One of my favorite questions I get asked is:
"Don't heavy weights make you bulky?"
It's not the "tool" that makes the difference. It's how you use the tool that matters.
In the same sense, exercise itself is a "tool" for body transformation. I recently asked this question on my Instagram:
What results are you looking for with exercise?
- Fat loss?
- Muscle mass?
- Performance enhancement?
- Pain relief?
- Fun? (that's right, I said "fun")
Exercise can do all those things. But not all at once. And the trouble is that most of us lump all of those goals into the single category of "exercise" and think that by just getting your sweat on a few times per week you can pat yourself on the back for getting closer to those goals. That approach will leave you frustrated because in trying to accomplish all of them...you won't feel like you are making real progress in any of them. Instead, narrow your focus and prioritize which results you are looking for from exercise.
Let's break these goals down a bit further:
As much as we are marketed to about belly-fat-melting-workouts or calorie-burning-cardio, when it comes to fat loss, diet is king. And we're not talking about starving yourself here either. There's a healthy way to nourish fat loss in your body. But if you're not eating the foods that encourage your body to utilize its excess fat stores for energy, achieving your fat loss goals is going to be a real slog.
Here's where exercise does come into play though -- the more muscle mass you have on your body, the more energy your body requires for upkeep of that lean tissue. In simple speak, when you focus on adding muscle with your exercise program, you can increase your metabolic rate so you burn more calories in everyday life even while at rest.
Strength can mean all kinds of things. The most common is probably physical strength -- improving your power to accomplish tasks. This is what gives you that feeling of having superhero powers;)
But strength can also refer to injury resilience and the joint stability that comes from fortifying your soft tissue and bones. It can even mean mental toughness -- improving your ability to withstand the uncomfortable physical pressure required to make changes in your body. Exercise can enhance your strength in all these ways.
This goal can be very different for each individual. Health can mean re-balancing your hormones. Health can mean mobilizing your lymphatic system and clearing toxins. Health can mean enhancing coordination to make you more efficient with activities of daily living. Health can mean fortifying joints and soft tissue to make you more resilient to injuries. Health can mean moving for movement's sake just to feel alive & energetic.
Health can even mean coping with & gaining control over those mental demons. Using exercise for mental relief -- a way to escape all the thoughts or worries streaming through your head as you channel your energy into your body -- is HUGE. We tend to think of meditation as someone sitting on top of a mountain with their legs crossed, eyes closed and barely moving. But exercise can serve as a form of Zen-like meditation as well, provided you are fully present in your body. This is why I never use music when training myself or clients. Music is awesome and powerful...but in this situation, it is a distraction. In order for your workout to have the benefits of a meditation, you need to be fully in your body, focused on what you are feeling and completely aware of your intentions with every move you make.
Remember when we talked about fat loss above? This is where we can link up that goal to muscle mass as a method for increasing your overall metabolism. Besides having an impact on fat loss, muscle mass can be important for aesthetic goals in another way. This doesn't only apply to the gym buffs who want to look like Arnold. Increasing muscle mass is also essential for developing that lean, toned look that gives the appearance of being a fit, healthy, athlete.
When you add muscle, you can focus on gaining volume or density. Think of volume as increasing the overall size of your body...while density is more aligned with "muscle tone" goals. And as you may guess, your workout program can determine which results you get.
As a dancer who already takes class every day (sometimes multiple times a day) and spends hours rehearsing, it's hard to imagine dedicating any more time to improving your technique. And yet, you still feel that your dancing has room for improvement. If you're already doing all that you can in the studio, how can you give yourself an edge? The answer lies not in more repetition and rehearsal, but in something completely different - your cross-training.
Exercise can serve as a method of performance enhancement by optimizing your physical body and what it is capable of. When done in a specific way, the results of cross-training can transfer directly over to your dance technique. You'll balance better. Turn better. Jump higher. Get less winded. Increase your speed. Improve your control and coordination. Feel lighter on your feet. Not by logging more hours on the Marley, but by focusing on your fitness through exercise. Think of it as a warp zone for your dancing.
Whether you are recovering from a catastrophic injury that has forced you to take months off from your dancing or dealing with chronic, stubborn pain that has been plaguing you for years (you know, that tight hip flexor or TFL that just won't release no matter how much you roll it out!), exercise can help. Not only can your training aid in healing and rebuilding the specific injured area, but it can correct imbalances and movement patterns (usually caused by weakness in a seemingly unrelated area) that may have been the culprit of your pain in the first place. Whether you are a dancer who needs your body to function at its highest athletic capacity or a "normal" who doesn't want to be distracted by annoying aches...we all have a need for pain relief so we can channel our full energy and passion into our careers and lives.
It's totally okay to use exercise as a means of having plain ole fun! Whether you see it as a chance to get outside and experience nature or meet up with a friend or two, it can be a great way to just enjoy being in your body and alive. I'm normally not a fan of group classes...but they can be an awesome opportunity for fun if you enjoy social situations like that. And sometimes you just need an excuse to step away from your work and do something for yourself for once. Exercise can fill that role.
Yes, you can get all these results from exercise. But here's what no one tells you - you can't optimize them all at once. You need a specific approach to get specific goals. When you exercise, know what you are trying to accomplish. "Exercise" is such a general term, and there's no doubt that it can be a powerful tool for self-improvement. But if you don't narrow your focus as to what you want to accomplish with your exercise (& then find someone to help guide you on that path if necessary)...it can leave you frustrated and be a waste of your time and energy. Sometimes it can even lead you further from your goals depending on the actions you take.
This is why program design is so essential for achieving the goals you desire. It can make the difference in whether you end up looking like a lean gazelle ready for the stage...or a body builder gearing up for a competition. Neither version is wrong...it's just a matter of what will make you the most comfortable & confident in your body while aligning with your goals.
Not that there isn't anything useful about just getting your sweat on and moving for movement's sake...but if you have specific goals that you want to achieve with your exercise...you must also have a specific plan with your exercise. In other words, use your tool wisely.
PC: Estilo Antunes