Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gym Trends

by Tracy Zimmer

Not too long ago I was a personal trainer at a local gym.  They still let me workout there, so that’s where I lifted a few days ago.  As a female at a “regular gym,” things are put into perspective pretty quickly.  By choosing a barbell instead of bands, exercise classes or cardio equipment, I’m suddenly an outcast!  Honestly, it makes me realize how much fun it is to lift.  Also, muscles are way better then the skinny endurance look, in my opinion. 

I hid in the corner to deadlift—where there is one rack adjacent to a smith machine.  What a novel idea—deadlift!  I used to have my clients do this when I worked there, but today this area of the gym was empty.  With the proliferation of exercise classes and people feeling the need to do cardio, that left plenty of space for me to lift without being bothered and it was great! 

I’m definitely an observer, and nearly everyone was doing something similar….
  • Gym-goers walking around with towels and water bottles…my guess is you can last an hour or two without needing the water.  The intensity level you're working at will not lead to dehydration. 
  • It’s funny how people have evolved to love treadmills…you are running to nowhere! 
  • Just about everyone could receive a best-dressed award.  Why “get ready” to go to the gym?  You should leave sweating, go shower, and then get ready for whatever.
These people found the time to workout, while many others use time as an excuse to forego exercising.  But if you’re going to invest the time to workout, why not make the most of it?  Cardiovascular benefits such as increased blood supply to muscles due to greater heart efficiency, and greater endurance capacity seems to have people roped-in.  Until these endurance fiends realize shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures are a result of this unnatural repetitive training, they’ll continue to train this way.

I say unnatural because from an evolutionary standpoint, Paleolithic and Neolithic men did not trot around fields for recreation.  Why?  Because it’s a waste of energy.  When they did run it was at full speed most likely to catch their next meal, or for their own survival.  So while these people ran out of necessity, they were naturally efficient in this area.  We should do the same.  Since we don’t need to chase down our next meal, we should at least prepare ourselves for life by being strong. 

I am a huge advocate of squats (my favorite!) and deadlifts, but it’s hard to sell people on the benefits of these lifts.  I have learned that many people want “functional training” and there is nothing more functional then these 2 movements.  Again, it’s a hard sell but people—of all ages—need strong legs and strong backs.  Mark Ripptoe has a wealth of knowledge especially regarding the anatomy of lifts: “The back squat is literally the only exercise in the entire repertoire of weighted human movement that allows the direct training of the complex movement pattern known as hip drive.”  Quite simply, squats are the best!

For those who can’t relate to squats and deadlifts, here are some practical examples that quickly come to mind: 
  • If you can’t climb a flight of stairs without immediate muscle fatigue, you need to put a bar on your back and squat.  
  • If you shovel your driveway in the winter and it leaves you in pain, your back is weak and you should deadlift.
  • For older folks who may struggle to hold onto a heavy bag of groceries, the grip strength you get from deadlifting will eliminate any hassle with carrying items.
In addition to strengthening your back, glutes, and hamstrings, these two lifts activate the abdominal muscles more than any other exercise.  These compound movements can, and should be performed by everyone.  People may like the idea of running further and faster, but why neglect to increase strength?  If you want to see progress, lifting can be progressively measured just like your mile time. 

I have no desire to ride an elliptical, zero interest in jumping or dancing around in an aerobics class, and very little interest in making friends at the gym.  In my opinion, all those “other” exercises are sort of a cop-out.  Sure your heart rate is up, but I doubt it will yield the physical results these people really want.  It would be a lie if I said I weren’t judging people.  I guess it’s easy for almost everyone to follow the trends, but oh well…at least they’re exercising. 

Tracy Zimmer is an Assistant Strength Coach at the University of Pennsylvania.  She can be reached for training consultations at tracydzimmer@gmail.com

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a year...it's for life. Whether its training or your family or your job...it doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.