You have it down to a science. You have your routine, your workout plan, and I’m not trying to mess with that. But just hear me out on this. I’m assuming that you have been one of the many victims inundated with this message that in order to be healthy or get in shape that you NEED to do all of the cardio (no, not some. All of it). Or that you NEED to go to the gym to use the new supermega-awesome-a-tron elliptical. That you NEED to be swimming in your own sweat. And that you NEED to attend the latest and greatest spin class to get healthier and “toned” (like a guitar..?) all at the same time. What if I told you that some gym sessions should leave you with more energy and feeling better than when you went in? What if I told you that your spin sessions could be at a detriment to your health and are potentially moving you further away from your fitness goals (*insert audible gasp!*)? Like I said just hear me out, and if I can’t convince you then no harm no foul, right?
A Few Disclaimers First!
Before I present my case, I want to make something clear from the beginning. If you are an athlete, fitness competitor, or otherwise training for a specific goal then I am not talking to you. But if you are looking to get in better shape, and lead a healthier life, then it’s your lucky day! You have stumbled upon some million dollar information (Don’t worry, I won’t charge you).
How do you know if you’re healthy?
The first point I want to get across is that physical health is MORE than cardiovascular health. Yes, your heart health is extremely important, I’m not going to argue that, but is it the most important? There has been an increased number of studies being published that all point to one thing as being a strong predictor of all-cause mortality AND cardiovascular mortality in men and women of ALL ages, and that is grip strength and leg strength. Essentially, what this means is that individuals (all genders, old and young) with decreased grip and leg strength have an increased chance of dying for any reason at all.
How does this apply to me bashing spin classes? Well, people who are touting that to be healthy, cardio is the end-all-be-all, are misguided to say the least. If you truly are trying to improve your health and live a long fulfilling life, then incorporating heavy resistance training is one of the best things you can do for yourself. By heavy resistance training, I mean lifting heavy weights. Heavy resistance training will give you the grip and leg strength that benefit you into your golden years and help keep your life full and vibrant.
We’re All Head Cases
We all have the most intelligent super computer ever made sitting atop our shoulders, and we need to begin treating it better. Because of the modern tasks placed upon us, many individuals have created this forward head posture and rounded shoulders that places a tremendous amount of strain on our bodies. This aberrant position creates a host of problems not only in our neck musculature but throughout our entire body. It can affect the way we stand, walk, and sleep. It can even affect the way we breathe. If we are constantly in this bent over/flexed position on a spin bike, that’s just contributing to this bad posture. If we are always doing every exercise to excessive fatigue, how can we be sure that we are keeping good positions throughout our workout?
Approaching Exercise Like a Skill
Odds are that if you love spin classes, running, and other high intensity activities, that when I say “lift weights!” you say “okay!” and may proceed to do all of the reps with all of the weights. Turning a resistance training session into a cardio-with-weights session. Or, you may go into the gym and try to do all of the reps with heavy weights because that’s what Coach Jon told you to do, which would be even worse. What I want to impart upon you is that every exercise does not need to be a near death experience to be beneficial. It is OKAY to go into the gym and work on your mobility/flexibility/posture in the yoga studio. It is OKAY to go into the gym and just try and get better at performing barbell back squats. It is OKAY to go into the gym and try and get better at a movement you have never heard nor tried before (ever heard of a Turkish get-up?). When you first learned addition, did your teacher assign you multivariable calculus problems? When kids first learn how to play basketball they don’t immediately learn Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. The comparisons are endless. Why is it okay to be the same way about your exercise?
If we are beginning to approach our exercise as a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, what does our scaffolding look like? Any math teacher or sports coach worth their weight is going to have some sort of progression, right? Now we’re cookin’ with fire, and asking all the right questions. Well just like those math instructors or sport coaches it largely depends on where your starting point is, but I will do my best to give advice that everybody can implement here and now.
- Within your week, have dedicated day(s) where you work on mobility and try and learn a new movement. Take the first 15-20 minutes to work on your shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. Spend the next 20- minutes practicing a new movement. Then, take a brisk 20 minute walk. Think of these days as practice days. We’re not trying to go for gold, but set ourselves up for gold in the long run.
- Have predetermined days where you are going to push the envelope. Is there a fitness class you want to kick your butt? Well, maybe the day before you go in and do that practice day we just mentioned to set yourself up for a successful class.
- Be proactive, not reactive. I get it, not all of us want to be a bodybuilder, marathon runner, or other high level athlete. But to walk in the gym day in and day out without a plan or a purpose is a recipe for failure. Let’s all face it, yes we want to be healthier, but we all have those physical aspects of our bodies we want to improve. So if we go in every day and throw everything but the kitchen sink out ourselves, where do we go from there? Do we throw everything AND the kitchen sink? Now if we go in and have no idea how hard the previous session was, how do we know how to scale our next session?
Bringing it All Together
Now if you’ve read this far and you’re saying to yourself “I hear what you’re saying Coach Jon, but I still think you’re full of it” that’s okay, this is your fitness journey and yours alone. But I have one final question for you. Can you do what you’re doing right now, for the rest of your life? If the answer is yes, then, by all means, keep on keepin’ on. But if the answer is no, making methodical changes to the way we approach exercises is going to keep us on this path for as long as possible.