How Hard Should I Push Myself During My Workout?

by: Pat McCloskey, Director of Training and Education

Many clients ask: How hard should I be pushing myself during a workout? While there is no exact answer for that, we firmly believe that what you do *in* the gym should always make you feel better *outside* of the gym.

And that really applies to the intensity that you’re providing during your session, whether it be cardiovascular work or weight training – or even flexibility work, because  that can be overly aggressive at times as well. Some days, you’ll feel up to putting forth a maximum effort. Look for those days, they are great. Other days, you may be feeling the effects of a poor night’s sleep or perhaps stress at work. On those days, take yourself through a more moderate session and make yourself feel better. You’ll be grateful for it.

Goal Setting for the Best Results

by: Pat McCloskey, Director of Training and Education

This morning a client asked me about goal setting, and my answer surprised her. In the fitness industry, everybody focuses on objective measures such as weight loss, body composition, how much you can lift, and so on. But what I said to her was, “If we can find ways to bring behavioral goals into play, to shift your habits around exercise, then we are much more likely to then successfully obtain objective measures.”

When it comes to our clients, we’re looking to shift habits… to make sure we have an environment that you’re comfortable in and that you enjoy the nature of the exercise you’re doing – whether it’s at 1TO1 Fitness or elsewhere. We believe that if you establish the right habits, the results are bound to follow.

Exercise for Fat Loss

Weight loss, especially fat loss, is probably the most common reason people exercise. As a result, one of the most frequent questions personal trainers get is “what is the best type of exercise to promote fat loss?” There are common misconceptions about exercise for fat loss, and there has been new thinking about this over the past decade, which we will discuss. But before we do, imagine that I was going to begin an exercise program with the objective of losing fat, and that studies proved that cycling was the best exercise for fat loss. However, I do not enjoy cycling, but I do enjoy jogging. Would I be more likely to achieve my fat loss goal if I began a cycling program or if I began a jogging program? For most of us, who train for overall health, fitness, performance and weight control, doing the absolute “best” type of exercise is less important than simply doing any form of exercise, on a daily basis. Furthermore, most of us enjoy variety, and have many practical considerations such as time availability, weather conditions, orthopedic or medical issues, social factors, class availability, etc., all which effect what exercise is available and practical for us each and every day.

With that said, generally speaking, exercise can contribute to fat loss in a number of ways:

  • Exercise expends energy (i.e. burns calories) and burning more calories than one consumes can contribute to fat loss.
  • Exercise increases the body’s metabolic rate (the amount of energy it expends) not only during the exercise bout, but for a period of time after the exercise bout is completed. This increased oxygen consumption and energy expenditure that follows an exercise bout is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and is considered valuable for weight control.
  • Exercise can increase the body’s production of fat burning hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone.
  • Exercise can help preserve or build muscle. Maintaining muscle mass is not only important to improve or maintain performance as we age, but it also helps maintain our body’s “basal metabolic rate,” – the amount of oxygen we consume and energy we expend throughout the day. Promoting a health metabolism is also considered valuable for weight control.

So let’s look at different types of exercise, or characteristics of exercise, as they relate to the above generalizations and fat loss.

For many years, we have categorized exercise as “aerobic” (meaning with oxygen) or “anaerobic” (without oxygen). Aerobic exercises (also referred to as cardiovascular exercise or “cardio”) are exercises that can be sustained continuously without the immediate need for recovery, such as walking, jogging, dancing, distance cycling, etc. Historically, aerobic exercises have been included in athletic conditioning programs, and in general fitness training, to help promote endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and fat loss. Anaerobic exercises are movements performed at such a high intensity that they can only be sustained for very short durations, including things like heavy weight lifting and sprinting. Anaerobic exercises have been included in both athletic conditioning programs, and general fitness training, to help promote increases in strength, power and muscle mass. Still to this day, many fitness exercisers believe that “cardio” is better for weight control and that “weights” are good for muscle toning or building. However, there are many studies that have shown weight lifting regimens to have more of a positive impact on body composition (lowering body fat percentage) than exercise programs that are more “cardio” oriented. A possible reflection of this can be seen comparing the physiques of many anaerobic athletes (sprinters for example), and the physiques of aerobic athletes (distance runners for example), the anaerobic athletes being much leaner. In fact, if many of the millions of gym goers who spend countless hours on cardio machines would spend more of their time lifting weights, they would probably be more likely to achieve the fat loss they seek.

Exercise can be performed at different intensity levels, for example casual walking, brisk walking, slow jogging, running and sprinting. Many previously sedentary, de-conditioned people have experienced significant weight loss simply by beginning a moderate pace walking program. Moderate pace walking is a relatively low intensity, steady pace aerobic exercise. For some people, low intensity, steady pace aerobic exercise can help promote weight and fat loss. This notwithstanding, if those same people were capable of exercising safely at a higher intensity, such as fast walking, jogging, or running, for the same length of time that they walked, their exercise bouts would burn even more calories and would result in an even greater EPOC. Along these lines, high intensity exercise could be considered “better” for fat loss purposes. Unless, of course, the exercise participants disliked the high intensity training so much that they would not have stuck with their exercise program if high intensity exercise was required. High intensity training, especially resistance training with heavy workloads, also increases the body’s production of growth hormone and testosterone. Growth hormone and testosterone help build muscle and reduce body fat, additional reasons strength (anaerobic) training can be “better” for fat loss.

While we often label exercise as either “cardio” or “strength,” most activities and sports utilize both our aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Many people these days participate in exercise regimens designed specifically to tax both their aerobic and anaerobic energy systems (see previous blog – Metabolic Conditioning) and that are an excellent ways to promote fat loss. While it is a misconception that “cardio” is better for fat loss than strength training, or high intensity metabolic conditioning, we certainly should not ignore cardiovascular exercise because it has many proven benefits (improves heart and lung health, increases cardiovascular fitness, helps regulate blood sugar, can help prevent and even treat cancer, reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, improves circulation, etc.) and because it can also be an excellent contributor to fat loss. High intensity training would be very difficult for most people to do every day, both psychologically and physically. There are many days that we simply may not feel up for a high intensity workout, but we would happily go for a long walk, slow jog, or do a moderate 30 minutes of “cardio” on a machine while watching TV. Plus, muscles, connective tissue and joints often need recovery between high intensity workout days. Therefore, while high intensity training may in some ways be “better” for fat loss, because doing something almost every day is even more valuable, lower intensity training can be considered “just as good” as high intensity training from an overall programmatic, activity plan, standpoint.

Of course, while not the subject of this article, healthy eating, and avoiding excess caloric intake (especially from refined carbohydrates), is a necessity for fat loss. Also, and again while not the subject of this article, additional ways any form of exercise can promote weight control are that exercise helps manage stress and combat depression; both which often lead to overeating. Take certain forms of yoga as an example. There are types of yoga that are relatively passive in nature (i.e. very meditative, not highly metabolically demanding – heart and respiration rates do not increase significantly, muscles are not put under great stress). Nevertheless, including this form of exercise in one’s overall activity plan can definitely contribute to weight control and weight loss.

Clients hire personal trainers to help them get the most out of their exercise time. Clients want and expect trainers to help them not only select exercises that address their particular needs, but also to help them train at an intensity level that they would be less likely to achieve without the encouragement of their trainer. Furthermore, while exercising on a daily basis is one of the most effective ways of reducing body fat and maintaining a healthy weight, many people unfortunately do not make time every day for exercise. This is all the more reason why clients want to choose the best form of exercise to achieve their goals, and this is all the more reason trainers most often advocate high intensity training. At 1 TO 1 we want to give our clients the greatest “bang for their buck” that we can. We want our clients to feel as if they not only worked smarter but also worked harder than they would without us. So our quick answer to the “what’s the best type of exercise to promote fat loss” question is high intensity training that includes things like heavy (relative to the client’s ability) resistance training, high intensity anaerobic intervals, “Metabolics,” and the like. But an even better answer, not to the exclusion of these most valuable and proven training styles, is that an activity plan that includes many different types and intensities of exercise, so that we can exercise on most days, is the best.

What is Functional Training?

Over the past decade progressive fitness professionals have embraced the idea of “functional training.” As we continue to try to refine and expand our understanding of this idea, or philosophy, or objective and especially as we incorporate “functional training” into our own workouts and the programs we develop for our clients, our understanding, as well as our definition and description of functional training, becomes more complex.

At a basic level, functional training can be defined as training that helps improve function. Function, in this broad context, usually meaning the body’s most natural, effective, efficient way to work, to move or to perform physical tasks, or in other words, the way the body was designed, intended, or architected to physically function.

Initially “function” was viewed from a broad or big picture perspective, with gross motor movements such as walking, running, sitting, standing, pulling, pushing, turning, rotating, etc. in mind. With these fundamental gross movements in mind, we began to identify and describe exercises that we believed are more functional in nature and ones that are less functional in nature. The more functional exercises we often characterized as exercises that are “multi-joint,” “multi-planer,” “ground based,” and “self-stabilized,” further defined as follows:

Multi-Joint exercises are exercises that heavily involve more than one joint. A squat, jump or lunge in contrast to many common machine exercises that may also target some of the same muscles and joints, such as the Leg Extension, Leg Curl, Seated Abductor or Adductor machine.

Multi-Planer exercises are exercises that either involve movements through different planes of motion, or that resist forces that would otherwise cause movement through different planes of motion.

Ground-Based exercises are exercises that are generally performed standing, and thus requiring a degree of balance, proprioception and self-stabilization.

Self-Stabilized exercises are exercises that require the body to stabilize itself or to stabilize specific regions or joints, during the execution of the exercise.

However, many fitness professionals are now programming exercises intended to promote or improve the function of a specific body region, muscle or joint. For example, we may have our clients stand on a Baps Board and isolate various ankle movements (dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion, eversion, circumduction), or we might include various isometric planking type exercises, which are not performed standing, may not include multi-planer (or even any) movement, but we would still argue that these exercise fall under the umbrella of functional training.

So “functional training” is not so easy to define, and different exercises can fall somewhere along a spectrum from being less to more functional in nature. A six week training program of seated leg press may help an elderly person improve his ability to get up and down from a chair. Therefore, one might argue that the leg press is a functional exercise. However, a six week program of body weight, or even assisted squats, may result in even greater improvement in the client’s ability to get up and down from a chair. Therefore, maybe the leg press (not ground-based, not significantly self-stabilized, and not multi-planer) is at the lower end of the “functional” spectrum whereas the squat is at the higher end of the spectrum.

At 1 TO 1 Fitness, our trainers always aim to help our clients achieve their health, fitness, aesthetic, and athletic goals, while always trying to improve function.

Movement Prep: It’s More Than Just a Warm Up

“Warm up before you begin vigorous exercise”- a standard practice almost everyone has followed for decades, and still good advice today. At 1 TO 1, and other advanced training facilities, we aim to make the “warm up” much more productive through effective “Movement Preparation.”

What does Movement Prep mean and what led us to this term?

The age old reasons we have always warmed up are certainly still valid today – gradually increase heart and respiration rate, increase body temperature, increase tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia) elasticity, enhance joint motion, etc., all of which can contribute to better performance and reduced injury risk. Fitness enthusiasts and athletes have always exercised to improve various aspects of physical fitness – lose body fat, gain strength, power, endurance, flexibility, etc. At 1 TO 1, a critically important additional objective of all of our client’s training is to improve their “Movement Quality.” By improving movement quality, training can be more safe, efficient and effective, and performance in the gym, on the field, or throughout the day can be enhanced. Effective Movement Prep is one way we can help prepare our bodies to move well (more safely, efficiently and effectively), before we begin training or competing.

The human body is amazing. It can find ways to accomplish tasks or movements despite various injuries, deficiencies, nervous (nerve) inhibitions, etc. through compensations and substitutions. For example, the quadriceps muscles are some of the primary muscles involved in gait (walking, running). However, if someone has completely torn her quadriceps she could still find a way to walk or run, possibly through greater use of her hip flexors or hamstrings or calves, or more likely through a complex compensatory effort involving her entire body, momentum, gravity, etc. While this is a very impressive and valuable ability our bodies have, often we can rely on this ability to accomplish our task at hand instead of recognizing that we have a movement restriction or limitation that we may be able to improve or correct. Over time, accomplishing movements through compensation or substitution patterns can cause undue and damaging wear and tear, and also will limit how well we can execute the particular movement.

A completely torn quadriceps is an extreme example, and unless in a true emergency no one would attempt to walk or run with such an injury. However, almost everyone has more subtle restrictions that they may be unaware of and train through. Watch any road race (5K, 10K, Marathon) and you will see runners, even ones who lead the pack, who seem to have very poor form (maybe bad posture, maybe uneven symmetry, loud landings, feet pointing in odd directions, knees buckling in or bowing, etc.). Observe weightlifters in a big box gym, even ones who are very big and strong, and you will see people executing lifts with poor form, unsafe back positions, poor ranges of motion, misaligned joints, etc. Often these runners or weightlifters will continue to put in more miles, or load on more weight, in their efforts to progress, but sooner or later they will get hurt. However, if these exercisers regularly implemented effective movement preparation techniques, they may be able to improve their posture, grace, alignment, range of motion, form, technique, etc. (all elements of movement quality), and actually make more gains in speed or strength while avoiding injury.

Movement Prep can be implemented generically or specifically. For example, when we train our high school sports teams we will have ten to twenty student athletes show up for conditioning after having been sitting in class all day with spines flexed, hamstrings and hip flexors shortened, shoulders rounded, forward head posture, etc. Our general movement prep for the group might include foam rolling and stretching these shortened muscles and including neuromuscular activation exercises for all the areas that have been relatively dormant throughout the day. With our one-on-one personal training clients we can individually assess their posture, gate, flexibility and movement mechanics, and can implement techniques specifically selected to address any restrictions or movement deficiencies we observe.

Some common techniques that we use at 1 TO 1 during the movement preparation phase or our workouts include foam rolling, massage stick, static and dynamic stretching, Egoscue “e-cises” (from the Egoscue Method), among others.

Effective Movement Prep goes well beyond simply warming up… it is designed to address potential impediments to effective or quality movement.

Multi-Directional Training for Athletics and Life

Activities of daily living require movement in all directions. Sports demand movement in all directions. The human body is designed to move in all directions. Training should include, and help improve, movement in all directions. The three basic movement directions are forward/backward (sagittal plane movements), side to side (frontal plane or lateral movements), and rotation (transverse plane movements).

Too often the training programs of athletes, and general fitness exercisers, have an overemphasis on sagittal plane exercises such as the Power Lifts (squats, dead lifts, bench presses), Olympic Lifts (snatches, cleans {and their variations}), pullups, pull downs and rows. These popular lifts can be extremely valuable for both athletes and fitness enthusiasts. However, the power and Olympic lifts have been around for so long that these exercises have unfortunately become almost synonymous with athletic conditioning and staples for many general fitness exercisers. We should remember that power lifting and Olympic lifting are actually sports in and of themselves. The training programs for athletes competing in these sports definitely should have a primary emphasis on these movements, and success in these sports can legitimately be measured by the amount of weight one can lift in these movements. But just because a power lifters success can be measured by his one repetition maximum in the dead lift, squat or bench press, the success of most other athletes definitely should not be. Nevertheless, almost every high school and college weight room in the country has a leader board posting the strongest players on the team, as measured by the maximum weight they have achieved in these lifts. The players whose names appear on these leader boards are often the coach’s most respected players. The father of one of our over-achieving 115 pound female lacrosse players, now away playing in college, proudly sent us a video clip of his daughter deadlifting over 300 pounds during her college strength and conditioning program, and receiving congratulations by her team mates and coaches. Our first thoughts – “I sure hope she doesn’t injure herself, and, what does doing a one repetition maximum dead lift have to do with the very aerobically demanding, multidirectional game of lacrosse?” But the fact that there is little to no correlation between an athlete’s maximum strength with the Olympic or power lifts, and her/his performance on the lacrosse, softball, baseball, football etc. field, is not the main concern. The greater concern is the possibility that too much of an emphasis on these lifts could take away from time devoted to more multidirectional movement training and could actually even hinder an athlete’s performance.

One of the body’s adaptations to doing a very high volume of sagittal plane exercises with extremely heavy loads is to develop great protective stability (stiffness) for those exercises. This stability can actually restrict speed, fluidity, range of motion, and power in other planes of movement. Imagine if a professional golfer went on a six month power lifting regimen and gained ten pounds of muscle and increased his squat, bench press and dead lift by 50%. It is quite possible that his golf game would actually decline instead of improve. This does not mean that athletes should not perform heavily loaded sagittal plane exercises. However, such exercises, if utilized, should definitely not be the mainstays of the golfers exercise program. Does this mean that the golfer (golf being a transverse plane [rotation] dominated sport, with a very light load [golf club], and an extremely high velocity [swing speed]) should never do any heavily loaded sagittal plane lifts? Some might argue that to be the case. Others might argue that the posterior core strengthening, the hormonal stimulation, the explosiveness, the muscle building, or numerous other benefits of these lifts, all make them valuable components of the strength and conditioning regimen of a golfer. The purpose of this article is not to profess that we have the definitive answer to this question. However, at a minimum, we hope it is apparent that a strength training regimen that over-emphasizes sagittal plane training could do so at the expense of multidirectional training that could provide even greater value. So, if our golfer is to include sagittal plane lifts, at a minimum we should also make sure he is including at least as much transverse and frontal plane strength training, in addition of course to static and dynamic flexibility work and plenty of swings (skill specific practice).

The same principle holds true for the vast majority of us who exercise for health, fitness and performance enhancement in the game of life. Most of what we do every day – walking, running, reaching, turning, lifting, placing, and every other movement or combination of movements in between involve lateral or rotational components. For this reason, at 1 TO 1, all of our clients, from our youth and adult athletes to our senior citizens and everyone in between, train in all directions, the way the body was meant to move and in ways that will keep them strong, agile, mobile, and safe no matter what physical challenges life brings.

Core Training Fundamentals

We have received many questions about training the “core.” Doctors want us to keep our core strong to help protect our lower back and alleviate lower back pain. Coaches want our core strong so we can be more resilient to injury and enhance our athletic performance. Gym goers train their core to feel healthy and fit and for some to strive for the elusive “washboard abs.” Yet while the “core” is one of the most popular terms in fitness and athletic conditioning, many people do not have a clear understanding of what “core” means and how we train it most effectively.

Most people equate the core to abdominal muscles, especially the rectus abdominis which is close to the surface of our body and that gives those with very little body fat their “six-pack” look. While the abdominals are a component of our core musculature, our “abs” and our “core” are far from one-in-the- same. Our core musculature also includes many other internal muscles closer to our spine and pelvis, in addition to posterior muscles of our lower, mid and upper back, our pelvic floor muscles, and many muscles surrounding our hips. However, while some may define the core as our entire mid-section, trunk or torso (excluding the legs, arms and head), the human body is meant to functions as a unit and this unit also includes nerves, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Fascia is a like our natural Spiderman suit ; a vast web of connective tissue that is interwoven and wrapped around our muscles, joints and internal organs, often with strands or sheaths that are integrated or connected from toe to head.

“Core” classes at your local health club and popular “core” workout videos are dominated by more isolative instead of entire-body integrative exercises, the vast majority of which are performed on the ground in a supine (on our back) or prone (facing down) position instead of standing on our feet. Doing things like sit-ups, crunches, scissors and cycles certainly make us feel the burn in our abs, and the variety of planking variations do enable us to involve the entire body in a more integrated fashion, but these are incomplete. The fundamental movement that we perform in activities of daily living and in athletics (walking, running, bending, squatting, rotating, pushing, pulling, reaching, etc.) are accomplished with not only muscle contractions but with the integrated, coordinated involvement of our nervous system and connective tissue, and do not occur laying down on our backs, or flexing our spine (like with crunches), or even in planking positions. The most beneficial core exercises are done on our feet and include movements that involve and place demand on the entire body from toe to head and treat the body as an entire unit with all of our tissue working together as a coordinated “symphony,” not with specific muscles “playing solos.”

Metabolic Conditioning

The term Metabolic Conditioning has become very popular in the last decade. A comprehensive review of Metabolic Conditioning would include explanation of advanced exercise physiology and biochemistry principals that go beyond what most lay people need or want to know. A Metabolic Conditioning workout is simply one that uses multiple bouts of very high intensity (and thus short duration) exercises separated by recovery periods.

This type of training has been implemented by competitive athletes (both endurance [aerobic] as well as strength [power or anaerobic] athletes) for many decades, even though it has not been referred to as Metabolic Conditioning. Metabolic Conditioning has gained popularity within the fitness community because in more recent years there has been a popular recognition that this type of training can promote many of the physiological adaptations that fitness enthusiasts seek, including increasing muscular strength, tone or size, reducing body fat, and improving cardiovascular health. While building muscular strength has long been associated with strength (anaerobic) training, most lay people have associated fat loss and cardiovascular fitness as products of lower intensity, sustained (aerobic) activity (such as jogging, walking, bike riding, dancing, etc.). However, many studies have now shown that Metabolic Conditioning can result in greater fat loss than aerobic training, while also producing gains in muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness. Additionally, high volumes of aerobic activities (such as distance running and cycling) can prevent increases in muscle mass or even reduce muscle mass. Therefore, Metabolic Conditioning is now seen by many as the best of both worlds – an activity that can help us gain strength, muscle tone and size, lower our body fat percentage, and improve our cardiovascular fitness, all in one.    

“High intensity” refers to a level of exertion that is so taxing that it cannot be sustained for very long. Even such “high intensity” efforts can vary in their degree of intensity. For example, a weight lifting set (such as squats, dead lifts, power cleans, bench presses, push presses, and many others) using an amount of weight with which you can perform a maximum of 8 repetitions, or a set using an amount of weight with which you can perform a maximum of 4 repetitions, or a set using an amount of weight with which you can perform a maximum of 2 repetitions, would all be considered high intensity sets. Similarly, all out sprints of 100 yards, 200 yards and 400 yards would also all be considered high intensity bouts. Athletes incorporating Metabolic Conditioning into their training programs can be well served by selecting intensity levels (i.e. amount of weight, or speed) that result in efforts of similar duration to efforts their specific sports demand. Just as the intensity, and subsequently the duration of the exercise bout can be selected in order to match sports demands, the length of the recovery time between bouts can also be selected to match the demands of specific sports. Thus Metabolic Conditioning workouts can be designed with work phases of different durations (usually between 10 to 60 seconds), and recovery or rest phases of different durations (usually 10 to 120 seconds). For fitness enthusiasts, not training for a specific sport but instead for general increases in fitness and performance, implementation of Metabolic Conditioning workouts that include various work:rest ratios is appropriate. Furthermore, many sports also challenge players to perform maximum work outputs of different duration, for example a soccer player sprinting 15 yards to be first to the ball or racing the full length of the field for a breakaway opportunity. Thus even athletes training to enhance their performance for a specific sport can be well served by implementing different degrees of high intensity bouts, and by selecting various work:rest ratios, for their Metabolic Conditioning programs.

At 1 TO 1 Fitness Center we help our competitive athletes, weekend warriors, general fitness clients, and fitness newbies implement appropriate Metabolic Conditioning workouts for their goals, needs and ability levels.

Movement Quality: The Backbone of Athletic Success

Movement quality is an aspect of athletic performance, fitness, and injury reconditioning that is rarely addressed, but is one of the biggest keys to great results in all exercise endeavours. Training to enhance movement quality is training that includes focus on and development of both the mobility (or flexibility) of the body, and the control of that mobility, i.e. stability or strength.

When mobility and stability are in balance, the result is a whole body internal dynamic that expresses itself in greater success in every physical movement. The golf ball flies further, the legs run faster, the insurmountable stairs are easier to climb. Weights (including squirming weights like children and grandchildren) are lighter to lift, and mountains are quicker to master. Movement Quality teaches the body to be powerful, agile, and sturdy, by becoming better integrated in action, performing as one powerful system of muscles instead of a series of disconnected individual segments.

While appropriate training intensity is vital to stimulating the results that most people are looking for in an exercise program, focusing on Movement Quality should be considered a pre-requisite to striving for the greatest training intensity. If a race car (i.e. your body) has bad brakes, a weak suspension, and the wheels are out of alignment, driving it hard to win the race (i.e. workouts emphasising intensity without regard to enhancing quality of movement) could cause more harm than good. Improving Movement Quality by enhancing the relationship between mobility and stability, encouraging symmetry and building skill will improve someone’s “brakes, suspension, and alignment”, and allow them to effectively have bigger engines, more horsepower, and a healthier chassis!

All bodies are different, and training focus and techniques to improve Movement Quality can be tailored to each individual. For example, “Tom’s” movement capacity may be limited by his lack of flexibility, where “Sally” may have excellent flexibility, but may be hampered by poor control of her freedom of movement. Tom would benefit from an exercise prescription heavy in soft tissue work and flexibility improvement, whereas “Flexible Sally” is best served with exercises to challenge her control and power. Furthermore, “Tom”, whom we have labeled “tight”, may actually be reasonably mobile though the ankle, but excessively tight in the hips, and moderately limited in through the thoracic spine. Observing even closer, “Tom’s” hips may be more tight and limited in one specific plane of movement as opposed to another. Many complex variables come into play, and each person is unique in his strengths and weaknesses.

Movement Quality is a backbone (pardon the pun) of athletic success. There are athletes that move seamlessly in the gym, but falter in the field. It is also possible that the best athlete on the field doesn’t have the greatest fluidity of motion, but instead has tremendous aerobic capacity, or an unmatched level of aggressiveness, fearlessness or toughness. Perhaps that same athlete has superior hand eye coordination or timing; perhaps that person has a general court or field awareness and a vision that is beyond others. But even this superstar can benefit from enhanced Movement Quality.

At 1 TO 1 Fitness, we provide the highest caliber trainers who prescribe and coach exercises that help clients achieve their health and fitness goals, and enhance their Movement Quality.

Can Exercise Hinder Movement Quality?

Our last article – Movement Quality: The Backbone of Athletic Success – identified the importance of training to enhance movement quality, including focus on and development of both the mobility (or flexibility) of the body, and the control of that mobility (stability or strength). An astute follow up question is, can exercise hinder Movement Quality? The answer is an unequivocal YES. Exercise is a form of stress to the body. Effective, productive exercise is a beneficial stress – one that will elicit positive, productive adaptation. Poorly executed exercise can stress the body in non-beneficial ways causing negative or unproductive adaptations.

On any given beautiful day dozens of runners can be seen up and down the streets or trails. Some look fluid and balanced with a symmetrical running form that reminds you of a gazelle. Others are unbalanced, with asymmetrical body positions, and jarring landings on misaligned joints. The stresses that these poor runners place on their bodies is clearly not a beneficial stress and sooner or later negative or unproductive adaptations are likely to follow. These adaptations may at first be tightening of certain soft tissues, a wearing down of cartilage, small tears or micro fractures etc. which can lead to pain, poor postural adaptations, or common injuries such as shin splints, plantar-fasciitis, meniscus tears, stress fractures, bulging discs, etc. It’s a shame that these runners, while admirably trying to improve their health through running, may in many ways be doing themselves more harm than good.

It is not only improper exercise that can have negative consequence. Sometimes just an excessive amount of a good thing can cause negative adaptation. For example, a cyclist who rides for hours every day sustains spinal flexion and shortened hip flexors day in and day out. Some of the wiser cyclists may try to counter the negative stress of hours on the bike by spending time stretching the tissues that are forced to be shortened for so long, and strengthening specific muscle groups that work to extend the body into better posture.      

Of course what one would consider a positive adaptation depends on what one’s goals are. For example, a body builder would consider increased muscle mass as a desired or positive adaptation where a marathon runner might want to avoid increased muscle mass. The adaptations a Power Lifter seeks are certainly different than the adaptations a ballet dancer seeks. The ballet dancer wants the strength and power to lift, jump and land, but also needs the flexibility and endurance to be able to move gracefully and beautifully throughout the entire performance. There are probably few, if any, power lifters who have the grace, flexibility, and muscular endurance to perform a ballet (nor would many even care to do so). The power lifter’s  sole goal is to be able to squat, dead lift and bench press as much weight as he or she can for a single repetition. The training a power lifter employs includes lifting extremely, even dangerously, heavy loads. The training adaptations (the results of the training) that the power  lifter’s  body goes through include not only the ability to squat,  dead lift and bench press incredible amounts of weight, but a tremendous degree of stability. This extreme stability is valuable to the power lifter as it protects him/her from injury. However, as the power lifter’s body gains valuable (for him/her) protective stability, he/she may also have less flexibility, agility, or freedom to move in other ways. Hence the term “muscle bound” is not without merit. Does this mean that football players, who also uses heavy squats, dead lifts, or bench presses in their training, should not do so? No. However, the football player should be mindful of the possibility that training overly focused on power lifting exercises might reduce his ability to move quickly in some directions when on the field, and he would be wise to include agility and more multidirectional strength training exercises into his overall strength and conditioning plan.

In a similar spirit, a vital consideration for a novice exerciser embarking on a new exercise program is to ensure that their program is tailored to suit their individual circumstances so that exercises that might SEEM well executed and subsequently beneficial don’t cause problems.  A common example would be an executive (who may suffer the professional hazards of sitting all day long) excitedly coming in on her first day and hopping on an Elliptical or Upright Bike for 15 minutes of good exercise and then doing a few sets of push-ups, crunches and leg presses.  That is a reasonable first day of a new workout program… UNLESS, she comes in with rounded shoulders and has any unevenness in the mobility and strength in her hips ( hugely common in everyone over 15 years old!!!).  Those push-ups and crunches could actually exacerbate her poor posture and the forced symmetry of the leg press and the cardio machines could create unwelcome forces in her low back as her mid section has to find a way to move in restricted patterns with asymmetrical hips and legs.  A program tailored to enhancing her quality of movement by enhancing her posture and reducing the inequality in her hips, while also working her intensely enough to get in shape, could save her lots of irritation and inflammation and potential decreases in her Movement Quality.

It is important to recognise that the stress of exercise movement can have both positive and negative effects on the muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones. At 1 TO 1 Fitness, our highly educated and professionally vetted trainers can plan, demonstrate and teach you exactly which exercises are most beneficial for your individual body and your fitness goals.