In studying exercise science, I am continuously amazed at how the body is miraculously body movingdesigned to move.   For example, at rest only 20% of blood flow goes to skeletal muscles.  When we start to move, within just minutes, this increases to 80% to working muscles.  How does the body do this?

It takes a “group effort” of body systems – the nervous system, cardiovascular system, along with hormonal, chemical, and mechanical changes at the muscle site itself.  All work together to relax blood vessels at the working muscles and constrict where blood is not as needed.

This is only a small fraction of what happens, completely invisible to us while we are exercising.   Since much of this is invisible, it is tempting to focus on what we can see… and want to see.

Exercise programs designed for results like “six pack abs, sculpted arms, melting fat, eliminating cellulite, creating long sleek legs” distract from the intricate science of movement.  Instead of moving the body the way it was designed, we end up creating movements to design the body.

“Exercise was invented to help us live better, not exercise better.”  Kelly Dean of The Tummy Team

What’s wrong with this approach?  Here are just a few of the concerns

1- Risk/Benefit Ratio is out of whack.  Certain common exercises are not only non-functional, they increase the risk of injury in an effort to create an aesthetic outcome.  For example – dips are a common triceps exercise.  However the risk to the shoulders far outweigh the dUS_Navy_030523-N-1485H-003_Seabees_conduct_their_sit-up_portion_of_the_Navy_Physical_Readiness_Testdefinition you may get in the back of the arms.  Lets take sit ups – invented to test abdominal muscle endurance so people did them to get better at this test. When sit ups were linked to injury the lower back,  crunches were born.  Again, remember the origin of this movement.  Crunches are now commonly done to develop the rectus abdominis – the muscle that gives the “six pack” look.   How often do you need to do this movement? Not much, if at all? (and if this is how you get up from lying down – lets chat!).  At a minimum crunches can create a muscle imbalance.  If you have abdominal wall weakness, hernia, or Diastasis Recti (many times undiagnosed) crunches can cause way more harm than good.

2 – Spot reduction is a myth.  I wish we could “turn on” the fat burning in a certain area by exercising it more!  No matter how much the media may lure us into believing we can, its just a false hope.  (Seriously, watch any exercise infomercial and they probably are selling spot reducing)  Can you exercise and get muscle definition? Sure! Just know it is going to require time, energy, diet control, the right genetics AND the ability to continuing doing that program for as long as you want those results.  (wait, was “results are reversible” in the fine print?) To exercise and think we can easily and permanently get “results” like the ads promises takes a tremendous toll on motivation.

3 – Perfection over function.   With those media flashy images and promises, it is easy to think  a “perfect” body is the goal.  I commonly hear goals like “I want to tone, define, tighten, shape, slim, etc.”    When I ask what they really, want I hear things like – “to have energy to play witplayingh my kids/grand kids, to feel more comfortable in my body, to feel more confident, to be stronger, have better balance, get rid of diabetes, back pain, reduce cancer risk.  OK, now we are talking.  These are goals that exercise CAN deliverYou say yes, but I DO want to tone up too.  Great, just remember these outcomes do not go hand in hand.  Will having six pack abs give your more energy and better health?

So here is a list of questions to use as a litmus test:

If you are not exercising consistently ask yourself: Am I NOT exercising regularly because ____? (check all that apply)

  • It is just too confusing
  • I don’t have time
  • Exercise is painful
  • I don’t see results
  • I don’t have equipment
  • I can’t/won’t join a gym

What do I really want from exercise?

If you are exercising consistently (or somewhat) ask yourself:

  • What do I really want from exercise?
  • How is this program getting me there?
  • How do I feel after exercise?
  • Why am I doing each particular exercise?  ‘
  • How is this exercise helping me function better in daily life?
  • Am I seeing improvements?
  • How often am I injured? (During exercise or daily life.  What you are doing during exercise can increase or decrease your risk for injury in everyday life activities)
  • How often am I too tired or sore to move the next day after a workout?
  • How consistent am I at this exercise plan?

Lets all build an immunity to culturally influenced exercise programs.   Lets commit to staying true to our own goals.  Lets move because the body was built for it.   Lets create exercise plans that are in line with how the body was designed to move AND be well.

Keep Moving and Activate Your Well Being,

Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC