My last blog post gave 7 reasons to quit the gym in 2013. Whether you quit your gym or join one; whether you love your gym or hate it, the most important thing is to figure out what you want from your workouts.
What are your goals?
For years I only exercised to support my eating habit and maintain my weight. Losing those “last five pounds” was always my goal. Ironically, this never happened until I changed my focus. My fitness level skyrocketed when I stopped focusing on “vanity fitness” and started focusing on functional fitness: whole body workouts that helped me strengthen all of the muscles I need to carry out my God-given duties.
My perspective change came after years of orthopedic, chiropractic, physical, massage and other professional therapies. After flirting with multiple surgeries, succumbing to cortisone shots and spending thousands of dollars on a myriad of treatments, I’ve realized that my exercise goals need to address three fairly universal categories:
Developed Back and Shoulders. Tired of my forward slouch, chronic neck and shoulder pain, and lower back issues, I realized that too many hours at the computer, too many miles in the car, too many diapers changed, dishes washed and meals cooked caused me to perpetually hunch forward. With my head dangling in front of the rest of my body and shoulders pulling forward, my neck and upper back were taxed far beyond God's design.
How about you? Try to stand against a wall with the back of your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades and back of your head touching it. We are designed to walk upright. If you are unable to align your body vertically, you may be a victim of our society that keeps us hunched over our devices (or blessed to be hunched over small people all day). Consider a routine that focuses more on back and overall shoulder muscles than chest. (My physical therapist told me that most people over-do their chests and under-do their backs.)
What helped me: Focusing on back and shoulder fitness helped ease my neck and shoulder pain and helped me stand taller.
Total leg strength. For months after my son was born, I stopped any type of exercise (except for walking). I felt fine physically, but when I eventually re-started exercising, my knees did not respond well. Walking down the stairs or squatting down to pick up my son was intensely painful.
How about you? Can you do a squat or a lunge? We are designed to squat fully (Google “benefits of squatting to poop,” a blog entry for another day). If you are unable to squat or lunge, consider a routine that expands leg strength beyond hamstrings and quadriceps.
What helped me: Focusing on total leg strength with lunge-based exercises helped me strengthen the more obscure leg muscles that surround the knee. (My physical therapist encouraged me never to use the typical leg extension / leg curl machines again--and I haven't.)
Core. In the end, I figured out that all of my issues: back, neck, shoulder, hip and leg were core-related. I was surprised to learn that “core” was much more than doing crunches, and even more than reverse crunches, which I thought was advanced. Do you think you know what "core strength" is? Here’s a good primer.
How about you? If you have ever wished for better posture, or have nearly any joint inflammation issue, an exercise routine that includes core strengthening throughout it will help.
What helped me: By incorporating deep, diaphramitic breathing and core work into most exercises, I can work my whole core. I rarely do any focused ab work any more, yet my core is stronger than ever. It has even helped in areas I wasn't expecting, like the bedroom and bathroom. (A blog entry for a much later day.)
I’m not suggesting that looks or beauty don’t matter. (The fallacy that God doesn’t care about how we steward our appearance is a blog for another day.) But once I focused on being a better steward of the physical body that God designed for me, renewed my mind about how that could be accomplished--in spite of seemingly insurmountable responsibilities--and called on Him for help, I found the resources I needed. I started the intense exercises that address my goals, the last five pounds melted off, and I looked and felt better than I ever had. It also made exercising fun and--best of all--fast. Next up: resources!