Exercise articles

Confession: I’m an exercise junkie.

If I don’t get my fix I start doing pushups and handstands in inappropriate places.

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Seriously, WTF?

I’ve lifted weights for a couple of decades now. How the time flies. Back in my day gyms weren’t like they are now with their… actually, they haven’t changed that much. The challenge of lifting heavy stuff is cool and the added side effects of being (subjectively) stronger, fitter, healthier and sexier are awesome.

Fitness is sexy
Fitness is sexy. Steroids are sexier.

After being around gyms and fellow fitness junkies this long you start to realise that articles on how to get in shape are as numerous as new programs claiming to be the best program ever. Every person and their pet has their five cents on the subject (cough, cough). There is nothing wrong with different programs with different ideals. Not everyone loves running, not everyone loves bench pressing on Mondays, not everyone needs to look super lean for their next Instagram shoot. Variety can be good. And some variety can be quite funny:

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But something happened to me between when I wrote about an F45 promotional ad news article and now. I’ve stopped reading exercise articles, blogs, and scientific papers.* Essentially, there are only so many times you can read “Exercise in a progressive way and eat healthily in amounts that match your energy needs/expenditure.” Doesn’t stop people writing them though.

Okay, big deal, you’re tired of reading the same 3 articles (Eat less/more, Do exercises that address a weakness, Train to progress), what’s your point?

Good question, imaginary audience surrogate.

Not a problem. Are you going to answer the question?

Not unless you can find a way to incorporate the answer into a segue to my list of things to look out for in any fitness article.

1) Fake experts.

So many articles are written by some unqualified hack who just happens to be in good shape in spite of any fitness program and diet they followed. These hacks quite often have some impressive modelling photos, or celebrity cache, or online course credentials, or all of the above. Sometimes the fake expert will be the opposite of this, with lots of legitimate qualifications and knowledge but zero idea of how to apply it.** Often it is very hard to tell the difference between an actual expert and someone who woke up with abs one morning and decided to advise others on how to do the same.

What to look for:
Fake experts will try to reveal some magic secret or brand new piece of knowledge but will likely have little evidence or be running counter to the majority of evidence. They’ll be citing one study, or what worked for them, or some other similarly small amount of evidence.

2) Quack medicine

The fitness industry is filled with alternative/complementary medicine nonsense. Health-conscious people will go looking for medical help. And there are lots of quacks looking to lighten their wallets.*** If any of this stuff worked it wouldn’t be called alternative medicine, it would just be medicine. Many of these fitness articles lend credence to quack medicine or use quack medicine to support their claims. The advantage of using quack claims is that it doesn’t require real evidence, which makes it easy to sell people on the new fitness fad.

What to look for:
If it comes under the banner of (S)CAMS or alternative medicine, there’s a good chance the article is rubbish.

3) BRAND NEW!!!

I remember when F45 was called circuit class. I remember when HIIT was called interval training. When Crossfit was just a cult… nothing new there. A few tweaks here, a brand name there, and you have the new fitness craze. This is more marketing than anything because no one wants last season’s wheel, have to reinvent it.

What to look for:
Advertorial disguised as news or an article.

4) Buzzwords, appeals, and contradictions

Have you tried holistic functional fitness? Get a six-pack for summer! How to focus on this extensive list of things.

This sort of meaningless nonsense is rife in an industry represented by people who failed high school. You know, athletes. You either focus on one thing, or you aren’t focussing at all. What exactly makes swinging a kettlebell functional versus doing a weightlifting snatch? How exactly does balancing on a ball while I wave dumbells around get me a six-pack and not a date with my shoulder surgeon? All these questions and more will be glossed over as someone tries to sell you on their new program or fill space between adverts for supplements you don’t need.

What to look for:
Marketing and spin.

5) Random numbers

Articles will often have a set of numbers that will be regarded as heavy or a long distance or a fast time by the author. Most often, these numbers are made up or arbitrary. This is most obvious when the numbers aren’t given any context. E.g. One-hundred kilograms is ridiculously heavy for a bicep curl, but light for a deadlift by an experienced lifter who weighs at least 80% of that.

Sometimes these numbers are just naïve. That sounds big enough to me. Sometimes they are humble brags. Yeah, those are my bench numbers. Impressed? Sometimes they are the inflated internet numbers. What do you mean only three people in history have run a faster time than that?

What to look for:
The context for the numbers or a reference to accepted standards.

Hope this helps you become disillusioned too.

 

* What? Didn’t I mention I’m a nerd and like going to the source for information?

** This is surprisingly common across a range of science fields. We may have the answer down to an amazing level of detail but it has little application to the average situation. E.g. a highly knowledgable nutritionist might be able to give you a full biochemical breakdown of how what you’re eating is killing you, but that does very little to address the underlying habits and reasons for those habits that would lead to actual diet changes.

*** To be fair, many of the alternative medicine people are genuine in wanting to help. The problem is that they have been sold on nonsense and become unwitting purveyors of it themselves. In many instances, reputable institutions who should know better hand out degrees in this stuff. Odd that the chiropractors aren’t in the physio or medicine faculties.

Oh, and before anyone says “My chiropractor is great” it is worth noting that most chiropractors make major misleading claims. “Physiotherapists didn’t make any major misleading claims, whereas 70% of misleading claims on chiropractor websites were major.”

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Totally Cereal

It only feels like three weeks ago when I last posted about Quora being Super Cereal about answers on its site. Now they are Totally Cereal!

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Less than 9 hours after I posted an answer on why not everyone buys into the Crossfit cult, my answer was flagged as breaching policy. In that short window of time the post managed to become the second most viewed and third most upvoted despite being the newest answer. I mean, how dare someone criticise Crossfit, like every other answer given. How dare they use images to enhance the points being made, a common practice on the site. And once again, how dare anyone not answer the question without being completely cereal.

My working hypothesis is that my two banned answers were flagged as a result of being a trending answer. That meant the answers raised the ire of the Totally Cereal members. Quick, hit the complaint button and troll through to find something to make sure no-one else is ever offended. This will remain only a hypothesis, as I think it wouldn’t be appropriate to find other answers to flag that use images in their answers as I have done, as a means to test the system. I’d need to find other answers that were a mix of Super Cereal and Non-Cereal answers, as well as highlighted (trending) and random answers, to round out the testing.

Either way, check out my Totally Cereal answer on why not everyone wants to compete in the Washed Up Loser Olympics until they herniate their spines.

Why do people choose to NOT do Crossfit?

Crossfit is terrific, as long as you hate good technique, want a massive injury, and feel the need to strut around without a shirt on (guys) or in booty shorts (girls and guys).
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I’ve been lifting long enough to remember when WODs were called circuit classes, so when a new fad comes along it is a little easier to maintain some perspective. Others have already highlighted some issues that I agree with, I’ll cover some of my own reasons.

Form

The idea that high intensity and high skill exercises are done for high reps is stupid. Nothing says broken back like skill breakdown.

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So much for those gainz.

The video below is of the head of Crossfit programming, Dave Castro, doing a deadlift. It is laughably bad, but in the community this video is seen as hardcore rather than stupid.

I’m all for intensity and pushing yourself to new highs, but Crossfit all too often encourages people to utilise bad form or techniques like kipping to complete a workout. That is not smart.

It’s a bit of a cult

How can you tell if someone does Crossfit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

If someone is a Vegan Crossfitter, what do they tell you about first?

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Regular exercisers are bad enough, but Crossfitters take it to the next level. It’s great that people are enthused about getting fit, strong, and healthy, but there is a difference between encouragement and community and drinking Kool-aid.

Lack of progression/Too much variety

If you want to get good at something you need to practice it regularly. Crossfit throws that rule out the window and encourages a randomness to the programming that guarantees you get good at exercising but not at any of the exercises. Even the top level Crossfit athletes train specificity into their programs and then practice events (WODs).

main-qimg-fd267f787804e167a217137ddc66b93eBad exercises or good exercises done badly

Let me just ask what this is meant to be and whether they have a surgeon on standby:

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There is video of this event at the Crossfit games. I was cringing the entire way through. There were some athletes that managed to keep a relatively neutral spine throughout, but that sacrificed them speed and reps. Events are done for speed and reps….

Others have already mentioned the high rep clean and jerks, snatches, kipping pullups and muscleups, but that only scratches the surface. Even handstand pushups are done with kipping. Overhead presses are often turned into push-presses. Instead of doing a solid set of 10 reps on a pullup they insist that people do 30… and do several rounds of that with other exercises in between. It’s like someone looked up what the most reps ever done in one clean set for an exercise was and that became the WOD number. Take the kipping like a fish flapping around on a boat deck out and they wouldn’t get half the reps, let alone rounds.

Paleo

If the WOD is Crossfit’s cult program, then paleo is their cult diet. If you thought that kipping pullups were dumb, then you want to look away from the paleo diet. Not only is paleo largely ignorant of what our Palaeolithic ancestors ate, it also likes to pretend agriculture is bad. Without agriculture there would be no society, no gyms, no Crossfit, no people bragging about Crossfit…. Wait, I take it back, agriculture might be the root of all evil.

Actual dietary experts have nothing but disdain for the cult diet of paleo.

That all said, Crossfit isn’t all bad. Since they came along the fitness industry has had to try for the same level of appeal to appease the former cult members and those who can’t afford Box fees. I can walk into most gyms and find a lifting platform, something that was a rarity just a decade ago. I can actually buy weightlifting shoes without mail-order. And no one looks at me funny when I do muscleups anymore. Let’s just hope people don’t assume I’m a Crossfitter and are avoiding talking to me.

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I’m no longer going to bother with Quora and will gradually migrate my answers there to this site. Click this tag to see them.

Exercise articles by non-exercisers

I’ve lifted weights for a couple of decades now. The challenge of lifting heavy stuff is cool and the added side effects of being stronger, fitter, healthier and sexier are awesome.

Fitness is sexy
Fitness is sexy

After being around gyms and fellow fitness junkies this long you start to realise that articles on how to get in shape are as numerous as new programs claiming to be the best program ever. There is nothing wrong with different programs with different ideals, they allow you to have some variety, or at least someone to laugh at.
functional-stupidThe biggest belly laughs come from the articles that are written by people who clearly don’t lift. They make statements that are naïve or ridiculous, they don’t understand what fit or strong are, and they don’t really remember past the last hot fitness fad. One article that caught my eye recently was this one on the “new” and “better than Crossfit” program that is all the rage. By all the rage, I’m sure it will be after enough of these promotional articles are paid for written.

The first thing that struck me about this exercise article written by a non-exerciser was just how many times this particular wheel has been reinvented. In the few decades I’ve been going to gyms I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a circuit class on offer, well, except for the powerlifting gyms whose idea of cardio is walking from the car to the gym. I don’t know what is so revolutionary about another circuit class, which is essentially what this new program is. Circuit classes just have you move from one exercise to the next at timed intervals with little rest in between, so variations on this are not new, so they can’t be revolutionary. But you have to love a good celebrity endorsement!

Okay, I’ll admit that the article is a promotional piece on a new exercise program, so I shouldn’t hate on it too much. Instead, I’ll get to the statements that I wish would disappear from fitness articles, preferably by having authors who know something about exercise write the articles.

Derp 1: “This isn’t about lifting 90kg weights…..” You mean, a warm-up?
Many fitness articles, especially those with a female audience in mind, pick an arbitrary number and decide that this weight is heavy. In this article, it is 90kg, which is not actually that heavy depending on which exercise that weight is being used with. This just shows how little lifting experience the author has, or how lame they are at it.

Derp 2: “New scientific research…..HIIT…..” 2005 is calling, they want to tell you about this new thing called Facebook.
The article is trying to lend some credibility to the new program by citing science and by pretending this is all brand new. The problem is that HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) has been around as a method since the 1970s and modern science since the 1990s. So unless you are a time-displaced quantum physicist, you can’t call this stuff new.

Derp 3: “Holistic, functional fitness….” So doing more than one exercise?
Advertising slogans are always funny. Holistic is all new-age-y and sounds comprehensive-y. Functional fitness is straight out of the Crossfit advertising material, so somebody thinks this term is meaningful. What the statement actually means is doing a bunch of things, but that isn’t as sexy or likely to impress the marketing department.

Derp 4: “We focus on strength, respiratory and flexibility….” By focus we mean unfocussed.
This sort of meaningless nonsense is rife in an industry represented by people who failed high school; you know, athletes. You either focus on one thing, or you aren’t focussing at all. The fact that using the term focus at the same time as holistic and functional fitness just shows how little the author understands exercise or writing a logical article.

Derp 5: “Chiropractors warn about…..” How chiropractic is pretty much a scam?
The fitness industry isn’t just filled with nonsense, it also likes to promote medical nonsense. Many of these fitness articles lend credence to quack medicine or use quack medicine to support their claims. The advantage of using quack claims is that it doesn’t require real evidence, which makes it easy to sell people on the new fitness fad.

Essentially there is nothing amazing or new about how you can get in shape, get stronger, or become sexier. Exercising in a progressive way (i.e. getting better) and eating healthily in amounts that match your energy needs/expenditure is how it’s done. So be wary of these marketing claims and articles written by non-exercisers.