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The two most important questions you need to ask yourself about exercise

October 11, 2010

Today’s post is meant to bridge the gap between core exercises that harm and those that help.  Considering that I just wrote about the evils of traditional core exercises (see Low Back Pain – Prevention 2) I thought it would be good to give some perspective.  I’ll start by asking you two questions:

First question:  are you currently a professional or semi-professional athlete?  If you’re like me and the other 95-99% of us, you answered no.  Your life does not revolve around you playing a particular sport to keep you employed.  As obvious as this distinction seems, it’s a very important fact to keep in mind.

Second question:  When exercising (or thinking about the prospect of exercising), is your purpose to improve/maintain good health or is it to improve/maintain performance at a particular sport?  There may be a little overlap with this one, but again, like most of us, you probably exercise for good health.

Why is this important?  It comes down to two things.

The first reason relates to one of the main exercise training principles:  the principle of specificity.  This states that to become better at a specific activity or skill you need to practice that activity or skill.  So sprinters sprint.  Olympic lifters lift.  Wrestlers crunch and twist.  This is their everyday life and performing exercises which closely mimic their sport helps them to become better at their specific sport.  In most cases it also has the effect of giving them the outward appearance of good health – low body fat, toned muscle, flexibility.  So it’s natural then when we see these athletes on television or read about their training regimes to think it must be appropriate for us to copy their actions in order to achieve similar results.

But the principle of specificity doesn’t just apply to sport.  It can apply to any activity.  So let’s think about  the activities you perform regularly in your everyday life?  I’m going to generalize here a little but I’ll guess that you don’t run at top speed, you don’t lift enormous weights over your head, you don’t repetitively flex/bend/crunch/twist around on the floor.  You are not a professional athlete.  You are, however, upright for most of the day either sitting or standing.  Your arms and legs move around a stable core and base of support and you perform a variety of activities in this position:  answering the phone; making left hand turns in the car; picking up your child or a bag of groceries.  So if you’re going to follow the principle of specificity with core exercises, then you should perform exercises which promote a stable core while more closely mimicking your activities of daily living.

The second reason to distinguish your role in and reason for exercise is that the purpose of athletic performance is to become the best at that particular activity but not necessarily to become the best at being healthy.  Many athletic endeavors require going beyond what is “good” for the body i.e.:  Iron Man triathlon; Sumo wrestling; ballet.  These are not bad activities in and of themselves, but the performance training required to take them to an elite level can lead to unhealthy results (severe muscle cramping, obesity, stress fractures respectively).  So by trying to copy the various training practices of athletes you increase your potential for injury (and while athletes may be conditioned for their training, you’re not, which further increases the risk).

Yes, there are some of you out there that fall in between the categories of pure health and pure performance.  You may be part of a competitive rec-league or in an individual sport which puts your body through its paces and therefore you need to train accordingly.  There are even those who have done “one hundred sit-ups every morning” for their entire life and have never felt the ill effects.  But it always comes down to a risk/benefit ratio.  Not every cigarette causes lung cancer.  Not every drink leads to liver failure.  And not every sit-up creates back pain.  The more you participate in these activities, however, the greater the risk.

For most of us though, the purpose for exercising is one of health.  And as we learned in the last post (Low Back Pain – Prevention 2) the first step with healthy exercises is to avoid those that can potentially harm you (sit-ups, back extensions, etc…). And that means distinguishing exercises for health vs exercises for performance.  The next step is understanding what constitutes healthy core exercise.  That’s where we’ll start next post.

For more information on exercise and back pain contact Guelph Chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  The Twentieth Man

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