A Flawed Criteria for Measuring A “Good Workout”

A Flawed Criteria for Measuring A “Good Workout”

February 7, 2022 // Fitness

I remember my first few months as a new trainer working for a local commercial gym in Tampa, FL. I was tasked, along with a colleague that was former military, to develop a 6-week bootcamp workout program. I remember saying to my training manager “Bootcamp? We have that many members who are going to enlist? Wow, I had no idea this was such a military community.” My manager was just as confused as I was, and he explained that many gymgoers think that the getting absolutely destroyed and exhausted is what constitutes a good workout. My brain almost exploded, considering I just had finished my bachelor’s in Exercise Science at UTampa and there was not one mention of burpees nor BOSU ball pushups being superiorly effective in cardiovascular conditioning nor muscle development in the four years of study. In fact, this stuff can actually slow you down, considering the high rate of injury and the low return on your exhaustive efforts.

Where does this idea that the more complex and advanced the exercise, and especially if it yields exhaustion, the better it is come from?  Not from science and research (which actually states the opposite, especially in de-conditioned populations like your general exercise goer.) Not from any educated* training professional or coach.

Believe it or not, this is all due to good marketing over 20 years ago in magazines and TV advertisement videos (remember Billy Blanks with Tae bo, Tony Horton with P90x, Insanity and all that junk from the early 2000’s?). The internet also helped exploit the fitness consumer market, where anyone with a half-decent physique and good content can sell you on whatever exercise scheme they want to pedal. (By the way, 99% of the time, these fitness influencers do not follow the same method that they are selling you. What does that tell you?)

We have been ingrained to think that we need exercises to destroy our bodies in some sort of cathartic ritual that will make us tougher human beings. Take any reputable trainer and have them analyze bootcamp training and they will quickly remind you that this type of training is necessary because soldiers fight wars. The population going to the gym, seeking a reduction in body fat and a better functioning mobile body, does not need to be prepared for war. Chasing exhaustion is not a good use of your energy. This mindset is a recipe for injury, is not sustainable, undermines the value of good training (which uses scientific-techniques to promote better neurological and physiological adaptations), and ultimately reinforces an unhealthy relationship with exercise & movement. 

Here’s are two proverbial questions worth pondering during your next “workout”: 

  1. Am I practicing exercises just to yield full-body exhaustion, or am I actively training what I need to move better?
  2. Am I finding and addressing the restriction(s) that limit my movements and cause recurring pains? 

The goal of training is to move better, with more efficiency and control. A body with healthy, operational joints without restrictions and with increased control has a high threshold for force inputs. The more capacity we have, the more we can do. Because when when force exceeds capacity –> injury occurs (this is found regularly in the research). 

Takeaway: Replace fast-paced, highly-complex exercises with slow, controlled isolated movements. Making a hip move and operate like a hip is designed for will yield far more value for your body than any flashy, useless exercise for Instagram.