Beware of the Trend Setter!
The truth behind the latest training trends.
In 2011/2012 almost 70% of Australians aged 15 and over were either sedentary or only participated in low levels of exercise(1). To a ‘fitness nerd’ like me, it’s hard to understand why so many Australians prefer to adopt a sedentary lifestyle over an active one. The truth is, ‘fitness nerds’ like me are the minority!
I remember studying a unit on Exercise Behaviour at university. The aim of the unit was explore the reasons why people participate (and don’t participate) in physical activity. I recall how the unit lead me to believe the only way to get people up off the couch and move was to excite them with stimulating, innovative, never-before-seen, ‘blow your mind’ type of exercises. I was convinced commonplace exercise such as walking and jogging just weren’t going to get the job done. So I was quite surprised when one of my lecturers said to me: ‘when we’re dealing with such a large, uneducated, inactive population, we need to keep the message simple – any exercise is better than none!’
But is any exercise really better than none?
The fitness industry is more accessible and competitive now than ever before. Everyone is looking for new ways to reach their fitness goals and keep their exercise flame burning. But in the race to be the first to come up with an enticing new training concept, are we compromising the safety of our clients and neglecting the fundamental principles of exercise prescription?
Barefoot running is an example of one of the latest training trends to gain notoriety and stir the pot of controversy. I’m sure you’ve seen people running with ‘those gloves on their feet’ and wondered ‘what’s the deal?’ The idea behind minimalist footwear is that traditional running shoes provide excessive passive support and therefore may lead to muscle weakness and injury by inhibiting the work of natural stabilisers. The concept is highly credible – take away the external support acting on the body and it encourages the body’s instinctive stabilising structures to do the required work.
However, since the reinvention of barefoot running, the incidence of associated injuries such as lower body stress fractures have been a strong talking point. In their enthusiasm to be part of the latest training craze, some exercisers have made the mistake of transitioning too quickly to barefoot running and failing to modify their stride from the traditional heel strike to the forefoot strike. Neglecting to gradually adjust technique may be one of the main causes for this sudden surge in chronic impact related injuries.
So what’s my verdict? A significant amount of research still needs to be done, but as an owner of a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, I believe performing functional exercise with minimalist footwear is advantageous as long as you transition gradually with a change in biomechanics and you have a basic strength base to work from. After all, our ancestors did it!
In fact, it’s fair to say our ancestors participated in most fitness crazes that are ‘trending’ these days. Take High Intensity Interval Training (or H.I.I.T) for instance. H.I.I.T has exploded on the fitness scene as one of the most aggressive, results-based workouts available. It works on the premise that when the body is shocked with short, high intensity bouts of activity it goes into ‘crisis mode’ and produces stress hormones (such as human growth hormone, testosterone, epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, and aldosterone) to deal with the strain. Adapting to the stress is how our fitness progresses.
But hang on a minute, how is this notion a new concept? I’m pretty sure our ancestors had to engage in short bursts of high intensity activity (such as chopping firewood) intermitted with less intense activity periods (such as collecting firewood) every day in order to survive. Athletes have also been using high intensity interval training for decades to get performance-based results. It’s funny how this fundamental principle of fitness hasn’t changed over time, just the way we brand it! Add a catchy title to the training session and it creates a following.
Obstacle survival courses such as Tough Bloke, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Spartan Race are perfect examples of how traditional training methods can easily become a trend if they’re cunningly marketed. Crawling through mud, climbing trees, negotiating barriers, dodging obstacles, running up inclines, sounds just like a combination of traditional training methods like plyometrics, fartlek, speed and agility, aerobic endurance and functional strength training in disguise.
So again, what’s my verdict? Given the unpredictable environment of these ‘survival courses’, plus the functional, full body exercises and the diversity of the activities involved it’s the perfect type of training. It reminds our bodies exactly what they’re designed to do. It’s only a novelty because as a population, we don’t do it enough! At the end of the day, if a catchy marketing campaign camouflages our tired training methods and engages people in exercise whilst still safely applying the fundamental principles of exercise prescription, how can you argue with that!
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Health Survey 2011/2012. October 2012
Written by Lauren Kennedy, AFA Education Manager. Lauren has been a Personal Trainer for over 12-years and worked in fitness education for 8-years. Lauren’s strengths lie in the areas of corrective functional exercise, core conditioning and pre/post natal activity. Her thorough approach, energetic passion and positive attitude translates into every personal training session, something Lauren now relays to AFA Personal Training students as she educates them to become tomorrow’s fitness industry leaders.