***This is a repeat of a blog I wrote in 2020, so I apologize if you experience déjà vu. But from what I hear and see in the fitness & dance worlds...most of us can benefit from hearing this crucial information more than once.
One of my favorite questions I get asked is:
"Don't heavy weights make you bulky?"
They can...if you train a certain way & follow a certain diet.
They can also make you lean, toned, invincible and light-on-your-feet...if you train a certain way & follow a certain diet.
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. It's important to understand what you want to use your exercise for in order to get the results you WANT. And that starts with asking yourself this crucial question:
What results are you looking for from your workouts?
- Fat Loss
- Muscle Mass
- Performance Enhancement
- Pain Relief
- Fun (that's right, I said "fun")
Exercise can do all these things. But not all at once. The trouble is that most of us lump all these 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. In trying to accomplish all of them...you won't make any real progress in any of them. Instead, narrow your focus & prioritize which result is most important to you right now.
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 add muscle, your metabolic rate increases so you burn more calories in everyday life even while at rest, resulting in fat loss (provided you are eating properly).
Strength can mean all kinds of things. The most common is probably the physical strength associated with improving your power to accomplish tasks. (Feels like having superhero powers & gives you confidence to climb buildings to escape a zombie apocalypse.) Dancers don't often think of needing to enhance their strength...but focusing on building the right kind of strength is probably the most important factor to peak performance.
But strength can also refer to injury resilience and the joint stability that comes from fortifying your soft tissue & bone structure. It can even mean mental toughness -- improving your ability to withstand the uncomfortable 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 & 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 decrease everyday aches & pains or rehabbing from 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.
PC: Juan P. Zapata @JPZimage
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 strength (and non-bulky) 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 & rehearsal, but in something completely different outside the studio - 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. By optimizing your body through specific cross-training...your dancing automatically gets better.
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 & pains...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 to 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 get them all at once. You need a specific approach to get specific results. 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 (& find someone to help guide you on that path if necessary)...it can leave you frustrated. At best, unfocused exercise can be a waste of your time and energy. At worst, it can lead you further from your goals.
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.
The important take-away message here is that there is a specific & different formula for achieving each of the results above. 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.
Video credit: James Diaz Photography @jamesdiaz_photography