I remember taking a weightlifting class, first in high school and then in college.
I’m going to date myself, but it was all Nautilus equipment (a brand name of fitness equipment that was “new and innovative”) and your entire session – not to be less than 1 hour – was completely on machines that locked you in place while one or two joints moved to lift the bar.
While lifting weights on a machine that locks your body in place and only uses one or two joints at a time may have it’s place in rehab settings or specific outcome goals (body building), it’s not very “functional” and over the long term, it may damage your joints. For example, the seated leg extension machine – you know the one that you sit on and the cushioned bar goes at your ankles while you straighten your knees to strength the quadriceps – that actually causes undue strain to your ACL ligament in your knee (the ACL main job is to prevent the tibia from translating forward on the femur and excessive rotation) By using the knee extension machine, you are putting your knee in a vulnerable position.
If it’s not machines, then what does make a good workout?
One, it has to be something you’ll stick with.
Be active on a regular basis – every day/week – is far more important than intensity or volume if only done a couple times per month. If you hate swimming, don’t try to make swimming your regular exercise.
Two, it should challenge you.
If your body adapts to something and it becomes so easy you can do it with your eyes closed all day long, you won’t really see improvement.
You can and should still practice things that have become easy because you do want to maintain a foundation. For example, I currently know how to breathe and I continue to do purposeful, specific breathing exercises daily because if I don’t, my old, inefficient and unhealthy breathing pattern will resume.
Let’s take walking. Many people enjoy walking but it isn’t a challenge any more. Can you walk faster, longer, up hills, down hills, on rough terrain, etc.?
Which leads to number three:
Three, your workout should vary.
In addition to varying the amount of time you exercise, you need to exercise at different intensities.
You work different energy systems when you do long sessions than when you do short, but intense workouts. My clients and I workout using different timed sets to accomplish this.
You should vary how your body moves, too.
While walking is great for your heart and mood, it’s always in the same plane of motion – forward traveling in the sagittal plane.
Our bodies are meant to pivot and rotate, bend, crawl, pull, push, extend, flex and so on, these motions should also be incorporated challenged in your fitness regimen.
Four, it should improve you.
Not all exercise and fitness improves your body and in fact, some things do the exact opposite – it breaks you down.
Let’s take running for example. Many women have taken to running since quarantine because it can be done right outside of your front door, it’s cheap and you don’t have to learn a new skill.
Unfortunately, for many women, running is breaking down her body rather than improving it.
Why? Mostly because lifestyle and habits have changed her body to where her core is not doing It’s job of stabilizing the hips and low back, her ankles don’t have enough dorsiflexion to land and push-off appropriately or her upper back is so stiff that her low back twists beyond what is normal and with every push-off, micro-trauma is occurring .
What CAN improve you without hurting you?
Get a movement assessment to guide you. That’s why I do a movement screen on all of my clients. It can reveal what exercises are going to improve you and which exercises can lead to more damage if done on a regular basis.
1. Like what you do
2. Challenge yourself
3. Change it up
4. Do things that Improve you.