Working in the fitness industry for over 22 years gives me a fascinating vantage point from which to observe trends come and go. I have seen it all! – high impact aerobics, hi/lo, step classes, spin, kettleballs, boot camps, ab rollers, foam rollers, yoga, pilates, crossfit, kickboxing classes, PUMP classes, functional training, corrective exercise, mud runs, obstacle races, and more. The variety and emergence of new exercise trends is not surprising; humans are highly motivated by novelty, so having new modes of exercise to choose from is positive and most certainly increases the drive to exercise, at least in the short term. Something new is a great external motivator.
The flip side of new trends is the proclivity of industry professionals to extol the virtues of one modality of training as a panacea for all issues. As an example, yoga. No – yoga will not help everyone with back pain. In fact, yoga can create back pain when the movements performed are contraindicated for particular health problems. A stark example is extreme lumbar flexion and extension, which is absolutely contraindicated for individuals with osteoporosis as these movements can cause spinal fractures. Several years back, I met an older woman with osteoporosis who had been struggling with severe back pain for at least a year, following a course of yoga classes. I recommended she have an MRI, which revealed 5 stress fractures which had been caused by spinal flexion and extension exercises performed during said yoga classes! Yet, for at least 10 years and maybe more, yoga has been presented in popular culture as a panacea for chronic pain, especially back pain.
Corrective exercise and functional training is another. Any exercise program worth its salt includes functional and corrective elements, and this is especially true for clients who have health problems that impair function and the ability to carry out activities of daily living. Corrective exercises form the building blocks of a high quality exercise program, as the ability to perform more advanced exercises safely flows from, for example, proper posture, alignment, and core engagement. However, strength and aerobic capacity are also functional. Without adequate strength and VO2max, all the corrective exercises on the planet will not reduce falls or improve the odds of an elderly individual avoiding long term care. They will not improve stamina, cardiac risk profile, or treat depression and anxiety. Corrective exercises serve a role, and I often utilize them as a gateway to more advanced training that has great potential to be life-altering. Except in very specific circumstances, corrective exercise is only one element of a complete, comprehensively designed exercise program.
Running – my sport! – is another example. In the last 10 years, participation in races has grown exponentially. Imagine this: there at 806 marathons scheduled in the US and Canada for 2017! In October 2016 – October is the busiest month for marathons – a staggering 126,566 people finished a marathon in North American (excluding Mexico). Research has demonstrated that people who run, even if they are slow and do not run more than 20 km per week, live longer than those that do not. Contrary to popular belief, running is not bad for your joints, and actually can be protective – runners have a lower rate of knee replacement surgery than non-runners. I say all this with one strong caveat: if a person only runs and does not strength train or include corrective or “prehab” exercises into their routine as well, she will probably get injured and sooner rather than later. Strong muscles, particularly Type 2 muscle fibres which are not used during aerobic exercise like running and strongly contribute to joint stabilization, protect against injury. This leads to a longer running career, and all the health benefits this confers.
So…words of wisdom from an old hat: Find several activities you like that target different fitness goals and do not produce injury, stick with them for the long term, and do not be afraid to make a change when necessary.