Why Trendy Group Exercise Classes Fail

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So you need to fit exercise into your busy lifestyle.  These days the choices are overwhelming.  There’s Crossfit, Soul Cycle, Krav Maga, Kick Boxing, Boot Camp, TRX, P90X, CardioBarre, 18 different types Yoga, and so on.  You pick what you like and what you think you need and it’s done.  With these classes, there’s community, a skilled professional to lead you through the exercise.  It takes all the thought out of it for you, so you know you’re going to get a good workout.  But is “taking the thought out of it” really a good thing?  Isn’t thought what keeps you present, connected, and interested in what you’re doing?  Knowledge of what you’re doing is also what drives you learning about your body.

The problems with ANY group exercise class are significant.  (1) The ratio of teachers to students usually makes it harder for teachers to spot every technical deficiency in every student.  Poor technique leads to injuries — sometimes over time, sometimes instantly.  (2) Most of these modalities only require their instructors pass a very low standard of examination — usually aimed more at teaching the concept, not proficiency in structural mechanics or physiology.  I’ve personally attended yoga classes taught by flight attendants. (3) A lot of these exercise classes are sold as “all you need”, when in fact, they only cover one or two aspects of what you need.  In 30 years, I’ve yet to see any group exercise class that focuses on the work required to prevent shin splints, knee and elbow tendinitis, rotator cuff syndrome, hip bursitis, degenerative disc disease, hyperkyphosis, etc. — all very common and preventable exercise related injuries.

Crossfit – includes a lot of deadlifting, cleaning and jerking, squatting — old weight training power moves that became known causes of low back, joint, and soft tissue injuries, back in the 80’s — that led to smarter forms of exercise.  The Millenial Generation was too young to experience this wave.  It became repackaged and resold to them as something new and fashionable.  Their young Millenial bodies do not yet know the permanent danger awaiting them, structurally, that they will experience in their 40’s and 50’s.  In short, there is no functional or safe reason why a 60 year old body needs to be deadlifting, cleaning and jerking, or fireman carrying another human being across a football field .

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Soul Cycle – is an indoor cycling class that adds resistance exercises while you’re spinning on a bike.  First of all, a bike is one of the poorest surfaces to do resistance exercises from.  The only push-ups you’re able to do on a bike, barely fire your pectoral muscles, because your arms need to be much wider for that and they only supporting a small part of your body weight.  If you doubt this, next time you’re on a stationary bike, jump down onto the floor and bang out as many wide stance push-ups as you can do 60 seconds and see if it feels any different.  Also, to be seated at 30 to 60 degrees, for an hour, while bending, twisting, pedaling and supporting extra weight, compresses the discs between your vertebrae so much, that you’re exponentially increasing the likelihood displacing or bursting a disc.

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Yoga – when I first became a fitness professional, I was surprised at the high number of yogis and students I worked with, who each had chronic soft issue injuries as well as severe joint instability.  But when you regularly bend a joint as far as it will go, while loading it, joints tend to become more unstable.  I once sat in a yoga class where a teacher came over to me and suddenly pushed me into a position my body didn’t want to go into.  I immediately felt pain and told her it hurt and she replied, “You’re a big guy.  You can take it.”  I immediately left.  Healthy exercise never hurts, especially in your soft tissues or joints.  Also, if you were meant to stand on your head, the vertebrae in your neck would be much thicker and denser to support any weight above, like the ones in your lower spine.  How is this a functional thing to do any way?

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Boot Camps – are usually more concerned with intense workouts by getting your heart rate up and making your muscles burn.  There’s usually no attention paid or knowledge of recuperative or rehabilitative exercise.  When some task begins to cause the wrong kind of pain, the teachers usually respond with the famous words “Then don’t it.”  Avoidance doesn’t make the exercise safe or locate the root causes of what could be wrong.  “Then don’t do it”, is the equivalent of not  dealing with it.

P90X – is a very popular Do It Yourself home exercise system.  But how does it know your specific needs?  How can it tell you when you’re developing poor or unsafe habits?  Does it ever address posture or alignment?

All exercise has potential risk.  But some of the above formats have a lot more than others.  You can get a good workout from these forms without injuring yourself.  But there is also a higher likelihood of progressive degeneration (injuries over time), with them too.  Many of these concepts are driven by their marketability, not their safety.  If you disagree, then just ask yourself whatever happened to Aerobics classes, Step Aerobic classes and Reebok Slide classes.  Injuries don’t lie.

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