I shouldn’t say this. It doesn’t make any business sense for me to say it. But you need to STOP going to the gym.
If you are that person who struggles through the rigors of everyday life, has up and down energy levels, and then you drag yourself to a spinning class or some form of high intensity exercise class in the evening in pursuit of blasting yourself into a world of fitness and health, then you NEED to STOP GOING TO THE GYM. There are several reasons for this, but let’s start at the beginning.
Firstly, who told you that the gym is necessary to be healthy? Who gave you the urge to go and get screamed at by a manic instructor to go faster or squeeze out a few extra reps? It certainly wasn’t me, or anyone else who understands the basics of human health. It was probably the companies who manufacture exercise machines like treadmills, spin bikes, weights machines, and those who have ‘invented’ the next best insane workout that will ‘get you shredded’. It may even have been one of the hundreds of ‘nutrition companies’ that sell everything EXCEPT for actual food. They want you to work out really hard to make a demand for their rubbish product. The common thread here is that all these people are making money off you by promising the world, and a lot of the time doing more damage than good.
The whole ‘fitness culture’ is built on some massive misconceptions, that conveniently tie into the model of going to a lot of fitness classes, buying gym memberships, and relying on ‘sports supplements’ to boost your ‘recovery’. There are several assumptions that people make that drives them to exhausting themselves day in and day out in the gym that I want to discuss with you in this article.
Assumption 1. ’Fitness’ is equal to ‘Health’, therefore to be healthy; you must do a lot of fitness work
‘Fitness’ is but one piece of the pie that makes up health. Health trumps fitness every single time. When you are healthy, you can be fit, and you will probably live a long life. On the other hand, being unhealthy will shorten you life much more than not being able to blast out an intense round of squats and press ups on a Thursday night.
Fitness/ Gym instructors and personal trainers are trained in different ways to get you fit. Work hard, use this machine, do interval training etc. Very few fitness/ gym instructors, or trainers will emphasize the importance of getting a restful sleep each night, meditation, or practicing deep breathing. They believe that working hard in the gym is the key to health. You wont hear anything about building an active lifestyle for yourself when you sign up to your local gym.
Assumption 2: The best way to be active is to work as hard as you can a few times a week. This will make up for lack of activity on all the other days.
Once again this creates the necessity for high intensity fitness classes and crazy workout routines. The bottom line is we have not evolved as animals that are sedentary for the most part of the day, so that we can exert ourselves maximally for 30 minutes a few times per week. We have evolved from the hunter gatherer. Active all day. Foraging. Hunting. And before we had the wherewithal to build some real hunting tools, we chased down our pray until they fell over with exhaustion. It’s only in the last century or so that we have become desk bound, sofa bound, and chair bound. Our jobs and lifestyles have become more sedentary, and we have become so inactive that we are losing some basic human functions. To put this in perspective, one key movement in humans is the squat. It has been used for millennia as a resting position, and also has a key role in proper digestion and excretion of waste. In roughly the last century, we have become so lazy that we have INTENTIONALLY taken this function all but out of our daily lives completely! This is akin to driving a Ferrari, but intentionally only using 3 wheels to drive it around.
The bottom line is we are a movement-based animal, and we need to move around on a daily basis for survival. We NEED movement. It is a modern thing to sit and be sedentary, and in the long run, we will pay for it with our health. The fact that for the most part, people get injured when they are inactive, then decide to take up an intense form of activity proves this point perfectly. Its time to turn the tide on inactivity. Don’t view activity as something that needs to be done as a chore 3 times per week. Start to take enjoyment in moving every day. Find a pursuit and take part in it regularly.
On another note, when your body is under stress from work, family, lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, finances, the last thing is wants is to be constantly hammered in the gym. You might get away with this for a while, but your are essentially drawing from the same well all the time. Taking energy out and putting stress in. This will result in unwanted weight gain, illness, and/or physical breakdown. A seriously neglected area of health is rest, meditation, and breathing. We are always taking energy out of the body, and seldom putting it back in.
Assumption 3: Being overweight is a result of not exercising enough.
Being sedentary will contribute to being overweight. True. However, it is not as simple as simply doing some exercise from time to time to counteract inactivity. It is also not as simple as ‘going on a diet’ for a while to try to rectify the problem. You got to where you are today through you habits and your routines, probably over years. How you sit, how often you walk, how long you sleep for, where you get your lunch from, how you move. The answer to reversing the effects of long-term inactivity and poor nutrition lies in building new habits that are sustainable. Whole foods, regular low level activity, and less frequent high intensity activity. Simple stuff so far. However, there is one MASSIVE point that people tend to over look (through no fault of their own), when they are on the trail for health. All your months and years on inactivity did not come without a price. I can say this with confidence because of the sheer number of people that I have dealt with over the years.
Due to your habitual inactivity and poor nutrition, and also due to the nature of 21st century life, you have now lost some of your bodies KEY functions. You have de-volved. You can no longer squat properly. You can no longer put your arms over your head without creating excessive compensatory movements at your spine. Your ankles are stiff. Your digestive system is not what it should be. Your hips are tight, and your back is sore (or going to be). These things my friend, can not be resolved by hopping up on the cardio machines a few times per week, or getting a run in at lunch time. You now need a movement intervention. You need to train your body to be able to perform these functions, because without them, true health is beyond your reach. Not being able to squat properly at 25 is a mild inconvenience, but not being able to squat properly at 60 means you will need assistance to get around. Not being able to reach overhead properly at 30 means you will put your back under a bit of pressure. You can’t perform overhead strength exercises or chin up, no biggie. Not being able to put your arms over head at 70, means not being able to get food from a shelf, or have a kick around with the younger generation.
This is where the ‘gym’ training comes in. Not to flog yourself and ‘make up for the cake last night’. But to restore lost movement. Getting your mobility and strength back is a hard road to travel, it will take months, years even, but it open up untold potential for you in terms of sporting performance, health, and long term mobility.
Assumption 4: The people in the ‘gyms’ and ‘fitness centers’ know what they are talking about.
This is a crucial point, and it is becoming more and more relevant as the ‘fitness industry’ pumps out thousands of ‘ qualified instructors’ every year. Its extremely easy to set up a fitness certification these days, and even more easy to get a certification. We have practitioners out there who were ‘qualified’ after a single weekend, or a few days of study here or there. Moreover, they are qualified in teaching people how to use the weights machines, or to push hard on the spin bike. No mention of recovering lost human function, improving digestive health, dealing with specific health conditions, training around an old injury, or building strength and mobility so that you unveil your true potential. For me, 7 years of full time University education was not even the beginning of my ‘qualification’. The same goes for the rest of my sport and exercise scientist team at ACLAÍ. We continue to learn everyday. From our clients, from the latest research, from podcasts, from journals, from books, from experience, from practice, and from each other. When someone tells me they are ‘fully qualified’ I shudder inside.
- If you want to be healthy, know that it is going to take consistent work, and it’s going to take time.
- Don’t buy into the ‘fitness’ model of health, and open your eyes to the fact that there is more to being active than mindlessly running on a treadmill, or spending some time on the weights machines.
- You need to reverse the bad habits and inactivity of the past with wholesome nutrition and movement re-training.
- Sometimes you just need to take a rest to move towards your goal.
- Deal with professionals.
- You have one life, and one body. Start taking steps to regaining both and unveiling your true potential.
This Article is by ACLAÍ Owner,and Strength and Conditioning Coach, Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.
Ainle is strength and conditioning coach for the Cork Senior Football team, has worked with Adelaide Crows Football Club in Australia, lectured in the University of Limerick PE and Sports Science Department, contributed to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, and also works as a tutor with Strength and Conditioning Institute, Setanta College.
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