Have you ever searched for the best exercise to strengthen a muscle or the best exercise for an activity like running or the best exercise to burn fat from a particular area? The bad news is, there isn’t one even though the search engine will give you thousands of answers. We need the skill to be able to perform our favourite activities well.
Most of what we read and hear about fitness and running is all about performance – weight, sets, reps, pace, speed, distance – and that’s what we then measure ourselves against but what we’re not told, or hear very little of, is that everything depends on us having the skill to do things in the first place. Sure, we can all run, do squats, lift weights but how do we know we are getting the best out of the exercises? We all perform exercises differently and our ability to them to the best of our ability comes down to a number of factors. Take the squat or press up, for example, and you could watch 10 people in the same room do either exercise and while you’ll see all 10 go down and get back up again, you’ll see 10 different ways of doing it. It’s the same with running, you can look at many runners running but you’ll see lots of variations in the way they run. It’s not to say they’re all wrong, it’s just a number of things have happened in order for them to perform the way they do.
Running is a skill, so is squatting and so is doing press ups. So is every other exercise or activity. The problem is, most of us don’t work on our skills to perform these activities, we just do them. That can be ok and we can go through life performing these activities without any issues but it can become a problem when trying to become better. In running, we want to be able to run further or faster (or both), in squatting we want to lift heavier and in press ups, we want to be able to do more. We might be able to make some progression but that progression may be limited and frustration will kick in eventually when we don’t see continual improvement.
Common things I hear are runners saying their glutes are weak and they need to strengthen them and exercisers say their arms are not strong enough for doing press ups. This often results in runners doing lots of exercises to strengthen their glutes or even find exercises to activate their glutes before a run and exercisers looking for exercises to strengthen their arms so that they can do press ups better. The strength (or lack of) of these muscles isn’t the problem, we need to look at why the issue exists. After all, it’s impossible to move forwards without activating the glutes and if our arms weren’t strong, we’d struggle to eat without getting tired. The problem is, we lack the skill to perform these exercises as well as we want to be able to do them.
A lot of the issues here come from modern lifestyles where we sit down all day at work and usually drive their and home again meaning that most of our day is spent in a seating position. For the exerciser, this means that the upper back becomes stiff and given that the power of the press up comes from between the shoulder blades, we don’t have the mobility in the upper back for our shoulder blades to come together and so it’s more likely that the arms are trying to do the work of the chest, shoulders and upper back and struggling. For the runner, it’s not that the glutes aren’t working, the position of the hips from sitting all day means that it’s likely that the hips struggle with extension, which would naturally engage the glutes. With that in mind, its unlikely that doing exercises to work a specific muscle would have any benefit to the exercise.
The solution? Try replicating the movements you need to do in your chosen activity and not only will it enhance your performance, it will also lessen your risk of injury. Injury usually occurs from not having enough skill for the task you’re trying to do or just bad luck so it would make sense to train the body to be better prepared for what you need it to do. Instead of trying to train the muscles involved in the activity separately, try training the body to be more efficient in the movements of running, golf, squats, press ups and you will have all the associated muscles primed for the way you need them. Success might be closer than you think!
If you would like to develop your skill for running, press ups or any other activity, get in touch or check out my playlists on Healthclub TV