Going to The Gym

Bill Fabrocini: PT, CSCS

I spend a great deal of time in gyms all over the country. It is part of my job both as a physical therapist and trainer. Much of the time, I watch and observe in frustration as people lift weights with no thought at all about the alignment of their joints, particularly their very fragile spine. In the task-oriented world we live in, it does in fact seem to be all about completing the task without any thought of the consequences. Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions of squats or leg presses with a hundred pounds, and you get a medal for finishing but no consideration is given to “how” you completed the exercise set. Did your knees buckle inward, did you round or hyper extend your back like a gymnast as you squatted down, did your head shoot forward like a turtle, and did your feet turn way out like a ballet dancer? I am here to tell you that other things matter a great deal more than completing the set. Before I get into these intricate details, let’s first discuss why they matter, and first and foremost, what the objective should be in putting your body through the strain and hardship of weight training exercises in the first place.

Make no mistake, the primary purpose for the typical exercises we do in the gym (whether at home or in a club) is to reinforce good patterns of movement that we need for everyday life. Think about it, squatting is simply sitting in a chair, lunging is what we often do to pick things off the floor, pushing and pulling relate to a wide arrange of daily tasks such as lifting objects over our head and opening doors. These movements are also common to sports whether it be golf (rotational movements) or skiing (lateral lunges). Everything we do in the gym becomes an expression of what we do outside the gym. If we do things in the gym with proper alignment and form, we train our bodies to minimize the loads on our joints, and then we are more likely to repeat the same patterns in daily life. Most of the ailments people suffer from, ailments such as low back pain, hip or knee arthritis, or tendonitis, are simply because they performed the movements I discussed above the wrong way repeatedly.

Think about it, how many times have you squatted in your life? If you are around my age of 48 or older and think a few hundred times, a few thousand times perhaps, think again. How about a few hundred thousand times to possibly over a million times. Same goes with lunging, and these numbers probably only factor into daily life. If you go to the gym and workout with weights or machines, add onto that the strain of performing these movements under loads and stresses that accelerate the wear and tear on your joints. That is why the blue print matters.

Have you ever picked up a hobby such as dancing, golf, or even something as simple typing? Imagine if you were taught the wrong steps in the tango, grip for the golf swing, or the hand position on the keyboard. Now imagine you rehearsed these skills the wrong way for several years. How much harder would it be then to correct these dysfunctional patterns? It would probably be better if you started from scratch all over again because the original blueprint is faulted. That is just the way our brains work.

Remember when you first learned to walk. If you don’t, simply watch a one year old going through the process. Every step is a conscious effort – the step length and width and the arm position. Thousands and thousands of steps are analyzed by our main computer framework, the brain. Then over time, the process of walking no longer becomes a conscious effort but rather automatic. I would hope that none of us really must think about walking anymore and that it is an ingrained software pattern in our brain.

So where am I going with all of this? Squatting, lunging, rotating, pushing, and pulling should be ingrained software patterns in our brains. The problem is that for many people, the software is flawed because for years, we have been doing it the wrong way. Not only that, but those who exercise reinforce these poor patterns under loads and stresses. No wonder their bodies eventually break down. It’s time to learn how to walk all over again and to move away from task completion mentality to one of conscious effort of how we move. It should not simply be about going to the gym to lose weight or to lift weights to make our muscles bigger and stronger. On the contrary, it should be all about performing purposeful movements that transfer over into everything we do in life. Of course, we can still get fit along the way and develop muscle mass in a proportionate manner. However, these are the byproducts of performing movements with correct alignment and form especially when under the loads of weights.

It takes a little bit of work and some open mindedness, but the benefits far outweigh the ease of repeating the same old stagnant program that will only break your body down. I think you will the find the information precious to your longevity.