Before we begin, please understand that this is a model I have created on what I perceive to be the successful hierarchy of introduction into fitness and movement. I use a lot of home construction analogies, so bear with me on that front.
There are a ton of great models by some very intelligent exercise physiologists and movement specialists, but what I am proposing in this blog, is the precursor to any one of those. From my years of experience, and my continued education of anatomy and physiology, I strongly believe that we, as a society, place too much emphasis on fitness programs, with the idea that they alone will rid us of our pain or make us happier by pushing through dreaded fitness routines.
Don’t get me wrong; we have scientific evidence that proves the benefits of physical fitness and mental health, and we use corrective exercises to rehabilitate from injury or surgery. Not to mention, the benefits of resistance exercise for healthy bones are second to none.
This blog will provide a guideline, from most important to least important, about proper preparation and selection of the right fitness regime. How do we make sure we are building our house on a solid foundation and not just loose soil? Too many people are focused on the house, and not the foundation on which the house is built. That is where we begin today; let’s get started.
** Note – It should be mentioned, though I have not physically placed it into my hierarchy model, enjoyment, commitment and consistency are the factors that make or break any model, especially this one!**
Current State of Overall Wellness Assessment.
1. Physical, 2. Mental, 3. Energy
Physical, mental and spiritual well-being are the basis for the foundation. The human body is a masterful creation of complexity and intelligence, and it is constantly monitoring checks and balances that keep us alive and functional. This state is referred to as “homeostasis”, the body’s balance point. Throughout our lifetime, the balance point will be tested by external (outside) and internal (inside) stressors, the body will adapt and compensate, always trying to remain in balance, however, even the human body has its limits.
A true foundational assessment is often overlooked by people who are eager to begin a fitness regimen, and by professionals in the fitness industry. In my opinion, this stage is the most important because it identifies stressors through self-reflection. This step is paramount to taking away negative influences that hinder the body’s ability to create healthy change.
When you induce change, you are trying to force the body out of its current state of homeostasis (balance), good or bad. That change takes influence and adaptability. If the stress of work, relationships, current state of the world, or any other internal/external stressor is present, it impacts us physically. These stresses create a hormonal response that robs the body of the ability to adapt.
Another important component of your self-assessment is to evaluate your energy level. Part of this evaluation includes not only your physical energy (i.e. kinetic energy, caloric energy, etc – Do you have the physical energy to go for a walk?) but your spiritual/mental energy (Does your daily routine leave you feeling negative/robbed of joy? Do you feel your day to day life contradicts your purpose?)
Identifying the negative influences is the first step because without this initial assessment you will be unaware of what is robbing your body’s ability to adapt. By reducing negative stressors applied to the body we will experience increased success in a fitness program.
Stage 1 Summary:
- Self awareness of our current state of overall wellness
- Not allowing negative mental, physical or energetic stressors to rob us of success
- Build our concrete foundation
Identifying / Correcting Physical (Structural) Limitations.
So now we have cleaned up the internal or external stressors, physical and non-physical, that have been robbing the body of adaptability. Next we can focus on the physical body’s structural limitations; this includes more than just the bones and muscles but also the fascia, fluids and nerves that help all systems operate as one.
Do you have low back pain after a walk, plantar fasciitis, shoulder pain, neck pain, nerve pain that runs down the leg? Identifying the root cause of any pain or discomfort is key to removing physical limitations. This section of the model is all about self awareness and asking questions regarding your pain or discomfort.
Every joint has an optimal range of motion, every muscle has optimal tonicity (not too tight not to lax), muscle movements are regulated by nerves and all the while, blood is flowing, oxygen is inhaled, hormones and regulators are kept in check. If one system is in dysfunction, then all systems will inevitably be impacted. Examples of dysfunction might be joint immobility, muscles are tight and guarding, scars from surgery limiting fluid and tissue movement, to name a few.
As a Kinesiologist (and Osteopathic Manual Therapy Student), mobility and tissue evaluation are key to the creation of any successful program for a client. These limitations need to inform the course of action. If systemic dysfunctions are not considered, the body’s ability to adapt to change will be inherently limited and you, as a client, will note a plateau/stall in your success. In some cases, you might even experience a return to your initial state of discomfort.
Stage 2 Summary:
- Self awareness/professional evaluation of structural limitations. (Joint pain or immobility, muscle stiffness and other pain or discomfort.)
- Customized program to clean up the movement or structural dysfunction before they compound into greater, more complex dysfunctions.
- Make sure the concrete is free of cracks or weak points.
Introducing Mobility and Movement Programs Done Consistently.
As a strength coach, my idea of exercise was either the sport I was training for or weight lifting. I will admit that I didn’t give movement modalities like Yoga or Pilates a second of my time. I now strongly advise my clients to supplement weightlifting with movement specific exercise programs that encourage mobility and breathing. In fact, I encourage it as a prerequisite.
I think the word fitness is too often associated with weightlifting, or high intensity exercise. This section focuses on establishing a routine that you can stay committed to, that introduces you to pain free movement, and encourages the mobility of all tissues and fluid in the body. I know people who feel that yin yoga is too strenuous, and that is completely acceptable. Everything is going to speak to everyone differently, and there is no lack of choice (yoga, pilates, walking, natural movement classes, or 2 or 3 mobility exercises you learned from a kinesiologist). Whatever you select, it must speak to you. Movement should fit into your schedule and become part of your new routine.
Stage 3 Summary:
- Get the body moving! And moving right. Invest in a mobility program that promotes the mobility of all tissues and fluid in your body.
- First true test of the foundation: Introducing a movement program free of pain, discomfort and compensation.
Macro and Micro Modifications (Not Just Nutrition).
You have successfully restored adaptability, removed structural limitations and been consistently moving! If you are pain free and happy, then proceed, but if life gets in the way just clean up, restore and return when you are ready.
At this point in the model we are wanting to ask a little bit more out of our fitness journey. Perhaps we want to lose weight, train for a marathon, or build bigger, stronger muscles. If you feel that the bottom sections of the pyramid are stable, I encourage you to push a little further.
This section focuses on taking advantage of hacking the system. Cultivating positive routines surrounding nutrition, recovery and sleep are going to be your next step on your path to success.
It is important to recognize that not all calories were created equal. (I.e. 800 calories dessert won’t support a healthy metabolism like 800 calories of lean protein and vegetables) The types of food we select fuels our day and also supports an environment for healthy change.
In addition to nutrition, it is important to create healthy sleeping habits, such as ensuring adequate hours of sleep per night, avoiding screen time before bed and sticking to a routine.
Equally important is recovery. Optimizing rest and activities that promote recovery, like meditation or other forms of mental restoration, can greatly enhance the positive change you are aiming to achieve. For me, a huge piece of the puzzle was learning about breathing. Learning how to breathe and controlling your breathing can give you control over your body unlike anything else.
Stage 4 Summary:
- Cultivating healthy habits regarding nutrition, recovery and sleep increase the rate of short and long term success
- Choosing the right materials to build a quality home on your foundation
Choosing a Fitness Program That You Enjoy Doing!
You have taken the time to construct your foundation and select your materials. It is time to build your house. Choosing the right program is a personal experience, and it should be one that adapts with you through trial and error, based on your successes.
A program should challenge you, but also leave you wanting more. Enjoyment, commitment, and consistency are the keys to being successful with all elements of health and wellness. Once you have a solid foundation, you can build whatever house you want. Try some different layouts, and never forget that your Kinesiologist can always help you “renovate”.
Stage 5 Summary:
- You are physically, mentally and energetically ready to try different fitness programs and see which one is the right fit for you.
- The program you select is just the catalyst to induce change, but change can only happen if your foundation is strong, and it is supported by healthy habits.
Mike is an Osteopathic Manual Therapy student at the Canadian School of Osteopathy in Vancouver. In addition to his osteopathic training, Mike has an extensive background in athletics and holds a Bachelors of Kinesiology from University of Calgary. Mike has trained with clients ranging from elite athletes to post-surgery rehabilitation. His true passion lies in aligning his osteopathic treatments with each individual’s goal for the betterment of functional movement and fitness in their day to day life.