Don’t Be Old School
By: Justin Levine
Why do people still perform crunches? Why do people still get on the leg press machine? Why do people still believe in long slow distance training to “burn fat”? Well, this is what we knew 20 years ago. Things change and so must people. Fitness has transformed over the past 20 years. There are many concepts that at the time we thought were the most efficient ways to get fit. We no longer live in a bodybuilding world where we design body part splits for our workouts. You know the workouts: chest/triceps, back/biceps, and legs/shoulders. If you are still doing this you are “old school”. Program design has changed to training specific movements for proper function. We will get into that a little later in the article. The body is meant to function a certain way. Check out Michael Boyle’s article and dvd, “A Joint by Joint Approach”. We need mobility in certain areas and stability in others. If the hips do not move properly our low back will hurt. Does anyone out there want to blow a disc in their lower back? I am sure no one will answer yes but every time I walk into a “big box” gym people are always performing crunches, back extension and leg press exercises. Dr. Stuart Mcgill, a low back specialist, states that “any flexion or extension will create a disc to blow.” It might not happen the 1st, 2nd, or 50th time you perform these exercises, but eventually your low back will “hurt”.
This article will cover many old school concepts and methods that you should not be doing anymore. If you are just stop. I will also get into some specific cutting edge theories that you need to implement into your program design. Remember, you need an open mind when it comes to fitness. If you want to continue to get results you must learn to change your program. There is so much education out there for us to learn. Do not do the same thing you were doing 5-20 years ago. Step out of that bubble and step into the new age of fitness training and continue to learn.
Crunches are old school. Again, if you want a low back disc to blow then continue to perform crunches. The movement of crunching puts the spine into flexion. The spine does not want this load. The function of the spine is meant to be stable. When we move at the spine we cause low back pain. Read any of Stuart Mcgill’s research. This guy is way smarter than I am and these are the concepts he talks about. Another exercise people need to eliminate from their program is back extensions. Start thinking stability exercises for the “core”. Examples are plank variations, side plank variations, cable stabilization exercises, core rollouts, medicine ball training and cable chops and lifts. If you want a “6-pack”, change your diet. If you want to lose weight, change your diet. Doing “abs” at the gym will not get you leaner. It is a mix of a properly designed workout program, consistent healthy nutritional habits and proper rest and recovery. We need to promote good postural habits and doing crunches puts our body in poor position for good posture. Stabilize the spine, stop doing crunches and you will see the difference in the way you move.
Bodybuilding splits are old school. In fact bodybuilding splits are probably close to 20 years old. This is what people did in the 80’s and 90’s. We went to the gym to work our chest for an hour. Then the next day was arms. Good ole biceps and triceps for the entire workout. We would leave the gym with a massive pump in our arms. Then the next day we worked back and shoulders. Then we would finish the week with a ridiculous leg routine. Some leg workouts left us unable to walk and we were sore for days after. If you are still working out like this, STOP! This is not an efficient way to get fit. You must incorporate specific movements and interval conditioning (I will get into that one on #4) into your workout routine. Horizontal and vertical pressing and pulling movements, bilateral and unilateral knee dominant and hip dominant movements and core stability exercises. Do not make it too complicated. Add balance to your routine. If you have two pressing exercises (bench press and push-up) you need two pulling exercises (chin-ups and DB row). If you have two knee dominant exercises (split squat and lunge) you need two hip dominant exercises (deadlifts and hip lifts). When you have imbalances it leads to injury. Who wants to get injured? Nobody! If you are trying to get fit, do not lift like a bodybuilder. Structure your workouts with these new concepts to build an ultimate fitness level.
Leg press, leg extension and leg curl machines are old school. In fact if you are working out on any machine, unless it is a Keiser cable system, then you are outdated. Machines do not build function. Your movement is constricted on a machine. Remember the old school Nautilus machines when they first came out. What year was that? 1976. Back then Nautilus was the “cutting edge” of fitness training. But we do not live in the past, we live in the future. Time to step into the new age of training. If your program is loaded with machine exercises and non-functional training then change your program. Implement deadlifts, squat variations, chin-ups, rows, push-ups, presses and core stability work. You will get results. In fact you will get the best results you have ever seen.
Long slow distance “cardio” for fat burning is old school. I was a culprit of this when I first started training clients. I would have my clients do cardio on their non-weight training days for at least 45 minutes. I wanted them to stay in the “fat burning zone” the entire time. Sound familiar? With the knowledge of guys like Alwyn Cosgrove, Mike Boyle and Mark Verstegen, I finally figured out that this was not the answer. I started having my clients do intervals. There are many different interval protocols. For deconditioned individuals an interval might be a walk on a treadmill at a 5% incline for 30 seconds and then back down to 1% for 1 minute. For fit athletes I usually choose the Tabata protocol. These are very intense and can be done as a medicine ball circuit or on a treadmill or bike. I do not use the word “cardio” to my clients anymore. We call it conditioning. Cardio is the word people use when they get on a treadmill for an hour at the same pace. Conditioning is when I have my clients perform 15 intervals of 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off. It sounds better. At the completion of every training session I add conditioning to the workout. It could be a metabolic circuit, treadmill sprints, or bike sprints.
The “5 minute walk on a treadmill” warm-up is old school. Do not walk on a treadmill for 5-10 minutes and think you are warmed up. You need to implement a dynamic warm-up to your workout routine. Not just once in awhile. Every time you workout you need to perform a dynamic warm-up. A proper warm-up will prepare you for your workout, increase flexibility, increase mobility, and elevate your heart rate. A walk on a treadmill only covers 1 of those traits. Your workout will be more intense and you will reduce injury.
Ok I saved the best for last. If you are still participating in step aerobics you are very old school. This was a fad in the 80’s. All step class is going to do is give you knee pain. Yes, it is good that you are moving and staying active but there are better options than “step class”. If you like group classes choose a strength training or circuit training class. At least now you can get some interval type training.
So the moral of the story is that things change. What we used to do does not work anymore. And what we know now may change. With the beauty of science and education we as fitness professionals continue to study the body and learn the most efficient ways to get fit. I personally will continue to learn the rest of my life. Thank you so much to guys like Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Mark Verstegen, Gray Cook, Stuart McGill, Todd Durkin and Martin Rooney who are always willing to share their knowledge to the world.