Eating Your Fitness Vegetables
Exercise Basics

Eating Your Fitness Vegetables

I am sure most of us have been told to eat our vegetables first.  Then you can have dessert.  Dessert becomes the reward for slogging through what may not be as tasty to us, even though we know we should eat those nutrient-dense items. 

In the long run, this is a good strategy.  It also works for other things, like doing the thing we don’t want to do before we get to move on to the fun stuff. 

When it comes to exercise, many of us tend to do what we like to do, what feels the best, and what we are good at.  While it is a great idea to be doing what you like (so that exercise becomes a habit), sometimes this approach can backfire.

What This Backfire Can Look Like

Let’s say you like to walk or run.  So that’s what you do.  For years, maybe even decades.  But eventually you end up in physical therapy with various strains, or even weaknesses in some areas (hamstrings, butt) and strengths in others (quadriceps).  These imbalances are often due to the nature of the exercise, but also how your body prefers to execute.  By that I mean you may have existing strong areas because of genetics, as well as general preferences for how you go about the activities you do in your life. 

For example, let’s say you have a preference for walking or running on level surfaces, like around the neighborhood or even on a track.  Flat surfaces will not challenge your butt the way going uphill or up a set of stairs will.  Your body can then become predisposed to not using your backside much even when you are faced with a hill or a set of stairs.  In fact, this is a fairly common problem.  The end result can be overworking of your thigh muscles when your butt could be doing a fine job of helping out.  When butts don’t work, another area that overworks can be your low back.  As we know, low back issues are a common occurrence.

How to Eat Your Fitness Vegetables

To find out if you have areas of weakness or imbalanced movement preferences, you can see a physical therapist or trainer for an evaluation.  Once you find out the areas to work on, it’s like eating your fitness vegetables.  When you address your weak or neglected areas first, it makes your other efforts much stronger going forward. 

In the above scenario, a solid program of strengthening your butt and core can assure that your walking or running will be a more coordinated, balanced effort.  And, just like what happens when you eat your vegetables, you will actually feel better. 

Strength Training Can Backfire

There is another way our efforts can backfire.  That would be with strength training.  Again, it is natural to do the things we are good at, and are comfortable with.  We are forward-oriented.  Most of the actions we take during the day involve using our front sides more so than our backsides.  We can easily become more interested in doing bicep curls and chest presses than triceps extensions or rowing.  Front motions can be easier for us, and so we may even end up doing more exercises for these areas.  If we are conscientious, we may work the weaker areas, but we may do them last, sometimes even as an afterthought.  At that point, we may already be tired.  Then the weaker areas don’t get the attention they need. 

Another aspect of this is that people are often more comfortable working the large muscles.  This is particularly true in the gym when people use a machine circuit.  People can become complacent, thinking they are hitting all the major muscle groups.  This may be true, but it is important to train some of the often overlooked and smaller muscle areas. 

For example, the chest or even the large latissimus dorsi (lats) in the back often are worked to the exclusion of the small but super important muscles of the rotator cuff.  Large muscles often help to protect and stabilize actions of the smaller ones, but the operative word is “help”.  Small muscles need to be strong on their own. Notice that you hear about a torn rotator cuff a lot more often than you hear of a torn chest (pectoralis) muscle.   

Again, here’s where consulting with a professional can be useful.  They can educate you about often-overlooked areas, and can give you an assessment of your particular problem areas.  There are many iterations of muscle imbalances and forgotten muscle groups, but examples would be the rotator cuff, forearms (wrists), ankles and front of the lower leg, and the transverse abdominus (an abdominal muscle).

One Final Note

Becoming aware of what you hate to do can help you discover the areas you need to work most.  Bummer, but it’s true.  Then do your least favorites first, when you are fresh. (After warming up, of course.)

So it goes with eating your fitness vegetables.  You may have to focus on it and maybe even force yourself, but the in the end you will be rewarded with workouts that keep you strong, balanced, and injury free.

All the best
Kristen

© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.


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