Train Authentically To Regain Your Fitness

Learning From Horology

Horology is a passion of mine.  Horology is simply the art and science of measuring time.  Clocks and watches of all types have peaked my curiosity since childhood.  Collecting watches is a frivolous hobby that is exciting and frustrating at the same time.  In my small collection, I have an old Omega Seamaster from the 60’s that recently stopped ticking.  The watch seems to have a problem with the drivetrain; the mainspring power is not reaching the balance, or a number of other reasons – dirt or debris in the drive train, a binding second hand, bent teeth, or poor lubrication.  The important consideration is that the movement will have to be disassembled and diagnostics will have to be used to fix the problem.  A failure of the smallest, most seemingly trivial moving part of the watch can cause the entire system to fail.  Some watches by the way, have an excess of 100 moving parts that manage the time.

The Body Is One Piece

Last week I tore, or badly strained the muscle in the back of my left leg.  The hamstrings are a critical, powerful, and overly important driver of all human movements.  It’s always a blessing and a curse the handful of times I have injured myself in the pursuit of fitness or athletic excellence.  What’s the lesson in the process of injury?

The body is just like the intricate movement of a fine Swiss watch.  The smallest mechanical failure of the least significant part can ruin the entire system.  Case in point—there’s not many authentic fitness movements that you can execute effectively in the presence of an injured tissue or joint in the body.  The body is one piece.  Try performing deadlifts, lunges, squats, or heavy rows with an injured hamstring.  It’s difficult, if not impossible because your body isn’t a box of random parts that are used only when needed.

Get Off Of The Machines

Here’s where it gets fuzzy.  I could sit on any of the Nautilus strength training machines that decorate gyms across the country, and grind away sparring my leg injury.  These machines purposely isolate muscles and create convenience at the expense of authentic movement.  Machine based exercise programs promote patterns of movement dysfunction which lead to injury in the first place.

First of all, what is authentic movement?  A natural, primitive movement execution that Mankind didn’t invent, that doesn’t discriminate against specific joints or muscle groups.  Crawling, rolling, climbing, getting-up off of the floor, yoga, squatting, bending, twisting, pushing, and pulling objects to name a few.  If you can learn to perform these activities in the wild without coaching, it’s likely as authentic as it gets.  What are un-authentic movement patterns?  Cycling, exercise machines, and Pilates reformers.

Un-authentic movements are analogous with a car.  A car is clearly a magnificent invention that creates invaluable luxury and convenience.  When a segment of a car breaks down, it doesn’t necessarily derail the system entirely.  You can drive a motor vehicle for thousands of miles on a bad alignment, without problems initially.  The complications arise when you realize you’ve cut your tire life in half, damaged the CV joints, and wore out the suspension bushings.

Fitness exercises that are performed on machines break down your body the same way a poor alignment breaks down the suspension on your car.  You will likely be fine for years, but at some point the convenience the machine brings will cost you dearly!  Here’s what I know; most people can survive quite well practicing poor movement patterns.  But if you attempt to create, and maintain fitness on these practices alone, it’s only a matter of time before you break down.  I have witnessed enough trainees who exclusively ski, ride a bike, or push the spring around on the reformer who have significant fitness limitations. I have witnessed 3 women in the last year who regularly practice Pilates on a reformer with a qualified instructor, yet can’t stand up from the ground in a half kneeling position.  I hope these women never slip on ice in a parking lot late in the evening without assistance.  I have recently witnessed 2 cyclists who are locked so rigidly, they can’t even touch their knees as they attempt to bend over.

Un-authentic movement patterns aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, some of the best exercise strategies to correct pain and dysfunction are performed using bands, reformers, and cables.  The bigger point I’m making is that un-authentic movement patterns should never make up the exclusive cornerstone in your fitness program.

When in doubt, realize that there isn’t a better fitness teacher than the natural environment in which you have to move authentically.  Try climbing for once.  Go to a yoga class that you know has been eluding you for years.  Lift something heavy off of the floor.  Your cycling and skiing will thank you for it.  Have a great week!

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