Last night, the BBC aired a documentary on the home workout revolution we’re currently finding ourselves in, looking at types of workouts, equipment and even clothing. As a personal trainer, currently moving with the times and assisting clients with their home workouts, it was hard not to have an opinion...
Should I be running?
Every man and his dog seems to have taken up lockdown running. After all, with gyms closed, what else can we do? But should we all be doing it? So this segment of the show, I thought, was particularly helpful.
As a fitness professional, I have seen many people injured by running too often, and it is no surprise. You put roughly 3x your bodyweight into each stride, yet I’ve met more people that are weary of lifting heavy weights. Lifting weights in a safe and controlled way has no or little impact on your joints, so this has a minimal risk of injury.
...But, I want to do cardio?
I’m not anti-running, but in terms of the cost vs benefit analysis, it is a relatively high risk activity that could result in injury, but you could do something like a bodyweight HIIT workout that removes the impact and still increases heart rate.
If you enjoy running then I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just saying weigh up the pros and cons, and whether that is worth it to you.
Resistance bands are better than dumbbells?
Yeah, this one annoyed me alot. The way they conducted their ‘experiment’ was a very typical BBC oversimplification of a much more nuanced question.
If you haven’t watched the show, they used an electrode scanner to pick up on electrical energy of the bicep muscle whilst completing a bicep curl. First with the dumbbell, and then with the resistance band.
They said the results were similar, but on the negative part of the repetition (as they lower their arms) there was more force applied with the resistance band.
From this result, they concluded that resistance bands are more effective than dumbbells…
So, a few things:
The woman in this show is clearly a gym newbie, she doesn’t know how to use a dumbbell. Maybe if she did, she would have controlled the negative a little better.
They performed this experiment on a bicep curl, would they have gotten the same result for a bigger compound move like a deadlift or squat? I highly doubt it.
Heavy weights do not change their weight halfway through the repetition, resistance bands do (THEY ARE ELASTIC BANDS). The pliability of the band dictates how long the repetition can be active. Some are much tighter than others. So, again, this statement can’t be true.
Whilst I do like resistance bands, conducting a test such as this with such a small muscle group being examined, is an appalling way to make such a vast generalisation of which piece of kit is better. I like resistance bands and I would advise people to get them for their own home gyms, but to say they are more effective at building muscle than free weights is entirely inaccurate.
There are many studies to show the efficacy of weight training with free weights, to discount them based on an experiment like this is just ludicrous.
1 minute of weight training per week is enough
This was a real head scratcher. Think about how this applies in your own life. If you do no weights whatsoever, then yes, increasing that to a few minutes per week will probably yield some benefits.
If you regularly train weights, then chances are that this approach will lead to muscle atrophy (reduction in size of the tissue).
Again, this is a question of context, and shouldn’t be made as a generalisation.
The professor also stated that it didn’t matter whether you did high rep/low weight or high weight/low rep. Again, this is something that is just simply untrue. It is necessary to increase the amount of stress over time to stimulate muscle growth enough to cause adaptation. This is called progressive overload.
By doing many reps with little weight you are not stimulating the muscle fibres to grow (sorry Bodypump lovers). It is out for debate exactly what is the right amount of reps to do until failure, but roughly between 8-12 reps to failure is commonly accepted to stimulate muscular growth.
Just 15 minutes of HIIT brings health benefits after only 4 weeks
So I quite like HIIT training myself, I do HIIT classes online every week for my online clients. The classes I do are longer than 15 minutes, and this is because the people that do the classes have adapted and need an extra push.
My point is, depending on your fitness levels you will need a certain level of exercise to promote a health benefit.
I could take a guess that the study was undertaken on sedentary adults, much in the same way diet studies (meditarreanean/keto etc) are often conducted on the severely unhealthy to promote that particular diet as the best way to improve health.
SPOILER ALERT: Much of the time, any kind of intervention will improve health outcomes in either setting when the alternative is doing nothing at all.
What I’m saying is, be wary of eye-catching headlines like ‘cutting out sugar increases life expectancy by 27%’ or ‘upping daily activity adds extra 5 years onto your life’ and, in this case, “15 minutes of HIIT training a week is enough”.
Booty workouts for glutes??
I’m glad they were honest about this one. In the show they were doing various glute ‘activation’ exercises. Activation exercises are essentially what you do if you want to warm up your muscles before a heavy session, they ACTIVATE the muscles.
They should not be the session itself.
Unfortunately, a load of fitness influencers have tried to convince the masses they can catch their good genetics and build the glutes of their dreams with these simple, non-weight-bearing home exercises. This is simply not the case.
If you want that peachy booty, load up that barbell heavy and focus your workouts on these four main moves:
Can you over-exercise?
I think this is something that definitely needed to be said. I know some people that probably fit this bill. And I think the question always has to be why? Is this an addiction? Can I stop? Having a rest day in the week is always a good idea. You should be able to fit into one session what you’d like to achieve in a workout.
Over-exercising can definitely have some serious health consequences long term and balance and time to let your muscles recover is much more favourable.
So, to conclude, the BBC often does an excellent job of generalising a huge topic area into a few key takeaways with little or sketchy ‘science’ to back its claims.
What I gathered from this documentary is that this was aimed at exercise beginners, and not those already into training.
That is an important distinction to make, as I do not believe that the changes that were suggested would benefit any of my personal training clients, but they would benefit those that do not currently exercise.
Like with anything, context is needed.
Are you exercising at home? How are you finding it?
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