These are a few exercises that are found in a typical fitness program. When they are done properly, they can build strength, endurance and health. Today, however, my goal is to challenge you.
Our bodies are master adapters. They can adaptively strengthen and weaken. They can adaptively loosen and tighten. They can adaptively condition and decondition. When we exercise, our bodies will often adapt by becoming better at the activity we are completing. Exercise is specific in this way. When we walk, our bodies will be better at walking. When we squat, our bodies will be better at squatting. When we do sit ups, our bodies will be better at sit-ups.
Now, let’s take a moment to analyze the activities our bodies are required to complete throughout a normal day. When I look at an average day in my life, I might be required to do a wide variety of tasks. I start out my day by making coffee (my mornings don’t start until this happens), which requires me to reach out in front of my body and fill the coffee pot with water. Next, I have to reach to a high shelf in the cupboard to retrieve a mug. If it is a Wednesday, I have to gather up all of the trash and roll the bin to the side of the road. On the way, if a rogue peanut butter container escapes, I have to be able to bend over and pick it up. At work, I have to reach far underneath a table to plug in my computer charger. If there is snow and I am walking outside, I have to maintain my balance on a slippery surface.
So, if our lives involve this much variability, shouldn’t our exercise programs?
Luckily, incorporating variability into our exercise programs is easy once we understand one simple concept. We exist in a world of three dimensions. There is the sagittal plane (forward and backward), the frontal plane (side to side) and the transverse plane (rotation). Every single activity we complete throughout our day requires us to operate within these three dimensions. Fortunately, it is easy to modify our exercise programs by emphasizing all three planes of motion.
Instead of only walking forward, you should try walking backwards or sidestepping for a few hundred feet. Instead of only lunging forward, you should try side lunging or lunging while rotating your hands to the right or left. Instead of squatting with feet shoulder width apart, you should try changing your stance to become narrower and wider, while turning your toes in or turning your toes out to the side. You could also try something new entirely. If you always walk, you could try playing tennis. If you always squat, perhaps you want to mix it up with a fitness class. The beauty of incorporating variability into your exercise routine is that there is really no “right” or “wrong” way to do it, but it will better prepare our bodies for our oftentimes unpredictable (and always three dimensional) lives.