It’s obvious that exercise and being physically active is necessary for optimal health and fitness. The trick is finding the best way to keep yourself consistently at it, and for that to happen it has to fit your personal needs, be enjoyable, and show benefit. These are all natural incentives to establish your habit of exercise.
In this guest post by Stephen Stern – scroll down to learn more about him – he gives his perspective on the different ways of approaching exercise help you live an active and able-bodied life.
There’s a reason why it can be a struggle to maintain a steady and consistent regimen. If you’re already exercising and feel ‘stuck’ or bored, or if you need a ‘jump-start’, we’ll help you find options that allow you to exercise in ways that are productive and fun.
There are three main ways that people look at exercise:
- Working Out (anything goes)
- Training (goal oriented)
- Movement Expression (physical freedom and autonomy)
Typically, one of these is a person’s primary way of training. Each has its benefits and limitations, and it’s useful to periodically float between them. This gives the body and mind a change of pace, which fosters progress and personal development.
I believe everyone can find an exercise path that fits his or her personality, temperament, and ability. It’s simply a matter of knowing the options to find what’s best for you.
Working Out To Get You Up and Going
“Working out” is the most common approach and probably what most people think of when they hear the word exercise.
This approach is not goal-oriented or specific; it’s not to get better at any particular thing.
Rather, working out is a general mode of exercise which, by its nature, can mean different things to different people.
People generally work out to be “healthier,” “fitter,” or “look better.”
But usually they haven’t defined what these terms mean and therefore they have no clear path towards attaining their stated goals.
Their workouts usually reflect this. They may go to the gym, although they’re not training for any particular skill or sport. They know exercising is important, but their goal(s) are very general and they don’t have a particular game-plan for success.
Because of this, they use a hodgepodge of techniques such as counting how many calories they can burn by running or walking on a treadmill, or how hard they can push themselves from doing burpees, tuck jumps, or the latest Tabata routine.
Eventually most people who workout – whether because it’s what they’re “supposed” to do, or because their doctor told them to, or they want to look like models from a magazine – will hit a ceiling, which can lead to a feeling of staleness, boredom, and/or injury.
Working Out Gets You Moving But Maybe Not for the Long Haul
If you live a sedentary lifestyle, getting your body moving with any form of exercise can be beneficial.
You could be a “weekend warrior” who joins a game of pick-up basketball on Saturdays, which encourages you to use your body in ways you normally would not push yourself. Or, maybe you like being outside and get your ‘workout’ by walking, hiking, running, biking, or skiing.
Done regularly, these activities can help build endurance (amongst other benefits).
It behooves each of us to find fitness activities that are enjoyable and therefore most likely sustainable. The two biggest drawbacks of working out are:
- It tends not to be sustainable, often because many people do it out of necessity, rather than enjoyment.
- It’s much harder to see progress along the way, without any specific goals.
Once you get moving, in any manner of ways, you may find you want to develop certain skills or attributes. And it’s here that these specific goals start harnessing your focus and attention.
Training Gives You A Purpose
Training is applying specific actions to attain a particular skill or improve performance.
Be it running a marathon, going for a squat PR, doing the crow pose or cartwheel – whatever the desired achievement, there are ways to train that are unique and effective for each goal.
To make the most of one’s time and energy, applying a well thought-out training program is most beneficial.
When done smartly, a training program uses the body’s innate wisdom, and allows a person to get stronger, be more flexible, improve coordination, move with greater ease, and/or be more resilient.
Training Gets You To Your Goals Faster
While simply working out is a good way to keep yourself active and off the couch, there is usually a point where you become more serious about improving yourself. Your goals become more obvious and you want to see real progress towards them.
Now you’ll start thinking critically about how best to use your time and effort in your exercise sessions.
- What patterns do you notice that keep you from achieving your fitness goal(s)?
- What skills or attributes do you want to attain or improve?
Training works for building certain skills or attributes because of theSAID Principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands), which basically means: The body adapts to the type of demands that are placed upon it.
The human body has extraordinary wisdom in how it responds and adapts to stimuli.
If you’re outside on a hot, humid day — you’ll sweat to feel cooler. If you’re outside, without a coat, on a cold, frigid day — you’ll shiver to be warmer. Lift a heavy weight, and the muscles and joints will respond accordingly. Touching the toes without bending the legs will result in a particular response from tendons and ligaments.
A person who sits for hours on end will have a particular structural expression because of the repetitive nature of his or her actions. A change of actions (less sitting, more moving) will cause different adaptation, which can change not just posture, also how a person moves.
Whether your goal is reshaping the body, performing a skill, or improving performance, targeted training places particular demands on the body to stimulate an adaptive response.
- To get bigger biceps, you have to stimulate your bicep fibers.
- To master the handstand, you have to get upside-down.
- To run a marathon, you have to make progressive long distance running a part of your program.
A key component to have an effective training program is monitoring one’s responses and modifying exercises in an appropriate fashion.
It’s important to understand the relationship between quality of form (perceived level of skill) and ease of exertion when performing a movement or particular exercise (perceived level of effort). Being mindful and regulating one’s training is the ticket to success.
Proper Applications of Specific Training
A good training program gives you the focus, clear structure, and detailed path towards your chosen goals. The standard 12 to 16 week program outlines developed by good coaches have helped many people achieve their ambitions.
If you’re not careful with training, though, it can be easy to get caught up in certain negative behaviors that will do more harm than good. Be mindful of the following:
- Do not be a one-trick pony. People who focus only on building strength often neglect conditioning. People who put training effort into being more mobile and flexible often neglect strength building.Cycling in different types of training helps create more adaptability and well-rounded health.
- Do not over-train or neglect rest or active recovery. Getting too much of a good thing creates unintended consequences like stifling progress, burn-out or injury.
- Do not get sloppy with technique. Going for that extra set or additional rep with bad form can lead to injury.
- Do not be so consumed with attaining a goal that it interferes with more important things in life (family, career, relationships, etc.). Keep training in perspective and use it in a way that enhances and enriches your life.
Whether it’s losing weight, gaining muscle, moving with ease, or improving performance — appropriate programming can mean the difference between success and failure.
Hire a personal trainer to write a training program that fits your goals. Or purchase a program from a credible online source like GMB. Yes, I am biased! However GMB’s programs are excellent and the company provides super support. (Editor’s Note: Thanks Stephen! 🙂 )
After a time, though, getting out of the training mode can be useful and provide a fresh perspective when resuming training, again. It also can be fun, allowing a playful and creative expression of the body’s capability.
Movement Expression Gives You Freedom
A Movement Expression Practice helps a person move his or her body with autonomy and freedom — having the ability to do what you want, when you want!
This approach to exercise allows new insights and connections one’s body, which deepens awareness and personal development. Along with being beneficial — it’s fun, too!
Rather than focusing on an end-goal, a Movement Expression practice is about being mindful and attentive to the moment-at-hand.
Expressing movement in its myriad ways takes precedence over achieving a particular goal or a cool looking ‘trick’. The intention is to allow the body to experience itself in a safe and open fashion.
Movements can be simple or complex, however the key is to provide opportunities for the body (and mind) to get more connected and in sync.
Move Your Body Body With Grace and Ease
A Movement Expression mindset can provide a change of pace that re-inspires and helps people toward their training goals.
The key is to use mindful attention that is infused with a sense of exploration and play. Without having the urgency to ‘get it right’, you can feel and be present with what you’re doing.
Of course, use form and technique that allows movements to be controlled and safe, but exploring movement in this way deepens current skill and abilities. Free-form movement provides opportunities to be creative and have fun.
Doing various animal type movements such as the Bear or Monkey is a great way to connect and learn about the body.
Because of the atypical nature of these movements, they provide a wide range of positions and possibilities to explore. Crawling, reaching, hopping on hands and feet brings a sense of childlike play. A change of hand position, bent or straight arms, moving slowly with pauses, connecting with breath — all of it creates opportunities to expand kinesthetic awareness while widening the foundation and ability in how one moves.
And no matter how skilled the practitioner, there’s always room for deeper growth and connection, to make it smoother, more flowing and creative.
A Movement Expression mindset can be applied to training programs — be it training for strength, flexibility, honing a skill, or conditioning. Be attentive to form and attuned to what’s happening … with the core, extremities, balance, control, breath, etc. Mindful attention leads to faster improvement and helps guard against injury, which is key for ongoing, productive training.
The Best Method For You is What Works for You Right Now
It really depends on what kind of experiences motivate you and your desire to achieve particular goals.
Most people either Workout or use a Training Program. Each one has strengths and limitations. If you’re happy and getting value from what you’re doing — keep it up!
The concept of Movement Expression may be new to you.
Consider periodically embracing this approach as it will enhance whatever activity you choose to do. Having a coach, purchasing a training program, learning from tutorials are all helpful, however ultimately your personal development is a result of your ability to be self-aware and be conscious and connected to what you do.
Moving your body in a nonjudgmental fashion while having a sense of play and exploration is a way to develop autonomy and creative expression. Try it out and see what happens!
And don’t be afraid to cycle through different approaches. At certain points, training towards a particular goal may be the right thing for you; at others, you may need to let go of any goals and either choose to workout or take a more fluid approach like movement expression.
There’s a wide spectrum of choices and it’s up to each of us to find what ‘works’ best for our lives. If you have an on-again/off-again relationship with exercise — don’t give up! Creating a strong, vibrant, and resilient body takes effort and is a worthwhile endeavor.