Workout programs should target your specific needs
July 6, 2015
I have experienced setbacks with my fitness over the years. Some years, I've experienced breakthroughs. Other years, I've punched the clock and maintained certain fitness qualities. I've experimented with different philosophies such as bodybuilding, Crossfit, functional training and kettlebells. I even ran long distances in high school and college. I promise I will never run anywhere ever again.
My very first experience with strength training was in high school. I observed a Soloflex infomercial that was so conclusive, I convinced my parents to buy me the machine; I knew that I would look like the model on TV within a few months. No, that guy didn't use a Soloflex to develop his physique by the way.
A few weeks ago, I was working with a fit gentlemen in his 60s. This is an avid cyclist and swimmer who has always maintained an active lifestyle. I had him perform three exercises. He crawled around on the floor, stretched his backside and stood up from a kneeling position. That's all folks. He was so sore for days that he could barely walk! This is a man who rides miles on a bike and swims regularly. The point? An ideal fitness program doesn't exist. Any way you look at, different philosophies for how one should exercise will always have limitations. What's the rub with today's popular fitness programs? Let's take a look.
Within the last decade, Greg Glassman's vision for "increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains using constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity" has impacted the fitness industry more so than any other fitness concept in history.
What is great about Crossfit? I followed the "workout of the day" for a year back in 2008. I was the leanest I had ever been, and in general, was in very good shape. There weren't any holes in my game so to speak. However, I was sore every day. There was a deep muscle and joint soreness that was just a part of the game. I was weaker in the sense of strength development at the expense of being well-rounded. Crossfit is great for building a high level of overall preparedness, but it will cost you. The workouts are very hard, and frankly, aren't sustainable. You might be able to operate at a high level for a few years, but with the exception of the extremely mentally tough and genetically gifted, the workouts can beat you down overtime. By the way, how often are you put into a situation where you need to be physically prepared for everything? I don't remember the last time I needed to jump into a burning building, run up 100 flights of stairs, pick someone up, rappel off the side of the building and then jump onto a helicopter because my rope wasn't long enough, all the while performing kipping pull-ups from the helicopter landing gear. Crossfit works very well for its intended purpose. It's an extremely high intensity fitness regime that reduces boredom, establishes community and builds impressive physical specimens as long as they remain injury free.
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Equally impressive, the onslaught of kettlebell specific programs are growing so fast that exercise supply companies are terminally backordering kettlebells of all sizes. I'll admit that I got the kettlebell bug several years ago and still believe that the get-up and swing are the only two exercises that most trainees need for very good levels of development. Even though strong proponents believe kettlebells are nothing short of the quintessential magic pill, I've experienced nothing of the sort. If you could pick only one exercise tool for the rest of your life, it's a no brainer. Kettlebells develop appreciable levels of strength and build a great deal of endurance and anaerobic capacity. Kettlebells reinforce good movement skills and burn a lot of calories. However, after several months of kettlebell only training, I have at times found myself lacking in pull-up strength and horizontal pushing ability. I will always praise kettlebells for their utilitarian virtues, but they do give up a few qualities for the training enthusiast.
Finally, functional training is a buzz term that is loosely tossed around as an effective use of exercise to maximize your ability to perform most efficiently in life and sport, while reducing the likelihood of injury. Functional training was heavily influenced and popularized by Gray Cook and Lee Burton who developed the Functional Movement Screen to objectively baseline human movement. The FMS is a checklist for the professional to base decisions on how to appropriately direct training and to critically consider areas of potential injury. However, the FMS doesn't truly predict injury because there are too many variables outside of movement ability alone to assume that someone with a poor movement screen is worse off than someone with high movement competency. Even when a professional does find areas of movement incompetence, the goal of corrective exercise strategies should aim to improve an area of a specific incompetence, not be the cornerstone of the training program.
The take home message is to seek out exercise programs that specifically targets your needs, not something that is popular in the sense that Uncle Bill got good results from it, so it must be legit. Even the best designed programs can't do all things, so carefully seek fitness programming with specific goals in mind. Also, don't be afraid to change directions if your program isn't delivering the results you're after.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards' passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.
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