Author and speaker Dan John recently wrote a brief essay encouraging individuals to question their assumptions when it comes to health and fitness. He calls these “Givens” the things that we don’t even notice yet have a huge impact on our daily lives. We all carry assumptions in this regard. I have them and often come across them as my clients physical therapy clients describe their health and fitness wins and losses.
Of course, our assumptions may or may not be true. We should definitely take inventory and question them. Here are a few that I either frequently confront or are simply matters near and dear.
- “So I figured that more stretching can only help.”
You would be surprised at how many people turn a mild muscle strain into a chronic nagging injury by repeatedly and indiscriminately stretching it. With lower back and neck pain, stretching the wrong direction often provokes the pain or radiculopathy (pinched nerve). We should not wonder why the numb irritation in the arm or leg persists. They speak about why their essential oils and glucosamine supplement regimen is not working while doing neck rolls or flexing toward their toes, reinforcing the poor static alignment and movement dysfunctions that got them into trouble in the first place.
2. “I’m out of shape and need to get back to the gym.”
Many busy adults run into this assumption when they have to balance late nights and early mornings with hectic days at work and hauling kids around. The resolution lasts for three months and soon becomes impractical. If the environment of a traditional big gym helps you stay on track, then get there. But the most often cited barriers for a consistent, long-term exercise program are time and cost. Investing in some know-how, creativity, and basic fitness gear pays great dividends. Most people who train in or around the home benefit greatly from a bringing a training partner or small community on the journey with them.
3. “I need to take yoga in order to become more flexible – or – …to work out this pain.”
Let me first repeat that I’m not against yoga. Yoga can be helpful, at times, when practiced well. But just like anything else, it has limits. Not all aches and pains are due to inflexibility. Hypermobility (too much flexibility) is often the cause of pain or sub-optimal performance. Some perceived stiffness/tightness issues have nothing to do with inadequate muscle length or joint range of motion. And when muscle or joint stiffness truly is the problem, most of us will habitually move around the restricted areas. Unless you have outstanding body awareness and cues to pay attention, yoga can exacerbate this taking the path of least resistance. A good yoga instructor will detect issues and guide you here.
4. “I need to detox after eating all that junk over the holidays…”
I’ve read that those interested in weight loss need to focus on learning how to eat, not being told what to eat. If your detox means valuing the rhythm of work, rest, and food, eating mostly unprocessed foods and getting colorful vegetables most of the time, then yeah…have a detox. But the detox that appeals to most people (for some reason) usually means short term gimmicky cleanses and weird special foods combined in a blender. Weight loss is more about behavior change than special foods or ingredients. Also, leading an active lifestyle and carrying muscle on your frame provides plenty of margin for an imperfect diet without paying for it in the mid section or blood lipid levels.
So make sure your detox includes plenty of iron!
Recommended reading: Detoxes – An Undefined Scam
5. “I need to hit that ab routine to work on the core.”
Most people understand that “spot reduction” is a myth. Activities that improve overall muscle size/ tone and lessen body fat are far more effective than pummeling one part of the body, like doing 400 crunches or leg raise variations for the abs. Here I want to take that idea a step further. You probably don’t need an entire ab routine. In therapy, we use “core” exercises like bird dogs, planks, and various leg raises in order to work on fine-tuning motor control and alignment. Some of these are worthwhile as part of an overall sports performance training routine. But an entire hour of them, without getting on your feet is…suboptimal.
Disclaimer: I’ve never taken an actual Pilates class. But I’ve seen them and read about them in both peer reviewed literature and general fitness entries. If you love Pilates and it’s that or nothing, by all mean, do Pilates. But for athletes (anyone who functions on two legs moving their body and objects against gravity), I think the benefit is limited. Quite honestly – I’ve seen too many Pilates fans who can barely control their pelvis in the frontal plane (not tilt) during a step-up. I’ve seen too many Yoga gurus who cannot do a single push up with a good, neutral core.
Core exercises done as “prehab” or at the end of a workout are usually worthwhile. But the majority of your training should involve doing what it takes to lift and stabilize relatively heavy resistance against gravity. Any time that you sprint, leap, squat, push, and pull, the core is absolutely involved. When you overhead press or lunge while holding half your body weight extra, and maintain good form, the core is worked to the extreme. In particular, unilateral (single leg and arm) exercises with significant resistance demand the core to work in all three planes of movement. The trunk muscles must resist the various twisting and side bending torques created by moving the resistance with one extremity.
The relatively heavy, total body resistance exercises are where it’s at for strength and performance. But doing these with good form often requires some attention to detail with corrective work and traditional core exercise.
So do what you must to have your core work include plenty of iron!
-video on this to come-
6. “I need to get -that supplement– for more energy.”
No, you probably need to truly prioritize sleep over Netflix or late night reading. You need a steady and methodical approach to vigorous exercise that is not often crazy or super high intensity. You need an appropriate and meaningful challenge, a long-term goal, and some plain old fun. Dan John says that taking up (something like) rock climbing or dancing will do more for your hormone profile than anything in the supplement aisle.
7. “So I’m going to run a 5-minute mile…the half marathon…cross country…”
If you love to jog long distances, by all means, go for it. Progress gradually and do complimentary exercise to make your body resilient to all the pounding. But don’t assume that distance running is the best route for those who want to feel and look better. To feel and look better, learn to move with good -quality- and carry some muscle mass.
Distance running will keep you in cardiovascular fitness, but it’s certainly not the best way to be the fastest, quickest, most powerful version of yourself for sports that involve sprinting, cutting, and being pushed around. To perform better, work on strength and power in a manner that matches the demands of your sport. Do not assume that running a 5 or 6-minute mile will suddenly make you into a star in all athletic realms.
In summary, yes, my biases are toward strength training and the various irons. For some, strength training is enough as a means unto itself. But for all athletes, resistance exercise is one of the most efficient, accessible, and effective tools for improving how the body interacts with the environment.
Do you have assumptions that need to be examined?
Feel free to comment on my assumptions.