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The trend right now in fitness is for trainers to advocate “Total Body Weight Exercise” as being the magical cure for every person wanting to lean up and get buff. But what’s not being openly talked about is the casualties that line this path. I want more fitness professionals and their clients to be mindful about what “total body weight exercise” really means.
It is true that the more muscles you get working at any given time the more calories you burn. That makes intrinsic sense. It is also true that your body moves on it’s own without you thinking about it, all day, every day in a multiplicity of complex multi-movement patterns. All of that is good stuff.
Now, what most athletes, many turned fitness professionals fail to take in to consideration is the different types of learning and their effect on motor co-ordination and the ability to perform an exercise correctly. There are varied learning types that people can be generally classified under, like visual or auditory. Visual learning style, means you see someone do it and you can then do it. Auditory learning style means you hear a list of directions and you can then sequence them back correctly. Most athletes are kinesthetic learners, that means they learn by physically doing a task. That is not to say that a visual learner cannot learn to perform the same task as a kinesthetic learner, but it means that there will be a higher learning curve for them on a task of physical nature. So trainers, just because you can do 100 picture perfect burpees in a row at speed, does not mean that your client should or can even if they want to.
Full body weight exercise requires a base level of strength. The building block structure should be first: 1) establish stability – the means by which the body can maintain the integrity of its joint structure under most forms of stress. Stress itself can be constituted in training terms by speed (how fast or slow is the pace), load (how much weight you’re lifting) and duration (how long are you lifting each load.)
Everyone has helped a friend move; imagine you lift a heavy box and you have to stand still and hold it until your friend gets his car. It would make a difference to your back and shoulders if that car were right out front or parked two blocks away. Now imagine you and your friend have to lift a really heavy box – but you only have to move it ten steps in a straight line. Chances are – you will both move as quickly as possible. Lastly, imagine you are carrying a heavy box that requires you to move down several flights of stairs – you are under load and the duration will be long and the pace will be slow. All of these scenarios are slightly different from one another in the demands they make on the body. And everyone can relate to feeling stiff and sore after a move. Proper training can get you to where none of those scenarios would be painful. You would be stable in maintaining your joint integrity.
The next phase of training should be symmetry. Is each individual joint and side equal to the tasks demanded on the body? Anyone ever tried to carry a toddler in one arm and lifted a bag of groceries from the back of a car simultaneously?
The last phase is dynamic performance. The ability to do intense, full-body, full-ROM exercises under various forms of stress. Yes, FBW exercises develop dense muscle mass more efficiently and effectively than any other form of exercise. But is it appropriate for everyone to go straight to the hardest, most bad-ass place first? An athlete has been doing crazy compound loaded movements for a lifetime – the brain actually functions differently (this is another topic for a future blog in and of itself!) To expect a client to perform like that before proper foundations are put down is a recipe for disaster. Anyone remember Tae Bo? Yes, great results are achieved but at what cost? My goals are not for people to feel good for the one year they did Cross-Fit. I want people to be equal to the physical challenges in their daily lives and to feel good and look great for the duration of their years!
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Attention fitness professionals: Why is there such a focus and an assumption that everyone on the planet should or wants to look like a Navy Seal?! Over and over I see fitness professionals trying to “motivate” people by putting them through the same paces an athlete goes through. But the truth of the situation is that 1) Most athletes are bit on the nutty scale psychologically, myself included – how else could I have completely ripped my hamstring off the bone but still went out for a pint with friends?! 2) Most athletes, including ex-military pay a price for pushing their bodies so hard. Ask any paratrooper over 50 how their knees and back feel on most days. 3) The general population can benefit greatly by exercise, but are “boot camp” and “cross-fit” style workouts appropriate? I see fitness professionals trying their best to motivate but without a good sense of how they are being perceived. To a die-hard gym rat, these high energy classes seem like “fun.” But to the person who is shy, weak and uncomfortable with their body this approach can look like a coked-out 80’s aerobic instructor or a tatted up Russian UFC fighter – neither is going to be terribly successful on enticing the people who really need our help!
If we truly want to practice what we preach as fitness professionals, that our goals are to help people have better day to day health and to reach physical and mental goals previously thought to be unattainable, then we must stop trying to expect everyone to be the same or to be motivated the same way. We must stop putting the average client through workouts that we would find exhilarating and rather begin where they are.
I do believe that every person can train to their individual highest level. But the job of the trainer is to shore up the weak spots and develop that individual’s best skills. Imagine if you were putting together an elite team. Yes, you would want everyone’s base level of conditioning to be up to the level that will be demanded in the game. But you wouldn’t take your fastest guy and make him your blocker. Nor if you needed an agile, swift and light person would you send in the strongman competitor.
If we want to create better health in the nations, we have to do it via good management. Adaptable training can serve all people successfully – but the trainers’ need to shift approach to make that elite team happen!