Health or Performance?

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I don’t know what it is about this time of year but we’ve been getting a host of people coming to us with injuries sustained while lifting elsewhere. But I’m not talking competitive athletes. These are regular people just looking to become healthier and more fit. So why do they end up doing things that are detrimental to their health?

In part maybe because all of us have been constantly marketed to with the idea that to become healthier and fit we need to train like powerlifters, olympic lifters, Navy Seals, elite distance runners, or some other group of performance athletes. What the marketers conveniently leave out is the fact that even those genetically gifted pay a cost for doing business, to quote Patrick Ward, and end up injured.

Through our process of assessments, programming, and coaching we do our best to help each person understands why they are doing an exercise, what will help them move better, and ultimately aid in them doing whatever sport or activity they want to better, with hopefully less likelihood of something going wrong. In other words we try to facilitate each person learning more about how their body works, how much exercise they need, or can tolerate, good recovery methods, nutrition etc…. so that they have better ownership over their own health.

Sure, most exercise programs will work for some people just as most diets work for a time, as Lou Schuler details in this article. But once a person plateaus, or finds a program unsustainable, boring, moves to a different town or gym, then what?

If a person understands what good movement feels like, what mobility, flexibility, stability issues they have and how to deal with it; how to safely and effectively walk/run, squat, push, pull, hinge and other basic movements, and have built up some capacity in those movements, then we are less prone to do something that may injure us, and instead learn what will improve our health.

Physical therapist Gray Cook recently penned a series of articles on redefining “strength”. The first part explores the idea of strength as many of us have been taught to define it – how much weight can you lift, and reframes it to incorporate physical capacity.

For example when we are coaching a chin-up we tell the person to not be concerned with how many they can do, as chasing a number often results in poor form – hyperextension in the lumbar spine, poor pelvic position, no abdominal bracing, poor thoracic/scapular position, overuse of upper traps etc… Instead we teach the person why good alignment and form is important, what it feels like, then set about building capacity with that newfound appreciation for technique. What we hope is that the person can take these principles and apply them to daily tasks, from picking up their kids to rock climbing. And we hear all the time from our members that these skills do carry over.

In short, if what you do in the gym does not benefit your performance in your activity of choice, or worse yet injure you, then we need to rethink how we define strength and fitness. Ask yourself if you are moving better now than a year ago? Do you become less fatigued on your favorite hike/run/skiing etc…? Are you more apt to try something new because you feel able? These are good questions to consider when thinking about a choice in exercise.



About the Author:

Owner of Elemental Fitness Lab in Portland, OR. Our approach to training is to integrate research (I'm an NSCA CSCS, certified Functional Movement Screen, and Precision Nutrition) with practical experience. I've studied martial arts in Japan and the U.S. for many years, and have put in my time in the gym, in the water, on the snow, on the rock wall, and on the bike.
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