experienced this firsthand.
Back in my twenties, the old school approach to exercise was appealing to me. I worked out five days a week on grueling split programs, and if I missed a single workout I’d stress over my lost gains. My body took days to recover, I developed chronic shoulder and back issues, and my muscles were so fatigued that outside of the gym I could barely motivate myself to get off the couch! I may have looked like the picture of fitness, but if you knew how I felt inside you’d think I belonged in a nursing home. What’s the point of dead-lifting 300 lbs when picking up your 20lb daughter hurts your shoulder?
Eventually I couldn’t ignore the consistent feedback from my body and I had to readdress my workout philosophy. I replaced leg press with split squats, and bench press with dumbbell and unilateral movements. Within 6 months, I started noticing huge changes. I was more flexible, the mobility in my joints was better, and my nagging shoulder, knee, and back problems disappeared. By focusing on exercises that functionally translated to my movement patterns outside the gym, my body got stronger and more significantly—pain free.
I was shocked at how quickly my body transformed but the thing that amazed me even more was that I was spending less time in the gym exercising but getting better results and actually enjoying moving my body. I ditched the five-day workout split I mentioned earlier, and now I train two or three times a week. This is enough, because my workouts are functional and every single exercise has a distinct purpose.
As a result, I have way more variety of movement in my life—whether I’m walking jogging, running, crawling with my toddler or playing on the monkey bars with my kids. There’s no question that my quality of life way better now than it ever was in my twenties…Not to mention I am stronger, flexible, and leaner. I recover fast from my workouts, and feel more connected with my body than ever. I still enjoy major lifts like deadlifts and barbell squats but I use them primarily as a way to assess my strength periodically. I am always surprised by how much stronger I am every time.
Regardless of one’s superficial fitness goals, it’s safe to assume everyone wants a healthy pain-free body and high energy levels to enjoy our lives. Whether your definition of “enjoying life” means playing with your kids, going for a long run, completing an obstacle course or going dancing, the prognosis is the same. You need your body to move effortlessly to get the most out of your life. This is why it is vital to pay attention to not just how you exercise in the gym, but how you move.
Failure to do so will impact you negatively. I have felt it first hand. The good thing is that bodies are forgiving, and if you start listening to it, it will respond graciously.
As we approach the new year and you start to reassess your fitness goals, I sincerely hope you’ll take my advice and start by looking at your posture, and taking inventory of how your body feels. Even better, get yourself assessed and have an individualized training program structured to cater to your body’s needs. Make it your resolution to bring awareness to your body in every exercise you perform in and out of the gym, and see how that can help you walk, run, crawl, jump, mop the floors, and shovel the driveway better. Never forget that what you do in the gym applies directly to your movement patterns outside the gym—aka the majority of your life.
At the end of the day there is no benefit to squatting, benching, and dead-lifting ridiculous amounts of weight when you walk like a robot and can’t play with your kids or dance with your date.
When I look back at my fitness journey, I consider my 20-year-old self an exerciser, because that’s all I focused on and I was rewarded with physical discomfort. In my 30's, I happily call myself a mover, as I cater my exercise routine to improve my movement patterns and have achieved a quality of life that allows me to enjoy time with my kids, work long hours without aches and pains, and sustain high energy levels through out the day.
What are you, an exerciser or a mover?