The concept behind the idea that not all exercise is good exercise is one that many people have difficulty understanding and coming to terms with. We know that exercise is an essential component to maintaining our overall health, so how is it that not all exercise is good for us? For anyone who has ever taken the initiative to begin a new exercise regimen, we know that there are many different options out there. Whether you enjoy following along to a DVD in the comfort of your own home, or performing a weight training routine in a gym, there are boundless exercises to compliment everyone's interests.
Although the options are endless, you may be surprised to find that many of the exercises that we perform routinely are actually causing more harm than good. This is especially true when exercising in a gym, where the majority of the provided equipment puts us in poor positions, setting us up for a greater risk of injury. The reason being is that most gym equipment is not designed with the integrity of our structural support system in mind. Popular machine-based exercises such as the Leg Press and Chest Fly are just two examples of the many exercises that should be avoided at all cost. Aside from putting us in poor positions, these types of exercises train our muscles in isolation, meaning that we strengthen one muscle group at a time. Although exercises such as these increase our strength in these very specific and limited movement patterns, they do not increase our capacity to use our bodies in a functional manner.
Determining what exercises are appropriate for protecting our structural support system is a daunting task. Before attempting a new exercise, it is important to take a moment and assess the movement itself. With each exercise you choose to perform, you should look for certain criteria. Begin by determining whether or not the exercise you are about to perform utilizes only one specific muscle, or many different muscle groups simultaneously. It is preferable to select an exercise that utilizes many muscle groups at once. The reason being is that when you use your body in a functional manner, multiple muscle groups must work together at once to complete the movement; never is it only one muscle group working at a time. Another question we should ask ourselves is whether or not the exercise we are about to perform is sustainable. A sustainable movement is one that has the ability to be performed repeatedly over time without causing any adverse effect or injury. Lastly, we need to determine whether or not the selected exercise is functional. A functional exercise would be one that increases our ability to perform activities that are a part of our daily routine.
Think of the Leg Press exercise for example. This is an exercise where you sit down, and place your feet on a platform out in front of you, with the knees bent. You then press yourself back, away from the platform by extending the knees and hips. This is an exercise that is designed specifically to strengthen the quadriceps and hamstring muscles in the legs. While it is effective in increasing the strength of these leg muscles, it puts the low back in an incredibly vulnerable position. The reason being is that the flexed position in which you are seated in, combined with the movement itself as well as the resistive force applied to the movement, drastically increases the intervertebral disc pressure, specifically in the lumbar spine. This force is often beyond what our bodies are capable of dispersing, and frequently results in an unfortunate injury known as a disc herniation. Aside from being a dangerous and non-sustainable exercise for our structural support system, it is also not a functional movement. Simply put, we would never use our bodies in the same way in which it is positioned and during this exercise. In this case, as in many others, the risk posed by the exercise greatly outweighs the potential reward gained by performing the movement.
Altering the mindset in which we think of the suitability of an exercise is a key piece to protecting our structural support system and limiting the potential for injury. If you are unsure as to whether or not some of the exercises that you are performing are not ideal, sign up for our upcoming Sustainable Exercise Workshop being held on Wednesday, January 27th at 6:15 pm, or schedule an appointment to meet with our Exercise Specialist.