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You Cannot Use Fitness Methods To Solve Health Problems

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 26 September 2018
Hits: 4866

If there is one thing that really does my head in, it is seeing people using fitness methods to solve what is really a health problem. Even worse is when they are advised to do this by a health professional or trainer. This is where someone uses cycling, running, swimming and various other fitness activities to rehabilitate the body from injury or improve overall health from disease or illness. Injury, illness, disease, even weight loss are all health problems needing a solution that addresses the cause of the problem and a plan that provides the body with optimal function and health to handle fitness endeavors. We must understand that health and fitness are not the same thing, and that you can never become fit until you become healthy first. In this article I am going to explore several common approaches to injury and illness that people are using or being advised to do that are doomed for failure right from the start, and in some cases even contribute to making their condition worse or creating new problems bigger than the original one!

Not All Exercise Is Good For You!

We know that exercise is good for us and that we must move more in order to remain healthy, but there must be a balance between not enough and doing too much. We know that if you are a couch potato and do no exercise you will begin to develop problems. One hundred years ago it may not have been a problem for life would have been enough exercise. But unfortunately modern society has created things to be so easy we do not move enough and now need to designate time to moving more.

But not all exercise is equal. You must understand that exercise is a stress to the body and how it is used depends on what type of response we have. There is really two sides to exercise.

  1. Exercises that promote what is known as an "anabolic response" to the body, is where the stress of exercise is positive and promotes fantastic changes that improve the overall health and function. This is exercise like strength training, Yoga & Pilates, stretching and tai chi. These exercise methods promote growth and repair hormones and are excellent for rebuilding health after injury or illness.
  2. But these same exercises can be overdone and what was once great for us now becomes "catabolic" and begins to eat away at our body as there is too much damage to repair. For example if you over train with strength workouts or train too hard too often. This is also where your fitness activities are also found for they steal energy and reserves from the body to compete at high levels.

Now does this mean you cannot do fitness activities? No, not at all.

What it does mean is that you need to build reserves up and constantly be checking to see if they are at optimal levels if you want to start using them up for fitness gains. Think  of this like saving money to buy an expensive car. If you do not have enough money to buy the car, and take out a loan at high rates without knowing how you are going to pay this back, you will potentially risk going bankrupt. If however you save your money you can afford to spend money on the expensive car and not let it take hits to your lifestyle.

People in pain or sick are already in debt. Their bodies are already dealing with multiple problems. They have already spent more than they had saved. This means they need to learn how to move efficiently, strengthen, eat good nutrition, get quality sleep etc to build up reserves again (save) and regain lost health.

If they were to apply fitness methods to solve their health problem this is the equivalent of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. It will not work and it will only serve to create more problems.

 

Always remember, you MUST EARN THE RIGHT to use fitness methods. Let's take a look at a few examples of where this simple rule is ignored and neglected and fitness methods are used to restore health.

Does Swimming Cure Back Pain?

Many people report that their back feels much better when they swim, and it is often prescribed as a treatment plan by many health professionals.

The reason swimming feels good for most back pain sufferers is that it places them in EXTENSION. Most people suffer with flexion related back pain such as a bulging disc. The weightless of the water allows their weak back extensor muscles to be able to strengthen without the compression that would normally be felt with land based movements and exercise. Swimming will definitely help the person with the disc bulge from flexion dominant movement and postures.

But.......

There is several problems with relying solely on this approach to "fix" back pain.

  • It DOES NOT solve the source of the problem.
  • It DOES NOT change how you move.
  • It could make back pain worse if you are EXTENSION intolerant.

There is no point spending time swimming only to continually move poorly. You must learn how to adopt correct MOVEMENT with bending in particular. It is not the lack of swimming the reason you developed back pain, it is poor movement that developed back pain. Success with any rehabilitation program requires removing the cause. As much as removing pain is important, there is no point to leaving the trigger waiting to be pulled again. Leading back pain researcher Stuart McGill refers to this as "picking the scab".

Read our article - Bulging Disc Treatment All Starts With How You Move

Even if you do manage to identify your source and also be able to change your movement patterns your body may not be strong enough to hold the adjustments. This results in you falling back into old habits due to lack of strength. Swimming will not address weaknesses found in standing positions.

You MUST apply strength methods to ensure your joints can maintain alignment and stability during movement.

Swimming can even aggravate some backs. When someone is extremely anteriorly tilted with the pelvis they are often more exposed to extension-related back pain. SIJ, facet joint sprains are examples of this. Swimming will only serve to exacerbate their problem as it places them in more extension. This does not mean they need to start doing heaps of sit ups. They also need to learn how to move correctly and strengthen weak muscles related to this problem along with releasing areas of stiffness.

To see more about this read our article - What Type Of Back Pain Do You Have?

What Are The Best Exercises For Back Pain?

There is no one size fits all approach and no one exercise that will fix you. You must start with a detailed assessment of your body and the results will tell you where to look and what to do. Starting with mobility of joints & basic stability tests and progressing gradually to isolated strength tests and lastly movements of all key patterns of squat, bend, lunge, twist, push, pull and gait.

The secret is to find where your energy leak is and design a program to correct it.

Below is a FREE cheat sheet you can download that gives you a simple checklist of what to do. And you can also download a detailed step by step program from our online shop if you want the full assessment process, exercises and stretches all mapped out for you by clicking here.

 

Let's take a look at another common scenario.

Is Cycling Good For Getting Rid Of Knee Pain?

Cycling can be a great way to rebuild strength into your legs if you have knee pain. This is in fact a key part of the early stages of an ACL rehabilitation program after surgery. Actually many elite professional cyclists like Australian Simon Gerrangs started out riding after a serious knee injury.

However it is not the real solution to your problem. And too much can even be the reason behind your knee pain!

The reason cycling feels good for most knee pain sufferers is that it builds strength into their legs without excessive compression or impact. A great way to build quad strength when there is pain present which is why it is often one of the first things you can do after knee surgery. It is one of the easiest ways to build some muscle into the quadriceps muscles in particular for cycling is a quad dominant activity. The VMO muscle which is very important for knee stability gets a lot of attention if you set up your bike correctly and adopt good pedaling action. A stronger VMO enables better alignment and support of the knee.

But.......

Just like swimming it has several major problems associated with using this solely to "fix" your problem. While it may definitely help the person with knee pain, cycling will do little to address the reason for knee pain. Such as:

  • Instability & poor alignment of joints in movements completed standing up.
  • Demand stability at the foot or the hip 
  • Change faulty movement patterns in particular gait, squat and lunge.

But when we perform the simple action of walking these things are essential for healthy alignment of the knee. Cycling will not have any influence over this.

For more detail on this read our article - Why The Knee Has Nothing To Do With Knee Pain!

Watch the video below of how we use a single leg squat as an assessment to determine where the potential source of the problem is.

Cycling Can Even Create Knee Pain!

While we definitely need to improve quad strength, too much will lead to:

  • Inhibition of the glutes which are essential for abduction of the hip and alignment of the knee.
  • Create more internal rotation and adduction of the hip leading to poor alignment of the knee standing up.
  • Gradual loss of knee flexion that will pull the patella upwards.

It is difficult to build strength into the glutes and hamstrings as they are at a mechanical disadvantage with cycling. Hamstring weakness has been proven to be a massive weakness with ACL injury. The bigger the difference between the quads and hamstrings increases anterior shear force at the knee flexion angles that occur during single leg landing and pivoting movements.

Even if you are able to maintain good quad to hamstring/glute ratio, prevent stiffness and loss of knee flexion, you still have not perfected moving correctly. This can only be effectively done with strength training done in standing positions. Single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, lunges and squats are all great examples of exercises that enhance stability, timing, mobility and strength of all muscles required for maintaining knee alignment and integrity.

What Exercises Can You Do?

Well once again there is no one size fits all approach. You must use a comprehensive assessment that finds your weaknesses. In our article Weak VMO & Knee Pain How To Reduce Pain In 5 Simple Steps we give you stacks of ideas on how to do this. We have also have two detailed programs with all of the assessments and exercise instructions that you can download below by clicking on the image.

The Danger Of Running When You Have A Lower Limb Injury

Next on our list of fitness methods used for improving health would be running. Out of all the fitness methods used this would be by far the worst. Running places a great deal of stress into the joints, much more than cycling and swimming. Our body is subjected to stresses and strains as the joints try to absorb shock coming from almost every possible direction with every foot strike. I cannot tell you how many runners who have come to see me for help with chronic injuries and they are still running in pain, some even using running to get out of pain!

If you choose to run with pain you will now create a multitude of new problems. You will now teach your body a compensatory motor program for running it will keep. And like a virus in a computer this will begin to wreak havoc on your body and sabotage other joints.

Remember "you cannot solve a health problem with a fitness solution". Distance runners are very much addicted to their training and will find it almost like a drug addiction and something they cannot go without. Even if it causes all types of problems they will continue to go to war with their body. Endurance running is not healthy for anyone but it is definitely not healthy for someone with injury or illness and is super fast way to ruin your body.

Read our article - Is Endurance Training Ruining Your Health

First thing to do when you have an injury is reduce inflammation and pain.

This means you MUST STOP RUNNING! Using recovery methods of ice, massage, rest and stretching are essential at this stage. And you must get an assessment of what your injury is from an expert - don’t self diagnose! Once pain is gone this DOES NOT mean you are ready to run again! This is where many runners make the BIG MISTAKE and start running straight away only to end up back where they started.

You must find WHY you were in pain in the first place.

This is where you need to complete a full assessment of your body and correct any dysfunction or imbalance. Areas you will need to look closely at are:

  • Mobility of all joints in particular the ankle and hip
  • Stability in particular the feet, knee and pelvis
  • Single leg stance and single leg squat coordination and timing
  • Strength test of legs in various movement patterns of squat, lunge and single leg stance

The one movement above all others that is an absolute non negotiable must have is the Single Leg Squat.

Read our article - Why The Single Leg Squat Is The Best Exercise For Injury Prevention

If you cannot perform a single leg squat you cannot run - PERIOD!

Running is basically a series of mini single leg squats at high speed with massive amounts of shock that must be absorbed in perfect sequence at the right time in a split second. If you cannot even perform a single leg squat where you are basically standing still without impact, and at least be able to do this perfectly 15-20 times you are guaranteed to have problems with running. Single leg, bending actions, lunge and squats are all great examples of exercises that enhance stability, timing, mobility and strength for the action of running.

Perfect timing of all muscles is required for maintaining ankle, knee and hip alignment. And once skill is established strength must be progressed to be able to cope with the demands of absorbing impact.

Evolving to power and advanced plyometric drills are excellent for preparing the muscles and the joints for the demands of running. This must be done carefully and with caution so as to now aggravate the problem. If done well however, you will be much stronger and faster and easily handle the demands of running. Below is a video we use a preparation test for athletes looking to return to sport after knee injury.

Last but not least you must evaluate your RUNNING TECHNIQUE.

You may have completed all of the previous steps perfectly but it could a problem within your stride mechanics that is the source of your problems. In almost every other sport people refer to coaches and spend a lot of time learning how to master the skills and art of the sport, yet running this is rarely even given a thought. All of the elite professional runners, who by the way run faster than all of us already, will spend massive amount of time and devote a big part of their training to continually improving their technique. For they know the benefits it provides to efficient running economy that makes them faster and prevents injuries from putting them on the sidelines.

I would encourage you to get a coach or an experienced training who understands the pose method. Below is some simple videos to help you.

For more information on running injuries read our article - Strength Training For Running

Exercise To Treat And Prevent Disease

This is pretty obvious to state that a person suffering with chronic disease needs a health program, and not a fitness program. But it still amazes me that once again fitness methods are often employed to help a person manage their problem. And while it may assist some in doing just this, many will avoid exercising entirely as they do not have the energy or reserves to complete exercise in this fashion. It should not be this way and we must educate the community and to some extent even our medical field on the difference between health and fitness exercise.

Exercise is one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent and treat chronic diseases and we all know that Heart disease and cancer are the 2 top killers of people in the Western world, and exercise can effectively help prevent the onset of both, but why?

There are many reasons why this happens, reduces stress levels and an increase in muscle mass but is mainly due to the fact that exercise controls your insulin and leptin levels. There are as many as 20 other beneficial biochemical changes that occur during exercise, some that help you burn calories and lose body fat, while others help stabilize your blood sugar and maintain testosterone and cortisol levels. Basically, being a healthy weight and exercising regularly creates a good cycle that optimizes and helps maintain healthy glucose, insulin and leptin levels.

But......

Once again not all exercise is good, and in some cases the exercise choice people make is actually doing the heart more harm than good. So having a good understating of this is critical if you want to achieve good health. We have been convinced that exercise is all about getting sweaty and out of breath and that we need to lots of cardio! This is where people go about trying to implement an endurance running or cycling program thinking it is great for their heart. We need some degree of aerobic fitness, but overdoing this can be a disaster and unfortunately this can lead to creating heart problems.

With regards to cancer exercise is so important because it creates a series of biochemical and physiological changes that make it very difficult for precancerous cells to survive and prevent them from developing into a more adult growth. Add on top of this the benefits of exercise for controlling blood glucose and the role of insulin. The muscles of active people absorb blood sugar in response to insulin much more effectively helping the pancreas to secrete lower amounts of this hormone and reduce its harmful effect on the growth of cancer cells. This decreases your Diabetes risk considerably which for people who may in fact get on top of cancer are often left with diabetes. 

Muscular strength is as important as staying slim and eating healthy when it comes to protecting your body against deadly diseases like cancer.

The amazing benefits of strength training do not stop with the improvement of hormones, blood sugar and various other health changes. Without doubt it is the single most important activity any one over the age of 40 should be doing. The older you are, the more sick or injured you are the more important it is! You must think of exercise and in particular Strength Training as medicine, and not as a luxury you could maybe add in to your lifestyle. It should be right up the top with good nutrition as the most important tasks to do regarding your health. If I have not yet convinced you then take a look at the list of benefits you can achieve from doing a strength program 2-3 times per week of only 30-45 minutes each session!

• Increases your bone density while lowering your risk of osteoporosis
• Lose weight (the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolic rate and the more efficiently your body burns calories)
• Protects your joints from injury
• Helps maintain flexibility and balance
• Improves your stamina and lessens fatigue

You can read more about exercise methods used for diseases in the articles below

Using Fitness Methods For Weight Loss

Last but not least is weight loss! Being overweight is a HEALTH problem, not a fitness problem. It will in most cases have more to do with your nutrition than how fast you can run a 5km time trial. Yet people see the need to employ fitness methods right from day one believing it is all about burning calories. They think they can exercise their way out of trouble, remaining ignorant to the real reasons behind their weight gain.

Losing weight is not the same thing as getting healthy. You can easily lose weight but employing radical and extreme methods such as starvation diets, liquid diets, or even lap band surgery and other medical interventions. This does not improve health, it sacrifices health.

Most people believe that the key to losing fat and getting in shape is to spend lots of time doing long slow cardio sessions. If you don’t get a sweat then it is not a good workout! This has really evolved from the stupid philosophy of calorie counting and trying to burn heaps of calories to lose weight. I will give you a little secret - CALORIE COUNTING DOES  NOT WORK! It is at this point where most programs begin to fail, and especially if you are a person who has tried many diets and been on the merry go round of exercise and food habits. Someone who has had weight problems all their life there is already a great deal of inflammation in the body that need to be balanced and restored to their "normal" level. By ignoring these and just trying to sweat yourself into shape is doomed. The endless long, slow and boring cardio sessions will actually train your body to store fat.

When you spend 30, 40 or even 50 minutes grinding out cardio sessions, you send your body a powerful signal to start storing fat instead of burning it!

Why? Your Hormones are out of balance.

According to a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, People who performed intense cardio suffered from decreased T3 hormone production. (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jan; 88(4-5):480-4.) T3 is the hormone produced by your thyroid to burn fat. When you do cardio, your body reacts to the stress by suppressing this fat burning hormone. This means your body starts gaining fat straight away for the body needs the fat in order to function. And on top of all this this excessive cardio also puts massive amounts of stress on your body by increasing the stress hormone cortisol.

Excess cortisol results in an increase in visceral fat (belly fat).

Read our article - What Is Better For Weight Loss Cardio or Weights?

And apart from losing weight there is one huge problem with using fitness methods. And that is you have not earned the right to move for fitness. This is where injuries are created that now derail your weight loss endeavors and change your goal now into getting out of pain instead. Before you can move more often and for fitness you must learn how to move efficiently and be strong enough to handle the demands of fitness methods. If you ignore this you will pay a price.

What should you do instead?

Many things you will need to consider, but really if you are wanting to lose weight, start with getting your nutrition right first. If you do this you will find you start losing weight without even exercising much. When you want to add exercise start with learning to move correctly and applying functional strength training methods first. This fully prepares your body to handle much more rigorous training without risk and importantly adds muscle which is the key to losing weight fast. Increasing muscle is the best way to increase your Metabolic Rate ( the rate at which your body burns energy at rest).

Here is a great article to read - 16 Ways To Improve Your Health

And also a great free report below you can download with more detail on ways to lose weight.

Conclusion

Well we have covered a lot of ground with this article, and I hope this has opened your mind to how we easily lose sight of what health and fitness really are. Always remember that you must aim to achieve good health before you can attempt to improve fitness. By all means fitness methods are great if you are of good health and not suffering with injury. But also remember that you cannot over do this type of training or you will fall back into needing a health program again. Health strategies include eating good quality nutrition, getting quality rest and sleep and finding ways to reduce your stress. Exercise strategies that promote health are strength training, Yoga, Tai Chi, stretching and anything that activates the anabolic hormonal system to build and repair. The secret is really to move well and add muscle. If you do this fitness is a piece of cake and life is a breeze.

If you live in Melbourne and enjoyed this article and would like to know more about any of our programs click the image below to request a free consultation.