Fit to Play with Jim Johnson: The bandwagon

Published: 06-12-2023 11:37 PM

Seen anyone use a NordicTrack lately? Tried pole dancing and couldn’t hang on?
What happened to Tae Bo, sauna suits, Power Balance bracelets, the Bodyblade and boot camps? Try a Teeter hangup if you are preparing to be a vampire bat. Looking for a Bowflex? Try the nearest landfill. Bandwagons come and go, leaving behind piles of Ab Coasters, Ab Rollers, Abdominizers and Thighmasters. Some of these actually work but lose their attraction, most because they do not provide quick results. Billions of dollars a year are spent perpetuating the myth of quick and easy. The Federal Trade Commission found that people were more likely to be taken in by weight loss scams than any other type of fraud.

Many of these quick fixes are related to body sculpting. Attractive women such as Denise Austin and Heidi Klum suggest you can be just like them if you use what they sell. Almost all of these are based on the myth of spot reduction. I wrote about spot reduction in an earlier column, pointing out that fat cannot be reduced in a specific area of the body by training the muscles underlying the fat. Equally mythical is wearing some form of sauna gear. Wearing rubber gear over your stomach will make you sweat; sweat is not fat. Also, forget vibrating away your rear end.

Like a lot of boys in the early 1950’s I wanted to be stronger; Charles Atlas was my childhood hero. His photo was on the back of almost every comic, advertising how he developed the body of a Greek God, how he went from a 90 pound weakling to king of the beach. I wanted the Greek God body but never bought his dynamic tension program using mostly static exercises. In 1953 two German physiologists published a groundbreaking paper on isometrics, claiming great results with only a six second muscle contraction. Isometrics flourished and died.

In 1970 the first Nautilus machine, accompanied with great fanfare, was delivered to a customer. Since humans are not equally strong throughout a range of motion, Arthur Jones designed Nautilus to allegedly adapt resistance to match the human. Everyone wanted Nautilus. The Boston Red Sox bought Nautilus. Studies showed that it only partially accommodated participants but a big advantage was the ease of changing resistance, reducing the time between exercises. Today, most every gym has some form of variable resistance machine.

Aerobics was born in 1968, resulting in millions of people taking up jogging along with billions of dollars in running shoes and millions of jogging injuries. Road and mountain biking flourished. Aerobic dance started in the 1970’s followed by similar programs such as Jazzercise. Today, they call it Zumba.

CrossFit was incorporated in 2000 in California and added gyms all around the country. One benefit is the group culture and support, but others have suggested it is somewhat of a cult. Some of their practices have been found to be dangerous, resulting in hospitalizations because of severe muscle damage.

Today, we have ‘the core.’ TV analysts treat the core as if it is The Holy Grail, suggesting that kinesiologists were not aware until recently of the area between the pelvic girdle and the ribs. Kinesiology texts from 70 years ago describe the importance of the muscles of the trunk, the muscles of the kinetic chain that transfer force from the ground to the upper body. Great athletes have trained their cores for years simply using body weight exercises — calisthenics.

Running, walking, swimming and cycling are here to stay, likewise, barbells and dumbbells. These are not fads. Exercises using your own body weight will continue. Group exercise to music is here to stay. Kettlebells and medicine balls have experienced resurgence but may not last. CrossFit will probably get sued. TV analysts will stop talking about the core. FitBits will lose their attraction. Peloton will diminish as people tire of someone yelling at them. Jumping rope comes and goes but only if you are fit. Ice baths?

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Develop your own personal bandwagon. Use your intuition, evolved over thousands of years, to know what feels right. Realize there is no quick and easy to fitness, that a good exercise program does not rely on gimmicks or tricks but on a systematic program you can repeat, that does not hurt you. Use the seasons to make changes, be creative, provide variety. Don’t just use prescribed exercise but seasonal activities such as gardening and mowing. Play something. Your body is awesome; don’t abuse it.

Jim Johnson is a retired professor of exercise and sport science after teaching 52 years at Smith College and Washington University in St. Louis. He comments about sport, exercise, and sports medicine. He can be reached at jjohnson@smith.edu

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