Move Beyond Exercise

Improving Your Movement Diet

For most people, exercise is the only experience we have had with movement, and therefore, exercise has become the only word we have to describe what humans do when moving their bodies from place to place. So when searching for a solution to stiff sore joints, we’ve inadvertently limited our solutions to exercise alone.  However, exercise is just a small slice of the movement pie, and it’s movement, not exercise, that should be your 'go to' for injury prevention and long term health. 

I want you to imagine Movement as a diet.  With our diet, we have what’s called “Macro” nutrients, aka protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  The relationship of these macronutrients deserve a lot of attention, because different people respond better to a high protein/low carb diet, while others work better on high fat diets, etc.  No single diet is great for everyone, but all three of these macronutrients must be present in a person’s diet to some extent.   

Same with Exercise, which I’d like you to consider to be the macronutrients of the movement diet.  Think of protein as strength training, “Cardio” as Carbs, and flexibility or mobility as fats.  Some people feel better with more weight training, less cardio, and vise versa.  The fact is, EVERYONE needs some combination of these “macros” to fulfill the needs of THEIR movement diet.  But there is so much more to the diet than just macronutrients.

Micronutrients make up a HUGE aspect of our diet.  An indication as to the importance of these “micros” can be seen in the multibillion dollar supplement industry, and the success they have had filling the gaps in the western diet.  When these micronutrients are neglected, terrible diseases occur REGARDLESS of how much, and in what proportion, macronutrients a diet contains.  Take for example the Vegan who has a risk of developing a B12 deficiency.  Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient obtained from animal products in our diet, which is why this deficiency is possible even though the rest of the vegan diet is traditionally very nutrient dense and otherwise healthy.  Similarly, a large discrepancy of passive flexibility and active mobility, can cause havoc in an otherwise healthy individual.  For example, if you can lay flat on your back and bring your knee to your chest with ease, but standing up you can hardly flex your hip to 90 degrees in a one legged stance, your much more flexible(passive) than mobile (active).  It may take months, or maybe decades, but that deficiency will likely manifest as physical pain and injury.

So where should you start?  This isn’t as clear of an answer as you may think.  Depending on your past medical history, hobbies, current state of health, etc., this answer changes from person to person.  Also, the body does not work in isolation, so your painful areas are not always a good place to focus on.  Pain is typically the last site of compensation for a larger problem. However, everyone can benefit from the following 3 tips.

  1. Make sure your breath is initiated from the belly.  If you find yourself holding your breath, or breathing shallow “chest breaths” while exerting yourself, you likely have weakness in your core.  Most every movement or exercise can be thought of as a breathing exercise.

  2. When you can perform a movement slow and controlled (think squat or lunge) without trembling, then you can perform this exercise for reps.  Until you have the balance and motor control to move smoothly, you will increase your risk of injury by performing repetitions. 

  3. Stop ignoring pain signals.  The pain that sticks around for a few days then goes away is not “going away”.  The lack of pain simply means the brain has found another way to compensate, and there is only so many compensations the body can withstand before something breaks.

No one approach will work for everyone, but there is a path that will lead to less injury and a better quality of life for everyone.  I challenge all who read this to change their perception of movement and exercise.  Become the lab rat of your life.  Experiment with different stretches, movement flows, and body maintenance routines to see what works for you.  This may require some guidance from competent health professionals, but you have the ability to take these lessons and create the physical body you want.  Quality movement must be present in order for your exercise not pose an injury risk.  Bring attention to the breath.  Stop ignoring your pain.  And discover what movement nutrients you are lacking in your diet.  Do this, and realize what it feels like to move well, move often, and enjoy life!