Is your exercise program missing this important ingredient?

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.


In the previous Mind Shift post, we talked about shifting from an exercise mindset to a movement mindset, the first reason being time. Today, we’ll cover the second reason: variety.

An exercise mindset categorizes movement into things like yoga, running, or weight lifting, and within each of these categories exists a subset of movements.

For example, with running, your body experiences a series of movements that get you from Point A to Point B, and those movements are pretty much the same every time you run. Of course, we could get into the micro movements of running over lumpy grass versus running over flat, level pavement, but even taking all of those micro movements into account, we’re still left with a limited subset of movements, given the full range of movements a body is capable of.

You’ve likely seen the headlines, “Sitting Is the New Smoking.” In response, there’s been a big move toward standing work stations. And sure, there are benefits to standing more and sitting less, but the overall problem of being in a static position for hours on end remains; we’re just swapping the static sitting position for the static standing position, resulting in our bodies inhabiting a teeny subset of its potential movements and postures.

And this brings us back to running. Or yoga. Or [insert exercise program here]. These exercises aren’t bad—not at all. They’re just a small subset of the possible movements your body can–and needs to–make. Yes, even yoga with its bendy, twisty postures. If you were to break down various poses into movements like hip flexion, ankle dorsiflexion, etc., the average class consists of a subset of movements performed over and over.

Let me repeat: This doesn’t make these exercise programs bad. I love yoga; it feels amazing, and I don’t plan to stop doing it anytime soon, but I do recognize that only doing yoga (or running, or cycling, or…) is the movement equivalent of only eating kale. Kale’s awesome, but on its own it’s not enough for a healthy life.

Shifting from the exercise mindset to the movement mindset allows us to tap into the fuller range of our bodies’ capabilities. When we think outside of the exercise box, we can grab onto a doorway and hang. We can start with our hands on the doorway at hip level, up a bit higher, a little higher still, hands above our head–each position adding a new movement variation.

While we’re at our spiffy standing work station, we can extend our foot behind us, top of the foot on the floor, stretching our ankle and foot in a way that it probably doesn’t experience very often. While we’re watching Netflix, we can sit on the floor and shift our arms, legs, pelvis, and torso into different positions, instead of letting the couch cast us into one or two predictable configurations.

Again, when we’re stuck looking at “valuable movement” only as working up a sweat while exercising, these smaller movements might seem insignificant, but so many of the issues we experience in our bodies are caused or exacerbated because we’re only moving our body in a limited number of ways and in a repetitive fashion.

In the next Mind Shift post, we’ll look at why this variety is so important, down to the cellular level. We’ll also see how areas of your body can stay stuck and unmoving even while your body as a whole is moving (e.g. while you’re running or doing yoga), and what to do about it.