Fundamentally Strong for Life

from Strong at 40

This is the first part of a 6 part series of proper movement.

What if I told you there were 5 lifts you could do right now that would improve the quality of your life for as long as you live?  Well, that’s a bit misleading.  There aren’t five lifts.  There are five fundamental movements critical to maintaining strength, mobility, and athleticism as  we age.  Those movements are:  Squatting, Hinging (most commonly known as deadlifting), Pushing (most commonly seen as bench pressing), Pulling (any upper body pull), and finally Carrying.  I know what many of you are saying.  Those are the exercises I see those crossfit men and women do on tv.  Or maybe your gym has a roped off section where they allow the “lunks” to lift barbells, bang steel, and grunt.  Just like we tell our children to put the phones down, unplug, go out and play, I’m telling you to step off your treadmill, turn off the tv, and see what the iron game is all about.

A quick history lesson:  Strength training in the United States was heavily influenced by the bodybuilding culture of the 70’s.  The giants of body building – Arnold, Lou Ferrigno, Dave Draper, Frank Zane, and others – promoted aesthetics over pure strength.  A ripped stomach, big arms, and a big chest became the symbol of health.   Then, the 80’s introduced Arnoldaerobics.  Leotards, leg warmers, Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons convinced us that we could jazzercise our way to a healthier, slimmer body.  Aerobics gave way to hard core workouts that you could do at home.  Do you remember Tae Bo or P90x?  Fad diets like Atkins and South Beach as well as exercise machines like the ab roller and the Total Gym were in the mix too.  Americans still love our fast fitness lifestyles as much as we love our fast food.  We buy more on looks than on substance and the salesmen know it.  To quote a famous strength coach who was talking to a group of personal trainers “if you want to increase your client base and your rates, get your arms bigger.”  He knew that consumers focus only on those things that are most visible.  Meanwhile those that actually knew a great deal about training for movement were pushed to the back of gym or were largely underutilized in some research lab or physical therapy facility.

Tony Horton

Starting with P90x we started hearing terms like “muscle confusion.”  These terms were ripped from the pages of sports science texts dating back to 1936 when Hans Seyle introduced his theory of General Adaptation Syndrome, which basically set the foundation for progressive loading.  But before I lose you in the depths of sports science, all you need to know is that it’s important to change exercises in order to continue seeing positive changes.  Ahh…fast food americana.  Ain’t it great?  Would you like some fries with that?  The only problem is that these are only elements of a complete approach to training.  Constant muscle confusion means the body never adapts and you will never reap the full performance benefit of your training.  Just like there are many long-term problems linked to our obsession with fast food, there are also issues with obsession with fast fitness.  We are now living at a time of exercise enlightenment.  Social media and crossfit (yes, I’ll touch on that in moment) have created a boon in opportunities for exercise scientist to promote healthy, sustainable training programs.

Ahh…Crossfit.  There is a love-hate relationship that so many experts have with Greg Glassman’s creation.  Mr. Glassman made weightlifting cool again when he made a sport of exercising.  From the named workouts to the Crossfit Games, millions of people worldwide have embraced what members of the iron game have known for decades – strength is an important part of fitness.  As it grew in popularity, experts  grew more and more critical of the dangers of Crossfit.  Some of the feedback was professional.  Some of it was alarmist.   All the while, Crossfit grew in popularity and in influence.  But what would you expect of a business built on the fast food model of weekend certifications?  Crossfit sells hope – an opportunity to join a community and change who you are through a community of like-minded, albeit sometimes misinformed, people.  Over the last decade I’ve seen more “experts” joining the herd, perhaps thinking it’s easier to improve the system from the inside.  Or maybe they realized that the Crossfit platform – certifications, speaking circuit, competitions, and boxes – offers a new, fantastic business opportunity.   My personal objection to crossfit is that it confuses a sport with a sustainable fitness model.  There is nothing healthy about competing in crossfit, just like there’s nothing healthy about playing football.  It’s a proving ground.

So, where are we now?  What’s the common theme in all exercise programs? Progressive loading and movement.  Most of us understand – at least intuitively – progressive loading.  We always want to lift more, run faster, jump higher.  However, those actions require knowledge of a technique.  Proper execution of a sound technique will not only improve performance, it will reduce your risk of injury.  Unfortunately, we don’t judge the winner of most sports based on the quality of movement.  The winner is usually dictated by the outcome only.  There’s no real way to reward you today for proper movement nor is there a guarantee that you won’t have other issues that impact your standard of living if you subscribe to proper movement training.

What I can tell you is this:  if you don’t know how to squat properly, you will accelerate the aging process on your bones and joints.  If your hips don’t function properly, you will experience more aches and pains generally associated with aging earlier and more frequently.  Proper movement can’t happen unless the body works well as whole.  When the joints start to fail, we start to fail.  Maybe it’s time to start thinking about life as a sport?  The winner is the person who can continue to perform at the highest level possible for as long as possible.  The secret to winning the game of life is to practice proper movement every day.  And that starts with mastering the five fundamental movements.

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