Fitness experts (I am not sure what those two words combined actually mean) have been criticising medical professionals for some time now, lecturing on the benefits of a solid nutrition and fitness base as the only way to health, and perhaps in a little too cocky a way. I agree with this idea, but there’s a lot of fitness experts out there overdoing a good thing. Health is about balance and it’s about keeping the body in the most ideal state of homeostasis, which we forget is always in motion. Health will always fluctuate, we all get highs and lows and sometimes coming down with the flu can be a really therapeutic experience – it can tell you to slow down, internalise a bit more and stop going too hard. The problem with many fitness experts is that the quality of nutrition/fitness information being taught ranges from excellent to absolute shit. It can become really dogmatic and clients don’t end up reaching a point of greater health and balance by finding what works for them. Too many coaches and trainers are also taking a one size fits all approach with exercise and diet. Low carb can be just as detrimental as too high carb, same with protein and fat. I’ve heard these too – ‘Too much strength work can overburden tendons.’ ‘Too much power training can deplete hormonal levels.’ ‘Too much cardio can give you a heart attack.’ ‘Too much yoga can destabilise your joints.’ Too much of anything is not good, and too little is not good either – balance is probably one of the most inescapable universal laws.
Areas of imbalance that relate to the fitness industry:
Bones/Joints – Bones coming together at joints optimally, with smooth range of motion and full joint mobility are more important than how much muscle you have on top. If you have a crap framework, you’ll have a crap product, followed by pain and injury. And example of this going sour in the gym is performing a bench press or dip when the client is too loose at the front of their shoulder capsule and are too tight at the back of the capsule – can lead to rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis and shoulder impingements. Most people these days live in the front of their shoulder capsule as it is, so this issue comes up pretty often! Another real common issue is lack of thoracic spine mobility in a client and then a trainer/coach asks them to do something like a military press or hopefully not a deep overhead squat – they end up compensating by overstretching their anterior shoulder capsule, drive their head forward to balance, collapse their knees in and are told that this is good for them. Spot the screeching eagle dude below, wearing a black shirt middle/right.
Muscle length/Stretching – When you take a tissue to end range and keep it there, without developing the strength and motor control to handle that new position, you can end up with unhappy joints. I’ve also seen yoga instructors push students into further stretch, not always bad but sometimes, very. If you are truly limited in range of motion, check what’s going on with the muscles, check what’s happening at the joints and check whether you have matted down nerves, muscles, tendons, skin rather than these structures gliding smoothly over each other.
Muscle/Strength – Gaining too much muscle for a guy can be seen as the same dysfunction as losing too much body fat for a female. I think they call it muscle dysmorphia (or bigorexia), the obsession that you’re not muscular enough. How much muscle and strength do you really need to be healthy? Know the optimal amount of strength per bodyweight and chosen sport that you need. For me, the talented athlete, who focuses on their sport rather than body image, even if they have sport-specific muscle imbalances, is always sexier than the bodybuilder who focuses on muscle size and shape. Unless you are a power or Olympic lifter, I’d tend to have a stronger focus on relative strength rather than absolute. ‘Strong Is The New Skinny’ can be self destructive. Girls start turning to protein powders, fat burning pills, overconsumption of inflammatory amino acids, eating too much meat, overburdening the joint tendons to support maximal lifting or compensating for a lack of strength in one area (e.g. lack of hip stability and strength in max deadlift) by overusing other areas (e.g. lower back).
Power/High-Intensity – Not cycling high intensity training with enough R&R. The current popularity of high intensity, power training such as boxing, kickboxing, metabolic circuit training, crossfit, olympic lifting and everything tyres, sandbags, sleds, hammers, prowlers, ropes, rings and kettlebells has led to loads of people smashing themselves on a regular basis. Group training is currently more popular than individual training, where programs are impossible to be specific to individual movement limitations. Weekly or monthly memberships can lead to students wanting to train as much as they can to justify their spend, leading to overtraining and failing to cycle training intelligently with lower intensity, rest and mobility work.
Rehab exercises – Failing to move appropriately from isolation to integration exercises and failing to communicate with physical therapists in bringing the client from injury to injury-free life/sport demands. Some rehab exercises are dated and ineffective, yet still being prescribed. There are massive inconsistencies with qualified physical therapists, coaches and trainers and I believe that those who actually experiment with their own bodies to learn what is effective, ineffective or create new techniques, are the best ones around.
Diet – Too controversial to even be sure you know what you are talking about! I used to think I knew, but have no idea anymore. It seems people react differently to different diets and you need to find what works for you. I can only speak of my own experience. I went low carb for a long time, and ended up depleting hormone levels. When I started eating more fruit, natural sugars (honey, maple syrup), root vegetables and non-gluten starches like rice, I had more energy and didn’t put on weight when I balanced energy expenditure with energy intake. Too much protein/meat for me makes me feel heavy. Too much coffee seems to drain me, even though I support coffee drinking like mad.. Just not too much. I don’t like the feeling of bloating and fullness that I get with eating gluten (bread, pasta, biscuits, etc) so I avoid it. I think go with whole, unprocessed foods and tune in to how your body actually feels with what you put in it. What works for you now will probably change soon too (tomorrow, next week, month or year) so be flexible and don’t hold onto an idea that isn’t working for you.
Fitness (& Health) Expo’s. Probably one the most fake and artificially energised places you will ever visit. You don’t need expensive equipment, clothing, shoes, supplements or gym memberships to have a lean, fit body either. There’s so much stuff you can do with bodyweight, nature, pure healthy foods, wearing an old ripped t-shirt and going barefoot.
We all want to be healthy but none of us are very good at it. Some have a clearer idea but no one has found the sure-fire solution to avoid disease, cancer and aging. Mind and spirit is generally overlooked in this physical domain too. Maybe detaching from trying to be this perfect specimen of health, having more fun and allowing fluctuations and balance to occur is the only way.