Be Your Own Teacher: Self Limiting Exercise

"You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity." - Mr. Miyagi 

Popular exercise culture has always been a numbers game (quantity). Numbers are good. If you do zero, you’re not moving the needle. However, numbers are also infinite. Without a governor on the process, you can push your body past it’s capabilities, leading to an increased risk of injury. No bueno. 

Focusing on feel and perception helps our members find a happy medium. We encourage them to lift heavy things but only to the point that they feel safe. The alternative, sitting on a machine and pushing a stack of weights, it’s not explicitly obvious when they should stop, and next thing you know there’s a shoulder injury to deal with. 

So, as coaches, what checks and balances can we put on the fitness process to increase your likelihood of success while not over managing the process?

The answer is creating what Gray Cook, the creator of Functional Movement Systems, calls “a sensory rich environment.” Taking people off of machines, and asking them to stand, walk, carry, balance, roll, breath, and keep posture, gives them guidelines so they can feel to stop themselves. 

Let’s explore 3 exercise or techniques you can do that will get you strong and while allowing your body to tell you when enough is enough.

Farmer’s Carry

Most of our clients find us from other gyms, coming from an environment of more is better! As coaches, it’s our job to keep people safe, but also not to crush their dreams. If you want to pick up heavy things, the Farmer’s Carry is your best teacher. Walking with a weight in each hand, you’re instructed to stay tall, maintaining posture and breath. When you can no longer hold the weight, stand up straight, or breathe, you’re done. If you want to pick up your body weight, rock out! Be aware of those coaching points and you’ll become ruthlessly strong, safely.

Jump Rope

How do you get your cardio? Running? Jump rope might be a better alternative. You can run with poor posture, but you can’t jump rope. Again, like the farmer’s carry, alignment and breathing become your limiters. When those 2 things start to deteriorate, the rope catches your foot, and the exercise stops. You get all the benefits for the cardiovascular system, plus improved posture. It’s a 2 for 1.

Bottoms-Up Carries

“It wasn’t about the kettlebell, it’s just another opportunity to watch you move” - Pavel

Kettlebells don’t just have to be heavy to teach you posture and strength. Their shape lends them to a unique technique called “bottoms up.” Holding the kettlebell from the handle, but having the weight upside down, creates a balancing act that you can’t find with most implements. Bottoms up carries and presses are an excellent way to learn posture and breathing. Although the weight is lighter, you still get strong and your the nervous system is taxed without an enormous amount of stress. If you have a shoulder injury, just lying on your back with the kettlebell bottoms up, holding it over your shoulder will make the deep stabilizers fire like crazy, rehabbing your shoulder, safely.

“So we’re going to restrict access to the next level of stress, the next level of complexity, the next level of capacity.” - Gray Cook 

Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back? Do you want to find out? Being broken isn’t cool. Getting injured pushing yourself to the limits is dumb. Live to fight another day. We all want progression, but at what cost? 

Self limiting exercises, like the ones mentioned above, are meant to bring you to the next level. Gray’s quote reminds us at RD that exercise is stress on the body. We have to manage complexity of movements and your capacity to perform them. Without this in mind, you will either plateau or backtrack. That’s not us telling you you can’t be strong, that’s experience and physiology. Take advantage of these exercises to improve your deficiencies, giving your body the opportunity to adapt and progress.


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