What is the difference between exercise and physical activity? What is the full extent to which we can influence our bodies with movement? If there was a universal benchmark for movement mastery, what would it look like?
Ask anyone what the difference is between exercise and physical activity, or training and movement, and you’ll find them hard-pressed to offer any clear or meaningful distinction.
This inability to distinguish between these different kinds of physical activity is at the heart of why so many of us struggle to master our relationship with movement.
That is to say, to use our bodies as the single most enjoyable, direct, and effective instrument with which to maximise one’s subjective physical quality of life (confidence, freedom, vitality, and joy) and objective physical condition (health, fitness, and body composition).
We’ve reduced all movement (the source of all autopoietic life) to nothing but a necessary evil for either self-transportation (do I really need to walk there?) or body-composition manipulation (how does this movement help me lose weight/gain muscle?).
We therefore avoid walking whenever public transportation becomes optional and are motivated to move only when we see (can make up) an association between it and weight loss. Leaving us grossly under-stimulated physically and movement deprived.
By making these (5 physical activity) distinctions, and seeing how these different types of movement expressions affect and benefit us differently, we can begin to redefine our relationship with movement and thereby maximise the effects it has to offer us:
The 5 Types of Physical Activity
- Physical Exercise: It’s About Conditioning, Fitness, & Body Composition
- Physical Practice/Sport: It’s About Skill Conditioning, Technique, & Performance
- Physical Maintenance: It’s About Health, Mobility, & Posture
- Physical Activity: It’s About Health, Moving, Commuting, Shopping, Play, & Travel
- Physical Meditation: It’s About Health, Mindfulness, & Flow
#1: Physical Exercise (Conditioning, Fitness, & Body Composition)
Definition: Physical exercise is any purposefully directed activity that stimulates the body (musculature and heart) to produce a specific physiologic adaptation (strength, strength endurance, power, cardiovascular endurance, and/or speed) in one’s level of fitness (adapting beyond a resting threshold of capacity) in a way that doesn’t undermine one’s health (without injury or getting sick).
Characteristics: Low volume, high intensity (10/10 of perceived exertion), done infrequently (1 to 2 x week), focus is internalised (progressive fatigue), maximum heart rate (80 – 100%), effort (not skilled) based, structured/controlled application
Purpose of Exercise (Adaptations): Stimulate 5 of 10 possible physiologic adaptations: strength, strength endurance, power, cardiovascular endurance, and/or speed
Types of Exercise: Strength training, strength endurance training, power/explosive work, cardiovascular endurance training, and speed training
Types of Exercise Regimens: StrongLift, Occam’s Protocol, Olympic Lifting, Power Lifting, CrossFit, Bodybuilding, P90X, TRX
Impact on Body Composition: Fat loss and/or muscle gain (exercise, particularly strength, power, and speed training, has the single greatest impact on one’s body composition)
Time to Spend in this Domain: Science continues to demonstrate that 15min or less per week is more than sufficient to stimulate one’s musculature for burning fat/gaining lean mass at one’s maximum rate
#2: Physical Practice / Sport (Skill Conditioning, Technique, & Performance)
Definition: Physical practice or training is any purposefully directed activity that stimulates both the brain and body (neuro-musculature) to produce a movement-specific adaptation (agility, accuracy, balance, and coordination) within a specific level of performance (adequate strength to learn the handstands for instance) relative to a particular benchmark (perform the perfect handstand for 90sec).
Characteristics: Medium volume, medium to high intensity (7/10 of perceived exertion), done frequently (3 – 5 x week), focus is externalised (performance), moderate heart rate (60 – 80%),structured/controlled application, skilled (not effort) based
Purpose of Practice/Training (Adaptations): Stimulate 4 of 10 possible physiologic adaptations: accuracy, agility, balance, and coordination (so as to learn and condition new physical skills)
Types of Practice: Accuracy, agility, balance, and coordination drills with varying degrees of resistance applied to each drill
Types of Practice Regimens: Gymnastics, Dancing, Fighting, Calisthenics, Olympic Lifting, Slacklining, Parkour, Ninja Warrior, and Sports
Impact on Body Composition: Lean conditioned muscle mass (the greater the volume or intensity of the practice the greater the impact on one’s body composition)
Time to Spend in This Domain: 60 – 180min per week for non athletes (physical practice is the single most effective way to learn and have fun through movement)
#3: Physical Maintenance (Health, Mobility, & Posture)
Definition: Physical maintenance is any purposefully directed activity that stimulates the body (neuro-musculoskeletal system) to produce a specific prehabilitative adaptation (neuro-muscular strengthening and conditioning, skeletal realignment, and joint mobilisation) for restoring or retaining healthy movement patterns and postural stabilisation
Characteristics: Low volume, low intensity (6/10 of perceived exertion), done frequently (daily), focus is internalised and externalised (pain management, objective alignment), just above resting heart rate (50 – 60%), structured/controlled application, not effort or skilled based
Purpose of Maintenance (Adaptations): Prevent muscular, skeletal, spinal, and/or joint dysfunctions, impairments, or injuries (by strengthening weak muscles, correcting skeletal misalignments, and stabilising joint instabilities)
Types of Maintenance: Postural Therapy, Stretching, Corrective Movement Conditioning, Myofascial Release, Active Soft Tissue Release
Types of Maintenance Regimens: The Egoscue Method, Active Release Techniques, FMS (Functional Movement Systems), The Starett Method (Movement & Mobility 101), Foam Rolling
Impact on Body Composition: None! Sorry, no weight loss benefits here. But how does staying free from pain, postural deviations, carpel-tunnel syndrome, movement/joint dysfunctions, and soft-tissue injuries for a lifetime sound?
Time to Spend in this Domain: 60 – 180 min/week (the amount of time you should spend on prehabilitation depends on your injury status, no. of hours sitting, level of activity, or degree of movement and/or postural deviations you have)
#4: Physical Activity (Health, Movement, Commuting, Playing, & Traveling)
Definition: Physical activity is any functional, practical, fun, or travel-based activity that stimulates the body to produce and maintain functional adaptations (adequate movement performed with full range of motion) within the body’s most basic functional capacities (walk, jog, carry, squat, lunge, push, pull, twist, bend, lift, jump, throw, climb, and hang) for purposes of creation, travel, and fun.
Characteristics: High volume, low intensity (5/10 of perceived exertion), done frequently (daily), focus is externalised (arriving, creating, exploring), moderate resting heart rate (50 – 70%), little structure or control, little effort required, not technique based
Purpose of Physical Activity: To induce the minimum physical stimulation necessary to stay healthy (move or die), to create (build, fix, and manifest), to hunt and gather your monthly life essentials (shopping), to have fun (play, learn), to get from point A to point B (commuting), to explore (travel)
Types of Physical Activity: Moving for it’s own sake (playing, functional movement), Creating (build, fix, move things, manifest your thoughts), Commuting (walking), Modern Hunting & Gathering (shopping, cooking), Traveling (walking, hiking, climbing)
Types of Physical Activity Regimens: Ido Portal’s Locomotion, Walking Events, Hiking Programs/Trails, Rock Climbing, Sports/Games
Impact on Body Composition: Next to nothing! Again, sorry, but shopping, walking, traveling, or playing doesn’t exist to aid weight loss (that’s what exercise is for)
Time to Spend in this Domain: 7 to 14 hours/week (walk at least an hour a day, play a fun sport for 1 to 2 hours a week, take the stairs whenever possible, see shopping as the perfect excuse to walk more, and travel/explore a new place at least every 2nd week
#5: Physical Meditation (Health, Mindfulness, & Flow)
Definition: Physical meditation is any mindful, flowing, and subtle-state activity that stimulates the mind and body to produce a focused and relaxed psychosomatic adaptation (mindful movement patterns, alpha-state, breathing) and unlike physical exercise, practice, maintenance, or general activity (except for play), physical meditation is performed for it’s own sake
Characteristics: Medium volume, medium intensity (7/10 of perceived exertion), done frequently (bi-daily), focus is internalised (flow, alpha-state, relaxation), moderate resting heart rate (50 – 70%), little structure or control, little effort required, not technique based
Purpose of Physical Meditation: Stimulate the mind and body concurrently for both physically induced subtle-state conditioning (alpha-state relaxation, focus) and it’s own sake (free expression, play, flow)
Types of Physical Meditation Regimens: Ido Portal’s Locomotion, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong
Impact on Body Composition: Minimal! Again, physical meditation is done for it’s own sake, not weight loss/muscle gain.
Time to Spend in this Domain: 60 – 180 min/week (physical meditation is perfect for combing your mediation with physical activity and thereby move two birds with one activity)
Keep in mind that this movement map of physical activity is just that, a map. And like with all maps, it serves to do 2 things: 1) reveal the full landscape (so you can take as inclusive an approach as possible) so as 2) not to confuse one territory with another (physical activity is not exercise in the same way that Brooklyn is not Queens).
Many of these activities obviously overlap (practice with maintenance, exercise with practice) so depending on your lifestyle, interests, and level of activity, each movement routine (the amount of time you need to spend within each category) will differ.