Use it or Lose it

Use it or Lose it
Back to Fundamentals: using our bodies the way they were intended to be used through movement, not stationed in front of a monitor

I just returned from the Perform Better 3-day functional training summit in Rhode Island and am further convinced that movement is the panacea for many of the health problems (i.e., diabetes, obesity, heart disease, back pain) faced by our American society. I had the opportunity to see a variety of speakers, and one of the things that they shared was the belief that there are fundamental movement patterns that we develop as an infant and child that are important to proper function (Gray Cook & Lee Burton). For example, ever notice the process an infant goes through in learning to roll over. I currently have a 7-month old and it was a fascinating process to observe her trying to figure out how to get from her back to her stomach and then eventually return to her back. The coordination, the proper sequencing to get everything working together in order to roll tells us a lot about the human body and how it is supposed to work. The human body is a “linked” system. In simple terms, everything is connected and meant to work together. If there is a break in this “chain” then the result is improper function that will result in some sort of compensation and most likely injury. This just confirms to me that going to the gym and moving from one seated weight machine to the next is not the proper way to train. Training should consist of a variety of movements that challenge the entire “kinetic chain”. Many of these movements will be performed in a standing position, and will include one or more of the 4 pillars of movement: pushing and /or pulling, level changes such as a squat or lunge, rotation or stability against rotation (hip and shoulder rotation not lumbar spine), and locomotion (i.e., marching, walking, running, skipping).

Ever observe a child playing in a deep squat position, with their rear ends just hovering off of the floor? My 3-year old and 5-year old do it all the time. Guess what, we all did at one time. So what happened? As we grew older we moved less and less, and sat at our desks more and more. Our muscles in the front of our bodies got shorter and the muscles in the back got weaker. We played less and less, and worked more, 50-60 hours per week. Exercise, which used to include running, jumping, and climbing became 30 minutes on a treadmill. As a result we lost what we once had, which brings me to the idea of “use it, or lose it.” Todd Wright, the strength coach for the University of Texas basketball team, drove this point home in his lecture at the conference, and attributed the obesity epidemic in children to the lack of movement versus poor nutrition. I think he is right.

When I was a kid my friends and I would all meet before school started in the mornings and we would play basketball, touch football, or punch ball. At lunchtime we would do the same, then we would have physical education class in the afternoon. After school we would race home, do our homework, and then went outside again and got right back at it until dinner. This was a typical day, and I even remember in the winter bringing shovels to the schoolyard so we could clear the courts so we could play, and at lunchtime, when we obviously didn’t have shovels after a big snow, we invented our own game of “tackle basketball”. There were no computers, Internet, ipods, Nintendo Wii, or cell phones with text messaging. We moved all of the time and the kids who were heavier moved significantly less and were fewer in number than there are today. Did we eat better than today’s children? Hell no! Burger King, Hi-C, Pizza, Entenmanns, ding-dongs, and ice cream were staples for me; and I like my friends and many kids of that generation were skinny as rails. That tells me, as it did Todd Wright, that the difference exists in the decrease in movement not the increase in calories and crappy food. Therefore, although nutrition education for children is important more resources need to be put into getting physical education back into the schools, returning recess to the daily schedule, and providing our children with more opportunities to be physically active when they are at home. Just to be clear, with adults looking to lose weight, nutrition is the most important factor. I am not saying that movement is the sole solution for weight loss, what I am saying is, that movement is the primary tool to prevent weight gain in children.

In short, we are provided with this fantastic vessel at birth, a clean slate, with incredible physical potential. The physical feats that some have been able to achieve is simply amazing. What we can achieve can be attributed to what we do with this gift just as our limitations can be attributed to what we don’t do.

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