Training Movements, Not Muscles

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Training Movements, Not Muscles

November 14, 2013

Movement trainingThe fitness industry is relatively young and still developing. It was only in the late ‘70s and early ’80s that the fitness lifestyle emerged from relative obscurity into mainstream culture. The primary driver of the ‘80s fitness craze was the action-movie genre featuring larger-than-life characters played by actors like former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

The popularity of the fitness lifestyle led numerous people to join health clubs and gyms in an effort to achieve the kind of buffed, muscular physiques featured in movies. Because the training goal of many of these members was a defined, muscular look, the exercise equipment sold to gyms was designed to focus on training the way traditional bodybuilders train—one muscle or body part at a time.

Bodybuilders train specifically for large, well-defined, symmetrical muscles that will stand out when being judged on stage. They commit countless hours to meal planning and rigorous exercise six or seven days a week, each day with a dedicated focus on a specific body part. Most people don’t have the time required to get results from an exercise program designed with this approach. Does that mean people who can’t achieve the same results as a bodybuilder are failures? Or does it mean that the way they’ve been told to exercise need to be re-examined?

The first anatomists who dissected and studied the human body cut through and discarded the fascia and connective tissue that surrounds the fibers of each muscle. They thought the tissue was not important and needed to be removed to fully understand how a muscle works. The prevailing thought was that if a muscle crossed a joint then it probably created movement only at that joint. Combine that theory with the focus on training isolated muscles and it is easy to see how we got where we are today. If you walk into almost any health club or gym you will see a wide variety of equipment designed to train muscles that you probably didn’t even know you had. This begs the question—do you really need all of those fancy health club machines to get a good workout? The answer is no.

Focusing on just one body part at a time would be an effective way to exercise if that was how the human body was designed to function. Human movement, however, is not a series of isolated joint actions. If you have ever watched the process of a baby learning how to roll over, crawl and eventually walk, then you have seen everything you need to know about human movement. The human body is designed to be in constant motion with all joints and muscles working together to walk and move in an upright position.

Walking, or the gait cycle, is a series of coordinated movements. The foundational patterns that comprise the gait cycle are: 

1. Squatting (when both feet are on the ground)
2. Lunging (as one leg is planted and the other leg is swinging)
3. Pushing (as one arm swings forward)
4. Pulling (as the other arm swings backwards)
5. Rotating (when the trunk and pelvis counter rotate during leg and arm movement).

Following a movement-based exercise program based on these patterns means that you are using all of your muscles at the same time, which can be more effective for burning calories while also training the body for how it is designed to move. A second benefit of this approach is that you can do most of the exercises with little to no equipment, making it a perfect option if you want to exercise at home and avoid expensive gym fees. Let’s face it, sitting on an exercise machine using only one part of the body can be a bit boring, but challenging yourself to learn how to flawlessly execute complicated movement patterns makes exercise much more fun and engaging.

If you’re in need of an approach to exercise that will help you to look and move better, consider trying this twelve-week exercise program. This progressively challenging program uses the foundational movement patterns and follows a progression of exercises that can help you achieve a lean, sculpted look in about three months. If you ever started an exercise program, but stopped because the exercises seemed boring or you didn’t see any results, then try a movement-based approach to exercise. The worst that could happen is that you’ll burn a few calories while trying to learn something new.

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