I should preface this article series by proudly stating that: 1. I believe the fitness industry as a whole is the best for-profit industry to be a part of and 2. This is all my opinion. This series is not by any means a knock on the industry, it is simply an opportunity for me to vent about specific trends, happenings and terms within this amazing industry that make me want to ninja-kick people in their Bosu Balls. So hold on tight….. here we go!
FUNCTIONAL TRAINING WITHOUT PURPOSE
Functional training is an amazing and beautiful thing! Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people that think they are incorporating it into their routine have no idea what it is. Functional training has been shamefully morphed into and redefined to essentially mean “don’t do anything that a bodybuilder would do.” So now the Nation’s commercial gyms are filled with trainers that have their 1st-day clients doing 1-leg bent-over dumbbell rows on a Bosu Ball while trying not to let their butt toots squeak out*. The whole shift is extremely typical in this industry; take a piece of legitimate information and throw out everything else that you know. Rather than understanding and incorporating the methodology and principals, too many trainers and programs create a radicalized version, write a letter to their family and then run off with it for a few years. Don’t worry, they always come back when the money runs dry.
Simply speaking, functional training is training that effectively and directly translates into a non-training application. The majority of the time, an individual cannot tell you what the “functional” application of the movements they have incorporated are; nor can they explain why other movements have zero functional benefit. In my opinion, functional training without a defined non-training benefit is not functional training. Therefore, a given movement or exercise may be considered functional for one individual and their defined goal while being completely irrelevant for another individual with a different goal. Functional for the sake of “being functional” isn’t functional at all; it is just training without any of that Godforsaken bodybuilder rubbish.
One quick final note on this topic. Just because a movement doesn’t look like something you see in the sport or activity you are training for, doesn’t mean it should be eliminated. You will never see a pitcher in baseball do anything that looks like a squat or deadlift, but you better believe that the glute and hip-complex power that is generated from those movements has direct benefit. The opposite is also true; taking movements directly from the sport or activity and adding resistance to them may actually be counter-productive.
THE WORD “BOOTCAMP”
Really? Yes! The word bootcamp gets blindly attached to just about everything that involves a tire or the great outdoors. Full-disclosure, I too used this word once upon a time when naming one of our supplementary classes. I am sorry. To me, this word gets abused in the world of fitness much like the word “executive” gets severely abused in the business world. So tell me, what decisions does your $200 leather grooming kit make that deems it “executive?” As far as I can tell, “Bootcamp” fitness originated in New York City when some business-minded veterans began offering group training in Central Park that was directly modeled after real Bootcamp; which was a tremendous idea. Unfortunately, bootcamp now tends to mean “I don’t have a gym, equipment or the knowledge to design a real program. But, meet me at this parking lot and ill give you 2,000 reps of burpees, sit-ups and lunges and take your $10. Don’t worry, Ill wear a military cap from Hollister to make it seem authentic.”
Many of the legitimate bootcamp-style programs and classes have since dropped the term, simply because people are catching on to the trend. This is not to say that the mere existence of the term is an automatic qualifier for sweaty garbage; but it should certainly raise a red flag.
THE FALSE PROMISE OF ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL PROGRAMS
With fitness, like with hats, one-size-fits-all really only fits a few and everyone else looks like an awkward goofball. I do not have a problem with the idea of offering a single “take-it or leave-it” program; this is not what bothers me. What drives me crazy is the false notion and promise that the program can perfectly accommodate all levels of fitness and all personal goals. Unfortunately, the fitness industry is full of gyms and facilities that offer this ridiculous promise to anyone that walks in their door. Let’s make this extremely clear by looking at 3 common goals that an individual may have: lose fat, build muscle and strength/performance improvement. If we take a look at the ideal programs used to attain each of these very different goals, they are drastically different from one another. Yes, there are absolutely similarities and most inexperienced individuals will not really see a difference if they observed from the outside. I mean, they all will likely incorporate barbells, dumbbells, squat variations, eggs and water, right? But just as Ford and Lamborghini use many of the same basic tools, the desired outcome requires a very different implementation.
Here is the important part of this babbling. Can a program develop all 3 of the aforementioned goals? Yes. Not only is is possible, it should be essential in many cases. The real problem lies in not prioritizing the most important goal for an individual and trying to equally develop everything at once; this is what most one-size-fits-all programs attempt to do. Your main goal should be your current priority! While not an actual conversation, Ive had countless that are almost identical to this basic structure:
ME: “What is your goal?”
Client: “I would like to be lean, build more muscle and get stronger. That is all.”
ME: “Great, which one of those is the most important right now?
Client: “Well, losing this gut is my number-one concern.”
ME: “Ok, so we are going to put you in a program that prioritizes fat loss and matches your fitness level. Yes, your strength and muscle mass will certainly improve, just not at the same rate. Once we tackle this first goal, we can certainly switch your program and really focus on a different goal. “
On an unfortunate and scary note, this is how the conversation often goes at a facility with just one program. Let’s assume a husband and wife go in together:
TRAINER: “What is your goal?”
WIFE: “I’ve never really worked out before and would love to lose about 30 pounds.”
HUSBAND: “I’ve been going to the gym on my own for about 10 years with minimal results; I really want to gain some weight but just find it very difficult.”
TRAINER: “Great, our program can definitely help you both. Be here at 5pm today and you can jump right in with everyone else. Ma’am, you are going to start off light since you are new. Sir, I want you to go heavy and be sure to eat a lot so you can gain some weight. Now lets pay that membership and Ill see you both later.”
This whole issue could be resolved if the trainer simply started the conversation by saying, “Our program is designed for _______________. If this is what you are looking for, you are in the right place and our program can help you!” Whether the program attempts to be perfectly balanced, focuses on muscle building, focuses on performance, is for intermediate to advanced only or beginner to intermediate only….. just be open and honest! Being honest provides realistic expectations and saves the trainer/gym from tarnishing their reputation. It is quite possible that the revenue you lose from short-term clients by being honest will be more than negated by the long-term clients you attract and gain by clearly defining your niche and focus.
BUMPER-PLATE YOUTUBE HEROS
In closing, stop loading the bar with thick, mono-chromatic bumper-plates and uploading it to YouTube with the title “Heavy _________.!” While every legitimate, non-egotistical strength athlete in the world is trying to use as few separate plates as possible, you are are developing an algorithm to calculate the highest possible plate to weight ratio for your video. The only people you are fooling are your new clients who will certainly pat your back on Facebook…. that is until they eventually realize that even with those plates being banded to the top because “the bar couldn’t hold all the weight”, it was just 250.
*Don’t get all fussy; the Bosu Ball has some great applications. Most people just have no idea how to use it.