One of the reasons I think people struggle to include movement in their daily lives (apart from the commonly reported lack of time) is that they haven’t found a reason to do so that actually resonates with them. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of just training for your health, but for a lot of people I think that rationale boils down to knowing that they should exercise for their health. It becomes one more responsibility to add to an already lengthy list of things demanding their time. For these people, health and longevity may the a general reason that moving is ultimately important, but it doesn’t make it personally important in a way that motivates them to actually take action.
On top of that, the goal of training for the vague idea of overall health doesn’t provide much of a specific direction to help guide decisions about how you should train, like what movements you should include or how you should challenge them. What you need to do, if you’re one of these people, is define more specifically what long-term health means to you. Does it mean that you can still go hiking when you’re 80? Then you should make sure you’re pursuing a movement practice that will help you sustain the physical elements that will allow you to do that, like having a strong capacity for movement (good endurance), healthy feet, and a well-aligned and robust lower body. Does health mean you can still take care of yourself and live independently well into your golden years? Then you should make sure you’re taking steps to maintain full mobility in all your joints and learn to move well to minimize wear-and-tear on your tissues.
Now, if you’re someone who has an interest or responsibility that involves some physical, that’s a great place to start when looking for a more specific purpose for your training. Sometimes we don’t make the connections between those activities and “exercise”, and it is even more rare to make the connection between those activities and how you should exercise. It’s pretty similar to the longevity and health discussion: within those pursuits you can discover the movements in which you need to maintain (or improve) your capacity if you want to continue to include them as part of your lifestyle. Take gardening, for instance. You should be able to squat with ease to allow you to spend a lot of time down in the dirt without wrecking your back. That means you should have full range of motion in your ankles, knees, and hips, and understand what a good squat position is. You should know how to hinge from the hips without compromising your spine position (i.e. rounding or arching your back), how to pick up a bag of soil safely, and how to use your tools in a way that protects your shoulders. More than that, you should become strong in these movements and positions, strong in a way that exceeds the demand of gardening, strong in a way that allows you to handle that daily challenge without it stressing your body close to its limit. You can extrapolate this logic to any physical pursuit. It all comes down to recognizing the positions you need to be in, the demand that you’re going to place on them, and how you currently stack up against those demands.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that even if your passion lies outside of the physical realm, a movement practice can do great things for your longevity in those pursuits as well. A writer with strong posture earned through physical training can do much to mitigate the back and shoulder problems that one might accrue after long hours at the keyboard. The artist with a strong deadlift is less likely to suffer injury dragging around the scrap metal she intends to weld into some semblance of a muster of peacocks fighting over a peach. The pianist who treats his wrist to a variety of positions in training may reduce the risk for developing overuse problems like carpal tunnel. The bookworm who gets outside in nature may mitigate the eyesight deterioration that comes with staring at a page for hours. (You get the idea.)
I probably take it for granted that I’m able to tease out the exercise and training correlates for the movements we undertake in our hobbies and jobs. Most of you aren’t going to have the knowledge to put together a movement practice that reflects your true needs, and that’s totally fine. There are plenty of professionals out there who can help you out. I would caution you, though, to be very particular about the professional that you choose to make these important decisions for you. If they can’t communicate the reason behind the elements of your training program in a way that makes sense for you and your goals, consider that a red flag. On one hand, it may be that because you are very new to movement practice it is difficult for you to see the chain of logic that, say, connects standing on one foot to being a good hunter. In these cases, the problem is often that you have a very basic movement problem that makes training activity-specific movements a bad idea until the basic problem is resolved. But what is more likely, I think, is that the professional you are seeing doesn’t understand how to make those connections themselves. You may find that many trainers and physiotherapists are very exercise, muscle, or joint minded, and lack the perspective of the bigger picture of movement to tie those things together. Professionals aside, however, there is great onus on you, the mover, to take responsibility for educating yourself concerning how you move and how you should move. Much of this will come with time, but the more knowledge you acquire along the way the more quickly you will arrive at a strong understanding of your practice, and that goes a long way towards accelerating your progress.
So, I want to challenge you to find a specific, personally-important reason to train. That is how you will prevent deterioration before its time, and that’s how you will put your passion at the center of your practice. When you have done this, it will give real purpose to exercise. It becomes more than just grinding out a few minutes of cardio because you know in the back of your mind that it’s “good for you” (whatever that means). It makes the practice important in a way that really means something to you and will motivate you to actually do it, do it well, and be mentally present and engaged when training.
This is one of the so-called secrets behind successful training – passion – and once you are able to find it and make the connection to your movement practice, the road becomes much easier to travel.