You walk into that glamorous multimillion dollar gym with a high tech cardio center that takes up to a third of the building and machines as far as the eye can see. It’s so shinny and full of chrome it’s almost like walking into a new car dealership. You think, surely joining this gym should be the answer to your health and fitness goals.
Why then do gyms retain only 30 to 35% of their membership?
Health clubs as we know them today started appearing in the late 60s and 70s. In the late 60s Arthur Jones designed the multistation Nautilus machine workout system, which was the first user-friendly strength training machine. Innovations Jones came up with decades ago are still incorporated into strength training machines in all brands today.
There is no doubt that Jones’s invention brought resistance training to the masses, but his claim that he created the “thinking man’s barbell” is more marketing than truth. In fact, most strength machines are designed for bodybuilding and require relatively little expertise for either the user or the trainer. Therein lies both their appeal and their flaw.
If you are a body builder — that is, if you have strength trained for years and dieted so rigorously that your body-fat percentage is in the single digits — then it potentially makes sense to train individual muscles in isolation. The other case in which machine-based training makes sense is in rehab, when the body must be rebuilt brick by brick. But most of us are neither that injured nor on the verge of entering the Mr. Olympia competition, so why do we train as if either is the case?
The answer is a combination of the gyms’ desire to maximize profits, and our own desire to find workouts that don’t involve work.
Club owners bought into what the equipment industry told them. What the equipment makers ultimately told the gym owner was that if you stocked enough machines, you could do without as much one-on-one attention from trainers.
“I don’t think fitness happens best in isolation,” says Steve Myrland, manager of Myrland Sports Training and a former strength coach for the University of Wisconsin and the San Jose Sharks. Various studies back this up, showing that people who exercise in groups maintain greater motivation to train than those who work out alone.
“This is hard stuff, and it’s a lot easier to share hard stuff than do it yourself. At the clubs, you are going to be turned loose on the machines, and a machine is like an isolation booth,” he added.
The FT, or functional training, approach to fitness stresses the training of movements over muscles. Teaching our bodies to move in real life situations, decelerate and accelerate, ascend and descend. What good is strength without the ability to be mobile? Working out is great for improving our appearance, but what about improving how our bodies function in our lives? The main purpose of functional training is to bridge the gap between absolute strength and functional strength. FT uses simple tools to gain complex results, such as; stability balls, medicine balls, kettle balls, wobble boards, dumbbells, bosu balls and resistance bands.
FT stresses strengthening the core. This is your base of support which consists of your oblique, abdominal, and your erector spine muscles. All movements originate from this area. And just like with a house, if the foundation is weak the house will not remain standing. Engaging your core in all your movements not only strengthens your core but causes your workout to be more efficient. You burn more calories as your body is firing more muscle to maintain its balance.
When you use the tools of FT you engage your core/base during your workouts. Sitting, for example, is an unnatural body position for strenuous work. Once you sit on a stable base, as on a machine, you lose your body’s natural anchor: the muscles of the back, butt, abdominal core and legs. FT immediately puts an end to a host of outdated stationary machines. You will find that staying on your feet and doing core training requires you to think creatively, keeps your heart rate up and strengthens your core. It also improves your balance, coordination, your ability to move your body in different planes of motion, accelerate and decelerate, and keeps your workout moving along efficiently. You are either exercising or walking it off.
In FT we train movements not muscles. The five basic movements to develop in any session are limited to different forms of stepping, pushing, pulling, squatting and rotating. There is no need to do one exercise for your triceps, and another for your shoulders, and another for your chest. Two good pushing drills take care of them all. Instead of targeting the upper back and then the lower back, simply pull (in the form of pull-ups or rows) and bridge (holding your torso stiff to build strength in your back). For the lower body, lunge, step-down and squat drills are all it takes.
FT trains you for real life motion: stopping, slowing, descending/ascending and catching. Many gyms don’t value the reduction of force — the catching of a ball, landing from a step-down, or changing direction — because there is no easy way to measure it. Yet stopping, descending, and absorbing momentum are far more valuable for joint safety than any isolated strength-building exercise. This means not only throwing a medicine ball but also catching each return throw or rebound. It means stepping downward on one leg, running downhill, developing footwork agility, and squatting or lunging with control.
Stepping into my private training studio you are not going to see all the machines that adorn the typical gym. My clients want a workout that is fast and efficient. So instead of the fancy machines you will see a typical workout consisting of exercises such as a client doing pull ups, a timed set of box jumps, walking lunges, jump ropes, kettle ball swings, medicine ball throws and other full body exercises. These are clients who are becoming lean and strong, who no longer look overly fed or overly built. These clients can now step into real life situations, participate in life, be healthy and active, and get the best out of life.
For more information contact Steven Walker at (801) 688-1918 or [email protected], or visit Myevolutionfitness.com.