At any given moment, there are literally millions of people packed into gyms all over the world.
Every one of them in one way or another attempting to improve their physiques, or get “in shape”. Typically you see the ladies inhabiting the sea of cardio machines, with hopes of lifting the butt, or dropping the gut. If you venture into the male dominant weight training section, you’ll probably find a group of men waiting in line for the bench press or moving from one Cybex machine to the next, with little thought of a plan other than “getting their pump on”.
Now I’m not saying that this is necessarily wrong, but I can confidently say that most people in gyms today are using only a small percentage of their bodies’ potential. The truth is simple, we are not intended to move like machines! We’re designed to move freely, allowing our muscles to work together, producing movements, not isolation. So in this article, I’m challenging you to stop dumbing your self down, get off of the mindless machines and begin to build SMART MUSCLE! I gave myself this same challenge as an experiment a year ago, and I can honestly say it changed my life. But before I tell you more about my own challenge experience, let me tell you a little bit more about why it works.
Understand Your Bodies Design
In order to understand the true potential of our bodies. It’s essential that we understand the design. Unfortunately, as we’ve stepped into the modern age we’ve removed ourselves more and more from our bodies and begun to rely on external devices in hopes of improving our health, ala “the shake weight”, “fit flops”, “the ab glider”…..need I say more? We’ve pumped up the idea of getting into “shape” into something that’s more confusing and unattainable than it needs to be. Even as trainers and practitioners we are always searching for that one tool that’s going to help our clients achieve faster results. Yet, here’s an empowering thought: you already have all the tools to create the perfect body, without any gimmicks or fancy equipment. By using what nature has given us-our bodies and gravity- we can begin to build SMART MUSCLE.
Becoming conscious of how our inner-workings produce movements is a step in the right direction. Even with the most basic understanding of our anatomy we can learn a lot about ourselves, so lets take a look inside.
Your Body’s Foundation: The Skeletal System
To begin with, our body’s foundation is the skeletal system. It’s simple: bones are rigid and tough. They are capable of absorbing external forces, and especially when aligned properly (think posture, now sit up straight while you read the rest of this) they are excellent at battling gravity’s constant pull, all the while distributing weight evenly through all the joints.
Using Your Muscles
And here’s another simple idea: muscles move bones. Sure they look really nice when they have minimal fat covering them up, but they’re also constantly working. Even without us thinking about it, they are always performing at least one of the core tasks of stabilizing, contracting or relaxing, and in most movement, are performing all of them.
The Central Nervous System: Your Super Control System
So, bones are the foundation, and muscles move bones, but there is still another element, the mastermind that orchestrates all the systems: the Central Nervous System (CNS)!!!
This is actually the deciding factor in what results we get from our training. Think of the CNS as the super control system for your body. It’s turning on and off power to muscles, it’s regulating temperature, it’s constantly sending and receiving information and making minor adjustments in order to keep us alive and moving. And it plays a central role in how we develop SMART MUSCLE. Think of the first time you rode a bike – you probably didn’t get up right away. Even Lance Armstrong had some sort of learning process in the beginning. But as you continued to practice, you became more and more stable, or as I like to say, more efficient. Your CNS learned which muscles needed to contract, relax or stabilize in order to keep you upright and pedaling. Now the task, “riding a bike” is stored as something called a motor engram, and filed away in the motor area of the brain. Thanks to this process, the next time you rock up to a bike that file is pulled up, and you’re on your way without a second thought.
So, you can see that the body is a complex system that is capable of handling high demands. In fact, it thrives on it! The more we can continuously challenge our CNS, the better results we can get from exercising. Just throwing yourself on a treadmill for an hour, is not going to cut it! If we want maximal results, we have to feed the desire, give stimulation in order for our systems to react. It’s as simple as the body adapting to the challenge. Just look at gymnasts, for example – they have some of the best bodies of all the athletes, yet you rarely find them lifting weights. Their muscles formed that way because they had too in order to accomplish their feats of strength and skill.
The SMART MUSCLE Challenge
There is no better way to stimulate your muscles and CNS than using your own body. Which brings us to the SMART MUSCLE challenge. The challenge is basic. Abandon all external exercise equipment. Use only your own body for cardio, muscle building and skill building.
As I said earlier, it’s been nearly a year since I began the challenge. I had been lifting weights for close to twenty years, and even though I always used non-traditional styles of weight training, like Olympic lifts, kettlebell training and warrior movement patterns, I was ready for the next step. My only two goals were: one, exercise 5-6 days a week using only my own body as resistance, and two, see if I could accomplish this without loosing any muscle mass. The results were astonishing!
I went far beyond your basic boot camp style squats and push ups. I studied all types of body weight disciplines, from gymnastics, Parkour, hand balancing, body-flow to capoeira. What I came up with was the most unique combinations of movement based exercises, designed to push my body to the next level. And guess what, not only did I not loose muscle mass but I gained in areas that I had a hard time developing before. My body found it’s symmetry out of necessity. Not to mention, any aches and pains I would normally experience from weight training, completely vanished.
In up-coming articles and videos I’ll be highlighting body weight exercises that range from foundation building static holds, all the way through explosive-dynamic movements. I would highly recommend integrating some of these into your current workout, or if you think you can handle it, take the challenge!!
Remember it’s no longer a workout but a practice. It’s a journey that could last a lifetime. The end goal being complete and total control over your one permanent tool, your own body.