“Exercise science has treated the muscles like a big meaty furnace. We engage in muscular activity to burn calories and produce a cardio-respiratory demand. This has proved to be effective for caloric expenditure and maybe even improved cardiovascular health, but it has not left us moving well. We didn’t set quality movement as a goal-we focused on quantity. If we compound our incomplete exercise platform with a predominance of sedentary activities, we are left with extremely poor movement patterns.”
I have been having a few talks over the last few months with Dewey Nielsen, my mentor, friend, and elite level strength coach, about the most important issues in the areas of strength and conditioning. Actually, these have been more “listens” than “talks”, as I seem to learn a lot more when I shut up and take notes. But, one issue that I have been really kicking around is how critical movement QUALITY is. I have written about this in a few other posts, but the issue deserves a little deeper discussion.
The wheels have obviously come off in regards to American fitness. The statistics are startling, and there is so much information about what is the right way to do things or the best method to lose weight, change your body composition, and improve your performance. The problem is there are so many different agendas, that the market is saturated with information, and it can be overwhelming to figure out who to listen to and who to trust. Without getting too much into that topic, I would say the key is to look for results. And, not just numbers (quantity), but overall outcomes (quality). Look at not just did people lose a bunch of weight, or add some bodybuilder muscle, but are they healthier? Are they feeling better, and will they be more productive longer in their lives? These are key things to consider, but walk into just about every gym in America and you wonder how we got so lost in regards to fitness. Let me explain…
Running for 30 minutes to an hour on a treadmill or an elliptical is an efficient way to burn excess body fat, right? Where did this idea come from? In the 1970’s athletic shoe companies, like Nike, convinced people that running was an ideal way to achieve optimum fitness levels. Now I love Nike, I wear all Nike almost every day, but as far as the best way to improve body composition or performance, running is far from the most effective method. But, a quick tour of the majority of health clubs in this country reveals some saddening scenes. First, you see the “cardio” machines loaded with people mindlessly moving and staring at a TV, aimlessly trying to pass the time. This exercise isn’t fun, it’s a necessary evil to the participants. Next, you walk past the group exercise classes and see a bunch of people moving to a preset soundtrack. Again, the quality of movement is completely disregarded. Instead people are encouraged to, “just keep going”. And finally, the trainers are not much help either. I know for a fact that some of the athletes I workout have gotten horrible advice from previous professional trainers in regards to how to improve performance. I mean telling athletes that, “seated calf raises will improve your vertical” horrible. Now, I am not trying to sound like I know everything; far from it. It seems like the more I study and learn, the dumber I feel. There is so much to learn that it’s crazy. But, that is the job of a good strength coach, filter through the nonsense. Find what works, throw out the rest, and always have a reason for everything you put in a program.
The idea of movement quality is so broad. It has implications to everyone at any stage of life, and with any goal. I was talking about
how important moving well was with a friend recently, and he had an “aha moment” when he said, “Wait, wouldn’t this be really important for people as they age?” Yes, as we age, our movement becomes critically important. And, movement quality is much easier to improve the younger we start. But, also athletes looking for an edge benefit from improved movement quality by being more efficient, and also upgrading their motor control “software”, which leads to improved athletic ability. This is an often-overlooked aspect of athleticism. People who are sedentary at their jobs or in class, also need to move better to counteract the unnatural pattern of sitting too long. We were not designed to sit all day.
So, when you go to the gym, you can’t just focus on reps and sets, movement quality must be a goal. This is tough to do without a knowledgeable strength coach to guide you. Seek one out. They are worth the investment. And, don’t assume that just because a person works at a gym that they know what they are talking about. The fitness industry is just like every other profession. There are a few really good coaches, and a bunch of really average ones. Is there anything more important than your health? Probably not. So, take the time to find someone that is going to help you move better longer and then get to feeling better and living a more productive life. If you have no idea where to begin in analyzing a trainer here are a few things to look out for. If any of the following relate to a potential trainer, the only running you should do is right out the gym doors (unless you have some sort of medical limitation of course, then just walk out of the gym):
1. Suggests you do a circuit on the weight machines.
2. Says that 30-60 minutes of cardio on the treadmill or elliptical will help you burn fat efficiently.
3. Tells you the Functional Movement Screen is unnecessary and isn’t feasible on a daily basis.
4. Doesn’t know what the Functional Movement Screen is…
5. Doesn’t know who Mike Boyle or Dan John is (Seriously ask them. These are two of the best coaches in the industry, if they don’t know who these guys are, they are not doing their homework. Both guys have been coaching for 25+ years.) Honestly, you don’t even need to know anything else about these guys, that’s your strength coach’s job, and the response of the potential trainer should tell you everything.
And, if after a month or so, you can’t point to noticeable differences in, not only your body composition, but also your movement quality, then you need to re-evaluate whether your money is being wisely invested. Move better. Live better!