Thursday, March 17, 2011

Don't Follow the Hype: What the New Client Needs and Doesn't Need.

"Early Specialisation at an intense level does not seem to produce an enduring athlete..."

- Yuri Verkhoshanksky, sports scientist

Hype sells in the fitness field.  I know, but refuse to give into it.  That is not how I have run my business over the last five years, and don't intend to change that.  Every month, I am contacted by someone selling some supplement/energy drink.  And, I tell them all the same thing.  I don't endorse any supplements.  Yeah, a few may be helpful, but most are at minimum a waste of your money; while some can even be dangerous.  For most people, lack of nutritional supplementation is not the crux of their problem, anyway.

Exercise training is also very hyped.  So many programs are marketed as "Intense", and "Killer" workouts, ironically to the most out-of-shape individuals.  They promote sweat, fatigue, soreness, and vomiting as barometers of effectiveness.  Workout programs like "Insanity" and "Bootcamps" are ubiquitous.  Not to mention the prime-time television reality show, The Biggest Loser.  They give the impression that if you aren't dying every workout, then you are wasting your time.  While intensity is an important principle of exercise training, it must be applied appropriately.  It is often not.

So many of these programs (again geared towards sedentary people and those with little training experience) incorporate advanced exercises like plyometrics, easily push people to extreme fatigue, rarely teach proper techniques (many instructors don't even know proper technique themselves, let alone coach properly).  It is a recipe for disaster.  And, I should know.  I see so many clients AFTER they have participated in these programs. 

"One workout is not going to make an athlete, but one workout can break an athlete."
-Vern Gambetta, Functional Path Training

So, what does your average, sedentary beginner need?  Often, they come to me with a main goal of weight loss.  Body weight is their main indicator of health and fitness.  In their minds, decrease the number on the scale to a desired level (by any means possible) and now you are healthy and fit!  Not so fast.  That is the message we are spoon-fed from the media.  That is what the doctor can measure.  Though, that mentality will only send you to the orthopod before the cardiologist. 
As, I teach my apprentices, the trainer needs to explain that for any long-term exercise program to work, the primary focus needs to be on moving well.  Weight loss can't be the sole/primary goal. The trainer needs to take the new, motivated client and teach them proper exercise training, not beat them into submission. 

Here is what I feel people, who have been sedentary and out of shape, need to learn/address during their first six months of training:

  1. You Can't Out-Run A Donut:  The main variable for achieving fat loss is your diet.  Exercise, sleep, hormones, and stress, influence your body composition significantly.  Though, what and how much you eat is still the main factor.  You won't see a continued, significant fat loss without improving your diet somewhat.  You don't need to start an extreme diet, but small changes do make a large difference over the period of months.  That I why I use my Food Rules to educate clients on smart, effective, long-term nutrition strategies for fat-loss.
  2. Your Posture is Bad and You Move Poorly: The average adult spends more time than ever sitting.  This seemingly benign activity causes a gradual negative cascade of soft-tissue stiffening, muscle-weakening and inhibition, and creep into poor joint alignment.  Fixing many of these posture and movement problems should be a primary focus.  You should be assessed by a trainer so he/she has an idea where you are starting.  Mobility exercises, stretching, foam rolling, and other light exercises are appropriate for most people before more strenuous exercises can be implemented. 
  3. Lots of Time To Master The Low-Level Basics:  Basic exercises (like push-ups, pull-ups, rows, squats, step-ups, lunges, bridges, etc.) are good exercises if performed correctly.  Most often, people really don't know how to properly perform these exercises.  This is where I spend most of my time with a new client.  It is very coaching-intensive, but important for long-term success.  Though, I see people (and trainers) by-pass this all the time.  Some clients need many weeks and months to gain proficiency, especially if they have not formally exercised or played sports.  Amazingly, even among people who have exercised for years and decades, most have never been properly instructed or critiqued on their exercise technique; and it shows!
  4. Appropriate  Intensity: Beginners can make significant improvements without heavy resistance or high-intensity exercises.  Running and jumping (often used in boot camps)  present the body with a huge stress it often can't handle.  It is not uncommon to see a "Bootcamp" class having over-weight individuals jumping on boxes and running extensively (usually without proper instruction or regard for fatigue).   Beginners can continue to get stronger with intensities as low as 40-60% of their maximal strength (more advanced lifters need more), and should perform exercises that enhance joint stability, body control, and strength over ones that put 2-6 times their bodyweight forces onto their joints (like running, cutting, and jumping).
  5. Keep It Simple:  So often clients (and trainers) unnecessarily makes things too complex.  Clients need time to develop movement proficiency, stability, and strength.  You will need to "practice" exercises often and only need to progress one factor (reps, or duration or resistance) at a time .  Not uncommonly,  I will see someone performing a deadlift with a couple light dumbells, then the next thing you know they are performing circuits with a heavier barbell, on one leg, on a BOSU ball, with burpees in between. 
If you are a beginner, invest your time in building your body so it can handle more vigorous exercise.  Don't follow the hype.  Even though a more vigorous exercise will burn more calories, it often is just short-term gain, long-term loss.  Proper exercise training for a beginner shouldn't be very intense.  It should be carefully taught and performed consistently.  Gradually, the intensity can increase over time for positive adaptation, enjoyment and long-term success.


Tim said...

Great post! Even though fitness bootcamp popularity is increasing, I also feel it is a poor choice for many individuals. It seems that most of these boot camps are successful with the process of signing people up, but are clueless when it comes to structuring the workouts. Very sad, clients deserve proper coaching.

Dan Hubbard, M.Ed. said...

Tim, thanks for your comment. Yes, bootcamp popularity has definitely increased in recent years mostly because it is a big money-maker and seemingly cheap for the client. But the trainer-to-client ratio is often 1:20 or more. Tough to coach those ratios.

Steven Rice Fitness said...

All very true. Unfortunately training is a business, and getting clients is essential. It's tough to sell improving movement and posture when clients want fat loss and upper body strength.

Liz said...

Excellent Dan. I cringe everytime someone at work mentions they just started a boot camp or intensity workout routine. Usually they are incredibly sore for a week. Then in about 6 they have quit or not seeing any great results. Slow and steady with great form seems to be the key with eating lifestyle changes.

Dan Hubbard, M.Ed. said...

@Steven- You make a good point. That is why I feel it is important to explain why they should care about proper technique, posture, and moving well. To me, it is important to educate clients and help them become life-time exercisers, who enjoy training, and see significant results because of that. I always ask clients "what happens after you achieve your fitness/body fat goals?" You have to keep exercising to maintain it, right?

@Liz- you are a testament to slow and steady with the fitness and nutritional changes. No surprise, you have achieved great results and continue to train for many years. Good for you!