Sean McCawley, Fit for Life: What farming can teach you about exercise | Columnists

Growing up a gym rat and studying to be an exercise physiologist, I would never consider myself a farmer. However, I do see similarities between the two.

Driving down to Monterey recently, I noticed the abundance of artichoke orchards scattered along the side of the freeway. To my surprise, there would be random plots of land perfectly tilled and managed with nothing but dirt. I thought, “Why wouldn’t there be any artichokes planted in this perfect piece of land?”

After a quick Google search, I learned that crop rotations are a technique used to help soil maintain and regenerate the nutrients each season. Little did I know, artichoke farmers perform this tactic purposely throughout seasons to ensure their world-famous artichokes grow strong and beautiful.

This is like how the human body reacts to exercise and physical activity. If the body lacks “seasons” in exercise and physical activity, the possibility to grow and adapt diminishes.

Like a plot of land that hasn’t been turned over, performing the same exercise routine repetitively for weeks, months, or even years can lead to staleness in the effort put into workouts and decreased motivation.

Performing the same exercise routine can also lead to a decreased amount of stress put on the muscles because the body gets used to that stress, limiting the adaptive properties muscles and bones use to regrow following a challenging workout.

Additionally, performing repetitive physical activity increases likelihood of overuse injuries on significant joints such as the shoulders, back, knees or ankles. Similar to how the soil can get overused, our bodies can get overused from too much of the same activity.

When the body doesn’t have a sensitivity induced upon it with a variety of exercise, its ability to adapt decreases. Repeating the same movements we are accustomed to, we don’t introduce a chance to challenge muscle and bone cells to grow.

Additionally, when the body settles into a state of comfort in an exercise routine that has been repeated for months, or even years, the energy spent during comfortable exercises won’t be efficient enough to burn as much fat as with newer, more challenging exercise routines.

When artichokes have an absence of nutrients in the soil, they will produce puny artichoke buds. Similarly, if the human body has an absence of various exercises, the muscles won’t grow, bones won’t be as strong, and fat underneath the skin won’t metabolize as well.

An example of performing too much of the same exercises could be performing Zumba three or more times per week. Granted, Zumba is an enthralling and fun form of physical activity. But performing the same routine three times a week or more throughout a few years can add up to overuse injuries on significant joints like the knees or ankles.

Other popular modes of exercise include group aerobics or CrossFit classes. Granted, these are effective and productive forms of physical activity that help society become healthy and fit. However, performing the same modes of exercise repetitively can introduce factors leading to injury. Too much jumping, change of direction, or lateral movement can add up over time.

My personal experience of playing recreation softball about 4 times a week over the years added up. I noticed that my shoulder experienced pain like never before due to pitching seven innings, four times a week. Dabbling with too much of a good thing introduces a threat of staleness in the body, where connective tissue may stop adapting and slightly deteriorate. These factors can lead to nagging aches, pains, and decreased interest to perform physical activity at all because it hurts.

A solution is to take a page out of the artichoke farmer’s book. Leave and come back. The concept of having seasons is an effective practice to stop what you’re doing, and then pick up on a new activity. We turn over our personal training clients exercise prescriptions every four weeks.

Certain exercises are removed, some are kept, and there are new additions. This gives muscle groups prone to injury a chance to regenerate and opens an opportunity to exercise specific muscles that may have not been focused on previously. Just like the plots of land lying dormant for a season, the dirt has a chance to regrow nutrients and healthy bacteria to supercharge the world-famous artichokes.

If we treat out bodies the similarly and take a few seasons off specific activities, or slightly reduce the frequency in which we are performing the same activities we enjoy so much, we can develop a more sensitive environment to super charge the development of our muscles and bones while increasing the amount of energy we spend to burn more fat.

It might be a good idea to take some time off the activities you like so much. That way you’ll develop a fondness of the activity and be motivated to return better than before.

Avoid doing the same old thing. Develop a gap in which new activities can be explored in a safe and fun environment while keeping track of how long you’re away from the activities you love so much and miss when you’re away. Just like rotating the artichoke crops, maybe we can learn something by rotating what types of physical activities and exercises we do each season.



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