It’s a norm in the fitness industry to try to fit your body to fit a certain exercise. I often get asked “Can you help me with my deadlifts?” or “How can I do planks without shoulder pain?” or “How can I strengthen my core so squats don’t hurt my back?”
And there are so many fitness professionals and PTs out there who will help you achieve these goals. And there absolutely are ways to improve your form and strengthen and stabilize these muscles to feel more effective and safe in an exercise. I think if your goal is to do that one exercise, KEEP ON KEEPIN ON!
Before we dive in, I want to caveat with something. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and place to learn and hone in on a new skill or movement. Sometimes you have to learn a specific movement for a sport or job. So perhaps your fitness program should be tailored for that.
But I think if overall fitness is your goal, there’s another perspective that I’d like to offer which is not common in the fitness industry. Why don’t we consider selecting an exercise that fits your body, rather than fitting your body into an exercise?
If someone asks me “How can I strengthen my core so deadlifts feel better?” I say “Well, what is your goal of doing a deadlift?” And often they are puzzled by that question. Because, DUH, why would I not want to do a deadlift? They are a gold standard in the fitness industry. I have to be able to do this exercise.
But it seems to me that the industry has made the exercise the end goal, rather than how your body adapts with that exercise as the end goal. There seems to be an emphasis on what your body can do for that movement, rather than what that movement can do for your body.
And I’m not saying you shouldn’t do deadlifts. I’m also not saying that it’s not important to learn and practice hip hinge mechanics. But my philosophy is that exercise shouldn’t be the end goal. It’s what that exercise will do for your body that’s the end goal.
Maybe that exercise will allow you to coordinate a hip hinge more effectively. Maybe practicing that movement will allow you to not be afraid to move in that way. I agree with all of those things, and if that is your ultimate goal then you should continue.
However, what if it’s uncomfortable or painful, even despite all the form changes? Why do we spend so long on the form of an exercise when we can just choose another exercise that achieves the same goal but without the agony?
My end goal for exercise with my Evlo members is to make your body stronger and more fit, while keeping your joints as in-tact as possible. So if the goal of an exercise is to improve your strength in the glutes, let’s pick an exercise that does that the BEST without risk to your back. Let’s also choose an exercise that feels comfortable on your joints while we’re at it. Let’s choose an exercise where you don’t have to spend weeks learning and tweaking, but instead just get right to it by targeting the muscle.
Every exercise you choose should feel satisfying. In that it feels productive, you can feel the muscle working, but it’s also not uncomfortable on your joints.
All the time I hear from clients things like “This is hard for me to do, so I know I need it.” And I want to say that sometimes that is 100% true. But often I think when people say “hard,” they mean it’s uncomfortable.
But what if this discomfort is your body sending you a warning sign that you should listen to? Because discomfort will often just distract you from truly getting the most out of the targeted muscle.
I truly believe that we don’t have to shove our bodies into these movements that are someone else’s “gold standard”, just because they are popular.
Now, there’s a difference between replacing a painful exercise or you hate and avoiding working a muscle group altogether. I don’t believe in selective strengthening - we should load and strengthen every muscle in our bodies.
So if you hate working a certain muscle group, we should focus on finding an exercise that is more comfortable and satisfying for you.
A couple of weeks ago, I put a question box on Instagram for people to respond with what exercises were uncomfortable on their bodies or exercises that they don’t love. The top answer (and it wasn’t even close) was burpees. In second place were planks, mountain climbers, or pushups. And the last answer was lunges.
I want to break each of these down one by one and give you full permission to choose another exercise that achieves your goals without the discomfort.
If you’re white-knuckling your way through your workouts, odds are you’re not going to be consistent, and/or you’re potentially ignoring those warning signs from your body that are trying to tap you on the shoulder and tell you to choose something safer for you.
Here’s what I’ll leave you with today: What if you didn’t have to do any exercise that didn’t feel good on your body?
Would you be relieved to know that you can stop constantly tweaking your form?
What if you could just pick a different exercise that feels more comfortable and satisfying?
What if you could pick an exercise that made you say “YES” in your head when we did it in class?
If doing a certain exercise is important to you - regardless of your reason - I want you to know that I 100% respect that. And you should continue working on it if it’s important to you.
But for me, I was more concerned about choosing the best, most effective exercises that felt good and satisfying on my body, rather than forcing myself into exercises that didn’t feel good on my body.
Remember - comfortable and satisfying is the goal. If you don’t have both, just choose another exercise that loads the muscle, achieves the goal of gaining strength, and don’t worry about looking back.
If you want some more guidance on how to work out in ways that are comfortable, enjoyable, and satisfying, I’d love to have you join Evlo! Every week, I give loads of modification options for every. single. exercise. we. do.
Because I know your body is different from anyone else’s, and your workouts should fit your body - you should not fit your body to your workouts. Come back on Thursday this week to learn some great substitutes for these popular tough exercises, like burpees, planks, and lunges.