Why We Sailed Away From the Gym Mentality

“Stop thinking about things from a kinesiological standpoint.  Movements are movements.  Movements aren’t specific to one single muscle.  You need to move better if you want to improve function.” ~Gray Cook, physical therapist, author of “Movement”

Anyone who has been working in the fitness industry for almost 12 years — with the right mind and awareness — can tell that something doesn’t seem right.


Learning from various philosophies can help you find what works for you and what doesn’t.
(Illustrated by Gavin Than of ZenPencils.com)

As a salsa and bachata social dancer, parkour enthusiast, wing chun student, and a movement coach, I understand that movement dictates everything I do. That movement pattern is between my ears and behind my eyes. Every body parts link together and communicate with each other to coordinate movement patterns, firing the right muscles and tissues at the right time and maintaining balance and the flow of movement. There are no props or equipment to support my body.

I am in control of everything that I do.

BUT….if you look at the typical exercises at the gym, 90% of the exercises are performed in one plane of motion, focusing on one body part or one group of body parts. Even with free weights, rubber tubings, cable machines, stability balls, medicine balls, and body weight, that single-mindedness carries on to these modalities.

Here’s an exercise that strengthens your legs. Here’s are two exercises that work your chest, arms, and shoulders. The list goes on. That’s why you see some people — including trainers — perform biceps curls with a kettlebell.


Biceps curls with 10-pound kettlebells. Might as well lift two Gucci bags filled with clothes. (Getty Images)

Part of the reason why we think this way — including myself when I was a noob — is that we were taught that the body is divided into three planes of motion: sagittal, coronal, and transverse.

In biology, the surface anatomy of an organism, usually a vertebrate, is identified based on its orientation in relation to gravity. For example, in a fish, its belly would called ventral, the top fin is called dorsal, the tail is posterior, and the head is anterior. The same can be said about other vertebrates, like mammals and birds.


(Wikimedia Commons)

And so, anatomists translated this concept into describing the human body. Since humans are bipedal, the orientation and reference would be different than a quadruped animal. Dorsal becomes posterior, ventral becomes anterior, the head becomes superior, and the legs and feet become inferior.


(Wikimedia Commons)

Anatomical positions are useful in referencing and identifying where certain body parts are located in relation to another part, but breaking movement down into these planes of motion has little value and real-life application. It is easier to understand human movement and how each muscle and joint moves individually.  Therefore, it is easier to describe and to move your shoulders and arms in lateral adduction than describing a chop with an axe.

True human movement cannot truly be described in isolation. It can be better described by focusing on what you are doing to move smoothly and efficiently while maintaining your balance and movement rate. Imagine a baseball pitcher throwing a curve ball. He doesn’t focus on what muscles he would use to balance on his hip or which shoulder muscle he should use to throw. His focus is on the catcher, his fellow teammates and opponents, and his goal — and that goal is to strike the batter out.

The typical gym — with lines of cardio machines and weight machines — no longer serves our vision and need to move better and often. Although some of these equipment can be part of an exercise program, the focus should be goal-oriented, not exercise- or equipment-oriented. The obsession with appearance, the numbers on the scale and on the treadmills, and “feeling the burn” overshadows a subliminal purpose of why we move.

“We move not because we need to find food. We need to move because we eat too much food.”

To make your workouts more meaningful:

1. Redefine your goal. Why do you move? What do you wish to

achieve through this particular pattern?

2. Understand that your brain recognizes movement patterns, not muscles or joints.

3. Explore a variety of patterns: rolling, climbing, crawling, sliding, tumbling, pushing and pulling with one hand, skipping, cutting, and turning.


Climb a tree, throw a rock, be silly. It’s good for your brain.
(Photo by Kim-Lien Kendall of Smarter Bodies)

4. Determine if one side of your body moves just as well the other side. If one side of your body feels weaker, less stable, or less coordinated than the other side, work on improving your symmetry. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent perfect, but it is something you should consider in your workouts.

5. Coordinate your breathing with your movements. Like in yoga and martial arts, your breath flows as one with your body. Any interruption of the breath and hinder your performance.

6. Never rely on one method or philosophy of training. Explore different ways to move. Try different equipment. Move at different speeds and directions. Mix different patterns and create your own.

And don’t get too obsessed with fat loss, improved heart rate, and other quantitative stuff. Fitness is simply a byproduct of movement.

Enjoy your journey.

Nick Ng, founder of Movement Potential


And what muscles am I using? All of them.
And it’s not that important.


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