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GYMS HAVE BECOME DANGEROUS PLAYGROUNDS FOR ADULTS: By Adam Zickerman

This week’s Friday Fit Tip is an article written by Adam Zickerman, author of “The Power of 10” and owner of Inform Fitness in New York City (and friend of Discover Strength). Zickerman wrote the article in 2013 but the contents are as relevant today as they were then. It’s a bit longer but very much worth a read. 
 
 
A recent New York Times article about the Functional Fitness Movement, “Fitness Playgrounds Grow as Machines Go“ by Courtney Rubin, has me fuming. My core mission has long been to promote safe, efficient exercise, and this new fad is neither efficient nor safe.
 
The premise of their version of ‘Functional Fitness’ is that we need to train and strengthen our bodies in ways that mimic the activities of our hunting and gathering predecessors in order to prepare us for the physical challenges of daily life. As the article’s title suggests, functional training is offered at jungle-gym-type, adult playgrounds, which are noticeably absent of expensive exercise machines.
Though the concept may seem plausible, the article is riddled with infelicitous comments such as machines are inadequate for preparing people for everyday life.
 
Dating back to Ancient Roman times, true functional training had been, and continues to be, an important prescription in physical and occupational therapy. As an example, if someone sustains an injury, then functional training would help the patient to regain full range of motion and use of their injured body part. The original meaning of functional training has been hi-jacked by the fitness industry and crafted into a dangerous fad.
I credit the New York Times for having the good sense to have placed this article in the Fashion and Style section and not Science. Perhaps the most appropriate placement would have been in the Business section since the real story here is how gyms are changing to make a bigger profit, as evidenced by the following excerpt:
“The functional fitness zones also are a moneymaker for gyms, costing $5 to $6 a square foot, compared with some $50 a square foot when filled by machines, estimated Bruce Mack, the founder and chief executive of the Boston-based MBSC Thrive.”
 
Though I recognize business decisions designed to improve profitability, ethics should dictate that these profit motivated decisions not raise the risk of injury.
In the article, Adam Campbell, fitness director for the Men’s Health brand, comments “Functional fitness is far more bang for your buck, because it works multiple muscles simultaneously, providing better overall strength and mobility, and a higher calorie burn.” The article goes on to suggest that exercise machines resemble some form of ancient torture and suggests that balancing on a medicine ball, while swinging heavy bags or climbing a wall more closely represents our daily lifestyles, and as such, is really the kind of exercise needed. Maybe more people are preparing for a life as circus performers than I thought. Who knew?
 
My greatest concern is the blatant compromise of safety! Their form of ‘Functional’ training has the potential to cause both short and long-term injuries. A pulled muscle or pinched nerve is an immediate risk, but the unnecessary wear and tear on joints can cause problems that will haunt you in later years. The article suggests that machines are not natural. I wonder how many of us include “hefting sandbags and shaking 25-pound ropes” as a natural part of our daily routine.
 
The stated goal of ‘Functional Training’ is to improve strength. Since strength comes from muscles, to improve strength you should build muscle. I do not mean bulking up into The Hulk. Done properly, weight-bearing workouts can achieve the “lean, athletic as opposed to highly muscular,” personal appearance that Mr. Campbell speaks about. You can bulk up if your gene pool permits, but bulk is otherwise not a natural outcome of machine based exercises. Perpetuating that fear is just a marketing gimmick.
People do need to learn how to lift weight safely. One day you might have the privilege of picking up a child on a regular basis, and learning to lift properly will help you avoid injuring your back. You also need strength to perform the task, but equally important is the proper lifting technique. Learning how to bend, twist, and lift safely is a different course from a program to build strength, and does not require on-going training. Once proper technique has been learned, building strength is a separate activity, and should be designed and performed to avoid putting your joints or spine at risk. If you want to get stronger, you must load the right muscles with the right amount of resistance to engage enough muscle fibers.
 
The risk of injury is more likely to occur in these new functional gym environments. Distractions are significant obstacles to ensuring safety. Checking out the guy on the rock-climbing wall, the noise, your exhausted state, or worrying about how you look, all while standing on an uneven surface lifting a heavy weight and turning your body can result in serious injury. You are almost guaranteed to be leaving the gym with a complimentary ice pack to ease the pain of a torn or strained muscle, or a pinched nerve.
The exercises promoted in these new ‘Functional Training’ gyms put your spine at substantial risk as you lift and shift weights simultaneously while the body is in exaggerated motion.
 
“The bones and muscles of the spine are not suited for top-heavy loads.”If you look at any picture of the spine, you will notice that the bones get smaller the higher up they go. Every manual laborer knows to lift with their legs not their back, and to keep the spine steady and protected.
“The system below the pelvis provides for speed and power: big superficial muscles pull on few, solid beams of bone, moving through large ranges of motion, in few directions. Above the pelvis, there’s no muscle match for the gluteus (buttocks) or quads (thighs); and even if there were, the spine isn’t a beam like the femur. With the spine, many muscles only have to hold or move slightly, the next vertebrae. This system provides mobility, with stability, for the overall spine.” 1
 
Since we rely on our spine for range of motion, these bones are not connected in the same way as our joints. Equally as noticeable is that we require more range of motion where the bones are smaller, such as the neck supporting your head. Your spine is structured to support more weight at the base then at the top, and exercising against the natural order is a recipe for injury.
Slow-motion weight training, such as the Power-of-10 protocol, performed on weight machines, is designed to keep the spine from experiencing misplaced weight loads and torque that could result in injury.
 
These new gyms and their ‘Functional Training’ are dangerously off base in their attempt to simultaneously engage both the primary mover muscles that move limbs with the deep muscles that stabilize joints. Even worse is engaging the primary muscles on surfaces that are unstable. This is how most common injuries occur. And the injuries usually affect the deeper, stabilizer muscles. Back spasms are more likely than a glute strain; or rotator cuff injury rather than deltoid; or groin pulls rather than the quadriceps; and therefore jeopardizing long-term joint health. Ouch!
 
Please, for your safety, keep your movement exercises separate from your strength training exercises. If you want to exercise for movement try Tai Chi. To build strength, employ safe, efficient exercise that stabilizes the spine and is designed to protect the deep muscles.
 

Luke Carlson

ICONIC TRAINER / CEO

Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. Master of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota

Certifications:

As young as Luke can remember, he would follow his father, a police officer, to the gym up above the police station in Shakopee and watch him lift weights (and oh man his reps were too fast). Luke’s passion only increased through middle school and high school as he lifted weights in order to prepare for football. His love for strength training has only grown with every passing year. As Howard Shultz says, “knowledge breeds passion.” The more Luke learns the more passion he has for intelligent strength training.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about everything related to leadership, business, management, personal development and my family.

Andy A.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education from Valparaiso University

Certifications:

Andy first became interested in strength training after seeing his father lose 120 pounds through strength training and nutrition. From seeing that transformation firsthand, he began to not only strength train and watch his diet, but he also began to create his own training programs. As this passion continued to grow during Andy’s first years at university, he realized that strength and conditioning was a career path that he could see himself doing for the rest of his life. Based on his experiences at both Discover Strength and Minnetonka High School, Andy is continually reminded of just how much he enjoys the field of strength training.

Who are you the biggest fan of?

For 16 years now, I’m proud to say that I’m the biggest fan of my little brother, Jakob. This wasn’t necessarily the case years ago as I would ask my parents when he was going “to his real home, and to his real parents.” Now, however, Jakob is my best friend, and everything I do in life is to help show him that anything is possible. Whether it be on the football field or during any other situation life throws at him, I do my best to support him in any possible way. Thus, I’m the biggest fan of my little brother, and I will continue to be for the rest of my life.

Karin A.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Minnesota

Certifications:

In pursuit of Karin’s Psychology degree and improving her own health, she became fascinated by health psychology- what motivates people, attitudes towards exercise, and behavior change. Karin knew that she always wanted to help people and realized becoming a personal trainer or coach would allow her to help others reach their fitness goals. Karin never knew how empowering it would be to be a strong female. Through her own learning and training, she started to get stronger and knew that she needed to help others become stronger too!

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

This career is meaningful to me because it is helping me live my purpose. It is incredibly rewarding to train people each day and see them work so hard toward their goals. It is inspiring to see their improvements in strength and quality of life.

Emily D.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science from St. Olaf College

Certifications:

Emily used to avoid weightlifting in high school. Then last summer she committed herself to gain as much muscle as she could to improve her running and body composition. Emily instantly fell in love with how lifting heavy weights changed her body, her running ability, and her mindset. Emily was stronger; faster. She felt unstoppable. Emily has always dreamed of a vocation where she can help people better themselves through fitness. Now she’s living that dream.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

Artisanal food and craft beer.

Cory E.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Health and Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus College.

Certifications:

Cory became passionate about strength training through his participation in athletics throughout high school and college. He started to see a correlation between strength training and his improved performance in sports. This bred his passion for constantly striving to improve himself through health and strength training.

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

Being able to interact with like-minded people who are passionate about exercise and improving themselves has brought value to my career. It inspires me to continually strive to be better. I also love working with clients on setting their own goals, and even better, I love to see them achieve their goals.

Tom F.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Wellness & Fitness Management from University of Wisconsin Superior

Certifications:

Tom became passionate about strength training during his 4 years at college while training for baseball and taking his college courses. Tom enjoyed the challenge of strength training, the atmosphere of working out with his teammates in the weight room and pushing each other to get better. Taking college courses helped him understand what he was doing in the weight room, and how to effectively exercise. Tom went from not only working out hard, but working out smart.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

I am very passionate about baseball and cooking.

Alex G.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Health and Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus College

Certifications:

Alex’s passion for strength training first began when he hurt his shoulder in high school. He began to strength train and rehabilitate his shoulder for hockey, and this sparked a passion he knew he eventually wanted to turn into a career.

Who was the biggest influence in your career thus far?

The biggest influence on my career thus far is my father. His passion for living a healthy lifestyle caught my attention at an early age.

David G.

ICONIC TRAINER/TEAM LEAD – PLYMOUTH & MINNEAPOLIS

Bachelor of Arts in Health and Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus

Certifications:

David enjoyed resistance training through high school. His accumulation of knowledge about strength training really bred David’s passion for it and ultimately prompted him to search for how he could turn it into a career. David participated in the Discover Strength Summer Intensive Internship Program which helped him gravitate toward an evidence-based approach. This set his exercise paradigm moving forward through college and now in his professional career in strength training.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

In addition to exercise, I am passionate about football, specifically offensive line.

Maria H.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Virginia

Certifications

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist
Maria became passionate about strength training at a very young age. Ever since she performed her first manual resistance workout with her dad in 6th grade she was hooked. Maria’s dad, who has trained at Discover Strength since its opening in 2006, was her soccer and hockey strength coach. Maria started training at Discover Strength shortly after and fell in love with the culture, people, atmosphere, and evidenced-based approach to strength training. It was then that she knew she wanted to be a part of Discover Strength’s team and pursue a degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise physiology. Strength training helped her become an accomplished runner and helped her secure a D1 scholarship.

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

My career as a personal trainer means the world to me. I’m not only passionate about the performance of strength training, but the teaching and implementation of workouts with clients. I am passionate about the positive effects that strength training can have on someone’s life. I am excited to continue to grow in my knowledge of strength training and share my passion with others. Strength training has changed my life and I love being able to share that with each client every day. Seeing others achieve their health goals brings a smile to my face.

Emily K.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Community Health Promotion from University of Wisconsin Superior

Certifications

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Emily played volleyball from middle school to her sophomore year of college, so she grew up living a pretty active lifestyle! In college, Emily started working at the YMCA as a fitness trainer, surrounded herself with active friends, and her passion for strength training grew from there! At the time, she thought that she had to spend at least an hour at the fitness center each day, if she wanted to see any form of results. Through Discover Strength, Emily has now learned the most efficient and effective way to strength train, and she absolutely loves it!

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

One of my biggest passions is helping others, which ties in perfectly with being a Personal Trainer. Coming to work every day knowing that I have the opportunity to help better someone’s life is incredibly rewarding.

Kelsy K.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from the University of St. Thomas

Certification:
American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Kelsy’s passion for strength training started around the age of 13 as a means to become the best athlete she could be. Yet, after her athletic career had ended in college, her passion developed into much more and became not just her field of study but also her most valued hobby and priority. Kelsy’s passion has evolved from a means to become a better athlete to thoroughly enjoying and valuing the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits that strength training offers.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

Trying new things, mindfulness, and riding my bike.

David K.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Health and Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus

Certification:

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist
HITuni CPD: High Intensity Resistance Exercise Specialist

David became passionate about strength training through his participation in high school and college swimming. He was always looking for something to give him that extra edge over his competition and David found that in the weight room. In college he realized he could take this passion for human performance to the classroom and turn it into a career.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

I am passionate about adventure. There is nothing more exciting than entering into the unknown and see what becomes of it.

Kevin L.

ICONIC TRAINER/INTERNSHIP DIRECTOR

Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota

Certification:

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Kevin’s brothers were the real catalyst in his interest for strength training. They would bring him to the weight room three times a week starting at the age of 13. He didn’t understand what he was doing so he just mimicked his brothers. He found he was getting stronger which in turn helped him compete in football, basketball, and baseball. By the time he was 16 he was lifting three days a week and craving the feeling of completing an intense workout. Weight training also helped Kevin better control his diabetes. When he started college he had full access to the gym five days a week and took advantage of it, only to find that what used to be enjoyable had turned into a chore. That is when he was introduced to Discover Strength by a couple of friends. After his introductory workout he was left lying on the floor, trying not to get sick, and thinking to himself, “That was the hardest workout I’ve ever done.” He was hooked.

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

From a young age, I always wanted to help people. Originally, I wanted to be a doctor until I realized how much schooling they needed to do. Working for Discover Strength, I get to help people every day; help them train for an event, help them improve their quality of life, help them overcome a disease or illness. There is no better feeling than hearing someone say, “I’m in the best shape of my life and I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Taylor M.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from St. Thomas University

Certifications:

American College Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

SPARTA Level II Certified HIT Specialist

Certified Head and Neck Training Specialist

Taylor’s passion for strength training started in junior high school when she took a summer speed and strength class to prepare for soccer tryouts. It was her first time following a strength program on a consistent basis and loved how it made her look and feel strong. Ever since then she has been hooked. Her passion for exercise, along with wanting to help others benefit from strength training, is what inspired her to earn a degree in Exercise Science and become a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach. When Taylor learned the safe, efficient, and effective methods evidence-based resistance training offers, she knew this is how she will train for the rest of her life.

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

There is no better feeling than to be able to help someone else achieve their goals. I love helping people become better than they were yesterday. I feel value everyday in helping others to never stop improving. I also understand how amazing evidence-based resistance training is and the incredible plethora of benefits it offers. I believe every adult – young or old – should strength train and I feel proud to be able to build the tribe and make something bigger than myself.

Jake P.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science from Hamline University

Certifications:

National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

Jake become passionate about strength training in 7th grade while preparing for the upcoming hockey season. He enjoyed the challenge that strength training possessed as well as pushing others around him to become better. From that moment on, not a day went by that he didn’t think about strength training and the effect it could have on his sport performance.

In addition to strength training, what are you passionate about?

Besides strength training i’m passionate about baseball, especially hitting, and drag racing.

Rick R.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education and Health Education from St. Cloud State. Master of Arts in Education from Hamline University.

Certifications:

American Council on Exercise Certified Medical Exercise Specialist

S.P.A.R.T.A. Level 2 Fitness Specialist

Certified Head and Neck Training Specialist

Rick became passionate about strength training as a junior in high school (1981). Rick became fascinated with all the aspects of strength training. In his college years, Rick became more interested in running and doing triathlons, putting little emphasis on strength training for 5 years. In his late 20’s, he started to study H.I.T., Nautilus and Arthur Jones more thoroughly, and started on the road to training correctly. Rick has been training consistently ever since.

Who are you the biggest fan of?

I am the biggest fan of Batman, except for the George Clooney version. Shame on you George!

Xavier R.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Science from the University of Minnesota

Certifications:
American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

In high school Xavier played football and that is how he got introduced to strength training, trying to improve his football game. When he went to college at the University of Minnesota he used the things he had learned from his coaches in high school and strength training became a hobby of his. From there Xavier developed a passion for strength training in college as he saw my own progress and wanted to share that with other people! Xavier then got an internship at Blake as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and his mentor was Isaac Anderson who played football for the University of Wisconsin and briefly in the NFL for the Washington Redskins. Through that internship and under his leadership he confirmed that he wanted to be a strength coach/personal trainer.

How is your career as a Personal Trainer meaningful to you?

I feel like I am having a real impact on people’s lives not only improving their health physically but also mentally and improving their self esteem which is really powerful to me.

Bronson S.

ICONIC TRAINER/TEAM LEAD – CHANHASSEN

Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science from Concordia College Moorhead

Certifications:

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Bronson’s passion for strength training comes from growing up as a three-sport athlete. He realized during his senior year of college that he could take that passion and turn it into a career. This goal was solidified after he attended the HIT Resurgence Conference (hosted by Discover Strength) with his strength and conditioning coach, Scott Savor. Bronson left the conference excited and motivated to learn how he could make strength and conditioning into a career.

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

My clients mean the world to me. I thoroughly enjoy coming to work everyday knowing that I am helping to improve people’s health and well-being.

Jake S.

PERSONAL TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Physiology from Gustavus Adolphus College

Certifications

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Jake became passionate about strength training throughout his career as an athlete, especially while playing football at Gustavus. Strength training consistently while giving maximum effort helped him become the best player that he could be.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

Minnesota Sports…. Skol Vikes, Wolves and Twins!

Kayla S.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota

Certifications:

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Kayla grew up doing gymnastics and strength training was just a natural part of the sport. To be in gymnastics, it is necessary to be strong so that you can move your body to do all of the extreme tricks and specific skills. Needing to have body awareness while doing a skill made Kayla more curious about the human body and is essentially what motivated her to major in Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, where she also continued her career in gymnastics as a gopher. The combination of Kinesiology and gymnastics lead to her being passionate about improving the human body and really understanding how the body moves.

Whose biggest fan are you of?

Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Wild.

Jim T.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota

Certifications:

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Certified Head and Neck Training Specialist

Jim has been interested in strength training since he was 15. While playing lacrosse and hockey in high school he really started to understand the significant benefits associated with strength training and human performance in those sports. Jim’s initial major was Computer Science which was not fulfilling for him. He went into Computer Science only to return to his passion for exercise and pursued a major in Kinesiology. He quickly found Discover Strength after college and fell in love with the methodology of science-based exercise.

How is your career as a personal trainer meaningful to you?

Strength training is such a unique tool because it not only allows us as trainers to give people a great experience, but also allows us to help our clients live longer and more fulfilling lives. To me, there is nothing that can be more valuable or rewarding than that.

Greg V.

ICONIC TRAINER

Bachelor of Arts in Health and Exercise Science from Gustavus Adolphus College

Certifications

American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist

Greg has recognized the extreme value in strength training as early as high school. Strength training has always played a pivotal role in his own active and athletic life to not just aid in performance enhancement in sport, but to ward off the aches and pains that come from sports and activity. After his college years and competitive sports, Greg really sees the importance strength training has with the increased demands of aging. It has and always will be Greg’s fountain of youth.

In addition to exercise, what are you passionate about?

I also have a great passion for history. It tells us how we got to where we are. I personally believe it’s a great tool for creating our own future. All history intrigues me, whether it be the history of the exercise industry and its forefathers, our country’s history, or even my own family’s history and where we came from. I wouldn’t be anything without my past!

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