The Unhealthy Fitness Industry

There exists a lot of “fitness experts” 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, for example, can be a therapeutic experience – it can tell you to slow down, internalise 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 BS. Many methods are highly dogmatic and clients do not end up reaching a point of greater health and balance by finding what works for them.

Far too many coaches and trainers take a one-size-fits-all approach with regards to exercise and diet. Low carb diets can be just as detrimental as high carb diets and the same issues rear their ugly head with protein and fat manipulations that do not suit the client’s individual biochemistry. With regards to strength training, I once heard “Too much strength work can overburden tendons”, “Too much power training can deplete hormonal levels”,  “Too much cardio can give you a heart attack” and “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 moving at joints optimally, with smooth range of motion and full joint mobility are more important than how much muscle you have on top of them. If you have a crappy framework, you’ll have a crappy product, followed by pain and injury. And example of this going sour in the gym is when performing a bench press or dip, for example, when the client is too loose at the front of their shoulder capsule and too tight at the back of the shoulder capsule – leading to rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis and shoulder impingements.  Most people these days live in the front of their shoulder capsule, so this is a common problem. Another common issue is lack of thoracic spine mobility in a client coupled with pressing a weight overhead – leading to compensation in their shoulders, necks and lower back. Asking a client to overhead squat with poor thoracic mobility leads to over-stretching of their anterior shoulder capsule, driving of their head forward to balance and collapsing of their knees inward (spot the screeching eagle dude below, wearing a black shirt middle/right). Still, they are told that this is good for them.

 

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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 bad.  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. Forcefully pushing yourself into a stretched position will work against you, short and long term.

Muscle / Strength

Gaining too much muscle (typically men) can be seen as the same dysfunction as losing too much body fat (typically women). This is called muscle dysmorphia (or bigorexia), the obsession that you’re not muscular enough. How much muscle and strength do you really need to be strong and 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 strength.

“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

Performing high intensity training without cycling enough rest and rejuvenation is a recipe for disaster. 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 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. Train smarter, not harder.

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 for their chosen sport or life itself is common and concerning. Some sports rehabilitation 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 coaches who actually experiment with their own bodies to learn what is effective, ineffective and create new techniques, are the best ones coaches around.

Diet and Nutrition

This is 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 caffeine seems to drain me, even though I am a mad coffee and dark chocolate supporter. 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. More details on what food fuels me can be read on my post, How to Be Healthy.

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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 your own bodyweight, good music, nature, friends, 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 ageing. 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.

To find my online coaching library, which offers a diverse menu of sports rehab, posture correction, bodyweight strength, free-weight strength, traditional lifts and mobility exercises, visit michelledrielsma.com.

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