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October 25, 2018

Why Your Body Needs a Mechanic

by Michael Hughes

I like to take note of events that are “firsts”.  Last week I had a very cool “first”: I had my tires rotated for the first time. Now that may seem pretty run of the mill to you, but when you go “all electric”, one of the benefits is how infrequently your vehicle needs to be serviced. It was the first time I’d taken it in for any kind of traditional service. 

Out of curiosity, have you ever questioned a mechanic who tells you that your tires need to be rotated? I haven’t. I would question why my fluids needed to be flushed earlier than usual or how they knew that my timing belt was in need of replacement, and I would definitely get a second opinion about anything over $500. But I have never questioned tire rotation. Why is that? 

I think it’s because it’s easier to see and understand the why. It’s obvious that if you drive for too long, in the same fashion and around the same sharp curves, the integrity of the tires could be compromised simply because of the wear and tear of the car’s position. It also makes sense that after ~5,000+ miles, you should rotate the tires as a precaution, because the odds are in your favor that this timeline is typical for wear and tear. 

If you know me, you know that I am always looking for a good analogy, and a car is such a good one.  Imagine that your body is the vehicle and the ligaments/ tendons and joints are the tires.

If you move or work out with too much repetition, you will eventually wear down your ligaments/ tendons and joints, and over time, and they will need to be replaced, or they will simply “break”.  To avoid that, you “rotate” your ligaments/ tendons by varying your movement patterns, changing planes of motion, and focusing on whole body exercises.

Today, it kills me to see fitness trends celebrate “innovative workouts” that literally have you running on a treadmill and rowing for over 66% of the workout, or 100% of the workout is done in a seated position, on a bike. This screams to me that it will wear down those athletes’ ligaments/ tendons and joints much faster because of the way the exercise stresses them. It’s not innovative; it’s simply a way to get the heart rate up, without considering the impact of countless repetition.

What’s the problem with non variant repetition?

Our bodies are designed to move front to back, up and down, side to side, and in rotation. Most of us sit so much during the day, that our bodies scream for motion through the aches and pains many Americans have accepted as “normal.” When we take our achy, inactive bodies and throw them into workouts that are highly repetitive, it wears down the system very similarly to how tires are worn down.

You bench your brain. 

Another one of the downsides of too much of the same thing is that it’s boring for your mind. For those of you who feel like your brain is constantly in high output and stress, this certainly has its appeal. But neurologically, it is the equivalent of benching your brain while your body goes up to bat, alone.  Science tells us that neurons that fire together wire together. Neuroplasticity is a real goal of humans, especially as we age. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to re-wire itself as a response to sensory experiences. The more you have to think and build movement literacy, the more engaged your brain becomes and therefore, longer term neurological benefits are achieved. Science shows us that the neurological benefits of exercise are powerful at combating debilitating conditions associated with old age. But it’s more than just exercising; it’s engaging your neurons when you move. That’s the missing link. You have to playfully engage your brain.

You only become strong in certain limited movement patterns, leaving you rigid and at risk of injury. 

The goal of repetition is to perform a particular movement faster, stronger and better all the time. To do this, your body focuses on only the muscle groups and joints needed to perform that singular movement pattern. To build strength, your body lays down layers of muscle fibers in specific places to strengthen only the parts of the muscle it needs for that movement. This leaves you at risk of injury or inflexibility should you need your body for the more functional, multi-directional motions we use daily.

As the self-proclaimed auto mechanic in this analogy, I’ve often advised people to rotate their tires because of signs of wear and tear. As a movement therapist, it is easy for me to see signs of wear and tear through our 3D movement analysis. But I’ve spent a lot of time and money to develop the ability to see what’s happening.
But as an athlete, how do you recognize signs that your body is wearing down? What are some red flags to pay attention to?

Here are some red flags I see often, when the body is worn down:
1. Tight muscles
2. Pain, especially in joints
3. Cycles of workout intensity, then pain, then inactivity. Then repeat.

You deserve a body that doesn’t limit you.  Life, free of pain and movement limitation, while being strong, is the goal. You can take back control and become educated enough to know when your body is in balance and your brain is playfully engaged. 

I get fired up about this because before functional training emerged in fitness, the industry had spent 50 years breaking down whole body training into isolation, uni-planar movement patterns, with far too much repetition. Now, everyone is claiming to be “functional”, like it’s a buzzword, rather than a distinctive style, and so many programs are counterfeit. 

You deserve more, and it’s my mission at Gymnazo to be more bold with what we know and empower our athletes to understand what true balanced, functional, multi-planar and brain stimulating movement feels like. Then, no matter where you move or where you go, you will be able to know when it’s time to rotate those tires.

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