By now everyone has recognized the need for movement, activity, or simply getting your heart rate elevated. The struggle is usually with having a routine, or consistently having it as a part of your life.
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There are many, many ways to achieve consistent exercise, yet it is something that most people struggle with. Most go through phases of exercise and it lasts a few weeks or maybe a month or two. Generally when someone looks back on their activity level over the entire year, they are disappointed. Cue up the New Years Resolutions!
Today we are going to look at two of the main ways to establish an exercise program. In todays world we need segregated time slots for exercise. We are too busy and our time is at a premium. It is simply the way society works in this day and age. Could you imagine 100 years ago (or even less) suggesting to someone that in order to stay fit and healthy, that you had to go to a special facility that was designed to encourage you to move your body in various ways? Could you imagine a group of farmers doing a fitness class? For that era, I am sure they would think it is ridiculous.
With todays demand for money over land that can produce food, and the style of living (like apartment buildings), it is simply a different era of how we live. Every decade that goes by it gets worse and worse. We no longer have to use our bodies to live everyday life. We sit more than we ever have in history and technology has an answer for every physical chore that we don’t want to do, or don’t have time to do. The world is at our finger tips and we have services to hire out too and people to do things for us. So here we are, searching for ways to stay fit and active.
What a fascinating place a fitness centre is. It can be one of the most intimidating places to enter as a modern human. There are rows and rows of cardio machines, weight lifting machines, and the distinct smell of sweating people. There are mirrors wherever you look, and TV’s on every wall, support column, and cardio machine in the place. At first glance when you take a look around it seems like every person in the gym is an expert and knows exactly what they are doing. Tight clothes, muscles showing, short shorts, and people sizing each other up as they walk by. You typically hear grunting, breathing, a bit of yelling, and people lifting heavy things – but they aren’t taking them anywhere. There’s music playing but everyone is wearing headphones. What a weird place.
Advantages: Escape from home/work, wide range of equipment, no experience necessary, social aspect and motivation from others, help from personal trainers, group fitness/classes, showers/saunas/hot tubs/pools
Disadvantages: Intimidating/public judgement, membership cost, expense that you may not actually utilize (waste of money), equipment selection/availability, no experience necessary, crowded with people, potential health hazard, loud, travel time to get there, must have proper clothing/shoes with you, help from personal trainers, group fitness/classes, social aspect, rules to follow
You will notice that there are some categories that are in both the advantage section and disadvantage section. This is on purpose and I will explain, as it is the point of this article.
The first thing that is in both sections is the wide range of equipment or equipment selection/availability. This can be good for variety and for options if someone is using a machine you want to use. It can be good because you can target any muscle or movement that you can think of. However, with over 15 years of experience working in gyms I have concluded that most of the machines are somewhat counterproductive. The majority of them limit your range of motion, force you to move the way it wants you to move, and are prone to misuse. These factors are more detrimental than you may think. Injuries and less than desired results follow.
The second thing in both categories is that no experience is necessary. This is good because literally anyone above the age of 16 (in most facilities) can sign up and do whatever they want. They can lift weights, stretch in the corner, do a group class, heck they could do powerlifting. The freedom to use the gym at your disposal is available to everyone. I think you know where I am going with this one. Injuries and a lack of results are the two main issues with this category. So many people I talk to say; “I go to the gym but I don’t know what I’m doing.” Surely the intimidation factor is at play here. I always say something is better than nothing but at the same time my dad always told me, “If you are going to do something, do it right.” Couldn’t agree more Jack. If your going to spend your hard earned money and valuable time in a place like this you should make every minute count.
The third thing that is on both lists is help from personal trainers. The good is that if you get the right one your results can be amazing. The guidance, education, and comfort that comes with hiring a PT can be a game changer. Unfortunately the standard to become a Personal Trainer is pretty low. Anyone can take a two week course with a written and practical exam. No experience or education other than the provided material. I can tell you from experience this level of education is nothing close to what the average client needs from a trainer. On top of that, for the most part, you will get a young adult with very little life experience that just wants to show people how to work out because they are good at it. Sometimes it can be the perfect fit but rarely are they going to be the coach you need. It can create a very negative experience and I hear a lot of people say that they do not like gyms or exercise because of this. I can’t blame them. In most cases the trainer just doesn’t have the know how to give the client what they need on their fitness journey. These types of clients are my favourite to get in front of so I can right the proverbial exercise ship.
The fourth, and last element on both the advantage and disadvantage list is group fitness/classes. The good in this case is that you either meet new people or go with a group of friends and exercise together. It creates an amazing camaraderie and sometimes some fun competition to push each other. It helps keep each person in the group stay on track because you have someone else depending on you, in a way, to show up. It can bring the fun into exercise and that is absolutely key.
The negatives in this case are that group classes are designed for every skill level. This may sound like a positive but it can in fact hold back all, if not most people. They are designed to keep everyone safe and they make sure that with very little supervision that nothing can go wrong. Again, this sounds great but from my perspective it allows people to work closer to their floor than their ceiling. I always see minimum range of motion, extremely light weights, and more than anything the same thing class after class. Sure, they have variations and options for folks that can do more or less, but really its all the same. Your bodies need for change in exercise is key to not plateauing. When you do the same comfortable thing week in and week out your body adapts and stops changing. When you are working at a lower level than you are capable of you are spinning your wheels.
Don’t get me wrong here I am not bashing classes and group fitness. In fact, I encourage it when clients get to the point where they know what they are doing, know how to push themselves, and can simply get the most out of these classes. Without those elements group fitness offers minimal benefits beyond the first 2 weeks of doing them on a regular basis.
Mixed in with this, is the social aspect. What I have seen over the years is that group fitness quickly turns into a gab fest. There is more focus on chatting than actually getting a good workout. The longer people do group fitness the worse this gets. It can seriously hinder your results and these are the people that say “I go to the gym all the time but I don’t get results.” No wonder.
The gym definitely has its advantages for some people. It has been the gold standard for exercise for the last 20+ years. There are countless amazing stories of success from gym goers all over the world. Typically people who get success are dedicated long term gym goers. They can focus their attention to the task at hand and use the time and space for self care. They get their monies worth and utilize the many advantages that gyms have to offer. The rest just pay a monthly fee and rarely, if ever, show up. For these people, you might find at home fitness is the answer.
In part 2 of this article we will look at the ever growing in home options for fitness. If you have made it this far in the article I am sure you will want to see the rest! There are pros and cons just like the gym and if you’re curious about those, look out for the next Workout Wednesday post. Oh and there is a third option that I will get into as well – bonus!