Are there activities beyond those that you have to perform at work that you simply enjoy? Perhaps going for a jog, fishing, hiking…there are an infinite number of activities that we perform on a regular basis that have become part of who we are. Consider how you would feel if you couldn’t perform those activities anymore because you got hurt, perhaps because you weren’t prepared? It would feel pretty crappy right? Now think back to your reasons to exercise – have you ever viewed it as a magic pill that allows you to do all the things you need or want to do. It can.
But, to make exercise matter – to ensure its impact extends beyond the training environment – we must always remember the reasons why we are exercising in the first place. For most of us, exercise is a means to improve safety or performance at work, maintain a fitness level so that recreational activities such as golf or hiking can be enjoyed, or support a healthy lifestyle long into retirement. Regardless of our motivation to be physically active, adherence in the long-term will be likely be tied to the extent to which we see a direct benefit to our quality of life. In other words, we must perceive benefit from the exercise!
If your exercise program had an immediate impact on your safety, performance and productivity at work, but little to no impact on your quality of life, would these benefits be enough to keep you engaged? Probably not, particularly for those of us who enjoy being active with friends and family. Your exercise program should be structured to have a positive impact on the things that truly matter!
Building on theoretical foundations of exercise science, biomechanics, ergonomics, motor learning, physiology, psychology and coaching, several researchers have started to explore the utility of exercise to change behaviors. For example, performing a particular exercise or group of exercises repeatedly in a semi-controlled environment has shown to elicit changes in the way that performers move while completing a range of unrehearsed tasks of varying loads and speeds. However, the direction of change (whether they get better or worse) appears to be influenced by the instructions and feedback provided while exercising, and the attention that is given to how each exercise is performed.
When an emphasis was placed on select key movement patterns that have been associated with a higher injury risk and poor performance (e.g. control of spine flexion and frontal plane knee motion), firefighters’ movement patterns improved post-training. In comparison, when an emphasis was placed on fitness alone, the firefighters exhibited less control of their low backs and knees following the exercise intervention in comparison to before they started. Frost et al. J Strength Cond Res 29(9): 2441–2459, 2015.
One of the most important factors to elevating our capacity is the realization that the way we move every single day can have a dramatic impact on our lives. If exercise is viewed as a way to establish desirable movement behaviors, there is evidence to suggest that an emphasis should be placed on engraining select key movement features (e.g. spine and frontal plane knee motion control) that have been shown to be or cited as possible injury mechanisms, or performance-limiting factors. Against this backdrop, exercise can and perhaps should be used strategically to stabilize or engrain these desirable patterns using a variety of frequencies, intensities, times and types of activities such that they emerge and persist in relevant activities beyond the exercise environment.
Using a range of loads, speeds, activities, etc. to improve a performer’s control and coordination of these key features is critical to the transfer of exercise since it would not be possible to practice every possible activity they may encounter in life. Instead, introducing gradual changes to the demands, complexity of the activity, and training environment could alter the habitual patterns used to perform several life-related activities without having to replicate these exact tasks. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that there may be attributes, or “key features”, of an individual’s movement behaviour that are common to a range of activities. The hope is that a desirable behavior emerges as a new habit.
Although exercise provides an excellent opportunity to engrain desirable behaviors such as spine and frontal plane knee motion control, rehearsing an undesirable movement pattern could lead to undesirable consequences. Attention must be given to how we exercise to maximize the potential benefits. Having great strength, endurance and aerobic capacity will have little influence on our safety, performance and quality of life if we move in an undesirable manner. It is often stated that practice makes perfect; however, the truth is that practice makes permanent. Only perfect (deliberate) practice makes perfect. Bad practice leads to bad habits.