Many of my posts so far have been less than subtle attempts at changing the way you think about exercise and fitness and, just to be as meta as possible, that is precisely what I want to discuss this time around.
I find I often disagree with others in my profession when it comes to training methodology. This isn’t because I’m some nut-job who takes his clients completely off the road and into the woods, so to speak, but because much of what I do is more common in athletic training than general fitness. The notion that a dichotomy must exist between training for athletics and training for life is preposterous to me. All the intricacies of an athlete’s training boil down to one simple goal, and that is to become a more capable mover. At the risk of repeating myself yet again, that should be the underlying principle behind everyone’s training; no matter what your personal goals are, movement has to take priority if you want the best long-term results.
My admittedly strong opinion on training is a fairly recent phenomenon compared to the overall time I have been training and learning about fitness. Studying kinesiology gave me the background to understand movement in very isolated situations, like the way joints move and the actions produced by certain muscles, but it wasn’t until I read Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook, a bit of required reading for a past employer, that I began to see the body as a whole and recognize the incredible negative impact dysfunctional movement can have on one’s training and health.
The point I really want to make is that the information I found in that book challenged much of how I was taught to train my clients. I suddenly realized that my training was full of holes and I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. It caused me a lot of stress, because I felt completely unprepared to meet the needs of my clients, and I realized that my coworkers were no better off. Now, my understanding of movement has broadened significantly, but I am more keenly aware than ever of how much more I have yet to grasp. Rather than view that as stressful, now find it exciting. Having nothing left to learn would be terribly boring, I expect.
Much of my own training since then has been spent undoing the damage I inflicted upon my own body in my ignorance, and rewiring it to work the way I want it to. Most of that damage is simply the result of having a poor grasp of how my body should move, and trying to build fitness on top of dysfunction. A young body can withstand a tremendous amount of abuse, but the signs will begin to show. Some of that damage can be undone with hard work, but some lingers. I may be able to regain the hip extension I’ve been missing for years, but my meniscus will never regenerate. A hard lesson learned.
A big part of my problem is that I was incredibly naive, and took everything I read in a muscle magazine or fitness forum as truth. As you go through your fitness journey you are going to be fed information by the shovel-full from hundreds of sources, and no matter who is telling you, whether it’s a book, your buff friend who works out all the time, or hell, even your trainer, never hesitate to ask “why”. If you don’t get an explanation that makes sense, take it with a grain of salt. It’s ok to have faith in so-called experts, as long as that faith isn’t blind. You had better be taking everything that I have to say with a grain of salt as well, until you’ve thought it through and understand it. This is the kind of attitude I try to encourage in my own clients; not one of skepticism, but understanding.
I think that true innovation in any field requires a certain willingness to take the existing paradigm and stand it on its head. You have to be willing to challenge what you think you know. Every so often, new information comes into view that requires us to completely rethink our approach to certain things, and that’s no less true in exercise science than any other discipline. I have heard it said that everybody is open-minded until everything that they know is wrong. Be critical of what you learn, but don’t be afraid it alter, or even shatter, your existing fitness paradigm if the “why” makes sense. You may discover that there is so much you have yet to fully grasp, and somewhere within that unexplored knowledge may be the concept you need to take your training to the next level.