Keep fit and keep healthy we are told. But what exactly is the best way to keep fit? Do we really benefit from all those workouts at the gym? Or is there a better way?
Today’s gyms have a staggering array of fitness equipment, in fact, many people comment that they can work muscles they didn’t know they had! The brains at the heart of the fitness industry recognize an almost insatiable thirst for new machines to work our bodies in ways they haven’t been worked before. But is all this equipment really doing us any good?
When you use the latest machine to build a muscle so obscure even your physical therapist would be pushed to locate it, ask yourself whether you think this muscle should be used in this way. Sure, the equipment manufacturer will try to convince you that your life will be much improved if you develop your illiobicolatismus muscle - I made that one up :0) – but just stop for a moment and think whether your body would naturally use it in this way?
Every muscle in your body is involved in some way or another in every movement you make. Whether it’s flexing a limb, preventing injury to a joint or stabilising the rest of your structure, every movement involves every muscle in an integrated and coordinated way. Could exercising individual muscles with modern gym equipment upset our natural coordination?
Another question that needs to be asked is whether working out in this manner really enhances our well being. Of course exercise does produce feel good hormones such as endorphins but does it engage and challenge our whole organism? Does using an exercise bike or treadmill whilst watching MTV match a ride or jog outside? In my opinion, unless we are fully ‘present’ or ‘in the moment’ we do not get the full benefit from any activity.
Remember how much fun you had as a child playing basketball or soccer with your friends. A good competitive game would challenge you on all levels as you had to think about strategy, tactics and technique. Your brain, all of your muscles and cardio-vascular system would get a great workout not to mention your self-confidence, social skills and ability to negotiate.
I believe participating in a sport will offer us all of these benefits and then some. Why not learn a new sport or pick up where you left off before you thought fitness was about going to a gym. Look at your physical activities as a way to develop your whole self and you will learn skills applicable to life in general. And, you will get fit and stay fit in the process anyway.
Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport for the last 10 years. His new book ‘Zone Mind, Zone Body’ looks at how you can take your fitness and performance to a new level by doing less. This doesn’t mean putting your feet up, it means learning to train smarter. More information about his unique approach to training can be found by clicking Zone Mind, Zone Body