Why Your Workouts Aren't Working Out (and Why it's Not Your Fault)
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
What do you do when you go to the gym? How many exercises do you do? Which exercises do you pick? How many machines do you use? Do you lift weights?
Do you have a clear goal in mind? Is each exercise you pick relevant to that goal? Why are you in the gym in the first place?
Most people in the gym would have a hard time saying exactly why they’re doing what they're doing in the gym. Based on my experience as a coach and spending time in fitness/wellness facilities around the world, I would say 5/10 people in the gym are doing more damage to their bodies than good (long-term) and 9/10 people pick exercises based on what they see other people doing rather than what they actually need. In short... most people's workouts are actually working out, but it's really not their fault. It's mostly because the typical gym is designed very poorly and filled with sh*t we don't need. If you are concerned with your physical well-being, it’s critical to get away from the stuff you don't need, get to know yourself and your body better, and focus on exercises that create physiological balance… so how do we do that?
A good trainer can identify the ideal training program for a trainee just by observing their standing posture and watching them perform a few simple (but specific) movements. Looking for postural deviations and mechanical inefficiencies in the 5 primary movement patterns (pushing, pulling, twisting, squatting, and lunging) will reveal what physiological imbalances need to be corrected. A little know-how of exercises to strengthen those weak areas and how to structure those exercises into a well-scheduled, realistic, and goal-driven routine and BAM, you’ve got yourself a great movement training program. But if you’re not able to spend money on a movement trainer, how do you do those things yourself?
You need to move your body and listen to it closely. Aches and pains, visible muscular imbalances, little tweaks and injuries, are all signs you should pay close attention to. But more than that…
Focus on moving your body, not using your body to move things. This is the fundamental shift in mindset most gym-goers need to make their workouts more effective.
This mindset shift is part of a fitness trend called Movement Culture. It’s been spread primarily by a trainer and mover named Ido Portal. His methods spread like wildfire after he began training Conor McGregor, the former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion. Ido Portal has trained in multiple martial arts, capoeira, yoga, and countless other forms of movement-based arts and exercises. Though, exercise is likely the last thing he would describe movement as. Movement culture started with Ido’s community and has exploded outward to encapsulate everything from gymnastics, hand balancing, parkour, break dancing, animal movement, contemporary dance and so much more. The primary connection between these practices is the focus on moving the body, not external objects.
It’s a very broad collection of practices, but it comes with a simple and clear message: we must move. We were built to move; unrestricted, intuitively, and freely, simply because we can. If we do not, we will slowly lose our natural physical capabilities and allow the process of aging to happen at an increased rate. But, if we move regularly, we may discover our true physical (and possibly mental and spiritual) potential. While there are many disciplines and specializations within movement culture, it matters less which you pick, and more that you just MOVE.
Ido often says “the more expensive the equipment, the cheaper the mover.” The few practical applications for expensive, complex equipment found in common gyms is far outweighed by the effectiveness and infinite creativity that is possible by moving the body all on its own. With a little know-how, mindfulness, and creative thinking, there’s really no need to waste money on a gym membership or that Bowflex you think will inspire you to get in shape at home. It’s just not necessary.
All you need to be fit and healthy is a body and the will to move.
Of course, there is still value in equipment, but you will notice a very obvious difference between a space built for movers and a space built for typical gym-goers. Specifically, much more open space, much less complex equipment, a lot more things to hang from, and probably some tennis balls and wooden sticks. Weights certainly have there place and are great tools, but free weights (barbells and dumbbells) are generally preferred in the movement community.
The outliers are the machines. The big cable setups and clunky metal contraptions that take up the majority of space in a typical gym. There are some great uses for these machines, but they are few. The few appropriate use cases for these machines make them hard to justify including in a workout routine for a reasonably healthy, mobile person. If you’re using these machines regularly, ask yourself “Why?”. Is it just because they’re there and you’ve seen other people using them? Does this machine give you some unique advantage that you couldn’t get moving freely? Chances are, there’s a more impactful, functional movement pattern that can get you the results you’re looking for while connecting you deeper with your body than to a cold piece of clunky equipment.
The reasons why Movement Culture has become the newest fitness trend are many but here’s some of the best ones in my opinion:
Free movement training is highly accessible. It can be done just about anywhere. All you need is a bit of open space.
Free movement training encourages mobility and balance (both literally and physiologically). It’s very easy to pick/make an equipment-based workout routine that is imbalanced or actually worsens postural deviations. It’s much harder to do with free movement-based exercises.
Free movement training supports the development of heightened proprioception and mind-body connection. When your body is the primary tool you focus on when training, you get to know it, it’s strengths, weaknesses, and what it needs, very well.
So... if you're more focused on the things you're moving than the body you're using to move, then yes, your workouts probably suck.
At this point, you may be thinking, “This is all makes sense… but how do I start?”. The best way to start learning free movement is by picking something that sparks your interest. Do you want to learn how to do a handstand? There are plenty of workshops, classes, and coaches you can find to learn from. Have you always wanted to try yoga? Go to a class, they’re everywhere. Do you find yourself breaking into dance when you’re home alone? Find a dance class and go have some fun. Just give it a shot. You don’t need to overhaul your entire routine overnight, just take one step in the right direction. Start focusing more on your body itself than the tools you’re using and listen to the signals your body is sending you. Before you know it, you’ll have a much better understanding of what you truly need to maintain and improve your physical well-being and won’t rely so much on the gym or special equipment to get the job done.
If you want some help building a movement practice that’s perfect for your body, unique needs, and goals, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading. Wishing you well,