Without a doubt, there seem to have emerged two competing ‘sides’ to fitness, strength training and healthy living. I’ve spoken about these sides in the past.
On the one side, there’s the commercialized, glossy, social media-friendly, highly consumable content that often takes advantage of people’s lack of general fitness knowledge in order to sell products. These are the types of resources that dole out duplicitous advice, and guarantee great results to fitness despite lackluster efforts. If we’re talking about a product for money, that product is usually quite affordable and in keeping with a corner-cutting individual who hasn’t committed to the process, likely in search of a guarantee for cheap. If we’re talking about an individual “influencer”, their expertise is usually image-based, hardly versed in kinesiology or biomechanics, and rarely a source of substantive information.
On the other side, directly in combat to the above, comes the performance-oriented stock. The ones who view body image and composition as a distant second, third, or even fourth priority to movement skill, acquirement of strength, health, and mental calm. The advice doled out is usually un-sexy, and often times, the experts can struggle to tiptoe the line that divides the accessible from the esoteric. But it works, mostly because there’s more educational knowledge to fuel the claims, and partially because lies usually aren’t told on this side.
This perfectly sets the stage to introduce the notion that each of these sides can have both a positive and negative impact on you – the client, the consumer, the potential trainee. And it’s worthwhile to consider each before making up your mind on who to listen to and which advice to follow.
See, there’s quite obvious “risk” that’s associated with going on a 15 day crash diet that purports to drop you 5% body fat and shed you a pound a day. Advice like this needs to fall by the wayside in the name of a client’s safety and health. The less obvious risk comes in a program that may be effective on paper, but cookie-cutter and not customized to your own needs. Notwithstanding the use of bad overall technique, programs like this can tend to assume certain things:
- Your training age. I don’t mean your real age. A 40 year old person who’s only spent a couple of years training properly has a training age of 2. At 33, I have a training age of 15. This is important to understand whether or not training programs may be a bit too advanced or ask too much of a person based on their current level of skill and understanding of not only the body, but their body. That last point is important. Knowing just what works for them as individuals takes a few more years under the iron to train intuitively.
- Your body type and proportions. It’s true, asking someone who’s 6’6” to do conventional deadlifts for sets and reps from the floor may not go as smoothly as asking someone who’s 5’6” to do it. And even if it does, it might not take into consideration just how much more it may work certain muscles and stress certain joints compared to someone more favorably suited for the lift. Sometimes, a closer look at someone’s anthropometry can go a long way.
- Your injury history. A cookie-cutter program will never know whether you’ve dislocated your shoulder in the past, have a replaced hip, have discogenic back issues, or had hernia or ACL surgery from a sports injury. Programs like this tend to assume a clean slate, with few to no modifications in case you do have special issues that demand attention.
- Your lifestyle. 19-year-old Kevin, the sophomore university student with a part time job who lives at home, will probably have different stress levels than 45-year-old Bill, the 15th year lawyer with a 60 hour work week, a spouse, 3 children and two mortgages. Things like stress levels and sleep quality need to be accounted for. Not to mention general free time and availability to train on a focused program.
Needless to say, going the generic, commercialized, consumer-friendly route can mean a bit more risk than meets the eye. And that’s worth all of our concern and pragmatism when looking for help.
But, there’s a flipside.
Good Training: You Got Brainwashed by the Pundits
In the name of cutting to the chase, let me put it this way.
Dips provide plenty of glenoid fossa stress and can decrease subacromial space. Because of this, the already fragile shoulder joint can be placed under a lot of undue tension when performing the exercise – even when using parallel bars.
Back squats can further aggravate shoulder pain especially if mobility issues are present at that joint. This can predictably spill into elbow dysfunction. The axial loading of a back squat can compress the lumbar vertebrae and exacerbate posterior chain dysfunction if the glutes aren’t strong and responsive.
Leg presses start and finish in a hip-flexed position, and never train complete hip extension. Because of this, the psoas and iliacus muscles can be encouraged to remain short and taut, which is the typical opposite of what most people need due to the nature of work and day-to-day life. Too much of this exercise can explain low back problems.
Leg extensions don’t split forces. Without a co-contraction of surrounding muscles (like the hamstrings), the knee joint experiences anterior shear which can be very stressful on the patellar tendon and anterior cruciate ligament.
Overhead presses fix the hands on a barbell in an internally rotated grip. Through bottom end ranges that can lend to shoulder glide and poor joint centration. Moreover, the upper traps get needlessly involved in this lift, which can encourage dominance issues that are typically already present in most people.
Lateral lunge patterns and curtsy squats take the knee out of a linear alignment among the hip and shoulder joints, and as such place plenty of stress on the IT band and TFL.
Running for conditioning is a vehicle toward plenty of impact on the ankles, knees and hips, and a sure way to encourage misalignments and obliquities in the pelvic region. Because of the fact that it’s a sagittal plane pattern that only travels in one direction, it’s an easy way to develop skewed strength ratios between the quads and posterior chain muscles, at which point the knees will be prisoner to this inequality by way of chronic joint pain. Plenty of road running can beget shin splints and poor foot health.
Chin ups, depending on your AC Joint construction and thoracic spine health, can be very dangerous to the shoulder due to limited clearance that can take on the appearance of good, mobile range, simply because the body is hanging free under the bar. Gravity can assist in making it look like overhead range can be achieved when it really isn’t. This can be damaging to the labrum and rotator cuff musculature – especially the supraspinatus.
If you apply good, deep kinematic knowledge, critical thinking, and research, you can dig deep enough to find problems and “risk” with every exercise under the sun.
Every movement I listed above are movements I regularly perform myself, and regularly coach clients to improve at also. They’re all good movements. That doesn’t invalidate the things I wrote about them – to be technically accurate, those risks do exist. But it’s about treading the line between training smartly and carefully, and contraindicating so many exercises that you remain a lifter who’s achieved zero gains, and is endlessly scouring the internet with a bad case of analysis paralysis.
If this sounds like you, this is your reality check.
When every exercise in the gym becomes a risk to your health, you’ve started down the wrong path and have missed the forest for the trees. It takes a discriminating mind to sift past the bad examples of fitness in the industry, and it takes even more critical a thinker to realize that the body is as fragile and worth protecting as it is resilient and adaptive.
What I’m trying to say in a nutshell, is that for results, at some point, you’re gonna have to train, and train hard.
That may mean getting out of your comfort zone. It may mean dialing in the nutrition and getting longer nights of sleep. And it’ll definitely mean focusing on the benefits an exercise can provide rather than only zeroing in on its costs.
If you do that the correct way, you won’t only be training hard. You’ll be training smart too.
There are two ways to get burned by the training game so you’re sitting at home with no lasting results to speak of. One way is having not done enough research, and the other way is having done a bit too much for your own good.
I’ve found that the unfailing remedy to this problem above all things is to have plenty of personal experience when it comes to training in the gym. Knowing what works for your body, and what works period is a great first step to being better informed and more able to sift past low-level fitness advice, or overly ambivalent training directives. Coupling that with hiring a good coach is a sure-fire way to see gains without the implanted fear that can come along with training for gains.
There’s a lot of fluff out there that can mess up your body. But don’t let the information you consume mess up your mind first.