Fitness is a booming industry with much to offer in the way of workouts and programs. BeachBody, P90X, Cross-Fit, TapOut, Insanity, etc… Many choices for those new to fitness as well as those just looking for something new to inspire them to keep going. The creators of these programs want the same thing as everyone else; to make the most money doing what they love to do (in this case, sell fitness). And like any business person, maximizing profits is important. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem that comes into play, however, is that some of these programs are not designed, or safe for, the general population. But they are being sold to the general population as if they are suitable for anyone. Unfortunately from a business perspective, the athletic population is much smaller than the general population, so if you are selling something to a small, niche group, you may not make as much money (or so you may think). These companies believe this, and in my opinion, often downplay the safety and compatibility concerns.
This past weekend, I was teaching a class for AFAA (American Fitness Association of America), one of the top certifying organization in the country for group fitness (and have been around the longest since 1983). One of the reasons I have always loved AFAA is their emphasis on critical thinking (as opposed to teaching students to memorize things), and their focus on following the latest scientific research, specifically in regards to effectiveness and safety. I have been working as a certifier and instructor in this capacity since 2006 (originally with a different organization). Needless to say, my job is to analyze students performance and critique every possible safety concern. As a certifier/examiner, my job is to watch someone exercise and pick apart anything and everything that could potentially injure a class participant, or a personal training client.
So if I watch you do a squat, my brain automatically says “where are the knees in relation to the toes and ankles?” (knees are to be in line with the ankles and never passed the toes), “is there less than a 90 degree angle under the knees?” (too much pressure on the knees, especially if weight is used), “is the back flat, spine in neutral alignment, or is the back in unsupported spinal flexion?” (unsupported spinal flexion can cause microscopic fractures of the spine), etc…
And while there are many movements, exercises, and stretches that are considered unsafe for all, some are only considered unsafe for the general population, but not the athletic population. This is an important distinction. As was mentioned in my class this past weekend, the hurdler’s stretch is a big no-no for general population, but for a track runner who does hurdles, totally appropriate.
Many programs on the market today (though not all), seem to be geared more towards the athletic population, but are inviting the general population to join in. This makes me very nervous because I fear too many sedentary and low-active individuals are getting themselves into something that is not appropriate for them, and serious injury may occur. On a less serious scale, it may just discourage people from being active if they can’t handle the rigorous workout.
I saw this happen recently at a conference I attended. We tried this very fun workout (I think it was called “Tapura”). Personally, I loved it! It was a combination of kickboxing, high-intensity aerobics, African dance, and boot camp. We even had people playing African drums rather than radio music. The class had a lot of repetitive movements, which I like, because it allows me to get my heart rate high and workout to the best of my ability without having to change movements all of the time. But as much as I enjoyed the workout, I couldn’t help but notice a few overweight and obese women in the room that just couldn’t handle it. They were feeling pressure from the instructor to keep pushing, but I could clearly see these women were in pain and not having fun. They kept stopping to catch their breath or take a break. They probably spent more time doing this than working out. The workout was clearly not meant for them.
Ideally, I would like to see a greater range of programs being offered and would like the companies selling them to keep in mind “who is the exercise appropriate for?”. Going back to what I mentioned before about profits, you can be very successful marketing and selling to a niche market if you understand your population. Athletes are the most willing to spend a lot of money on fitness. They will buy the best gadgets whether it be small things like fancy water bottles to $300 heart rate monitors, or even $1200 wet suits. Selling to the athletic population is easy. My hope is that more of these companies start working on niche marketing and getting away from trying to sell a “one-size-fits-all” program to the general public. Remember, there is no one program or workout good for everybody.