I work in a field called spatial medicine, also known as physical medicine. Your physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, and CrossFit or yoga instructor does the same thing. Essentially we work with people to educate them on their bodies and movement. However, oftentimes, the teacher and the medical professional work at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The one covered by your insurance is more on the rehab side. You see them when you’re hurt, injured, or needing to get back to where you were. The movement therapists and coaches help get you past where you are. What’s interesting is that both are interested in prehab, preventative care, to keep you from further injuring yourself. And this is great! But it can be hard when your body won’t improve much more past physical therapy, or when your body continuously gets injured when ‘working out’.
One person teaches you ‘exercises’ to overcome muscle strains, joint breaks, and surgeries. The other shows you how to continuously grow the muscles, while improving your body’s fitness. Again, overlap is exercise, and a care to keep you healthy. The doctor gets you back to where you were, the trainer keeps you there, and can get you even further along in your journey. But a question, “why are we sending people back to what got them hurt? Why is fitness the priority inside most gyms and studios?” Bottom line is you cannot fully heal in an environment where you got sick or hurt. So if I’m a yogi, or pilates person, or love walking, or running, or lifting weights, and get hurt. Why am I going to try and get back to that?
I get it. As humans we want to get back for the love of that activity. “Yoga got me out of pain. Strength training made me strong again. My bodyfat has never been so low. I’ve never felt so centered as when I do running.” This is all important stuff. If you have physical outlets that allow you to feel connected to your body and feel happier, you’ve got to hold those close to your heart…but not too close.
Why I say this is because I think we may be going in a direction that doesn’t serve us as well as it could. We are chasing fitness, exercise, and activities that don’t necessarily make sense to be doing all of the time. How many people really vary their training? Usually we find what we like, and then we go all out to get good at this sport (I’ve been most of my life). So we stop exploring the island for the sake of having found one part of it we enjoy the most. We develop a tunnel vision.
Are Fitness and Exercise the Same as Health?
Fitness is defined as,” the condition of being physically fit and healthy”. Or, “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.” Exercise is defined as, “activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness”. Or, “a process or activity carried out for a specific purpose, especially one concerned with a specified area or skill.”
Lets look at these statements and their commonality. They both seem to want to prioritize ‘health’ at some level. So if we define health, it can be said that it is, “the state of being free from illness or injury.” A-HA! Free from illness or injury. Now if we take this further, we can ask ourselves, “is my training prioritizing health”? Is the way you train keeping you free from injuries (and illness)?
You might say, “yes I don’t get injured because of what I do”, or “yes chiropractic saved my life”. And to that I would say fantastic, keep doing what you’re doing. But here’s a caveat, “how do you truly know where you are at?” If you keep doing the thing you’re doing, of course you’re going to appear like everything is working and in order. Just like if I spend my whole life mastering grilling and sauteeing I won’t think that I can’t do it. But what happens if I want to bake a cake, chances are I won’t know how. I may not even know how to turn on the oven. So basically, your reality and comfort zone is a small circle you live in inside of a much larger circle that you don’t step into.
Training without Injury
Here’s my point (because if you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what this blog is about). It’s about health. Training for health is what we need to be doing. If we train and build our bodies in such a way that promotes musculoskeletal growth without injury, we will get so much better so much faster. I want to abolish this idea of training for “exercise” or “fitness”. Lets train for health. If we train for that, chances are we can avoid injuries, setbacks, and fall into the continuous loop of improvement.
Striking balance is a delicate process. However it doesn’t have to be so hard. All it takes is some introspection and awareness. All too often I meet yogis and pilates people who need strength training and to undo all their ribcage compression. I meet strength people regularly who lack muscular length (eccentric loading) and flexibility. I meet runners who have shoulders that don’t move, swimmers who are hyperflexible, and bikers who have little spinal motion. And a lot of this is due to our attachment to what we love. But it isn’t done for the sake of health, most of the time its for the sake of exercise and fitness.
If we wanted to train for health, we would look at our bones, our joints, and examine the positions or shapes we train ourselves in and out of everyday. If you only train tennis, your body becomes that shape. And so when presented with lifting something heavy (like a sofa) with a friend, your body can muscle through it, sure, its conditioned enough. But will you have applicable strength for lifting and pivoting a couch down a set of stairs without injury? I’m suggesting we flip the paradigm of training on its head and begin to prioritize our body’s health. To introduce as many variables and dimensions of motion to our bodies as possible to increase its responsiveness to stress in the real world. I think we will notice less injuries and still an improvement in performance if we implement this. In addition we will increase our fitness and learn to do more advanced exercises if we first look at where our blind-spots are.
This is where biomechanics training comes into play and getting our bodies to move the way nature intended them to. The more of our bodies we can access and use, the more we will be able to do, all without the ramification of injuries that set us back. A cyclist could cycle forever and get really good never doing a single other thing. But what happens if he learned diaphragm breathing, or intra-abdominal pressure, or how to laterally expand his ribcage, or how to recruit his upper back when riding? His power output and energy conservation could dramatically go up! If you can restore joint motion where there was no motion, you will reap enormous benefits. But this involves learning how to move your body in new and healthy ways.
And so I propose healthness, the shift towards a healthier body and healthier movement. It will take time for this to occur, but I think over time, sustainable practices that promote sustainability and balance are going to take precedent over ‘fitness’ and ‘exercise’. Have a question about it? Send me an email about how you can start to vary your training and build your body in a more efficient way.
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