What exercise method is the right method?
Exercise fads come and go, in the 80’s it was about group aerobics such as step and body tone, bright coloured leotards and funky 80’s power ballads. In the 90’s; TV ads, particularly infomercials showing buff business-minded bodybuilders convincing us that we couldn’t live without their exercise appliances, we had Tae Bo, the era of the body builders and Rambo. Today it’s all about CrossFit, MMA, Pilates, the Chuck Norris Total gym and many others.
For those new to exercise visiting a gym or exercising for the first time can be daunting. Exercise magazines are full of contradictory articles, advanced or boring exercise diagrams and every second page displays the newest wonder drug to get us leaner, more muscle bound, bigger, smaller, younger etc. How do we know what’s right for us? Do we do Body Pump? Spin? Boxing? Do we use machines? Free weights? Olympic lifting? Do I do heavy weights low reps? Light weights, high reps?
I think it’s important to acknowledge those exercise methods that came before. Pin loaded machines, free weights, exercise classes all serve a purpose and it should be encouraged that no matter what exercise mode has been chosen the fact that physical activity is taking place and improvements are being made is great. I personally am a firm believer in a blend of exercise methods, I like to use certain pin loaded machines as a way to improve my Olympic lifting and protect me from injury and I like to take part in Spin classes and boxing to help break up the routine.
"CrossFit” is the current Fitness trend taking the world by storm and like many of the fads before it, CrossFit hasn’t reinvented the wheel with regards to exercise, what it has done is provide a universal set of programming followed throughout the world and encouraged healthy competition and a strong sense of family and support between CrossFit boxes.
For me, what I think helps separate the idea of CrossFit from many other exercise trends is the requirement of highly skilled coaches who are well versed in anatomy and exercise biomechanics. I see it everyday, trainers completing a three month course via correspondence entering the industry and getting beginner athletes to trust their judgement. Without the appropriate knowledge or experience proper programming cannot be implemented, just because they may be able to lift 100kg doesn’t mean they know what’s best for you. My advice is to choose a trainer that works best for you, has a personality that matches yours, so rapport can be built, and a level of knowledge that doesn’t mimic something you read in Men’s Health.
Before getting into the exercise aspects there is one myth I would like to address that I hear all the time. A lot of first time female clients say to me “If I lift weights will I get big”. This is something I hear a lot and I’m sure many trainers out there also hear. This is no one’s fault and it’s easy to see why many would think this statement to be true given the way a lot of weight lifting is perceived in the media. I would like to say that there is NOTHING wrong with females lifting weights, in fact it should be encouraged. By increasing muscle density ones metabolic rate increases helping to burn fat while resting, muscle tone increases and posture improves. If you are happy with the way you look and can lift 60kg above your head, why go and lift 2.5kg dumbbells each hand 100 times? Do what you are capable of and strive to improve in strength, speed and stamina and you will be happy with your results. If not, change your method of training to integrate more flexibility work, more cardiovascular activity or more agility.
In all my years of exercise prescription and instruction, the most interesting and relevant lesson I have learnt is simple logic "Exercise is all about incorporating simple/ functional movements that we perform each and everyday", however it’s not until it’s all laid out in front of you that methods of exercise begin to make sense.
“10 physical skills, train them all!”
There are 10 basic physical skills that people can excel in and it is the training of these skills that vary depending on whether you are training for a specific sport or goal. You are either looking for all around fitness and strength or your fitness goals are more specific.
The 10 physical skills can be seen as;
Cardio-vascular and cardio respiratory endurance – The ability to utilise and gather oxygen
Stamina (muscular endurance) – The ability to utilise, store and gather energy
Strength – The ability of muscle units to produce force
Flexibility – The range of motion of a joint or muscle
Power – The ability of muscle units to apply maximum force over a minimum time.
Speed – The ability to decrease the time it takes to perform a movement or exercise.
Coordination – The ability to learn and replicate movement patterns.
Accuracy – The ability to control movement aimed at a direction of specific intensity.
Agility - The ability perform movement changes in a minimum period of time
Balance – The ability to control ones centre of gravity within movement patterns.
By integrating each of these skills into your workout routine it can produce a great level of all around fitness and an even greater understanding of exercise and body patterns. Certain sports and their training routines focus on only a few of the physical skills, allowing athletes to excel in the movement patterns relevant to their sport. Power Lifting is a perfect example. If you analyse the skill set of a Power Lifter it's safe to assumed that he/she would score high in strength, power, balance and maybe to an extent speed and coordination, however, skills such as flexibility, cardio vascular endurance, agility and accuracy may seem significantly lower. This skill set is reflective of the type of training athletes perform on a weekly basis. This type of training is perfect for athletes looking to perform at high levels in a specific sport however, for those of us looking to maintain a great level of overall "fitness” we must look to broaden our exercise routines and really define what fitness is.
Fitness cannot be defined as the “ability to be fit”, or fitness is when you can run this far this fast, or fitness is when you can do 100 push ups in a row. Fitness is all encompassing and requires a definition that is simple and helps to methodise the idea of exercise.
What is fitness?
“The ability to do common things, uncommonly well”
This is probably the best definition of fitness I have come across in my exercise career. This statement has helped me shape and design a lot of my training routines for clients as well as for myself.
Let’s break this statement down; “common things”, common movement patterns I may perform on a day to day basis include; sitting down and standing up, jumping, running for a bus, picking up bags off the floor and putting something up on a shelf. Now if I were to exercise for these movements I might perform squats, skipping or box jumps, shuttle runs, dead lifts, clean and press and push presses. Before you know it, just by analysing the types of movements I might do in a single day, I have an entire workout routine planned and ready to go.
To give you more control over your workout routines, sit down and have a think of some of the movements you have already performed today from the moment you woke up to this point right now. What exercises do you think mimic these movements in a gym or at home? Add in higher intensity through either a heavier weight or a higher speed, and you have your workout for tonight.
The point I am trying to make with this article is to pass on the knowledge to take on a more active roll in your own health and fitness. By understanding these exercise principles I assure you your entire approach to exercise will change by allowing you to break the mould of chest day, back day, cardio day etc. Unless you’re a professional body builder aiming at size and mass, your routines should be constantly varying and focussed around functional movements performed at high intensities. Perform the common movements uncommonly well!
For more information please feel free to contact Rockstar Fitness