3 Essential Ingredients for
Making Real Progress
No matter your fitness goals, sweat won’t spell success unless you’ve taken care of these things first
3 minute read
What does fitness mean to you?
We all have different motivations that drive us to exercise. Maybe you want to lose weight, or build muscle. Maybe you want to get stronger, or improve your endurance. Maybe it’s all of these. Maybe it’s none of them. Maybe you just want to look good naked.
No matter your motivation, chances are that when you get it you want to jump right in: Sign up for ALL the classes; lift the HEAVIEST weights. Push through the pain; put the pedal to the metal. Giddy up, let’s go. If you want results, you’ve got to work for it – amiright?
This approach makes implicit sense. If you want to make progress, you do need to push yourself. But to actually derive the maximum benefit from your exercise – to lock in new patterns that enable you to make real, lasting improvement – there are three things you just can’t skip, no matter what outcome you’re after.
Yes, breathing is an essential function that distributes oxygen around your body and – you know – keeps you conscious. But when it comes to your movement, it plays another role.
Your ability to breathe through an exercise communicates to your nervous system that everything is A.O.K. The opposite is also true. When something is pushing your limits, you start holding your breath. You get red in the face and your body tenses. It generally feels pretty terrible.
This is your nervous system’s fight or flight response saying “Nope! Get me out of here.” Your body is on the defensive, trying to protect you from perceived threat of injury. Which is nice n’ all, but it also means that you won’t experience your full range of motion. You won’t get the full benefit out of the exercise, and you won’t lock in any positive change.
In other words, you won’t improve.
“If you cannot control your desired breathing in a shape or pattern, you cannot own it.”
– Jake Richter, lead strength coach, Movement108
When you maintain measured breathing, you’re telling your nervous system “I’ve got this,” which allows your brain to accept how you’re moving and adopt it as the new normal. This is what makes it possible for you to continue experiencing that range of motion comfortably in the future. Everything will feel better in the moment and – as your body begins to trust the new movement pattern – you’ll be able to see improvement that really sticks.
As adults, we can carry around a lot of tension. It could be stress, the way you sit at your desk all day, or that old injury you never fully recovered from. It could be anything. But the fact is, if you’re feeling tight or restricted – you aren’t moving the way you’re built to. Your range of motion is reduced and your body is working overtime trying to maintain normal function.
In this state, your ability to improve is limited. You might find creative ways to keep going and maintain the status quo, but without the ability to breathe and move in a full range of motion, you can’t get the full benefit of an exercise. You won’t be able to lock in positive changes in the long-term.
If you’re feeling challenged by something, first make sure you’re breathing well. When you’ve got that down, open up your body with different, low impact movements that mobilize your joints. Only when you’re breathing fully and moving well through a full range of motion should you move on to –
With your body opened up and moving the way it should, you can begin to add stability to help lock in the healthy movement. Only when you’ve successfully built stability into a full range of motion can you effectively load up exercises to develop sustainable strength and improve your performance.
“You cannot build true, lasting functional strength without first mobilizing and stabilizing the body.”
– Jake Richter, lead strength coach, Movement108
Each of these elements – breath, mobility, and stability – informs the next. To really move well, you need all 3 working together. If one isn’t present, your body isn’t working optimally. This means you’ll find it hard (or impossible) to make real progress, and you’re more likely to injure yourself in the process.
This is true for all of us – no matter who you are, what you do, or how much you exercise. Some of us are too tight, some of us are too mobile, and sometimes what you need to maintain balance changes. The way you slept last night, what you did over the weekend, or even how you just spent your afternoon – subtle aspects of your daily life affect what you need to help move your best.
Luckily, developing balanced breath, mobility and stability isn’t as hard as it sounds. With a few minutes of intentional movement each day, you can learn to understand your physical needs and how to address them. You’ll build a solid foundation that helps you move your best in every environment: at work, at play, in the gym or – you know – in your birthday suit.
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