I am not a bodybuilder but one thing that seems quite obvious to me is that the weighted exercises people mostly do in gyms rarely reflect movements that are of use in day-to-day life. No one has ever used a bicep curl to improve their ability to carry the weekly shopping bags. Moreover, these movements are often limited to one plane of movement around one joint, which any body sculpting geek will advise is only relevant when you have a lot of muscle generally and want to tone particular areas. On the other hand, functional fitness training exercises such as pull-ups, press-ups, squats, and kettlebell swings work groups of muscles, including your core, to build power in movements you can use like pushing and pulling.
By no means am I saying that weight training is bad, I do it myself regularly; but it is very important to understand why you are exercising. If you want endurance you would do more cardio like running; if you want to lose weight you will probably do a mixture of weights and cardio; and if you want to get hench then you will likely focus on weights. Most people just want to be in good shape and maintain pain-free movement throughout their body and in this case you would not focus just on weight training because poor form or a lack of stretching can easily lead to injuries. If I squat 90kg I won’t be able to walk tomorrow; whereas if I do a functional fitness training squat like Ido Portal and Roger Frampton I’ll develop strength and agility throughout my lower body.
Most important of all is that you do some sort of exercise regularly. This is mostly driven by what you enjoy and if that is weight training by all means go for it. But do not go all in without understanding and trying to mitigate the risks. Understand the importance of perfect form and stretching in weight training, lest your posture be ruined by doing too much bench press and never stretching your pecs. In the same way, runners need to think about their form and weight distribution in order to avoid shin splints and stress fractures. For people in the latter situation, they might consider exercises easier on the joints like swimming. Do what you enjoy but understand the risks and adapt accordingly. I choose functional fitness training as it gives me the right blend of weight loss, strength and agility.
So we have discussed various reasons why we should focus more on movement as opposed to just weights, but here are my key tips on how you can go about that:
- Do more functional fitness training exercises , e.g. pull-ups, press-ups, squats and handstands. Build up to them if you cannot already do them
- If you do weights, make sure you stretch after in some way. You could even try yoga or pilates.
- Incorporate HIIT [High Intensity Interval Training] for cardiovascular health, e.g. sprints
For all you gym buffs out there who think I’m spoiling your fun, that’s really not my intention. I just want to make sure that you can build your perfectly sculptured body but still be able to move properly after training day!
Dr Dilraj Kalsi uses Lifestyle Medicine and Digital Health to empower patients to reverse disease via his online clinic Hippocrates Lounge. He is a Lecturer in Digital Health at the University of Warwick and publishes regularly on patient empowerment with colleagues from Oxford University. For all his latest health tips straight to your inbox, sign up here!