The total body effect

Think about your average gym. It’s probably full of treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes, a vast array of strength training machines, and a free-weight area. Look out at the people and observe what they are doing; specifically those on the strength training machines. What position is there body in? In what directions are their muscles working? What is the rest of their body doing while they are “targeting” those muscles? It is likely that you’ll notice most of them are seated with their backs and hips pressed against the machine’s pads, their muscles are moving in relatively straight lines, and the rest of their body is still.

Now, think about an activity of daily living like unloading groceries from your car and putting them away. First of all, you are on your feet. Also, your muscles are working in many different angles as you bend to pick something up and out of the trunk, twist to get the door open, and reach to put things up onto the shelf. The entirety of your body is engaged as well, with no single part taking a backseat to another.

Notice the difference? The bottom line is most people are training in a way that is the complete opposite of the way we move in the real world. In the desire for bulging muscles or thought-free workout routines, we have reduced the complex movement patterns that our bodies are designed for into isolated hiccups that, over time, damage our joints, disrupt our balance and coordination, and provide us with a false sense of strength. Real strength, usable strength, is what you see in athletes (martial artists, rock climbers, dancers, and gymnasts to name a few) who rarely have the distorted proportions of a bodybuilder.

The solution is to re-examine our workout routines. First, eliminate the machines. Second, find yourself some useable space. It can be a large mat, or a patch of grass outside. Third, explore how your body moves in three dimensions. Rotate your hips from right to left. Are you pivoting on the balls of your feet? If not, this could be a contributor to your knee problems. Next, squat down with your legs. Are you able to sit your hips back as you do so keeping your knees from jutting past your toes? If this proves difficult, you may have tight hips and flaccid glutes that need to be re-activated. Hold on to a rail or a branch or any other fixed object and practice squatting with proper form. Now try and hold a plank (the start position of a push up). Can you keep your wrists stacked under your shoulders? Is your core able to keep your low back from sagging? Your tight shoulder girdle may be the culprit if your hands are extended like a yoga-esque downward dog. A saggy back means your transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscle that maintains stability in the lumbar spine) needs work. Start doing some modified pillars (like a plank but on the elbows instead of the hands, and even from the knees if holding the position from your feet is too difficult). Try to do a lunge next. Take a deep step forward and bend both knees to lower yourself. Maintaining your balance and engaging your caboose is the key here. Painful knees or a forward lean mean that you may have tight hip flexors from too much sitting. Stretching the quads and the front part of the hip can help, but in the meantime, abbreviate the forward step until you get it right and work from there. Finally, balance on one leg and take your arms out to the sides of your body. Slowly reach down and touch your foot (the one on the ground) with the opposite hand. Stand back up while maintaining balance on that one leg. Having a tough time maintaining verticality could indicate weak hips which can derail your knees and make running and walking more hazardous. Practice this move as well as other single leg exercises to improve hip stability.

With proper attention to technique, these simple movements (a twist, a squat, a plank, a lunge, and a single leg toe touch) can be performed with enough reps and intensity to easily get your heart pumping and muscles burning. As a side benefit, you will move better, have higher levels of functional strength, lower risk of injury (both acute and overuse), and save a bundle on gym memberships!

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About Unknown

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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  1. Hey, great ways to warm-up my students and get them moving before class:)