When you think of exercise, what is the first thought that comes to mind? It may be a specific activity, such as running or lifting weights. It may be a physical feeling, like fatigue, soreness, or strength. It may be a goal, such as weight loss or completing a marathon. It may be an emotion, such as excitement, happiness, or possibly dread. But, when you think of exercise, is the first thing you think of “health”? Likely not, and unfortunately this disconnect between exercise being an activity you do for the sake of the activity instead of something you do for your health is contributing to you skipping a vital form of exercise.
Let’s start by classifying exercise into two types. The first type is exercise where you are using your body. The second type is exercise where you are building or rebuilding your body, i.e. (re)building. Now, you may be thinking, “All exercise involves me using my body,” and you would be correct, but stick with me. These two types of exercise are not mutually exclusive of one another – exercise that is using your body may also be (re)building your body, and vice versa. The difference between them boils down to two components: 1) Your intent or goal of doing the exercise and 2) Where your focus is while you are doing the exercise.
Exercise where you are using your body has a few defining characteristics. First, it utilizes what is called an external focus of attention. In other words, when you are doing the exercise, you are focusing on something that is outside of your body. For example, if you are doing a biceps curl, you would be focusing on moving the dumbbell up and down.
Second, the goal of exercise is something outside of the body, as well. This is often discussed as weight, time, reps, distance, or some other metric. The goal of your 5K may be to run it in under 25 minutes. The goal of doing your squats may be to do 200 pounds for five reps. All of these are goals that fall outside of the body.
Finally, there is a relative comparison involved with exercise where you are using your body. You may be trying to beat your time or weight from last week. You may be trying to do more reps in less time than the person next to you. You may be trying to score more points than the other team during your pickup basketball game. All of these are examples of comparing your performance today to either a past or current performance of yourself or somebody else.
On the flip side to all of this, exercise where you are (re)building your body utilizes an internal focus of attention. While you are doing the exercise, your sole focus is on what is going on within your body. An example with the biceps curl would be to focus on squeezing your biceps the entire time instead of thinking about moving the weight.
Second, the goal of doing exercise to (re)build your body is to improve the health and function of the various systems within your body, regardless of your external performance. What this means is that if you go into the gym and did 100 pounds on the leg extension machine last week, this week you aren’t trying to do 105 pounds. You are trying to improve how your quads are working or how your knees are working, regardless if you do more, less, or the same weight as last week.
Additionally, there is a lack of relative comparison when you are doing exercise to (re)build your body. You aren’t concerned about how many reps you did the previous workout, how many points the other team scores, or what the other person’s time is in the group fitness class. All of those comparisons go out the window when you are doing exercise to (re)build your body.
Here’s the problem: Exercise is traditionally taught, thought of, accepted, and celebrated as exercise that uses your body. Exercise to (re)build your body is either disregarded as a form of exercise or considered a “lesser” form. It may be seen as “not difficult”, or because there’s no pain, there’s no gain. Sometimes exercise to (re)build your body may be seen as “only for older people”.
But, exercise to rebuild your body is the only way you can participate in exercise that uses your body for an extended period of your life.
The alternative that we see is people bouncing from one form of exercise that uses their body to another. The forms of exercise being done are typically based on the orthopedic issues that the other forms of exercise may have contributed to. For example, it is not uncommon for prospective clients to tell us something along the lines of,
“When I was younger I would lift weights pretty heavy. But then my back and shoulders started to bother me, so I decided to easy off of that and pick up running. I ran multiple times a week for years, but then my knees and hips started to bother me. My friend said I should try swimming, so I started doing that once my knees and hips couldn’t take the running anymore, but now my shoulders are all flared up again.”
The above is a classic monologue that we hear all the time at MAS where the person has been active for most of their life, but only doing exercise that uses their body. Now that they are in their mid-forties and beyond, they are starting to feel all of the miles they have put on their system over the years. When prospective clients get to this point, they often feel frustrated because they want to be exercising, but they don’t know how to without their body aching.
In light of this, here are three ways that you can start incorporating exercise that (re)builds your body so the above monologue doesn’t become your story, as well.
1. Strategically Designed Internally Focused Resistance Training
This is a lot of words to get across the point of lifting weights, not for the sake of actually lifting the weights, but for the sake of squeezing your muscles. In fact, you may incorporate a lot of exercises where you aren’t moving at all, called isometric exercises. For these exercises, you may be just shoving against a solid surface or holding a specific position as something shoves against you. At Muscle Activation Schaumburg, we have a machine called the Isophit that is designed to do exactly this. In fact, for myself, about 80% of the exercise I do on a weekly basis is comprised of doing strictly isometric exercises. But, a strategically designed internally focused resistance training session does not have to be only isometrics. It can also involve moving really slowly or even a little bit faster, so long as the focus remains completely on squeezing your muscles, taking stock of how your joints are feeling, your goal is to improve the internal function of your body, and you do so without the ego of comparing yourself to your previous workouts. To find a list of qualified professionals in your area who can help you learn how to do this, click here. Additionally, you may also want to check out our free ebook on how to design a 6-week exercise program for yourself here.
2. Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®)
The entire goal of MAT® is to improve how your muscles are working. By making sure your muscles are working properly, you can ensure that you are able to use your muscles to do the activities you want to do. MAT® is a perfect example of exercise that (re)builds your body as its sole purpose is to improve the internal function of your body. If you think of your body like your car, exercise that uses your body is essentially you going out and racing your car. Eventually, you will need to get your car tuned up. This is what MAT® does for your muscles. To find a certified MAT® practitioner in your area, click here. You can also read more about MAT® on our blog here.
3. Do A Recovery Workout
One of the habits I took up in college was building in recovery workouts to my weekly and monthly plans. At least once a week I would have a recovery day where I would do a steady state cardio exercise for 20 minutes while keeping my heart rate around 120 beats per minute (bpm). Additionally, I would take one week every month and do a “deload” week where I would do the same workouts as before, but using 70% of the weight. Both of these tactics allowed my neuromuscular system to recover when I was starting to become more chronically fatigued. This allowed me to bounce back time and again and keeping doing exercise that used my body. Consider adding in a day or two each week as lighter recovery days where you are still working out but not as hard as you normally do.
One of the things that keeps a lot of people from continuing to be active as they would like is the feeling of their body breaking down or becoming intolerant to the activities they want to do. Whether it is golfing, going for a run, or running around the yard with your kids, your body has to be working well in order to remain active.
One way to help ensure that it stays working well is by adding in exercise that (re)builds your body into your weekly routine. By adding a day or two each week of this form of exercise, you can stack the deck in your favor to keep your activity levels high with each passing day. Remember, the goal of exercise that (re)builds your body is to improve asymptomatic deficits so you can keep using your body how you want. If you feel like your options for activity have become limited over the years, strongly consider adding in some internally focused resistance training, connecting with your local MAT® practitioner, and taking a day or two each week to do more recovery exercises.
If you would like to learn more about exercise that (re)builds your body, click here.