"Doing something is better than nothing."

I hear that all the time. You've probably heard it too. Heck, you've probably thought or said it. It's the mantra that most people use to get themselves to hit the gym. 

But is it really better to just do something?

As a fitness professional and an engineer, I can say that I've seen a lot of weird stuff going on at the gym. The most basic movements are the squat and the push-up. Yet, relatively few people know how to squat; their chest drops, knees buckle, or the weight is on the balls of their feet. Similarly, there are people who just don't know how to do a push-up correctly. 

"But wait a minute, what's the big deal? At least these people are moving. And after all, doing something is better than nothing."

To some extent, that's correct. Many, many people perform unsafe technique at the gym and walk away, seemingly with no adverse effects, so it must be ok, right? Not necessarily.

The human body has an amazing ability to adapt to stress. When it is put in a bad situation, it will leverage every available resource to allow you to proceed. Someone takes up running as a hobby and not knowing better, starts running with their knees caving inwards. Over time, the habitual act of running this way creates a chain reaction of autonomic adjustments and adaptations. The feet begin to pronate. The hips tilt posteriorly and the upper body leans forward. Each of these things on its own isn't necessarily an issue, but over time, the combination of all the adaptations could lead to debilitating, chronic pain later in life. If this person knew that 20 years from now, they'd be experiencing pain as a result of the way they worked out, do you think they'd believe that "doing something is better than nothing"? Would you?

We live inside these human bodies all day, every day, so we take them for granted. They didn't come with an instruction manual, so we just do what we do without really thinking about whether we're doing the right things. After all, everyone is out there running and jumping, so we should be able to do it too.  

That's why the world-famous marketing slogan, "Just do it," resonated with so many people. We shouldn't make any excuses. Just get out there and get in the game. 

The problem is just doing it can be worse for us than not doing it at all, if we don't do it correctly. 

So rather than just work out or exercise, I believe we should work out purposefully. What exactly does that mean? It means that before you get started, you should take the time to answer 2 questions:

  1. Why am I doing this?
  2. Is what I'm doing getting me closer to my goal? 

So for example, if I'm interested in developing stronger legs, I should probably work on squatting rather than bicep curls. If I want a strong core, I should probably do some planks or hovers. This one is kind of a no-brainer and a lot of people try to do this...

The hard part is answering the second question. It requires us to really listen to our bodies for feedback. If I'm working on squats to build stronger legs, but I'm feeling discomfort in my knees, clearly something is wrong. I shouldn't just push through and hope it goes away. Perhaps some minor changes to the technique will help reduce the stress in the joints and focus the work on the muscles of the legs. Perhaps some myofascial release will restore mobility. There could be any number of issues, but without getting professional assistance, you'll never know. 

Another perfect example is the sit-up. Growing up, sit-ups were the surefire way to six-pack abs! Everyone did them even though we really weren't feeling the abs as much as the hip flexors and even though our back was always sore afterwards. Now, research has shown that sit-ups do focus on the hip flexors and take your back out of neutral alignment, so nobody does them anymore.

Far too often, because we've been convinced to "just do it", we push through the obvious signs our bodies are sending us and we create poor habits that create long-term issues.

Our bodies really do know the answers and they try to tell us all the time, but we just have to do a better job of listening. And it all begins with exercising purposefully

Every rep of every exercise of every workout will either move you closer to your goal or closer to injury.

Which direction do you choose? Join the conversation. Tag #unsteadystate to let us know what you think and feel free to share.