Does Exercise Equal Fitness?
Being a health professional, I often have my patients inquire with me on the topic of exercise and what they should be doing at the gym? This is a loaded question, that often is unable to truly be answered without gaining more information and data. The first question being, is this individual even ready for the exercise that they may already be doing? The next question may be what is this individual’s purpose for exercising? Are they exercising because they believe that exercise is good for their health and as a result of exercising, they are going to be healthier? Do they exercise because they want to be better able to perform a certain activity such as running, cycling, a sport, lifting their grandkids, or do they just want to be better able to move? These are examples of historical questions that need to be further investigated to understand if and what type of exercise program an individual should be doing.
Today We Will Discuss
Preparing the Body for Exercise Stress
Defining Functional Training
The Importance of Training with a Plan
Preparing the Body for Exercise Stress
Contrary to popular belief, it is my opinion in working with people on a spectrum from injury recovery and pain all the way to improving fitness and performance, that exercise may not be good for everyone all the time. Though exercise can have tremendous health benefits, it does come with a physical cost. The bottom line is that exercise is a physiological stress to our body, stress can have both positive as well as negative effects on our body. Whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks is dependent upon our preparedness to accept that stress at the time which it is received. There are many factors that improve or diminish our preparedness including, but not limited to, sleep quality, nourishment, hydration, overall health status (cardiac, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, etc.), stress levels (home, work, family, etc.), etc. When we are consciously aware of these factors they tend to align well. Basically if we are attempting to improve our health and ability to respond to stress, we are going to typically work on sleeping better, eating better, hydrating properly, etc. This will likely have positive effects on our overall health status and stress levels, at least our ability to respond to stressors, which we are otherwise unable to fully control. Often the better the alignment of these other life factors, the better our body will respond to exercise.
In addition, exercise is also a great way of stress management as we give our brain a rest from other stressors during the time that it is focusing on exercise. The ability to go into more depth on these topics and how to better regulate them is beyond the scope of this post, however these are the regions that it is advisable to hire a coach or training professional who can better get you on the right path with these life skills and understand how to train your body while working through them.
Defining Functional Training
So let’s now assume that you have all of these factors in a good place and have a high level of preparedness for your body to accept and respond to the stress of exercise in a positive manner. The next thing to figure out, relative to the type of exercise that you should be doing, is what are your personal reasons for exercise? All exercise is not equal and there are different purposes for different forms of exercise. Resistance training is typically thought of to build strength, however we also need good mobility, stability, cardiovascular and neurological function to effectively get stronger. Cardiovascular training is typically thought of as a way to get a stronger and healthier heart, however without good muscular endurance and strength (which again is also dependent upon good mobility and stability) it is hard to effectively train your cardiovascular system. I guess what I am trying to say here is that though there are primary objectives with certain forms of exercise, without having other systems in place we are limited in how well we can train these primary objectives through exercise. In addition, we can often improve strength without a high requirement of stability through the use of machines, which often provide the stability component from a seat that we sit on or a bench that we lay on. This can be either good or bad, pending on the desired outcome of the exercise. It depends upon whether we are desiring to build functional strength (which I like to define as strength that is useful) or we just want to improve strength of a muscle (isolated strength).
I understand the controversies currently on functional training, I like to think of functional training as that which can be applied to our everyday lives and the activities that we perform daily. Functional training brings together the foundational requirements of mobility and stability and building strength and power upon those solid foundations. Strength without good stability or movement is the equivalent of building a home on a poor foundation from a functional standpoint. This is not to say that building strength in a muscle in an environment that does not require one to stabilize (such as when using a machine) is bad. In fact, this often can be necessary and a great thing in rehabilitative care when someone is recovering from an injury or may have a pathological condition that leads to loss of strength or tone in a muscle(s). However, this may not be the most effective way of training for an individual who has a goal of becoming more functionally strong. In addition, if possible, individuals who are rehabilitating and need to improve isolated strength should be transitioned to functional strength as soon as possible to assist in making the strength they are improving more accessible.
Ultimately, the issue that can arise from many individuals training plans is that they feel exercise in general is good, which for most exercise is a great thing. However, there is no clear plan for why we are exercising or specifically what our intention is for exercising other than improving our overall health and well-being. It is important to realize that exercise does come with a cost as well, therefore we should be more focused on our intention with exercise and what our plan is to achieve our desired outcome and whether or not we have a current proper level of preparedness for our body to respond the way necessary to receive the benefits of our exercise plan. We certainly would not want to put a high-powered engine into a frame that could not handle that horsepower.
Many people who just begin training without a true understanding of how exercise influences our body (both positively and negatively) are likely doing just that. For us to effectively functional train our bodies to improve functional strength, we must realize that we need a solid foundation of good mobility and proper stability. Without either we are increasing our probability for an injury and many times doing more harm than good through compensation of our limitations.
These are just some of the points that are necessary to think about and understand prior to beginning an exercise plan. Exercise can be one of the best ways to positively influence our health and well-being. It is important to be sure that we are maximizing our gains through exercise by giving our bodies the best opportunity to respond to the stress that is being applied through exercise and not just exercising because we think it is good for us. Having a better level of preparedness will help us to better accomplish our purpose and reasoning for exercising. We should also have well established goals to help us to build the proper system and habits that will lead us to those goals. The wrong system or plan could have detrimental effects on our health, especially if we are not prepared to respond well to the system or plan that we have scheduled. If this seems, a bit confusing or overwhelming this is where hiring a coach could have tremendous value and benefit to getting you on the right path to success with your exercise plan. If this maybe you, consider taking advantage of our No Stress Fitness Strategy Session and let us assist you on your way to a healthier and more vibrant life!
Till next time…