Training vs. Working Out


“Trainers used to train people. Now trainers just work people out.” ~Dr. Ed Thomas

Imagine two men—about the same age, physique, and health—exercising at a gym.  One man spends the first 20 minutes doing jump rope drills, sun salutations, and kettlebell swings, followed by 20 minutes of boxing with a bag, pushups, pullups, deadlifts and squats. The other man spends 30 minutes hopping onto different exercise machines that train different body parts in isolation—usually in a seated position—and spends another 30 minutes jogging on a treadmill watching ESPN.

Although both men are exercising, burning calories, and improving their cardiovascular and muscular endurance, the results of their training in terms of how their bodies move and mental focus are very different.

Physical therapist Gray Cook, author of “Movement “ and co-founder of Functional Movement Systems, have mentioned in the book and his workshops that exercise training must be self-limiting to improve ourselves in terms of how well we move and how connected we are with ourselves and our environment.

The Pistol: One of the ultimate self-limiting exercises. Photo by Ryan Crandall.

Self-limiting exercise is not a new concept. Martial artists, dancers, and yoga practitioners have been doing this for thousands of years where they are able to connect their mind and body together during exercise and movement. They don’t do it to burn calories or to get lean and tone or to “feel the burn” in their muscles. They had a higher goal they want to achieve that goes beyond the sake of exercise itself. The workout they get from dancing, striking and grappling, and doing different poses should be a byproduct of the training.

He's getting a workout without being aware that he is getting one. Photo by Lynette Domingo

Self-limiting exercises challenge your ability to move well before you can move often. They challenge your posture, balance, movement coordination, body positions, left-right symmetry, breathing, and multi-directional movement patterns that many typical gym exercises and fad gadgets do not train. They require greater self-awareness, focus and constant practice in which there are no quick and easy shortcuts or conveniences provided by a product or fitness equipment.

In our practice, we teach our clients how to move better first before they can move more frequently and longer based on their goals and physical limitations and dysfunctions. The exercises and strategies they receive from us challenge their weakest link in their mind and bodies, forcing them to self-evaluate and reinforce better behavior in their movements.

For example, if Joe is able to lunge well with his left foot in front of him yet he could not lunge well with his right foot forward, we would form a corrective strategy for him to work on his weakest pattern to improve the left-right symmetry in his pattern. This can help him reduce the risk of having one side of his hip, knee, and ankle joints from wearing down faster than the other side.

We often say, “Exercise is better than no exercise. However, exercise with the mind and body together is much better.” Walking on the treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike while watching The Simpsons is better than lying on the couch while watching The Simpsons. Hiking, salsa dancing, swinging kettlebells, raking leaves, washing your car—these all require you to be in the present and be in focus. You are engaged in the activity and not thinking about anything except for what you are doing at the moment. The sweat and increased heart rate you get should be a byproduct of what you do.

With this in mind, go outside, do some hiking, walk or jog on the beach barefoot, take a social dance class, and climb a tree. Enjoy your training!

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