Search This Blog

Friday, March 21, 2014

The #1 Workout Mistake You’re Probably Making

One-size-fits-all workouts.....a good or a bad idea?
Several weeks before a major nutrition conference last summer where I gave an important lecture, I realized I needed a more tailored look. I work at a gym; my wardrobe mostly consists of Lululemon. That wasn’t going to cut it for this presentation among esteemed colleagues.

I tried on numerous off-the-rack dress shirts, but nothing fit exactly right. Too long, too baggy, or too frumpy: I left a particular upscale department store discouraged.

Then my boyfriend reminded me about a fabulous tailor he’d used years before. I scheduled an appointment, and about a week later this tailor created three beautiful, perfectly fitted dress shirts that made me effortlessly look pulled together.

Much like custom-fitted shirts, off-the-rack workouts – DVDs, classes, books, and do-it-yourself – don’t address your individual needs. They might be passable, but they can’t possibly account for your unique strengths and weaknesses, goals, idiosyncrasies, and other things that make you you.

Unfortunately, several popular workout plans take a McExercise approach to fitness that, at their worst, can create injury and burnout. Among these top “one-size-fits-all” offenders include:

“Why do you trash CrossFit so much?” a coworker asked recently, referring to a recent blog that described its potential dangers.
Frankly, I’m alarmed at this workout’s sudden popularity among middle-aged soccer moms and pudgy couch-potato dads who think they must endure drill sergeant-like verbal abuse and physically punishing exercises to get in shape.
As a fitness instructor with decades under her belt, I’m here to say that you needn’t tolerate such physical or mental abuse to reach your goals.
Hardcore workouts stem from this country’s badass, amped-up obsession with bigger louder faster. In a society where we award trophies to young athletes just for showing up, hardcore workouts like CrossFit foster a competitive environment and emotional bonding that starkly contrasts the “wussification” of young people and politically correct “everybody wins” attitude in the classroom and on the field. 
Listen, I’m fine with that hit-it-hard mentality, especially if you’re young, healthy, and otherwise able to endure punishing workouts. CrossFit is like taking your car from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. Unless you’ve got a Ferrari engine, you’re going to blow out the engine. Most people who do this program have a Toyota engine.
That push-till-you’re-crashing attitude includes overly repetitive reps and sets overseen by often-unskilled instructors who fail to address muscular imbalances, a history of past injuries, age, and other limitations.
Many CrossFit instructors I meet are former athletes, not coaches. They assume what works for them works for everyone, and that’s ultimately a recipe for over-training, burnout, and injury.
But wait, you say: You want to feel the workout; what’s your alternative? Well, weight training can provide a kick-ass workout without risking injury. Ideally you’ll lift the heaviest weight you can in good form for a given rep range (depending on your goals and other variables.) While many serious lifters eventually go at it on their own, a personal coach can help you maintain good technique and custom-design challenging workouts if you’re a lifting newbie.
Yoga and Pilates
A former client unhappily recollected a yoga class she took years ago.
“I’d had a long day and eagerly awaited the Zenned-out bliss of a relaxing class,” she said. “I got quite a surprise when my instructor, who made Jillian Michaels look like Mary Poppins, barked orders for us to get in ridiculously demanding poses. ‘My boyfriend asked me to get in that pose once for sex,’ I joked. My instructor scowled, clearly not amused. Nor did she help me do those poses sans attitude.
My friend was among the opt-for-yoga-and-Pilates mentality because she feared lifting heavy would bulk her up. Once we became friends, of course, I put that fear to rest, and I’m pleased to say my friend lifts fairly heavy and trains hard these days.
Before you commit to a workout, do your research. That goes double for yoga. Among instructors, you’ll find “enjoy the good vibes” peaceniks and drill sergeants like my friend’s teacher.
Even with a comprehensive class description, always take a class before you commit to a package. While not common, you might find yourself in a class with 40 students and an instructor who worked at In-N-Out Burger a month ago while he completed his online diploma. And yes, you can injure yourself in a yoga class.
Ideally you’ll find an instructor who accounts for individual strength, flexibility, and other variables. They won’t let you half-ass your way through the hour, and they'll patiently work with you to perfect a pose rather than take an everyone-is-on-the-same-level approach.
As yoga and Pilates become more mainstream and commercialized, you’ll see bastardizations of these classes where unskilled instructors decide to “marry” both forms. Combine yoga and Pilates and you’ll get the benefits of both, right?
Not quite. These are the same uninformed folks who claim Pilates will “elongate” your muscles. Over time, Pilates can help you move your muscles through a wider range of motion by improving flexibility, but your muscles can’t “elongate.”  
I’ve got mixed feelings about these synergistic yoga/ Pilates workouts. Keep it pure, get instructors who know their stuff, and respect the millennia-long traditions of yoga. On the other hand, any exercise that gets people off the couch and makes it enjoyable can only be a good thing.
I’m a big fan of using Pilates and especially yoga to complement (not replace) real lifting. Restorative yoga provides an excellent way to unwind after a strenuous workout.
Long-duration, moderate-intensity exercise spikes your stress hormones and catabolizes muscle tissue, crashing your metabolism.
I know there are a lot of cardio haters out there. I’m oftentimes one myself. I can think of a few benefits to running, including creating positive stress on bones to increase bone remodeling.
More often, though, those minor positive benefits come with a cruel long-term cost. People become addicted to the endorphin high of these sports, which can alleviate depression but leads to overtraining, a weakened immune system, and loss of lean muscle mass. Overtraining ultimately leads to depression. Talk about a vicious cycle!
I have a certain respect for runners, but you don’t run to get in shape; you get in shape to run. Excellent posture and muscular balance become crucial before you run a marathon or even around the block. Running is a quad-dominant sport that shortens and weakens the hamstrings (making them more prone than ever to strains and tears) if you don’t know how to prepare the body for it.
I know too many people who just decided to run for the hell of it, or because their best friend always raves about his endorphin rush, or because they want to be part of the barefoot running craze. Dive headfirst into the deep end without knowing how to swim and you risk serious injuries.
Before you take up running, I highly recommend a good running coach. And no, your best friend who’s been doing it for years and is a so-called expert does not count as a running coach. Find someone with experience who can show you proper technique.
Better yet, opt for burst training, which gives you more benefits than running in just minutes a day. A park hill or even elliptical machine make ideal ways to burst train, and you’ll knock out a workout in about the time it takes your “barefoot runner” friend to get his toes in those dumb-looking Vibram Five Fingers.
Other One-Size-Fits-All Workouts
I discussed in depth three of the biggest one-size-fits-all offenders, but there are countless others. They aren’t necessarily bad, but done incorrectly and neglecting to address individual concerns can create serious long-term repercussions:

·       Barre Method/Cardio Barre – just because a class is based on ballet doesn’t mean it will suddenly put you into size-zero skinny jeans. You’ll probably burn a little fat in these classes, but you’re not going to build muscle. If you’re looking for a fun class to complement weight resistance, great. If you think you’ll suddenly develop a ballerina’s lithe body, keep dreaming.
·       Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) – MMA is basically ballerina for tattooed dudes who want to legally kick ass and get in better shape. Great for military veterans looking to re-acclimate to civilian life and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), MMA requires serious skills as a boxer, a wrestler, and kick-fighter. Thumbs up if you want killer burst-style exercise, but you better be quick, nimble, and agile.  Not a good choice for older or non-flexible folks.
·       Calisthenics – think Cirque du Soleil or gymnastics. You can build amazing strength – check out my Facebook page video to witness amazing upper-body transformations – with minimal risk of injury. Patience is a virtue here. Calisthenics requires years and preferably a small, compact body type to perfect.
Your turn: What popular one-size-fits-all workout did I neglect that could create potential long-term problems? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.
You have permission to do so, free of charge, as long as the byline and
the article is included in its entirety:

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.

If you use the article you are required to activate any links found in the article and the by-line. Please do not use this article in any publication that is not opt-in (spam).


Post a Comment