“Exercise can be described as a ‘tug of war’ around a bone or joint.” –Tom Purvis, RPT

Interestingly, this is not a metaphor exclusively for exercise. It also represents the most fundamental struggle we encounter throughout life – the battle between a force of nature and a force from within us. The most common force of nature (called gravity) becomes the resistance that imposes “war” on our bodies, and when we are “under siege”, the force we use to “tug” against it comes from the contraction of our muscles. We refer to this contractile force as tension, which ultimately represents our effort to tolerate the threshold for work and “remain the same” – aka the primal directive of homeostasis.

The factors that make exercise beneficial and different from the continuous, mundane, but necessary assault of gravity pulling on us mentioned above are (1) how we use our body to “wage the battle” beyond the basic homeostasis level (because life has proven that if we are complacent and do nothing except try to achieve homeostasis, we eventually become “as we were in the womb”… bent over and crumpled), (2) the way we adjust the variables of gravity and (3) the purpose or goal.

The Biggest Exercising Mistake

The most profound mistake we make when we exercise is not knowing the present borders of the territory we govern to “wage the war”. Essentially, we don’t understand the threshold/boundaries of our central nervous system until we meet and exceed them, often resulting in injury. And just as likely, we may try to overcompensate for the failure of not being able to exceed our boundaries, with other muscles. If you’ve ever experienced an inexplicable or unexpected strain, this overcompensation is often where it comes from. And, by the way, the brain will try to construct any overcompensation needed, whether we’re attempting a 600 lb deadlift or simply washing dishes.

Adjusting the Variables of Gravity

When we exercise to achieve a goal-specific outcome, we typically decide the force of gravity we’re imposing to help us achieve that physical outcome by selecting weight, speed, time, distance, etc. These factors all represent the amount of gravity we’ll encounter – but there are other more subtle types of factors we need to consider that will also have an effect on the outcome of our efforts, like from what angle the force will come from, or physical laws at hand. If we don’t know “what to use” or “how”, there will probably be unintended consequences like muscle strains or other injury.

The Purpose/Goal

We also have to consider the goal we’re trying to achieve and what kind of force it takes to achieve the particular outcome we want. That force is the contraction of muscles, in order to overcome the gravity we’ve imposed on ourselves with weights, speed, etc.

Related: have any pain or injury? These 5 fitness tips are your new best friend.

The Problem with This Methodology

The problem is, we equate exercise with movement and concentrate on the effects of our efforts: how much energy we expend, how much our heart is beating, how much weight we move (or lose), how many repetitions we perform, how far, fast, or high we go, etc.

That’s like treating an illness with a remedy for its symptoms.

We don’t actually cure the illness, but just feel better temporarily, until the treatment wears off. We need to flip this way of thinking and instead train the source. We need to learn how to contract our muscles better and synchronize the tension with our joints, brain and mind.

Here’s an ironic fact of life: the very same force of nature we require to live is ever so gradually crushing us to death. Gravity. It’s the same force of nature we need to overcome to look, feel, move, function, and live better. But if we reach for our goals without developing the source of our efforts, we essentially expedite the crushing effects that gravity is already imposing on us – creating pain, injury and other issues.

Performing exercise in in a manner that maximizes intended benefits and minimizes unintended consequences like injury is different from traditional efforts and requires the assistance of someone like a Resistance Training Specialist who can teach you to “train the source” instead of solely focusing on the effect – someone who can detect muscular contraction and adjust the resistance to improve deficiencies and provide better results. You can also contact a MAT (muscle activation technique) specialist to help you relieve strain associated with unintended muscle contractions.

For more information on Resistance Training, contact Eric at eglickstein@ffc.com. For more information on MAT, contact Skip Chapman, Bill Busch, Jeremy Gordon or Jessica Thiel at schapman@ffc.com, wbusch@ffc.com, jgordon@ffc.com or jthiel@ffc.com.

Post written by FFC Resistance Training Specialist Eric Glickstein.


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