Working Out for Life

In the gym, we lift perfectly shaped dumbbells, walk on treadmills, sit on machines designed to target a single muscle group, and pedal bikes that we don’t balance as we ride. But how often do we encounter these in our everyday life? If your day looks anything like mine, chances are grocery bags are never evenly weighted, I need more than a single muscle to walk up the stairs of the parking garage, and my road bike requires a lot more balance than a stationary one. Once I move into the real world, the perfection of the gym is distorted and straight lines become blurry.

I like to say that workouts in the gym should both parallel and compliment your life. Let’s break each of those down.

“Parallel Workouts”

Parallel workouts are those in which you perform exercises that mirror movements that you may have difficulty or pain with in everyday life situations. For example, let’s use our grocery carrying story from before. If you have a hard time carrying lop-sided and uneven grocery bags, adding in exercises such as weighted dumbbell suitcase carries, suitcase step-ups, and other core exercises will help you to build the strength and stability to make carrying groceries smoother.

“Compliment Workouts”

Complimentary workouts and exercises are designed to supplement deficits in movements. The best example of this is pushing vs. pulling. We push doors, carts, and strollers much more often than we pull doors, recoil starters for lawn mowers, or even lawn mowers themselves. Therefore, when we’re in the gym, we should work pulling movements more often than we “push”. Even more fine-tuned, we should pull vertically (such as a pull-up variation or lat pulldown) more often than we pull horizontally (such as in a bent row or inverted row).

To facilitate this thinking, I lead a small group class, beginning every seven weeks. Each week, we cover a basic movement pattern: breathing/bracing/carries, squat, hinge, lunge, push, and pull. In addition to the small group meeting, participants have individual check-ins with me. The goal is to learn proper mechanics and develop a library of exercises they are able to pull from during their workouts.

Last week, week one, we discussed breathing, bracing and carries. (I’ve talked about this on the blog before. Check out that article here!) One of the check-in emails I received told the following story:

Last weekend, without thinking, my husband and I went to [the store] and bought a bunch of groceries.  So…on the way home I thought, “Oh no, we have to carry all this stuff up the street, over a bunch of gravel, and around barricades to get them in the house.”  But, as I made the repeated trips to the house with all of our bags […] I thought about how I was carrying all of that.

This is what fitness is all about. It doesn’t matter who can lift the most weight or how high you can throw a medicine ball. It’s not about what you do in the gym. The gym performance doesn’t mean anything.

It’s about how it transfers into life; how we can apply the skills practiced in the gym. Ultimately, by being smart about how we train in the gym, we can reap the true benefits in everyday life. Carrying groceries gets easier, walking over uneven, gravel surfaces is a breeze, and the stairs up to the house are no big deal!

Are you interested in ways to integrate fitness into real life situations? Do you want to learn more about the proper movement patterns for exercises? Email me at to learn more about how you can work with me!

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