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Friday, March 7, 2014

McExercise: Why Your Workout Could be Just as Unhealthy as Your Diet

You've heard of junk food, what about junk exercise?
“Want to wager what flavor she’s going for?” my coworker asked, watching a particularly scrawny 20-something sporting Lulu’s latest as she walked rapidly out the gym door.
“You know it will be fat free, whatever the flavor!” I replied.
You can envision the type we were snarkily laughing about. They do their 30 minutes of elliptical exercise or take that new low-impact aerobics class taught by a beefy Jason Bateman look-alike and suddenly they’ve “burned” enough calories to devour cake batter fro-yo loaded with gummi bears and colored sprinkles.
Lately these types have become equal-opportunity offenders. Skinny, toneless females have always fit the bill, but I’m seeing more
muscle-less, skinny guys briskly walking the treadmill like they were on the catwalk, vigorously thumbing through the latest Details. (They must be fashion models: A friend told me designer clothes don’t “drape” well on muscular guys. Whatever.) My coworkers and I even coined the term “fro-yo exercisers” for such people.
Listen, it’s a free country, and you can do whatever the hell you want at a gym as long as you’re not violating others’ space, otherwise acting like a complete ass, or over-exposing your, um, assets. (Looking at you, Cleavage Queen!)
At the same time, as a personal trainer I want people to get maximum benefit from their gym investment. After all, you’re committing time, money, and energy. You might as well get the biggest bang for those efforts, right?
Just like you can go through a fast-food drive-thru and load up on sugary, trans fat fiascos, so too can the wrong types of exercise become junk. These are my top “junk exercise” contenders:
1.  Warming up incorrectly. Never mind the folks who spend more time stretching than working out. If you’re stretching for an hour to procrastinate your workout, join a yoga class instead! I also see people doing static stretching before they work out. Static stretching becomes beneficial post-workout when your muscles are elastic and pliable. Before you work out, not so much. You see, static stretches won’t do much to prepare your muscles for heavy lifting. Instead, focus on a dynamic warm-up to prepare your body to move through a complete range of motion and to get those muscles warm. You can accomplish this by doing the same exercises you perform during your workout, minus the weight. Here’s one example: Before you rep 15 with that 350-pound barbell, do a few sets of 15 – 20 body weight squats. Don’t even think of lifting any “real” weight until you’ve already broken a sweat in your warm up.

2. One-size-fits-all workouts. Remember those one-size-fits-all T-shirts that never truly fit? Likewise, no one workout works for everyone. Never mind that you might not get the results you want; improper form or over-exercising can create injuries. (Looking at you, CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, and whatever the latest “everyone does this the exact same way” workout might be.) I’m a little biased, but a knowledgeable fitness pro can help you discover your individual muscular imbalances and how to correct them. They can also tailor workouts for your unique physiology that challenge you and get results. I’m also a fan of Functional Movement Systems (FMS), a seven-point movement screen designed to identify dysfunctional movement patterns and asymmetries within the body. You can then take steps to correct these imbalances and prevent injuries down the road. For a directory of certified FMS fitness professionals, click here

3. All-cardio workouts. Ah, the 1980s. For all its good memories (The Cosby Show and Ghostbusters, for starters), we also had things like acid-washed jeans, crimping irons, and perhaps worst of all, cardiomania.  I have a T-shirt that I sometimes wear at the gym that reads: “Q: What do you do for cardio? A: I lift weights – faster.”  It’s a joke, and so is cardio. Don’t give me the “it burns calories” or “it elevates your heart rate” nonsense. If you’re exercising correctly – lifting heavy, for instance – your heart rate will remain elevated during your entire workout (sometimes very elevated) and you’ll become an all-day fat burning machine. I said fat burning, not just calorie burning: Building muscle gives you a lean, tight physique you could never even dream about on elliptical machines or jogging for miles (more on that in a minute). If you’re using a treadmill as burst training coupled with weight resistance, fine. If an elliptical machine means leisurely thumbing through People Weekly while chatting with your girlfriend and you call that exercise, you’re living in a delusional time warp.

4. Useless exercise gadgets. Their informercials promise you’ll burn a zillion calories and develop rock-hard abs effortlessly in just minutes a day. Uh, huh. If you ever fell for that – and honestly, most of us did; those infomericals could be pretty damn persuasive – I’ve got a bridge to sell you. You might even still have one of these useless contraptions gathering dust in your garage. Love you Suzanne Somers, but the ThighMaster might have been the most useless contraption in the world’s entire history. Not far behind: The disturbingly sexual vibrating dumbbells. (If your dumbbells ever start vibrating at the gym, run fast.) Fitness gadgets fall under the junk-exercise category because they burn nothing except your money. I’m a fan of intelligently designed tools like Fitbit and a good heart rate monitor, but any gadget that makes hyperbolic promises will probably eventually become a gargantuan disappointment hogging up your garage space or finding its way into a thrift store.

5. Jogging. Jogging is a natural activity for human beings, said joggers but no one else. Our Paleolithic ancestors walked a lot (walking was mandatory, not exercise, for them), and they often sprinted when, spear in hand, they struck their prey or a saber-tooth tiger chased them for lunch. They sure as hell didn’t jog. Why would they?Jogging is junk exercise because it breaks down muscle-tissue, raises stress hormones, and puts undue stress on joints. As the weather warms up, look around at the scantily clad joggers at your park. Do they look healthy? They might be lean, but they often have little muscle tone. Muscle tissue is the holy grail of exercise that keeps you healthy, lean, and in vibrant health no matter what decade of life you’re in.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked several egregious forms of “exercise” here. That’s where I need your help. What is your biggest pet peeve you commonly see that would fall into the junk-exercise category? Share your thoughts here or on my Facebook fan page
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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