There’s a lot to consider when you workout, for example, knowing why you’re performing a particular exercise and what the outcome of said exercise is, what you want to accomplish with an exercise, and how your workout is going to impact your life outside of the gym. Do your exercises align with your goals? If you want to win the Tour de France then most of your time training will most likely be spent on a bicycle but if you’re just training to be able to keep up with your kids or grandkids then spending countless hours on a stationery bike won’t benefit you the way you want it to.
We’ve all heard it, “too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” Sure, you’ll be really good at riding a bike but what about running around town with your grandkids, throwing a baseball with your friends, or being able to walk your dog. Your body will eventually mimic the patterns of your training environment, so if you’re always riding a bike then eventually your body will start to portray the hunched over posture that your body is positioned in when you ride the bike. Then your posture begins to get stuck in this position and it gets harder to function in other environments like when you want to run faster during a sports game, go hiking with your spouse, or play fetch with your dog.
To the point of this article, if you sit at work for 8 hours a day and then go to the gym and all of the exercises you do are seated, then you aren’t really changing your environment. When you sit for long periods at work, your hips are flexed, so when you go exercise at the gym and always do seated exercises, your hips are still flexed, so you’re reinforcing to your body that it’s normal to always have the hips flexed. This can cause trouble when the hips need to extend, like in active situations in everyday life. Even something as simple as standing can be difficult if the hips are chronically flexed, your body starts to get pulled forward and down into the infamous hunched over position with rounded shoulders. Now imagine trying to perform to your fullest potential if your normal body posture is hunched over contributing to impaired movement.
I’m not an advocate of isolating muscles when you exercise because it can cause a disconnection between muscles in the upper body and lower body, which has serious consequences on overall function. Every time we walk we bring one leg forward and the opposite arm comes forward as well, this is an example of how the body operates keeping the upper body and lower body connected in a functional way. However, some people may have a disconnect between their upper body and lower body. This can be seen when they take a step, the legs move forward but the arms don’t swing, instead they stay stiff at the sides of the torso. Our body is meant to work as one unit every time it functions in real life, so we should train it according to how it functions if you want it to support you as you go through life.
I’m not saying that we should only be walking and running but what I am saying is that we should pay closer attention to how we exercise our body during resistance training. Are we reinforcing the bodies natural function or are we slowly breaking down our structure of support? Instead of mindlessly lifting a weight with the use of only one muscle, try engaging as many muscles as you can with one exercise, preferably, and if your body allows, encompassing multiple planes of movement. The next time you perform a cable row, do it standing and try adding a torso rotation as you row- now your connecting your lats with your obliques. You could also try taking a step backwards when you row and rotate- now connecting the lats and obliques with your glutes. When we engage multiple muscles at once, the brain starts to get involved with our bodies movement to help coordinate the exercise properly and in the right sequence, something that isolating the muscle alone won’t capture.
At the end of the day you have to ask yourself why you’re training. Are you doing it for a particular boost somewhere in your life, whether it’s to manage knee pain, keep up with life outside of the gym, lose weight, get stronger, or walk better? Whatever it may be, your training environment has to mimic what you want to get out of it. Don’t spend 5 days a week riding a bike if you what to be able to hike longer. If you’re only riding the bike to boost your endurance, you can boost your endurance by incorporating other facets of exercise into your overall routine, without sacrificing your posture from hunching over the bike or from sitting too much.