A lot of people think that being “fit” means having a nice body. For some, that means being muscular and lean; for others, it’s just about being thin. But working out simply to “look good” can be problematic for a number of reasons…

It’s not practical. The kinds of movements you need to function day to day, are not necessarily the same kinds of movements you need to look good. A leg press machine (while it can give you bigger leg muscles) isn’t going to help you much if you step off the sidewalk the wrong way and twist your ankle.

It’s unattainable. No matter what you do – if you are focused on appearances – you are likely NEVER going to be satisfied. There will always be some kind of impossible beauty standard to live up to. Can you say photoshop and plastic surgery?

It’s not sustainable. Suppose through a lot of hard work in the gym and very strict eating habits, you did manage to attain that look you are going for, there’s a good chance that at some point in your life, you will fall off the bandwagon. People go through phases. They get busy at work. They have children. They get sick. They age. When this happens and your body doesn’t look perfect anymore, are you going to start feeling bad about yourself? Hopefully not. Exercising because it helps you feel and move better is motivating. You should want to do it, and not lose that ability.

Also, most people don’t realize this until it happens, but if you get injured or sick, it could take a LONG time to get better. From getting an initial visit with a specialist, to waiting for surgery (if you need it), to rehabbing, could easily take a year or more. Shorter if you are really lucky, but most likely longer. That’s a chunk out of your life during which you are restricted in some way, and who wants that?

Wouldn’t it be smarter to look at fitness from a different perspective? In my opinion, exercising to develop physical literacy and to prevent injury is a much better way to go. As injury happens when your body is forced into a position that it is unaccustomed to and/or not ready for, preparing you body for the unexpected just makes sense.

A person should expect the unexpected, and train accordingly. Here are a few tips on how to do this…

Train mobility, or strength through a full range of motion. Human bodies are designed to bend, twist, stretch, and take on many positions. The more limited your abilities are in this regard because of lack of use, the greater chances you have of being injured. Don’t let that happen. Practice putting your body in the positions it was meant to achieve. If you are not sure what those are, watch any small child – they move freely, their bodies yet to be tainted by a life of sitting to much.

Forget the machines, and do exercises that require you to move under your own steam. Remember, preventing injury is about making the unfamiliar, familiar. So it’s all great to run on a treadmill and do reps a peck deck machine, but what are you practicing for? Running on a treadmill and doing reps a peck deck machine?

Whatever positions or angles or loads your body might encounter in the real world are the things you need to be practicing. And while machine sometimes mimic real activity, they are designed with limitations in mind, which is exactly why they are problematic. Push outside your comfort zone as well, because those “just a little beyond the normal” ranges (or things you haven’t been doing) are when injuries happen. Obviously, it’s important to do this carefully and slowly.

Pay attention to the little things. Work wrists, ankles, neck, fingers, toes – all of it. Even the function of the smallest parts of your body contribute to your overall wellbeing. As you saw in the video on the benefits of the bodyweight squat, something as seemingly trivial as a collapsed arch in the foot can affect overall body position and function, and not in a good way. Everything is connected. Also, it’s often those little things that are the most vulnerable in an accident situation, in part, because you never paid attention to them in the first place.

Exercise your body as a whole. Exercising “legs only” or “chest only” is great if you only care about how you look, but for any sport or day-to-day activity, doing this just doesn’t make sense. Even if it appears as if someone is just using their arms (to throw a ball, or swing a bat, or slap a stick), the rest of their body is engaged (however poorly) as well. Injury can easily happen when you are doing something with one part of the body, but another part of your body isn’t fully engaged or prepared.

Then, oops, you’ve thrown out your back, or messed up your shoulder or knee, etc. Considering that you get good at things through mindful repetition, doing full body exercises when you train or in the very least, paying attention to your ENTIRE body no matter what exercise you are doing, is a good idea to keep everything primed. Exercise to master your machine and you’ll be much better off than if you just exercise just to make that machine look good.

So there you have it: some tips on how and why you should train for injury prevention. I hope this information helps you on your journey to a healthier, more mobile and injury-free life. 

That’s been a word from me (Dr. Chris) – #notyoureverydayortho 🙂

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