I continue to learn lessons about fitness, and why people choose to engage in this activity. The majority of my supporters fall into the category of risk mitigation. The burning problem that I solve every day for the engaged trainee is how to mitigate the risk of their ultimate death, and create enough fitness to minimize the inevitable process of aging and joint problems because of the environment we live in.
The history of Vail has been richly immersed in mountain lifestyle. At 8150 feet in elevation, Vail and Beaver Creek are 2 of the best ski resorts in the world, and our community embraces the activities that the landscape provides. A friend said that ‘one must train extremely hard in Vail to be average.’ He is right on the money as this proving ground hosts a plethora of world class athletes that compete in skiing, adventure racing, running, cycling, snowshoeing, kayaking, and climbing. Yet, most of these individuals are broken. Sitting in the Vail Valley medical center 8 years ago was an eye opener for me. As I was being discharged from a concussion caused by threading the needle a little too courageously skiing at Beaver Creek, I had this not-so special epiphany as I scanned the emergency room; I had never seen so many broken, healthy people sitting in a hospital. Torn ACL’s, fractured wrists, dislocated shoulders, herniated discs, concussions, hip replacements, etc. Most hospitals host people who are pathologically sick. Not in Vail. A bunch of fit and hearty mountain people who are beat up from activity.
Exercise vs. Activity
Most of the people I train have limitations because of cumulative injuries from activity. Ironically in our country, activity is promoted for a better quality of life and reducing disease and injury in the first place. The implications of this has raised some really tough questions. Why is it, that activity in our country has been exchanged for exercise? As a country we are physically unwell, yet our gym culture is growing at an alarming rate. Exercise is the structured planning and execution of physical movements that promote fitness. Activity, is the engagement of a lifestyle or a sport that depends upon fitness, developed from structured exercise or the activity itself.
General Fitness and Activity
There are a few discussion points worth dissecting about this dilemma. First of all, we have lost our ability to ‘play’ and recreate in the natural environment. We have substituted play and lifestyle with Crossfit, Pure Barre, and 1-on-1 fitness training. Exercise has become the activity. On the other hand, I have seen too many people who lack fitness, and therefore have become injured from their chosen activities. What is the solution?
We must develop and maintain general fitness qualities that enhance performance without interfering with our chosen activity. Active, outdoor enthusiasts must aim for the minimum effective dose of exercise selections to reduce injury risk, promote joint health, and improve muscular and cardio-respiratory performance. For the gym enthusiast, it’s imperative that they find sports and activities to allow for natural displacement of fitness to generate meaning and quality in their lifestyle. What’s the point of being ‘fit and capable’ if there isn’t an outlet to display your abilities? Most of us have chosen fitness as an outlet for stress relief, health development, and physical beauty. There is nothing wrong with this. However, gym exercises often take precedence over hiking because it’s chest day, and it would be a disaster to skip working out specific muscles on a given day.
I was at a conference several years ago when Gray Cook challenged the audience to consider authentic exercise training like climbing a tree. A fitness professional from the audience said that she often takes her trainees outside and attaches bands, or other fitness equipment to trees for fitness training. Gray said that was just fine, but why not ‘climb the damn tree instead.’
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!
What I am about to tell you is simply unconventional. Your plight is my wheelhouse. I’m a mechanic that works on poorly built human motors, transmissions (that’s your spine, or ‘core’ if you absolutely must), worn out bushings, suspensions, and fuel systems. By the way, why is it that we simply can’t ‘eat less food’ and try to put premium fuel in the take to begin with?
Why are we trying to redesign the basic mechanics of how your body moves? Do you really need that gym membership and the 24 pack of personal training sessions?
You’re fat. All of the Pilates, Barre, Yoga interventions, running, lifting, praying (you should pray by the way), meditating, gluten avoiding, diet hopping, and other circus acts haven’t put a dent in the scale. Fire your trainer, get out of the gym, and just simply, for goodness sake, ‘eat less today.’
You’re injured. You have been promised that running 5 miles after performing 100 burpees would land you a 750 pound dead lift. Haven’t you considered that when you slam your thumb under a hammer 100 times, it hurts? You could put a bandage on your thumb, or, why not throw away the hammer instead? You could get surgery, but why do you need surgery in the first place? Now you have the extra burden and cost of dry needling, taping, scraping, burning, and other sadistic rituals to unscrew what shouldn’t have been screwed that way in the first place.
You’re old. I know you carried a big stick around the field to beat all of the cheerleaders off of you when you were the star quarterback at your division III high school in 1971, but just because it was a good idea then, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea now. Stop what your doing and repeat after me-‘Fiber, water, more vegetables, nose hair trimmers, stretch what is tight, and strengthen what is weak.’ These are words to live by, wise Sage.
Listen, Folks. I’m a mechanic that works on poorly built human motors, transmissions, worn out bushings, suspensions, and fuel systems. You need a mechanic who can diagnose, and fix your carriage. You only have one, so you’d better start listening. I have the tools, welcome in.