Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fitness Fads & Buzz Words

With so many fat, out-of-shape people these days, I want to be careful about being critical of almost any form of exercise. I think it was Bill Phillips who said practically any exercise is better than no exercise at all. And I agree.

Yet some of the things I see or read about are almost comical and too delicious to ignore. Two that come to mind are: 1) the use of the term “core exercises”; and, 2) witnessing some bizarre workout antics on stability balls of different sorts.

Core Exercises: Listen to talk around a gym and you would think until some recent discovery, people didn’t know how to exercise the center of the body, meaning the abdominals, sides and lower back. Today it’s core this and core that. Of course this is pure nonsense. Various sitting up movements, leg raises, side bends, back lifts and extensions have been part of balanced training for as long as there have been barbells. You worked your “gut” and low back. Core is just a new word for it, often spoken with great reverence. Come on now. It’s your gut and your back.

Stability Balls: I have nothing against them. Nothing at all. Stretching out over a ball feels great and switching from sit-ups on a slant board to a stability ball is a nice change of pace. Yet I’ve seen some contortions on them that border on the extreme and ridiculous. A beginner balancing on a ball while doing one-arm dumbbell presses, as he salutes his trainer with his free hand, must be seen to be appreciated. I exaggerate only slightly. The reasoning given by trainers for putting people through this sort of nonsense is that it improves one’s balance and “recruits stabilizer muscles,” or something like that.

Picking up odd shaped objects from various angles can be a good way to develop practical, useful strength. But let’s also be careful here. Lifting weights while standing on one leg and balancing on an unstable object can be dangerous to one’s health, especially as you get older.

I’m all for lots of variety to keep things interesting: free weights, cables, machines, sandbags, kettlebells, stability balls, bodyweight calisthenics, boot camps, pilates, and aerobics classes. You name it. They all have a place. But let’s not get silly. If something looks ridiculous, it probably is. And perhaps even dangerous.

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