In 2013, I was first introduced to the concept of “self-limiting exercise.” Truthfully, it allowed me to really shift my thought process when prescribing training and rehabilitation programs for clients. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate that more is not always better, but better is better. Self-limiting exercise certainly fits that mold.
If this term is unfamiliar to you, self-limiting simply means…
“Relating to something which limits itself.”
Now, if we reconfigure that definition to encompass more of a movement perspective, we clearly understand that self-limiting exercise is a type of training that requires additional emphasis on quality and proper form above quantity. As soon as quality is lost, the exercise or movement is over. This will eliminate excess volume, prioritize good quality movement, and reduce the likelihood of injury.
Let’s cover a few examples to better explain this…
- Distance running is a sport where you are rarely limited by your form but rather cardiorespiratory fitness, endurance, and pain threshold. It’s common for runners to push their limits to the point of exhaustion and/or the onset of pain. If running was more self-limiting in nature, as soon as form breaks down that would be the end of training for that day. This places quality of running over quantity, and will most likely lead to a significant reduction in running-related injuries.
- Jumping rope can be viewed as a great example of a well-known self-limiting exercise. It’s rarely the strongest or most fit person who jumps rope the best. But, rather the one that’s able to maintain proper posture, form, timing, and coordination. As soon as one of these characteristics is lost, you quickly lose rhythm and have to start over. We all know how frustrating it can be when jumping rope but that’s why we rarely see injuries from this form of training.
- The last example I’d like to describe is single balance work. You can’t muscle yourself through poor balance. This type of training has more to do with an efficient neuromuscular system than brute strength of individual muscles. It’s self-limiting in that once balance is lost, you have to regain your footing and completely start again from where you left off.
Hopefully each of these examples accurately conveys the difference between self-limiting exercise and the formal type of exercise we have adopted over the years. As a society that readily thinks more is better, I’d love you to start thinking more deeply about how you can get more from less. And with less I mean as much as necessary with adequate form and proficient movement.
While digesting a lot of information over the years from different professionals and groups, such as Gray Cook, Erwan Le Corre, and The Foot Collective, I’ve really gravitated to the balance beam as a tool to prioritize self-limiting exercise. This is an environment that requires balance, stability, and control to execute a series of drills properly so you don’t lose balance and fall.
Of course, I don’t complete entire workouts on the balance beam but rather specific drills in a warm-up or cool-down fashion, and on recovery days. This will provide you more “balance” between our modern lifestyle and the benefits that self-limiting exercise can provide to movement proficiency.
Below are a handful of my favorite drills utilizing the balance beam…
Forward & Backward Walking
Balancing 4-Way Toe Taps
Balancing Split Squat
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you have any questions at all about how to start implementing more self-limiting exercises into your routine, don’t hesitate to click here and contact me directly. The thought process of quality over quantity will work wonders for your body to enhance movement quality, create a better mind-body connection, and ultimately achieve longevity to express yourself through movement later in life.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART