Practice vs Perform: Which Gets You Better?

THE FACTS
Whenever we think of working out typically it sends us into the performance state of pushing ourselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that- unless it’s all you’re doing whenever you train. I understand there are a lot of us out there who played sports all our lives, and as we find exercise and working out again its only natural to go back into that competitive state of mind. You give 110%, ‘push through the pain’, make gains, and tell yourself you’re getting better. To this process, I disagree. If we constantly, (as in always), workout with the intention being to push hard, we may develop really unhealthy bodily patterns that creep into our life and suck us of any true embodiment or self-fulfillment. If we are always working above 70/75% effort, dormant muscles are going to stay sleeping, inefficient postural patterns will never let go, and we will never change our thought process of understanding of our anatomy.

The easiest example is to imagine a fist. If you squeeze your hand closed tight (your hand represents you doing your workout) for an entire day, eventually all of those muscles involved with the fist tightening will seize up, lock up, and get glued into that position. Your hand will become painful, and frozen in that position. Imagine you did it for a week, undoing it would be even harder. The second you’d open your hand up, it would probably go back into protection mode of wanting to shut since that is now its’ comfortable and safe place. This is how society and mainstream training is approaching working out and exercise- it’s all of a sudden about performance. Spin classes, core yoga, xFits, P90xs, the list goes on and on- they’re all making it about performance with little respect for the long-term effects on the body. Why? To sell ego, to sell esteem, to sell false body images, all of which are useful to get somebody going. But if we don’t stop ourselves and find a more intelligent way to approach our bodily development, we will fall victim to reoccurring injuries, stagnant gains, constant pains, and an ongoing cycle of being unhappy with our bodies.

Performance does have benefits, like if you’re training to perform in something. And it also helps as a measure of achievement, to make sure you’re not sluggishly moving through your fitness routine. I’ll be the first one to say that I believe in elevating heart rates, performing multi-planar exercises, and having a good time when I train. However- performance keeps us asleep, unaware, and is typically ego-driven because we feel the need to push, burn, and endure the suffering. Again- all and good if your day-to-day life depends on enduring suffering, but if you’re on your feet, at a desk, or in a car for 6-10 hours a day, the last thing you need to do is create skeletal-muscular holding patterns that drive bad patterns deeper. You need workouts, training, that helps you achieve homeostasis in your body.

 

THE PHYSIOLOGY ISSUE
My biggest problem with always performing is that your sympathetic nervous system, aka fight-or-flight, is constantly active. Think about this a moment, your fight-or-flight is already active all day long! As humans in this world we are constantly on the edge, worrying, comparing, defending, and over-thinking ourselves. These circumstances all trigger protection mode, ‘get through it’ mode, also known as panic mode. Our nervous system is constantly in a state of defending, which leads to chronic holding in the body, which translates to myofascial locking patterns, which leads to muscle inhibition, power leaks throughout your myofascial system, and decreased range of motion in your joints. Basically- you start to suck faster and harder if you don’t understand your nervous system relative to when you train.

If you flip the coin over, practice is where the magic is. Ask any top athlete, any top performer in any field for that matter, they do their best work when their central nervous system is monitored and checked-in with. Practice is a place where you can keep your parasympathetic nervous system present, and really feel your body and it’s restrictions and strengths. This is where you develop kinesthetic awareness and improved proprioceptive cognition to better learn what you need to get to the next level. But doing this isn’t easy, mainly because it is a behavior change. And as we all know (or maybe not), behavior doesn’t change overnight.

This behavior change demands you to slow down, breathe, and understand your anatomy in a way that traditional training has not looked at for decades. This sort of training is called biomechanics, or alignment training; training based on improving the entire functionality of the system in your body. Training this way respects your human biology and the sustainability of your physiology. Training conscientiously with intention behind what you’re doing, knowing that there’s a greater purpose for your body than just six-pack abs, jacked-shoulders, and tight-butts will improve your movement capability while ridding yourself of stiffness, pain, and limitation most experience while doing exercise.


THE NEXT STEP

1. Find a knowledgeable trainer. Whatever workout routine you’ve been doing, take a step back and evaluate it with a coach. Of course I’m biased, being a movement practitioner who focuses on human biomechanics and improved functionality, but I’m telling you- the fitness industry is selling you lies if you don’t do this. You’ve got to find somebody who respects and understands the neural, articular, muscular, and fascial system enough to help you get exactly what you want from your time spent exercising. If you’re looking for a more functional core and carry-over to your life from the gym, chances are your sagittal plane based workout routine is not addressing the true nature of human bipedalism. Since we naturally rotate when we walk, and since we live in a three dimensional world, understanding rotational training as well as coronal training is going to be a big game changer in altering the way you train, workout, move, and look.

2. Slow down to speed up. You’re only as fast as you can slow down. You’re only as fit as you can slow down your heart rate back to that parasympathetic state. If you struggle with things like; tempo-work, isometrics, uni-lateral movements, balance and stability, chances are you’re stuck in patterns that are already driven so deep that they’re going to take some real time and effort to create any sort of long-lasting change. (I tell you this to create curiosity and not concern!) You can get a head start on this by following step #1 above and seeing where you’re weakest.

3. Develop better potentiation. Potentiation is the strength of nerve impulses along pathways that have been used previously, either short-term or long-term. You need to tap into old neural patterns and figure out how to connect the dots in your myofascial system. And remember- some systems in your body, (some connections) may not have been woken up for years, even decades, so it’s going to be normal to suck at them at first and not totally get it right away. Example, most of us don’t understand how the right shoulder and left hip have any relation- but they do! They are fascially connected, a seamless continuum that we rely on in human locomotion. “Visualize to utilize” is an old saying my coach taught me when teaching me to feel my body with deliberation and execution. Building this understanding will only better prepare you for improved movement, strength, and results from your exercise regimen. Again- return to steps 1 & 2 to better understand these concepts.

 

THE FUTURE
Training evolves the longer you do it, it takes trying different programs, sports, and styles to find the one you enjoy doing. However, I think we (the human population) are at a time where there is too much emphasis on repetitive motions in our ‘fitness for performance’ workout routines. Lots of people trying to better their body mechanics, body composition, and body balance are utilizing the concept of ‘fitness’ or ‘working out’ without truly defining what it is they are trying to do to their body, health, and life.  Instead they are choosing to do exercises somewhat mindlessly (in a checked-out state) that give their brain an endorphin feeling that then for some reason equates health. (I personally think it is a mindset that stems much deeper than this blog allows for.)

There’s nothing wrong with training and having something that works for you, though I encourage my clients to look deeper beyond why we are practicing ‘x and y’ movements. My main mission is to not drive bad movement patterns deeper, and to use exercise patterns that promote the functioning-ability of the human system as a whole. As humans we have to look at our day-to-day life, and train specific fascial movement patterns that stimulate connectivity as well as reflexivity of certain muscle structures and joint articulations. I think if you use your working out to train with specificity and intention, instead of habit, with a quest in mind, whatever you choose will work and give you results. And if you do use barbell cycling, gymnastics, endurance, yoga, dance, or martial arts classes as your fitness, then it makes sense to train repetition because it is relative to your goal, sport, and daily life. Setting your sail onto your quest is another matter, but one that none the less is successful through practice and patience.

Nowadays, no matter what the preferred type of workout style each person chooses, it all has a similar taste- satisfactory, somewhat repetitive, and you feel ‘okay’ from it. However, as spatial medicine grows, changing in the fitness field is going to go one of two directions. There will be the folks who are going to continue to seek the burn, exertion, push to excitement (training sympathetic CNS) in a gym class and will continue to use training as performance mentality. This in my opinion, (not always, but almost always) will ultimately break down the human organism, perpetuating joint stress, creating muscle damage, overlooking compensatory patterns, and not respecting the human condition as to what it has evolved to on a daily basis. (Remember, our lifestyle has become mostly sedentary, highly-anxious, over-stimulated, and people are living with more chronic illnesses than any generation before us.) Anyways- these individuals will be under a large net in the fitness field; from inexperienced trainers to gym-class leaders to group instructors. And although they’re helping somebody meet and use their body, they may be driving inefficient patterns deeper and it’s strictly because their interest is usually embedded in wanting part-time hobby work instead of being committed to helping people create long-lasting change.

There will also be those of us who pursue biomechanics training from a more holistic approach. Biomechanics training will blend exercise patterns for functional purpose, while encouraging practice mentality over performance. As training becomes the normal practice of connecting dots throughout the fascial system for better functioning in daily life, a demand will grow for practicality of fitness relative to ones life. (A holistic training approach for example could be to build anti-gravity muscles to take stress off one’s joints, or to develop reciprocal reflexivity in muscular relationships so that the body becomes more integrated.) You’ll see more trainers who honors the pliability fascia has so that we can carry on our day-to-day lives feeling stronger, healthier, and more capable than ever. Small training centers, personal health coaches, and other mindful individuals will be the ones leading this ‘exercise’ revolution to a pain-free, improved cognitive state. They’ll have as much training in physiology, neurology, and behavior as they will personal training and movement training. Their knowledge of anatomy will be deep and their results will be life changing.

 

THE LAST LOOK
People will ask, “will I still get the look I want?” if I practice? And to that I have to say yes- if you’re willing to put in the work and trust the process. If not, I guess I will wonder if we are too attached to our ego of doing something the old way in our past, that we cannot do things the harder way because it is new, even though it will end up being better for us in the long run. Practice will allow you to continually make gains, without compromising your biomechanics, and while staying injury free. So there is mechanical value in moving with intention instead of habituation.

The choice is yours. You can perform today, tomorrow, and maybe a while longer. But it doesn’t mean you should. You can practice forever, and only get better, and only learn more about yourself. The beautiful thing about practice is that it pays off. It gets you what you want, and even when you want to perform, you’ll have that internal strength and ability to out-perform others and to surpass your own expectations of yourself. Practice makes habit, and if you practice something so well so often, fully checked-in to your CNS and body, you’re going to blow people away when it actually comes time to compete. Granted if you’re actually preparing for competition, you may need to practice performing more than not, but not over-performing. Do you think top Olympians practice like they’re performing everyday? They may sometimes, but more often than not they’re focusing on hitting their marks, landing their attempts, performing with ease so that when game-day comes, they can tap into that practice and extend beyond it. That’s when world records are set, personal bests are made, and true athleticism and human potential is achieved.

Performance can be looked at like dessert. You can go all out for as long as you want, as frequently as you want, and you probably won’t die, though there will be health consequences for overindulgence and overdoing it. You have one dessert, then another, then sugar high kicks in, you have another, you go out of control with it. So you can indulge if you want, you can always prioritize performing. It’s easy to just keep going and not slow down. But practice is like a dessert here and there. It’s modest, it keeps you aware of whats going on in your internal and external environment without all that sugar high that comes along with too many sweets. Your practice teaches you to go slow, to feel and really enjoy what you’re doing. Nothing is done out of nervousness or anxiousness, it’s done out of cognizant choice. You stay in control when your training is a practice. And you end up getting a lot more out of it. Don’t take my word for it- make the change. Find me and figure out how to expand on your training plan!

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