Just because an exercise looks good does not mean it is effective.
There seems to be some confusion on this subject, especially since everyone’s favorite Instagram models started attaching rubber bands to every inch of their bodies, wearing accentuating clothing and finding the perfect lighting that would make the Michelin man look ripped.
Claims that certain exercises increase muscle activation in areas that are nearly impossible to isolate can cause hordes of self-certified gurus to crowd the gyms and implement workouts that would make Cirque du Soleil proud.
The thing is, these exercises are no better than their more basic counter parts and many of the people demonstrating these exercises built their bodies long before they discovered these new magical movements. I can’t help but appreciate Olympic gymnasts whose bodies are near perfection, built with thousands of reps of calisthenics work, or Olympic weightlifters, many of whom are shredded to the bone but do little more than five basic barbell lifts and a few bodyweight exercises with maximum effort.
According to Squat University, “It’s rarely a special type of programming that drives athletes to the top, but a profound mastery of what many consider a basic skill set.”
What happened to mastering basic barbell training? Heavy weight training, meaning heavy relative to your strength, is proven to increase bone density, decrease risk of diseases such as osteoporosis and muscle atrophy in older populations, increase muscle size and density, decrease body fat and increase your basal metabolism in both males and females. You must lift with proper form, progress in the weight being lifted and increase the intensity of your workouts to get these benefits.
A burn or sweat does not build a strong body. You can sweat yourself to dehydration before you make any significant changes in your physique. And in Charleston, you will sweat as soon as you walk outside. Dramatic changes happen with simple, effective movements and hard work.
But what if you can’t squat, deadlift, bench, or overhead press properly? While there are outliers due to immobility or injuries, I truly believe everyone can learn all of these exercises at any age, and the outlying clients I mentioned can find very similar substitutions to produce similar results. It takes a knowledgeable teacher and a few weeks of dedicated learning, but once you learn these exercises, there is rarely a need for many more.
I hope to see more basic weight training in the years to come. While some modern exercises have their place, that place is usually with high-level athletes trying to enhance their performance, not the average person trying to get in better shape. There are still glimmers of hope as people embrace being strong over being able to jump on boxes like they are training for the next Super Mario game.
If your goal is to build a body that you can reveal with confidence and pride, keep it simple and work harder than you thought possible. It won’t be easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Richard Saad is a personal trainer and can be reached at 864.907.0214.