The Evolution of Exercise
An interesting topic that is often overlooked is the evolution of Exercise. In the beginning of time there was no such thing as “exercise.” People have always moved to survive but as modern society developed so came activities like hula hoop, hopscotch or other games that were seen as fun activities more than exercise. Weight training came along as part of school athletics and even in the days of aerobic workouts like Jazzercise, one could consider this is be more recreational than a strenuous workout. Slowly over the years workout activities progressed as did the intensity of the workout. For example, you might recall names like Tae Bo or spinning. Those of us in our 40s and 50s were taught “no pain, no gain.” Then programs like CrossFit and boot camps surfaced pushing people to hit personal bests and hit maximum calorie burns. Some of these more intense workout programs challenge an everyday person to lift heavy weights and complete military style workouts regardless of their fitness levels or other postural problems resulting in injury or long-term vulnerability to the muscles and joints.
Now for the good news. In this day and age, we have more science and technology to support our exercise programming. We no longer need to follow a “no pain no gain” belief, and we can get back to enjoying movement and customizing our exercise for what is best for our individual needs. It’s time to realize that our bodies are like financial investments, there are no “get rich quick” tricks. You must be patient, and consistently contribute to benefits over time. My goal over the next year is to get you to enjoy movement again and invest in yourself. This may be with a trainer, gym or subscription but mainly with an investment of time. Invest the time in yourself and your body. It is not about rushing through workout just to get it done, but to be mindful in it and enjoy it. When we enjoy something, we get into a flow. A flow that when you are doing something time flies by because you are mentally engaged and enjoying the process of the action.
The first step toward accomplishing this flow in exercise includes stretching. What is stretching? Stretching encompasses many different actions and styles of movement. First, I would like for you to realize that muscles alone don’t have any stretch properties. You can’t take a slab of meat and stretch it. You can pound it out, but not literally stretch it like a rubber band. A good analogy for our muscles is Velcro on your child’s shoes. They have interlocking pieces that will overlap and shorten or lengthen. And just as we have learned with our children’s shoes, if we don’t completely overlap the pieces, they won’t hold as tightly as if they were crossed completely. Our muscles can lengthen and shorten like Velcro, but at some point, the strength is compromised if lengthened too much.
So, what does that mean to me, you ask? I am guessing that many of you reading this haven’t been faithful to a stretching routine. Maybe you feel like stretching won’t get you to your desired results. Try to let go of the engrained belief that pulling on a muscle will get it to relax. Instead, when stretching think of reaching two points away from each other to create tension like in a spring. The more you reach one area of your body away from another, the muscle (spring) will create more tension and get stronger. As your muscles get stronger in these lengthened positions, you will become more flexible and able to move more in that direction and less tight or restricted in your movement.
This new mindful stretching concept might be hard to grasp, but stay with me. It’s similar to the older concept of stretching, it just needs a little tweaking. Our muscles, like a lot of our personalities, don’t like to be forced to do anything. If you find a motion in the body that doesn’t like to move, GENTLY hold that movement, try not to force or push. Make sure it is gentle and not uncomfortable. The body wants to comply with what you are asking but sometimes needs to be trained or retrained. You only need to hold for a short moment, reset to neutral then try a few more times to reinforce or open up the range of motion. The difference is you are taking yourself into the movement instead of pushing yourself with another part of your body or an outside force like the floor, wall or bench.
Another important component to this mindful movement process is your breathing. So many practices say to breath, but what does that really mean? Truth is, our breath is super powerful. It can calm us down; it can excite us, and it can also activate muscles in our body. When you are GENTLY moving into these tight motions exhale into the area(s) that feel tight or restricted. Then when you inhale try to keep this engagement then try another breath to accomplish even more. If you can tune into this superpower of your body, you will gain real connection with your body and find yourself engaged in a flow that will empower you to eliminate pains or discomforts you have been experiencing for years.
For some of you this may sound simple and easy to implement but for many these concepts are new and hard to grasp. My next video series will demonstrate and provide examples of mindful stretching and breathing to help you on your personal journey. If you dedicate the time to tap into this superpower of the human body, you will start to find your flow which will lead you to feel better and have more control over your body. Invest in yourself by taking just a few minutes to tap into this power and realize we have come full circle back to moving to survive in this world again.
M.A.T. Specialist, N.S.C.A. Strength and Conditioning Specialist, N.A.S.M. Performance Exercise Specialist, Peak Pilates Instructor