For a moment, forget everything that you know about exercise. We’ve been taught to measure the effectiveness of exercise based on how we look, how we perform athletically, and how we compare with others.
Guest Post By: Kristen Salomon
I want to challenge what you know about exercise; how it is implemented, and what purpose it serves. I call it mindful exercise.
It isn’t measured by aesthetics, weight loss, how fast you run or how much you lift (although it can affect those things for the better).
It’s about understanding how your body works and what your body needs. Mindful exercise takes work and focus; you won’t accomplish it pedaling away to a 2 hour movie in a big box gym.
A Revolutionary Approach
Mindful exercise looks to science, not the latest fad. It requires evaluating the pros and cons of each exercise based on the individual’s current capabilities and joint structure. We’ll call it the risk vs. benefit evaluation.
Exercise is more than burning calories and building up/maintaining a hunk of muscle. It’s about long-term joint and muscle health. Is what you’re doing now going to keep you moving and doing what you love into your 80’s?
When It All Began
The first time I joined a gym I learned how to exercise from a guy who played football in college. I was terrified.
Big guys with weirdly cut out shirts came in bellowing full-force and clanking metal around. I knew I had to learn those big and loud moves to fit into this “health” environment. During my experience at the gym I was taking some courses on how to improve the body’s neuromuscular system to help my massage therapy clients better.
A Crazy Experiment
I decided to use one of the concepts I had learned. Sitting on the outer thigh machine, I put the weight at its heaviest and I pressed my knees out with all the force I could muster. Immediately I felt my outer quad light up. Then, as I kept pressing, I felt the burn creep up into by hips and burn my buttocks like I had never felt before.
I stopped. I felt like I was the most incapable gym attendee. Did I also mention that I had recently gotten my personal training certification and barely passed? There I was, a so called “personal trainer” in a busy gym where people were doing 8-10 or 12-15 reps flailing their limbs about (ok, some of them did control their movements).
And I was on a machine, red in the face intentionally pushing against a weight I couldn’t move. One of my friends later laughed at me when I told him my experience and asked me why I didn’t just do yoga.
Enter Torture Contraption
Later that year, a guy invented what looked like a torture protractor that allowed people to press into steel without moving. It allowed for 100% muscle contraction with no movement (other than moving to press into the steel).
In short, it was an isometric training table called an Isophit. The inventor reached out to me and wanted to know if I would like to purchase his invention after seeing my comments on his Facebook posts. He suggested I go to the biggest Isophit studio in the USA, which was just 30 minutes from where I lived at the time.
Love At First Try
I visited the fitness facility that housed the amazing Isophits. It was my first exposure to truly mindful exercise. I fell in love with the machine and the way it could target specific muscle tissue that I couldn’t get at the gym. I got hired pretty much on the spot. For the first three months I trained my clients almost exclusively on the Isophit.
The weirdest thing happened. My clients started moving better. One did an Ironman without the back pain that normally nagged him.
Another lady could get up out of her chair without struggling. My recreational runner was able to shave a minute off his run time.
People were losing weight even though it wasn’t the primary goal! The results boggled my mind.
Exercise Without Moving?
Since my clients were improving with non-moving exercise, I began to branch out into mindful moving exercises to challenge what movements they had.
I started to incorporate other things that I had learned about muscles: that when a muscle contracts the strength of the muscle tissue would not be the same throughout the entire movement.
Basically, when you move through a specific movement there will be points where you are stronger and weaker. Where you are stronger, limit the movement to the strong range and increase the resistance. For the weaker areas, only focus on that movement at a lighter resistance. It’s taking one exercise and turning it into two!
Mindful exercise is about your body, what you are capable of and intentionally challenging it for long term-benefits.
Here’s what I recommend…
#1: Check Out the Moves!
Before you do an exercise evaluate the way your body moves without any resistance. Pull your knee up to your chest without using your hands. That movement, (let’s call it hip flexion) is the movement that you can challenge.
If you use resistance that pushes you further than that joint range, try to stay away from it. Strength is about having the control to drive in and out of different joint positions. If you gain strength and can move into range to a greater extent, only then do you have permission to challenge it!
Benefit: you won’t put your body at risk of injury by stuffing it into joint positions that it cannot control!
#2: Be Specific
Know what muscle tissue you are going to be focused on. Can you create a nice muscle burn in that tissue prior to doing the exercise? Use your brain to focus on the tissue and try holding a contraction it.
Take your quads for example (those guys that are on the top part of your upper thigh). Try to tighten them up. Seated, straighten out your knee and see the quad tissue engage. Once you see that engagement, try holding the tension for 15 seconds. Congratulations! You just did your first isometric!
Benefit: you are preparing your body for the movement you want it to do. Your nervous system and your muscle system are engaged, the tissue is ready to give you some force output and be challenged. This is a very efficient and effective way to work out specific tissues that facilitate multiple joint movements.
#3: Make It Burn
When doing moving exercise, don’t rest in between reps. On selectorized machines (the ones that create a set path for your movement) don’t let the weight stack touch at the end of every rep. Drive the movement out and pause, bring it back in and pause.
This will keep the tension in the muscle during the entire set. You get more time under tension in the muscle and you’ll fatigue it faster (workout efficiency 101).
Benefit: time under tension really challenges the muscle system. It is a test of control. Being able to control your joint movement is strength. Your joints become more stable and your muscle system becomes more responsive.
#4: Embrace the Weirdness
Lastly, since we’re all on the journey of awkward self-improvement-a bit of a heads up. People will think that you are working out weird.
My clients have gone to other gyms when they are out of town, and they will have other trainers asking them if they know how to use the machines properly. They do. I’ve just taught them how to adapt the equipment to meet their joint and neuromuscular system needs.
Some people do crazy stuff to look good. Why not risk looking a little silly to get the best out of your workout? That folks, is mindful exercise.
Kristen Salomon CPT, LMT, MAT Specialist, MS.
Kristen is an exercise specialist dedicated to educating people in matters of joint and muscle health. Also an entrepreneur, she sells vegan/cruelty-free skincare, cosmetics, and fashionable business bags. Currently, she is building a following on Facebook and Instagram.
Follow her here: