Structural Health vs. Cardiovascular Health
We’d all agree that getting in shape is a good thing. I mean what kind of an idiot would tell you otherwise? Well, possibly, the one who is typing these words. That’s right, I’m telling you that if your body doesn’t meet certain structural health criteria you are possibly doing more harm than good by your attempts to “get in shape”. In fact, depending on several variables, you may be in great cardiovascular shape and in horrible structural health.
What, Tim? This doesn’t make sense?
Sure it does. Why? Because of one, simple word: INJURY. Pounding the pavement and hitting the weight machines come with a very high risk of injury, it’s almost as if it lurks, stalking you like a wolf in the night. You think everything is going well, you’re feeling good, losing inches and then boom… out of nowhere, the injury wolf pounces.
I actually learned this the hard way, which I will get to in a second. But trust me, my experience can be avoided. If you’re a fit and active person or want to be, you need to know about structural health. Your structure is the framework of your body — your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Just like your heart and lungs, there is “a best” way to get this aspect of your fitness rock solid.
Think of it this way, once you get the tools to start building your structure, you must have a good plan and know what you are doing. And if you haven’t poured a good foundation for the structure before hammering away at the beauty muscles, like me, you may be on track for a major injury.
The problem is that we collectively think of getting in-shape as cardiovascular fitness and six-pack abs. And, you may be able to accomplish this with bad structural health. I did. And then pop went my achilles. I had no pain leading up to it and no reason to think that the foundation of my body wasn’t sound. But it wasn’t and I paid a very painful and disruptive price.
Your body is a lying cheat
Your body has a virtual mind of its own and its primary goal is efficiency. It’s the ultimate compensator or cheater. Poor posture, constant stress, excessive sitting, and repetitive non-dynamic movement will all make your body a cheater. Every time it gets the chance it will cheat it and the most cheating usually happens while exerting during exercise putting undue wear and tear on your structure (joints, ligaments and tendons).
To borrow a quote from Graham Walker, MD’s medical journal article “Herein lies what I think is the core problem for many of our chronic musculoskeletal pain patients: bad positioning, function, and use of their muscles have led to dysfunction and injury, chronic tears, and chronic pain.” Dr. Walker is actually my smarter and better-looking cousin but you don’t get mentioned in a medical journal every day so I’d be bereft if I failed to mention it.
Sure… what she s.a.i.d.
So how does compensation happen in the first place?
Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands is the scientific platform exercise science students are taught from. It basically means that your body adapts to whatever you put it through. It’s what is happening inside the body when you “get in shape.”
Your body adapts to running by increasing red blood cell count and your lactate threshold. It adapts to the increasing load of weight-bearing exercise by making your muscle bigger and stronger. It also adapts by finding the easiest path to an end when you push it, i.e. it figures out how to compensate.
The S.A.I.D. principle is a double-edged sword and is needed for survival. However, our modern lifestyles have made it a detriment to our structural health. So what can you do to avoid the lurking wolf?
- Find a professional.
- Make sure they can identify poor movement patterns that cause compensation and dysfunction.
- Stop strengthening bad movement patterns with overly intense exercise (a.k.a. bad form)
- Create new and better patterns before exercising at maximal effort.
- Repeat steps 2-4.
Have your movement professional or personal trainer re-test or re-assess your movement at least every six months to see if your baseline patterns are improving. This is vital to keeping your structural body healthy. To learn more about exercise programming refer back to my Functional Fitness Programmed Right post.
Done correctly this will result in new foundational and natural human movement patterns.