| July 2, 2021
By Trevor Mah
Read time: 5 min.
Experience brings many lessons learned. Sometimes they are learned the hard way, and at other times tried and true concepts simply click and make perfect sense. The fitness and training world has many great ideas, but I would like to personally distill the ones that have helped me the most along the way and I believe are applicable to most people.
Some have countless validated studies to prove my points, while others can be subject to debate. Regardless, this is also one of the hallmarks of wellness, training, and nutrition where some questionable thoughts spur further research and collaboration by professionals.
There are so many unique instances that a one-shoe fits all approaches as there are select ideas that vary based on individualization. To start, here is the first part of a running series to cover some of my thoughts developed over the course of my experience. If these help you out, or get you thinking, that's great.
Health depends on movement
Early on in everyone’s fitness journey, you realize that moving is essential for being “fit”. Modern adages derive this idea from its opposing thought that being sedentary is “unhealthy”. We can all likely agree this is true for most people. If you simply sit around all day, you're likely not very active.
From a scientific point of view, movement also has many ties with circulation. Movement from your joints allows your heart to get your blood supply to move to different areas. In your cartilage, there is no blood supply there, so oxygen and waste move through diffusion through pressure received from surrounding joints. Without movement, this is doesn't occur readily and is one of the reasons why sedentary people may feel stiff.
For exercise, health depends on proper movement. I have always preached that you must learn to move before you learn to lift. Adding resistance just works against the base movement, so unless that is perfected (or as close as possible), then your body will just compensate and learn poor movement patterns. Poor movement patterns will take even longer to unlearn. From a longevity standpoint, mobility should be incorporated into everyone’s daily routine (especially if you are active). There is a reason why certain older people are drastically more limber compared to others, and by starting sooner you can ensure that you are not (figuratively) struggling to climb an uphill battle later in life.
The healthy movement topic is very vast. It has expanded well beyond just proper form and warm-ups, as there are many deeper ideas explored by others and countless applications. To name a few, some that come to mind are:
Functional Range Conditioning (FRC®): a system of joint health optimization based on scientific principals and research. There are many certified practitioners who aid with many scientifically sound methods for all types of people.
The Ready State (TRS): originally started as MobilityWOD, TRS is headed by Dr. Kelly Starrett who provides mobility training programs. His bestseller Becoming a Supple Leopard is a great book that covers many methods to improve movement.
Connective tissue takes longer to develop than muscle
This one comes to mind when thinking about new lifters who progress with their programs too quickly. For anyone training for the first time, it is very common to undergo a significant growth of muscle and strength after a few weeks to a month of consistent training. Much of this comes from simple neuromuscular adaptations being developed by the body from a new stimulus. This “growth spurt” so to speak, usually does wonders for confidence knowing that the effort equals results.
The downside is that when new trainees then take their approach too quickly down the path towards more intermediate to advanced training methods. For example, I have seen people who have only trained for a few months all of a sudden dive right into a standard strong lifts 5x5 strength training program. While results may still occur, I have noticed that their training does eventually curtail and sudden aches and joint pains begin to surface.
The main reason is that tendons and connective tissue tend to respond slower than muscle. While the muscles have grown along with one’s strength, the tendons may not have exactly caught up quite yet. Tendons can be remarkably strong, but also prone to injury, which is common for many people experiencing pain from exercise. Any form of tendonitis is not something that is pleasant to deal with and as we know, injuries can derail results.
While there are some people who are exceptions to this, and are lucky enough to progress without any problems, taking note of this is important to understand if you are someone who is jumping the gun too quickly with progressions. Powerlifters, gymnasts, CrossFitters and more don’t excel at their focus overnight. The key takeaway is to know when things start to feel off in case a form of injury begins to creep up. Being patient with your resistance training and allowing your connective tissues to strengthen and catch up will keep your progress from being impeded by sudden pain.
There is no best exercise. It’s about principles and applications
This one you hear all the time from other people, and I am no exception to upholding this statement. While many exercises are popularized by accomplished professionals, or scientifically proven to do what they are meant to do, the key understanding is that individual variability and goals underlie proper exercise selection. Simply put, there is no specific exercise that is universally perfect for everyone. There are many that come close, but at the end of the day it should be something that one enjoys, feels good to them, and puts them on the right path towards their goals.
If you look at it from an athletic standpoint, the “best” exercise is the one that takes the most important elements of athleticism and arranges them around the athlete. It is almost like a reverse engineer approach to think about power, speed, coordination, etc; then pick exercises that apply; and finally choose the exercises the athlete can actually do and works well based on their experience, body type, etc.
What you may be seeing are “best” exercises, but it’s more likely that these exercises are just commonly checking off the right boxes for the individual. I have another article more specifically on transitioning to athletic training if you are interested in learning more. Not to make you completely skeptical every time someone claims an exercise is the best, but just remember to view it from your own perspective as well based on your own abilities and goals.
The life of learning is a never ending process. I hope that these three thoughts can help you, or at least get you thinking along your own journey. Stay tuned for part 2 with more random sentiments and learnings I have come across and continue to explore.
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