It’s August, and we’re right in the middle of the summer season. During this time of year, where most of us are outside a lot, I thought we’d cover Exercise, specifically the FOUR main types of exercise. And, even though we are associating these with working out, they actually apply to everything we do in our daily lives from sitting down and standing up, to lifting groceries.
Almost all exercises, when boiled down to their basic components, will fall into one of 4 categories: Mobility, Activation, Patterning, or Strength. These categories are based on what the goal or desired outcome is for you completing that exercise. As a whole, we tend to focus too much on 1 or 2 of those categories while ignoring others. So let’s start by touching base on what these categories entail
Mobility exercises are exercises designed to increase the joint and muscles ability to elongate or stretch.
The most obvious and easy example to perform is a passive stretching, such as a standing toe touch stretch. The goal is to increase the range of motion in the hamstring by trying to touch your toes and relaxing into the stretch for 30-60 seconds. This type of stretching can also be done actively by adding repetitions small hold at the bottom of each rep, returning to resting and repeating.
Other forms of mobility exercises include self-release techniques like foam rolling, release with a ball or some kind of tool.
Side note: mobility work does not have to hurt and be intense, you can get the muscles to relax with light pressure or light stretching. A good guide for this is to be able to breathe and relax into the exercise.
Activation exercises focus on engaging or recruiting to proper muscles to do a specific action.
These exercises are used to improve the communication between a specific muscle and the nervous system. Typically these are best when used on muscles that are not working as efficiently as they should be.
A very common muscle group that can have this issue is the Rotator cuff. Their job is to stabilize the shoulder and perform internal and external rotation; however, if there is an injury (current or past) or bad prolonged shoulder positioning, the rotator cuff might not be functioning well and you will compensate with other surrounding muscles. So doing an activation exercise for the rotator cuff, such as banded pull apart will increase the brain’s ability to recruit the rotator cuff while doing shoulder exercises.
These exercises are great to use in rehabilitation, self-care, and warms-ups on an area of focus for a workout (i.e. rotator cuff activation prior to doing a shoulder workout).
Side note: These exercises should focus on CONTROL and performing the movements SLOWLY to ensure the muscles are able to engage through its full range of motion.
Patterning exercises focus on coordination between muscles or sequencing of a movement. The focus of these exercises is coordination and control so they should typically do SLOWLY with no weight or lightweight initially. A good example of this exercise would be a bird-dog, were you in a quadruped position and lifting opposite arm and leg while keeping the spine flat. This challenges your core stabilizers while working coordination and communication between diagonal extremities (i.e. right arm and left leg)
These exercises are good to use in warm-ups, self-care and rehab situations
Strength exercises are what we all think of when we think of exercising. This is the bench press, squats, the weighted bicep curls… all the sexy stuff. The goal here is to take a pattern or specific muscle and load it to increase the strength. While these are usually the most fun, they are also built on the foundation of the previous 3 categories.
In general, we are quick to jump from stretching to strengthening exercises and brush over or ignore completely the activation and patterning exercises. But, you cannot squat well if the joints don’t have the proper mobility to get into that position. You can’t do weighted squats well without having the mastery and control of the right muscles at the right time or the movement pattern as a whole. When people jump to the strength-building exercises without working on and mastering the Mobility, Activation, and Pattern that are needed to do a particular movement efficiently, that’s typically when something breaks down or people get hurt.
Now I’m not going to tell you to stop doing strength exercises but what I would suggest is to look at the other categories as they pertain to a specific exercise and see if there are any improvements you can make prior to loading it too heavily. Try the exercise without weight, do a body squat or push up instead of a bench press. If you struggle to control your bodyweight you will probably not be doing a weighted exercise efficiently. If this is the case, you should spend some more time working on the mobility, activation, and patterning that the exercise requires. You can still do the strength exercises but warm up first, Slow down the exercise and decrease the weight. slowing down exercises forces you to control the movement, rather than rely on momentum or the weight of the bar to balance you. It forces you to master the stability and coordination of that movement.
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