The 3 Big Problems in the Fitness Field

The fitness industry is booming. There are more gyms and fitness clubs than ever. And some major franchises are hitting financial records routinely. So what’s the problem?

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When I was growing up in a small town in southern Oregon, USA, there were no gyms you could go to and the muscle men were men on TV "wrestling". If you wanted to workout the only place that was available was at the high school and that wasn’t available to just anyone.

If you wanted to workout, you ran. And ran I did. I joined the track team in junior high school and was the absolute worst. Didn't matter to me; I was motivated by a classmate who told me he got up early, like 5 am, and ran around his neighborhood. I never confirmed that he actually did this, I just believed him. But I was also motivated by Steve Prefontaine, the introduction of the "waffle stomper", and the sneakers with the comma on the side that were coming from Eugene that would one day replace Converse and Keds - these were not cool anymore.

I did participate in almost every other sport, except football which I promptly quite at age 13 because I did not enjoy getting creamed. The fitness that we were encouraged to do but were not really taught, was crude by the standards of today. Nevertheless, we lifted weights, we sprinted, and that was about it. Mostly on our own.

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Times change and the advances in the fitness industry have far surpassed the primal days of fitness. There is no reason why today we shouldn't be the fittest, the most knowledgeable, and the most advanced fitness-crazed people. Just crazed.

Today we have fitness clubs on every corner in almost every town across the country. The fitness industry has taken the jogging craze of the 1970's to spectacular heights. You can find just about any kind of workout you can imagine; there is no shortage of ideas that are turned into fitness. Some are probably helpful. Most are silly. 

Occasionally I walk into a fitness club as a prospective member and ask to see the place. What I see boggles my mind. The latest place I visited there must have been 150 pieces of exercise equipment for just $19 a month! Another place I visited had mats on the floor - that's it. What is going on?

 

Fitness Problem #1: So much equipment, so little knowledge

How many machines does it take to make you fit (not healthy, fit)? Do you really need an abdominal muscle machine? Well then, you should exercise all the abdominal muscles in their separate planes, in their complete range of motion and never do a sit-up as is often instructed. 

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I pity the poor person who, for the first time, sets foot inside a fitness megalopolis, and is proudly told by the fitness concierge offering their signature green drink that they have 253 machines, 12 for cardio and the rest for every muscle you have in the human body. Au contraire, this happens all the time.

I get it, there's competition in the fitness industry; the more machines the better the competitive advantage, the thinking goes.

But the more machines don’t make a person fit. Except the problem is that the unsuspecting public thinks they are getting a good deal by paying $19 a month for the most machines and so they just might try getting their money's worth and use them all. Is this good? Is it aligning with their fitness goals?

Which leads to the second problem. 

Fitness Problem #2: So many fitness aspirations yet so misguided

Just what is your intention for the hour you spend in the fitnessgalopolis?

A) "Lose weight, ask me how!"

Every New Year the word is out: repent of your bad lifestyle, lose the weight you gained over the Holidays, workout in our gym; it's not your fault and we'll help you.

There is a great difference between losing weight and attempting to get and stay healthy. Losing weight is a consequence of getting healthy. There is a powerful difference between being fit and being healthy. Yet we have the grand 'ol New Years Resolution with the announcements from the fitness industry reminding us that fitness starts in January. But exercise and being fit are not seasonal.

The dogma of the fitness industry should be: get fit on your way to becoming healthy. And don't forget what healthy is: physical wellbeing including dietary and nutritional; social wellbeing; mental wellbeing; spiritual wellbeing. Any other wellbeing you want to add. Fitness should be part of the complex, not the only discipline. Which leads to part "B" which is: just how much time should you spend in a fitnessgalopolis?

 

B) The timed workout

For a long time this idea has been good enough to get people to quantify their workouts - the timing of the workout. This should end soon. The 20 minute workout, the 30 minute workout, the 60 minute workout are all misguided and should be put in the fitness grave. Here's what I mean. There is a term called Individual Specificity that defies each and every one of these one-for-all timed programs. Every metabolic and physiologic response is different and it changes daily, per person. Yet we have a 28 year old male and a 45 year old female both working out for 30 minutes in one of the popular group sessions. I get it that this is a very profitable way to run a fitness facility but hold your shoes a moment. These two people are completely different! Let me list a few of them.

Each and every person has a different:

  1. Functional heart rate

  2. Heart rate recovery

  3. Heart rate variability

  4. Orthostatic blood pressure

  5. Metabolic system functions

  6. Medication or any other stimulatory/inhibitory influence

  7. Fitness level: VO2 max, EPOC

  8. Time to fatigue

  9. Time of exercise related to circadian rhythms

  10. Disease state

You should not exercise according to general time. You should exercise according to your individual function and more specifically, your exercise program should be designed around your specific Metabolic Capacity. You never want to exceed metabolic capacity. Metabolic capacity is the limit of optimal function prior to breakdown. No doubt that timed exercise programs exceed metabolic capacity in every case. Working out may be damaging to your health.

Soon, the advancements of wearable technology and the measuring of biomarkers will determine minimums and maximums of your individual specificity for you. You will know very specifically when to exercise, what time to exercise, how long to exercise, what intensity to exercise, and maybe even more as we learn more. No more timed workouts. They should go now. Start taking your pulse rate daily; before you workout, after you workout, in the morning just before you get up. Start learning about heart rate recovery - the ability of your cardiac system to respond to exercise. Take your blood pressure laying down and the upon standing. Take your temperature - never workout if your temp is elevated. Sounds like a lot of work. Yes, but this is all about your health and reaching higher fitness levels strategically. Wearable technology will do this for you! In the meantime stop working out to the clock - it has nothing to do with you.

 

Fitness Problem #3: Lack of Appropriate Fitness Training

There is a great divide between the fitness professionals associated with the fitness industry and the exercise physiologists, professional sports trainers and those in the clinic setting. What I mean is that it seems like good training doesn't filter down to the masses very well.

Those in the fitness industry should assume responsibility for the healthcare of their members to some degree. Exercise is powerful force used correctly or incorrectly. If a fitness professional prescribes an exercise package that is contrary to the health of the fitness member, there may brew some problems.

Does the fitness industry need more training, certification or regulation. Maybe. Or in the interim, why not associate closely with some qualified organizations or those mastered in the field to assist in this ever-important question: is this exercise program good for this person who wishes to improve their fitness and health?

Walking in a few of those gyms around town in street clothes have given me concern for those prospects who wish to "just workout a little" or "needing to lose some weight". We all may have the right intentions but as the fitness industry continues growing by leaps and bounds, it's time to clean the fat off. 

There are many good things that come from the fitnessgalopolis of this era. It may be appropriate to apply some standards as we anticipate even more advances and improvements in the industry.

Peter Lind