THE ‘DIRTY’ LITTLE SECRET OF RUNNING AND FITNESS EXERCISE ROUTINES
It’s not really dirty, but it’s something that just isn’t discussed much. And perhaps it was just a secret to me. However, it is what contributes to my being discouraged from doing the work necessary to recover from an injury or becoming stronger or more fit.
The secret is that all the components of fitness, including strength balance, flexibility, and mobility, are inter-related. Each is dependent on the other. Really, that’s it.
Why, you may ask is that a big deal? Because if you wish to work on building muscle strength the exercises for doing so will require balance, flexibility, and mobility. And the same inactivity that lead to having weak muscles will have created similar issues with balance, flexibility, and mobility, making the exercises 2-4 times more difficult than if weakness were the only problem.
If balance needs improvement, weak muscles will make those exercises very difficult.
And stiff and inflexible joints will stop you from completing simple moves.
To prove the point, let’s look at forward walking lunges. This is a commonly prescribed dynamic stretch to increase flexibility prior to running. It’s also a quad strengthening exercise performed with bodyweight alone or with hand-held dumbbells. Sometimes there’s an upper body twist added.
The lunge is performed in a walking motion, striding forward by placing one foot well out in front of the other, then lowering the upright body until the extended leg knee is at a 90-degree angle. This leaves the opposite leg behind the body, balanced on the ball of the foot, with the knee not quite touching the ground. This is a TOUGH MANUEVER if your balance is off! I am always reminded of this, especially when adding the upper-body twist toward the side opposite the forward leg. Frequently I’ll need to catch myself from falling over to the side if I have not worked this exercise in a while. Walking out 15 paces and back is not easy.
Another example is the single-leg stand for balance. If I haven’t been faithful doing hip strengthening exercises, like clamshells and lateral leg raises with weights, it’s a terrible wobble-fest. For my safety, a nearby piece of sturdy furniture or wall is a must.
Enough with the examples, already. It’s always harder to describe than demonstrate these things. Let’s just say that the performance of almost any exercise move can be much more difficult than imagined. Because it’s tough to complete just one entire move smoothly, we can become disheartened enough to give up on exercising entirely.
What’s the solution?
Why is it important NOT TO GIVE UP on exercises that are difficult?
Firstly, the most difficult exercises incorporate complex moves, like those we need to function in everyday life, which require strength, balance, flexibility, and mobility all at the SAME TIME.
If we cannot perform complex exercise moves now, it is possible and even probable we will not be able to perform similar, less difficult functional moves in the future. If ‘step-down’ or ‘step-up’ exercises are not easy today, stepping down from or up to a high curb, a ledge, or small wall may become impossible. If a hip mobility routine is not easily accomplished, swinging a leg off/on a leisure bicycle or over a low chain marking the limits of a parking area or sport playing field may become prohibitive.
This sounds silly, but my examples come from real life. I’ve listened to runners say they are so stiff they cannot touch their toes or tie their running shoes without sitting down. But they keep on running without correcting these issues. And will wonder why the inevitable injury occurs that keeps them out of the sport or a race.
Secondly, because small incremental improvements can be detected relatively quickly with persistent performance. Fitness is not like dieting. A little bit goes a longer way. Gentle stretches work almost immediately to loosen stiff soft tissues. Regular commitment to balance work results in holding a longer, less-wobbly, single-leg stand within days to weeks. With small guided increases in effort, progress can be readily detected in muscle strength. A family member in her 90’s made sufficient progress with strength building to be free of hip and back pain after several weeks of home exercises.
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET IS THAT FITNESS EXERCISES/ROUTINES ARE HARDER TO PERFORM THAN THEY APEAR TO BE ON DEMONSTRATIONS for good reason. The average person will have several areas of weakness that require improvement and will struggle to maintain form in the completion of complex exercise moves, especially those that do not employ machines. However, if you don’t give up, don’t give into discouraging thoughts and feelings, you’ll see results sooner than you think is possible.
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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