Too often we consider our exercise programs by focusing on measuring the quantities of our movements -- how far did we run, how fast, how many reps did we do -- instead of evaluating the quality of our movements -- how smoothly did our joints move, how lightly did our limbs feel, how agile was our experience.
It's easy to understand this emphasis on the quantitative: cultural factors can in effect push us toward quantitative movement. As we watched the latest Olympic games, we can reflect on millennia of measuring our movements in numbers in order to compare ourselves to each other -- how fast can we run, swim or bike, how far can we throw, how high can we jump. With advent the Industrial Age, researchers studied how the human body could move in mechanical harmony with the machines of the assembly lines.
Questions like how far or long a person should run were researched endlessly, but with what agility a person runs -- the quality of the running -- was not investigated. So more and more today, the emphasis on the measurable aspect of movement pervades our perceptions of our own movement and how we exercise.
We may be enthralled by the quality of athletes' movements -- the gracefulness of wide receivers snagging a catch along the sidelines, or the sleek, long-limbed guards of the NBA negotiating the length of court, or runners with beautifully smooth strides, or dancers, skaters and skiers who define elegant movement, but we rarely value the same grace of movement in our own exercise. We focus too much on the quantity of our movement (How far did I walk? Did I exercise enough?) and too little on the quality and gracefulness of our movement. This emphasis on quantity over quality can lead to our bodies breaking down and reduce our movement abilities altogether.
Imagine a car with one half-flat tire and a transmission not fully lubricated. It probably wouldn't keep moving for long and would deliver a bumpy ride until its breakdown. Similarly bumpy or ungraceful movement of our human bodies can lead to more damaging injuries and the inability to do loved activities or even day-to-day tasks.
If we can improve the quality of our movements, we can better preserve our bodies and continue to do the things we enjoy for a much longer time.
Consider some of these questions when evaluating your workout routine and determining how much emphasis you put on the quantitative vs. the qualitative.
- Are measurable quantities -- repetitions, time, weight, speed -- more important to you than your quality of motion?
- Can you assess your typical workout's success to include your gracefulness in performing the movement?
- When you move, do you feel you move more like a machine or an animal? What image of a graceful animal could you bring to your workout?
Imagine the next time you exercise not counting or measuring in your mind, but instead freeing your ability to feel sensations. Use exercise as a way to increase your sixth sense, your proprioceptive sense, your ability to observe the inner workings and feelings in your body rather than the five senses that relate us to the outside world. Can you observe yourself running smoothly, how hard are you on your hips, legs, joints? How can you make your limbs move more lightly, your landing softer?
By aiming to only achieve goals that are easy to quantify, we can create excessive tension in the effort to achieve those goals, which ends up being counterproductive.
If you intend to exercise regularly all your life, the quality of your movement trumps quantity.
In this video, I further describe and demonstrate the difference between quantity and quality of movement.
Frank Wildman, Ph.D. is the creator of a program specifically for baby boomers called Change Your Age. The program is available as a book, a series of DVDs, and courses and weekend workshops spread around the country.
To help guide people into a movement program that could put more life in your years, Dr. Wildman developed a Mobility Survey where you can find out your real mobility years, which might be functionally quite different from your actual age. You may be surprised!
To find out more about the Change Your Age program, please visit my website, http://www.changeyouragenetwork.com.