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Wellness Wednesday: Your Body is the Best Piece of Exercise Equipment

After last week's article on beginning a sustainable exercise program by starting a higher frequency walking regimen, many of you might be thinking the next logical step is to start running but that is far from where we should take your fitness. It's not that I’m against running, I just think there are better and more beneficial places to start to improve your fitness level and overall well-being.

There are many reasons why I am recommending that body weight strength and conditioning - that is, using your own body to perform exercises without any external weight additions - be learned before attempting to run. Without understanding the mechanics of your body and some laws of physics, starting to run without understanding the proper way to do so can cause a lot of stress on the body that it is ill prepared for.  

Running and walking are similar as they are both single leg balances propelling the center of mass (your body) in a direction or your choosing.  As soon as we increase our walking speed, we also increase forces acting on the body and increase demands on the nervous system to handle those forces. A 200-lb. man starting to run for the first time in 20-plus years to burn stored adipose tissue (i.e. fat) will be putting well over two to three times his body weight of strain on the tissues of the body, mainly around the ankles, knees and hip. Couple this with bad mechanics and it's the same thing as sitting in a folding chair that doesn’t seem to fold up correctly - at some point there will be a breakdown and you'll be on your butt.

Before we go from walking to running, we need to establish better control of our bodies. Stability and strength are a must. Because each foot strike causes up to triple the body weight forces, learning to absorb those forces is paramount.   

I suggest that people start with being able to alternate balancing on one leg for at least one minute without resolving to touch the other foot to the ground. This of course is only from experience and observation of clients I over the past decade.   

In general, I believe that General Physical Preparation (GPP) training guidelines should be followed no matter what your goal in life is. Presses and pulls should be used to train for the upper body. The ability to squat and lunge properly to improve lower body strength should also be established. Torso and core strength should be a focus as well as breathing and proprioceptive training, which is work that challenges the nervous system to react to changes in one's environment. This is beneficial for individuals of all ages, from toddlers to seniors. This system of reaction allows you to move about your day in a safer manner.

Why do we need strength training ? First off, injury prevention. No, you dont need to do as many pushups as Rocky Balboa, but it would be nice to be able to save your face from the dirt when you inevitably trip while running or walking. You can even start by doing pushup against a wall or using a TRX susprension trainer which allows you to adjust the difficulty of the exercise. Another reason to strength train is to keep a good stress on the skeletal system. Combat osteopenia and osteoporosis by giving the bones some tension!

Why train with pulling motions? To balance out the forward shoulder movements and pushing motions we are accustomed to. Go to any commercial gym on any day of the week and you'll see 75 percent of the guys doing bench presses and bicep curls. This is not the way we should train! Our lats and other back muscles help to stabilize the hips so your spine is stable during all other activities so focusing solely on training "beach muscles" can lead to problems and injuries later on.
In closing, I'd like to remind everyone that running and walking aren't the only ways to get your heart rate up and your cardio in. The truth is, the cardio-respiratory and cardiovascular systems can be easily trained with body weight and resistance training. Working with a knowledgeable trainer in the area can teach you ways to incorporate this into your health and wellness program. After only a few sessions, you can learn a base of strength training that you can use weekly to increase metabolism and help balance your endocrine system.  Make sure you are learning exercises that can be directly beneficial to your lifestyle though. Bodybuilding exercises and only training with machines, don’t benefit the grandmother looking for increased endurance and mobility while babysitting her four year old grandson.
The bottom line is that having strength, stability and better control of your whole body will only help you as you age. Never have I met someone in their 60s that is frustrated with how strong they are (or are not).

In what ways can you think that having better body control will help you in your day-to-day activities?

P.S.  If I am too late in getting you to realize you need a base of strength for in your life and you absolutely MUST go out to run, here is a short video showing some outside of the box exercises that will help you with hip and leg stability to increase your bodys ability to prevent injury

- Joe Daniels is the owner of SwingThis Kettlebell and Strength Studio in Latonia. Questions for Joe? E-mail him at [email protected].

Bored with bodybuilding after reaching the national level in 2009, Joe Daniels opened SwingThis Kettlebell and Strength. From becoming an IKFF Coach operating in an 800 sq. ft. studio, the benefits of a minimal yet highly effective approach to fitness has grown to a 5,500 sq. ft. functional training facility within four years. 

Focusing on injury prevention, competitive kettlebell sport training and stress relief, SwingThis Kettlebell and Strength has hosted seminars and trained hands-on with some of the top athletes and coaches of the kettlebell world. Their philosophy has remained the same: You have to enjoy your training at all stages. Live your life. Your training should make your life outside that time more enjoyable and fulfilling.

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