Factions of the Fitness Industry: Who’s Right, Who’s Wrong, and Who Really Cares?
Most strength and fitness enthusiasts are in the game for a specific reason. It could be to lift competitively, to excel in endurance events, or to simply improve general fitness. Whatever the reason, when these enthusiasts do their thing they inevitably fall into one or more categories within the fitness industry. Powerlifting, endurance competitions, bodybuilding, weightlifting, P90X, boot camps, and CrossFit are a few of those categories.
I have much respect and admiration for most the fitness industry groups. Whatever your group, give it your all. Bust your ass. Get after it like you're a Navy Seal at the Bin Laden compound. However - with respect to the principle of specificity, the importance of safety, and valuable time well spent - make sure you're engaging in the proper activities to achieve your time-worthy goals.
The Merriam-Webster definition of a faction is a party or group that is either contentious or self-seeking. Their definition of a cult includes “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.” And the definition makes note that this especially includes devotion to that which is regarded as “intellectual fad.” Some fitness groups have evolved to faction status - some even to borderline cult. There needs to be a rational perspective on it all. Science is science and truth is truth. It’s time to cut out all the pseudo-science and opinions and look at each faction and reveal the reality.
Understand my intent is not to denigrate a particular group. I just want to make sure you are on the right path and not wasting your valuable time. Are these activities for you based on your training goals? That is up to you to decide. That stated - and in no particular order - I will highlight eight different factions (cults?) so you can assure you're headed down the right path.
This is an awesome sport. How much you can bench press, squat, and deadlift? Pure brute strength, technique, and the use of within-the-rules supportive equipment. It is a skill sport. You must practice and train on those lifts, and you will obviously gain strength. One caveat on powerlifting is that it hammers your body. The consistent lifting of heavy resistances can significantly wear down the muscles and joints. This inevitably results in shoulder, low back, and knee injuries.
If you are attempting to get fit, increase muscular strength, and lose body fat, the bench press, squat, and deadlift have their places, but to engage in them competitively is probably more than you need.
These athletes are not only strong, but they are highly skilled. To clean and jerk and snatch such heavy resistances, it's all about becoming stronger and practicing the techniques. That is, the heavy resistance you are attempting to put overhead can only be raised so high (given gravity, the inverse relationship between amount of resistance, and the potential speed of movement). Hence, you must be skilled at quickly moving your limbs away from the movement of the resistance. You cannot refute the laws of physics.
This sport also has high potential for injury, so you don't need to engage in this if you want to get fit, lose fat, and gain strength. Also, you will not become a more "powerful' athlete by doing it. That is another entire discussion that centers on increasing muscular strength and improving skill practice.
I'll keep this short. Grow as much muscle as you can, lose as much fat as you can, 24/7 monitoring you your calorie intake, and hope you were blessed with the proper body type.
Be prepared to spend mega-time in the gym and possibly mega-dollars on "supplements."
CrossFit the sport is essentially conventional training exercises turned into a competition. Those who engage in world-caliber CrossFit competitions are well conditioned and fearless. However, there is a lot of dangerous jerking of resistances, kipping, and dynamic explosiveness all for the sake of completing the task. Injuries? Yep, it's a part of it, but you fight through them like a warrior.
CrossFit gyms are popping up everywhere. You don't need to join a CrossFit gym that prescribes the aforementioned competitive events. If you're an amateur, you don't need to perform overhead squats, push presses, power cleans, kipping chin ups, tire flipping, and other advanced exercises. There are safer means to pursue your goals unless you want to become a competitive CrossFitter. Check out these CrossFit fails and you will see my point.
CrossFit at its roots can be a viable option to achieve endurance, strength, and fat loss if safe exercises are employed. If you're Joe or Jane Doe seeking to just get fit, lose some body fat, and gain some muscular strength, be prudent in your choice of training facilities.
Mud Runs and Obstacle Courses
Again, if you're a risk-taker and love the rush of engaging in potentially injury-inducing events, go for it. If climbing over and negotiating through obstacles, moving through muddy water while avoiding overhead objects, landing awkwardly, and essentially placing your body in compromising positions is your goal, then do it.
Skydiving, cliff diving, mountain climbing, and asp kissing have their risks, too. To simply get in shape you again do not need to perform these activities.
Distance and marathon running is the epitome of human competition. Can you outlast the competition? Do you have what it takes to make it to the end? These are goals that attract many.
How many obese world-class endurance competitors do you see? None. How many large muscular endurance competitors do you see? Again, none. Endurance-only training does promote leanness and doesn't build much muscle. It can be an efficient calorie burner if you do it for a long time. It also has its pitfalls regarding injuries. The physical effort required to enhance endurance requires miles and miles of running and consequently thousands of single-leg ground contacts that must be absorbed by the body. Over time, foot issues, stress fractures, shin splints, knee tendonitis, IT band strain, and hip-joint problems can occur.
Want to be muscularly small and lean but exposed to over-use injuries? Engage in these types of activities. Want to get fit, ripped and, muscularly defined? You can do this type of training, but make sure you minimize it and add strength training.
Fitness Boot Camps
Boot camps have exploded in participation numbers over the recent years. The large group format with a variety of exercises aimed at improving endurance, strength, and mental toughness are the rage. Some incorporate military-style activities and drill-sergeant type motivation to push the participants. These sessions can be productive for those seeking fat loss, fitness improvement, and mental confidence, provided the sessions use safe and sensible exercises. Push ups, mountain climbers, bodyweight squats, bear crawls, sit ups, burpees, and shuttle runs are relatively safe exercises that are often used. High momentum activities such as throws, certain jumps, and awkward joint stress-eliciting movements can create potential for harmful stresses on your body.
If you participate in a boot camp - whether it's outdoors or indoors - make sure your ability level parallels the type of exercises used. Make sure the exercises are orthopedically safe and can be performed at your own pace. Give it your all, but if asked to do more and you cannot, be cautious.
On any weekend or late night bout with insomnia, tune your television to one of those semi-obscure channels and you're bound to stumble upon a P90X infomercial. The person who invented this faction of the fitness industry needs to be commended for their dead-on marketing regarding this cult. Simple-to-perform exercises, done at home with minimal equipment, done on their prescribed schedule, and with close attention paid to their nutritional advice will definitely move you forward.
But do you have the time to devote to the recommended program? Do you have the discipline to adhere to the dietary suggestions? Will you do it with the recommended effort day in and day out? Additionally, are you okay with minimized muscle mass gains due to the aerobic nature and minimal type II muscle fiber stimulation of the program?
Be aware of the fitness factions out there and consider if they're the right fit for you. Make sure you thoroughly study each faction to see if it is appropriate for your training goal. Don't undertake an activity because it is popular and seems plausible on the surface. Be smart, vigilant, and carry a large skeptical stick when seeking the right path to follow in the pursuit of your training goals.
P90X photo 1 by Official Navy Page from United States of America Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Abdrew Wiskow/U.S. Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
P90X photo 2 by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles Oki [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
All other photos courtesy of Shutterstock.