The 10 Commandments of Exercise
By Brian Copeland
Revised October 18, 2016
Exercise is not so simple that you can’t screw it up. – Dr. Eric Cobb
Whether you are new to exercise or have the calluses to prove otherwise, applying the following commandments will help you reach your goals faster.
Comm. #1 – Thou Shalt Not, Not Exercise
If you are reading this you you are either already exercising so it is irrelevant or you are thinking about getting started (or restarted) with exercise.
If you are in the 2nd category then here is some food for thought. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have expressed to me their concern with the declining health of their parents and other loved ones.
Family members having to wheel around oxygen tanks, use walkers, wheelchairs, having strokes and losing the use of a limb and cognitive function. And some of these folks are not that old!
Can you imagine needing to wear diapers as an adult because you neglected your own body?
Simply through lack of use their bodies and minds are falling apart.
Studies show that people in their 20s-50s normally exercise for sex and acceptance. Meaning they want to be found attractive and fit in with others.
While people starting around their 60s or 70s are thinking about not falling apart.
Whatever your reasoning the good news is that you will reap both benefits. The sooner you get started the better.
Comm. #2 – Thou Shalt Do No Harm
According to research 80% of new exercisers will stop in the first 2 – 3 months due to injury or pain.
Does this statistic alarm you as much as it does me?
Why do people feel the need to exercise that hard when it is not necessary? Or are they allowing another person, usually a paid fitness trainer, to push them too hard?
Doctors take a Hippocratic oath to first do no harm to their patients and I suggest that you take that same oath to yourself.
Exercise should be about focus, improvement, enjoyment, progress, feeling good, feeling challenged, being successful. It should never be about mind-numbing effort, working till you feel like crap, pushing hard to keep up with others, and getting hurt.
Comm. #3 – Thou Shalt Be Functional
The word functional fitness used to bring up images of people standing on bosu balls, balancing parking cones on their heads, while doing bicep curls. That is not what I’m referring to.
By functional I mean that the exercise you chose to do should be in alignment with the results you want to get.
Most people engage in exercise for one or multiple of the following reasons:
- To look better (lose body fat and/or gain muscle)
- Feel better (eliminate aches and pains, get stronger, improve stamina and vitality)
- Be more resistant to injury (or prevent illness / disease)
- Perform better at sports or daily tasks
Look Better Example
Let’s say Jane is relatively lean but has poor muscle tone. For her to do aerobics is pretty much the least functional thing she can do. She would be better off doing a sensible strength training program 2 – 4 days per week for about 10 – 35 minutes per session.
Ladies I’m gonna tell this truth, you won’t get toned buns unless you do resistance training. There are several options out there from kettlebell swings to barbell deadlifts to hip trusts and more. Pick something that works for you and rock it.
Feel Better Example
Jim is a relatively strong person with good muscle tone but his body is stiff and he frequently sufferes from elbow, shoulder and low back pain. Spending all of his time lifting weights might be counter productive. He would be better advised to spend more time creating suppleness in his body by doing dynamic joint mobility drills such as the R-Phase by Z-Health.
Perform Better at Sports Example
As a soccer player I hear my teammates all of the time say that they either jog daily or should start jogging daily. I tell them in a real game they have a ball at their feet and must change directions with it. So rather than jog in a straight line (which seems outrageously boring to me) why not dribble a ball around in a park and go around trees and such?
Comm. #4 – Thou Shalt Make Progress
If you desire to tone your butt, build a bigger chest, or whatever your goals then you must progress in strength.
So what does that mean?
Well if you can do one pushup now then when you can do 10 pushups your arms, shoulders, and chest will be much more toned looking.
If you can do kettlebell swings with a single 26 lb kettlebell then when you can swing a 53 lber your glutes will be far more toned.
Your body doesn’t like to change. You must give it a reason to change. Lifting something heavier than you did before or doing more repetitions with the same weight than you did before creates the need for the body to adapt by building more muscle.
However if you do the same thing week to week and month to month the body will not feel the need to adapt and will remain the same.
So progress is a must.
You can ensure progress by keeping a training journal. No need to get super detailed, just write down what weight and how many reps you did last time that way the next time you do that exercise you can try to beat your old numbers.
If your program is simple enough you might be able to keep track in your head. Regardless anything we don’t track stagnates and what we track progresses.
Comm. #5 – Thou Shalt Feel Better When Done Exercising
“No pain no gain” is a quote best left to the 70s. Let’s be clear for a moment, pain is bad.
Now effort and challenge are good things, they create an environment where change happens.
But unless you take performance enhancing drugs, and I am assuming you don’t, then you have a limited capacity for adaptation.
What does that mean?
When you exercise (cardio, strength training, flexibility training, even skill training) you are actually causing micro-trauma or damage to your body. Your body will then heal that damage and make you better in anticipation of you doing the same activity again.
However just like medicine the correct dose will make you better but too large of a dose will make you worse. Yes you can actually break down your body with too much and too hard of exercise and it can and will increase the speed at which you age, make you weaker, make your hair fall out, slow down your metabolism, deplete your sex hormones, make you chronically feel like crap, and worse quite possibly lead to disease.
Simply put you want to exercise just hard enough to create the need for change in your body and then stop.
Stimulate don’t annihilate.
Further more if fat loss is your goal the more calories you burn during exercise the more hunger cravings you will get and thus you will eat more food and in many cases gain body fat.
Yes there are smart ways to add movement and burn more calories per day but hard exercise is not the ideal way to get lean. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; strength train to build muscle (tone if you prefer that wording), do more non-exercise movement for calorie burning, and most important to getting lean is control what you eat.
As far as exercise, when you are finished you should feel great not worn out. You should be energized and feel like you could have done more. That means you still have enough energy for your body to recover from what you just did to it.
Final thought. I’ve seen lots of people who exercise hard and frequently, who push their bodies to the limit chronically. One thing that nearly all of them have in common both men and women is bad looking skin and belly fat. That comes from chronically elevated stress hormones (namely cortisol) because they always push their body into too much stress in exercise and likely in work and family as well.
Comm. #6 – Thou Shalt Not Seek Exercise for Entertainment
Let me be clear here, you should enjoy your exercise.
If you hate what you are doing then clearly something is wrong. Maybe the gym you are at smells bad or the class you take has people you don’t like being around. Perhaps you exercise way too hard or have a negative attitude because you feel like you “have to” exercise instead of “want to”. Definitely address those issues and find a way to exercise that is more enjoyable.
But let me also be even more clear, if you get bored easily then prepare to be mediocre.
Doing a couple of weeks of yoga, a month of kettlebell training, taking up jogging for a month, then swimming, then Zumba, then…
You won’t ever be good at anything.
Remember in order to build a toned body we must build muscle and reduce body fat until we look in the mirror and think, “hey I look great!”
There are lean, toned, and healthy people who do a variety of different forms of exercise. The one thing they have in common is they repeat something over and over until they get really really good at it. And regardless of what it is that they are doing it requires one to get stronger.
So they could be lifting barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight, pole dancing, etc. As long as what they are doing follows Commandment #4 they will build muscle.
The only way to make progress is to stick to something and be committed to getting better at it.
I have worked with a variety of male and female clients who all had different tastes in exercise but were all able to find something that fit their psychological makeup and thus were able to find sustainable muscle building exercise.
Comm. #7 – Thou Shalt Not Neglect Any Area of Fitness
The fitness industry is ripe with body shaming, modality bashing, people saying that their form of exercise is the best. It is all bullocks!
People argue over bodyweight vs. barbells vs. kettlebells and while all of those modalities have pros and cons none of them are good or bad they are merely a preference.
What matters most is what matters to you. If you like the way you look in the mirror, if you like how you move, and how you feel then you are doing things right for you.
Now that we have that out of the way let me tell you what I am talking about.
If you are strong as an ox yet super stiff then you are neglecting suppleness exercise.
If you are super flexible and weak as a kitten then you are neglecting strength exercise.
How strong do you need to be? How flexible do you need to be?
I can’t answer those questions, that is very much a personal answer for you.
Here are a list of areas that people should ask themselves if they need more or less of in their exercise program:
- Strength – Unless you are a strength competitor then you can define this any way you want. For most people it means that daily tasks such as carrying things feels easy. If you want more muscle or muscle tone then you want more strength.
- Suppleness – Can you touch your toes? Can you reach all areas of your body with your hands? Can you squat down to the ground easily? If not you likely need suppleness exercises such as R-Phase by Z-Health.
- Vision – Oh yes vision is a skill and you can improve it with training. Everything from your peripheral vision, to your near eyesight, far eyesight, the speed at which you can focus on an object, and a super important one… depth perception. Check out the Vision Gym for a great program to improve your eyes.
- Balance – Guess what the number one cause of death in the world is? Yep, falling. Everyone from a professional athlete to a retiree will benefit from balance training. Balance does not come from standing on unstable objects. Balance comes from your peripheral vision, your inner ear, and your ability to feel the ground with your feet. You can’t beat the Balance Gym for a great program to improve your balance.
- Breath Control – No I don’t mean heavy open mouth breathless exercise. I mean the ability to maintain calm, controlled, nasal, 3 dimensional breathing all day long including during exercise. Breath control is so important as it can improve intelligence by increasing blood flow to the brain, decrease blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, improve endurance by clearing lactic acid from muscles faster, decrease anxiety, reduce pain, improve mood, eliminate snoring, and so much more.
There certainly are other things one could, would, and should include in their exercise program but those 5 items I consider a must.
Comm. #8 – Thou Shalt Do Resistance Training
Resistance training, a.k.a. lifting things, pushing things, pulling things, including body weight, kettlebells, barbells, dummbells, heavy bags of sand, resistance bands, carrying things on a farm, etc.
Resistance training does the following:
- Builds muscles and muscle tone
- Makes daily tasks seem lighter and easier
- Strengthens bones and prevents osteoporosis
- Improves posture (if done correctly)
- Improves stamina
- Improves hormones (if not overdone)
- Teaches focus, determination and dedication
- Prepares you to win a fight
- Helps to prevent injuries (if done properly)
- Helps women with with a saggy fanny firm, lift and tone that fanny to a round apple
- Helps men with saggy… everything to firm, tone and man-up
- Gets rid of saggy flying squirrel arms
- Gives butt-less men a butt
- and much much more
Bottom line, if you want to be more awesome in life then you want to do some full body resistance training.
Comm. #9 – Thou Shalt Apply the Minimal Effective Dose
As mentioned before our bodies have a limited ability to adapt to stress. Exercise is stress.
Stress is cumulative. Imagine a bucket, this bucket represents your capacity to deal with stress.
Exercise puts a little into this bucket. Your job adds to the bucket. Your family and friends can add to the bucket. Rush hour traffic can add to the bucket. Being poor at managing stress… well.
You empty the bucket by relaxing, not playing… relaxing. Reading, sleeping, napping in the sun on the beach, etc.
If you have a lot of stress going on and the bucket is nearly full or overflowing then exercise will become a stressor that you CAN NOT adapt to.
In other words exercise becomes distress!
As a result you will actually notice that you are getting weaker, losing muscle, gaining body fat, feeling aches, and stiffness.
Some of us have very little stress in life and others of us have tons of it. Ditto some of us get plenty of sleep and recovery and empty out our stress bucket and others start each day with some stress leftover from the day before still in their bucket.
You probably already know where you stand on that.
Regardless each one of us must modulate how much exercise we do in order to keep our bucket from flowing over.
Too little exercise = no results
Too much exercise = burned out
Just the right amount of exercise = results, progress, improvement
How do you find how much you need? Well it is usually better to start with less and then slowly build up to doing more. As long as you are making results, feeling well and applying the commandments in this article then you are probably doing just fine.
If you are getting burned out from exercise then dial it back. If you are following a typical strength training program then maybe cut back on the number of total work sets or exercises in each training session.
Just to drive this home a little bit for you, a study out of Finland had over 270 participants follow an identical 21 week exercise program. They conducted before and after fitness and body composition tests.
At the end of the study you had about 1% of the participants have what can be called a super-responder type of result. They put on a lot of muscle, dropped a lot of body fat, got a lot stronger and improved their cardio VO2max output.
The majority of participants had a moderate response and gained a little muscle, a little strength, lost a little fat and improved cardio output a little. This is typical and nothing to be ashamed about.
But you also had about 26% of the participants get a negative response. Literally after 21 weeks of exercise they LOST muscle, LOST strength, GAINED body fat, LOST cardio conditioning.
That was the response the researchers had. I’m sure you can imagine why. Who exercises and expects to get worse?
The researchers were baffled and conducted follow-up studies that showed the same results. Anyone who has been exercising long enough can tell you there are times when they made great results, so-so results and worse results, I know I have.
The reason? Not applying the minimal effective dose commandment.
The bottom line is to ensure you keep making progress, start small, if you are making results don’t fix what ain’t broke. If you aren’t making results then seek professional coaching. Perhaps a phone coaching session.
Comm. #10 – Thou Shalt Focus on Quality Over Effort
Your body can only adapt so fast, trying to push harder than you can adapt to is just an exercise in frustration.
I’ve had clients come to me saying they need to get in shape for a marathon in 2 months! 2 MONTHS!
How about 2 years?
To even attempt to get into marathon shape in 2 months (which won’t happen, trust me) will mean that you will be working so hard that your orthopedic health (joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.) will fail before your effort gives out.
Ditto for trying to get super strong super quick, or drop 20 lbs of bodyfat in 2 weeks, it ain’t gonna happen. Let it happen at the pace your body can adapt to. Slow and steady wins the race.
Now if you want to arrive at the finish line with no or minimal injuries then you should focus on the quality of your movements.
As a runner you should work on improving your running technique, gait, posture, breathing, staying relaxed, etc. As a strength trainee you should focus on perfecting your technique, keeping a tall posture, controlling your breathing, staying relaxed, etc….
Hey those both seem quite similar… Yeah, there is a reason.
Many famous strength coaches have been saying for years that one should only do perfect reps, but what does that mean.
Experts like coaches Charles Staley, Chad Waterbury, and Dr. Eric Cobb have recommended stopping your set as soon as the speed of your repetitions slows down.
“WHOA! But I can do more Brian, I need to push harder, I have to give 120%!”
Yeah self sabotage runs high in this nation.
Imagine an Olympic medalist athlete training super hard to failure. How about a javelin thrower. Imagine she pushes herself past the point of perfect reps until every throw of the javelin is slower and does not travel as far as the previous repetition. She sure as heck would not have won an Olympic medal, heck she wouldn’t have made the team.
Well there you have it, the 10 Commandments of Exercise. Simple common-sense advice to follow to get your dream body while avoiding injuries.
Sign up below for videos and articles on nutrition, fat loss, strength training, and more.