April 10, 2012

Fitness; Then and Now

The STEP came in when I was a coordinator
at a small fitness facility. We spent many months
educating ourselves on how to use this tool
safely while others were stacking them up
as high as they can go and suffering the pain
later in life. The STEP was a great example of
something so simple being used in such unsafe
ways. Once it became commonplace, it was all
about choreography and had nothing to do with
safety. I wonder how many had knee replacements
Over the past few weeks, I have had a blog post idea in my head. I have waited for it to go away, but it still hangs on...every time I participate in or get near to a fitness class. I have hoped it would be forgotten or chalked up to raging hormones or a bad sleep, but I think this one needs to be posted. It ain't pretty, it ain't positive, but it is honest. Coming from my perspective as an aging fitness professional with a degree in exercise science, I would like to post about the apparent disintegration of the fitness industry.

As a participant in group fitness, I'm fortunate in that I participate with the education and knowledge to chose exercises that will make me stronger...and not injured. Unfortunately, the average participant doesn't have that option. They are trusting the fitness leader to make those choices for them. They are, in fact, putting their health and safety in the hands of the person in the front of the class. So who is this person and what makes them educated enough to lead a fitness class?

Over twenty years ago, when I was dreaming of becoming a fitness leader (seriously, it was all I wanted to do in life...after becoming a hairdresser), I had to participate in a fitness theory course that spread across a few months. This course presented on anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. After that, I graduated to a course that focused on teaching the basics of fitness leadership combined with lessons on exercise safety. It took me approximately 6 months to accomplish this. Now it may take someone two weekends and you have the choice of doing it through a computer.

Yoga is a whole 'nother problem. Without quality control or government intervention, you have everything from Bikram's Yoga (a physiotherapists nightmare) to anti gravity yoga. The traditional yoga is being taken over by something else...something more sinister.
Back then, we had fitness coordinators who would make it their business to offer continuing education on safety and functionality. We would always side on caution and not flash. We were taught to be sure of body alignment, back health, levels of exertion and the like; to teach to all levels in the class and not just those in the front row. Now I only see flash and much disregard for the safety of the participant. As far as teaching to all levels? Forget about it! When I witness those struggling in the back on the verge of tears (while the instructor makes no efforts to help them...let alone even acknowledge them) it breaks my heart.

So what has happened to our fitness industry? Perhaps it is just my teeny tiny world I'm observing, but I do read the fitness industry magazines to keep abreast of the latest (and more ridiculous) fitness trends. Who knew I needed a stretch machine...I thought I could just stretch on the floor. What can you do with a kettle ball that you can't do with a medicine ball? And really, what's so different between Zumba and Jazzercise?

This trend came and went as fast as parachute
pants. No, I didn't dream it, you actually placed
slippery plastic under your feet and slide across
the wood floor. Inner thigh pull anyone?
Lately, I have attended classes where the instructor has chosen to remove a bike seat for a certain drill. I'm not joking! In another class, the leader starts jogging on the spot in a warm up; clearly disregarding or unaware of the importance of a gradual warm up. Another leader thinks that bending backwards works the abs. Many others lack the critical thought necessary to weed through all the gimmicky and (let's just call it..) stupid exercises "designed" to impress only to put their participants at great risk for tears, pulls or worse.

So who's in charge here?

There are so many private fitness "governing" bodies in British Columbia and across Canada (not to mention North America) and there is not one body in charge of anything. You don't need a degree in exercise science or really even a certification in fitness. Anyone can put out their shingle and call themselves a trainer. It really makes me sad and very frustrated when I witness ignorance (and not science or psychology) driving this industry of exercise.

People pay good money for fitness without knowing the questions to ask. As a graduate from a Kinesiology program, I understand the many courses we had to take that, although may not relate to the act of leading fitness, certainly added to my deeper understanding of exercise physiology and movement mechanics. From measurement and evaluation of exercise to understanding the unique physiological adaptations of age, the average fitness leader is not equipped with this knowledge (nor do they believe they need to be)...and, in my opinion, that is a very scary thing.

About 8 years ago (give or take a few) I sat on the British Columbia Parks and Recreation (BCRPA) fitness leadership committee and was one of the few who were fighting for degreed certifications. I was pushing for longer courses, educational pre requisites, and the removal of the option for distance education past fitness theory. I wanted to see my fitness profession actually become a profession. To be respected as a health professional, I believed we needed to pull up our socks and start, collectively, acting like one.  But in the end, I learned, it was really all about the business. In the end, I left the board heart broken, disillusioned and am seeing the effects of their decisions today.

Today, I am ashamed to have been a part of the fitness industry. Although I miss leading classes tremendously, I would never consider getting back into that frenzy of showboating. Put it this way, when I submitted my CV for the job I'm in today, I erased all mention of being a fitness leader....otherwise, I may have been passed over.  The "f" word, in the health promotion profession is just that; it's ugly, embarrassing, and unprofessional. If you want a job in this area, you do not mention the word fitness. Interesting.
Of course, as I type this, I am completely aware of the many fitness leaders who are well educated, professional, and lead safe and effective classes. They work hard to make exercise fun and to include everyone into their circle. I go to great efforts to let these leaders know how much I appreciate them and what they do and go to great efforts to market their classes and/or businesses over anyone else's. These professionals understand they don't know what they don't know. They pursue knowledge constantly and will never proclaim their expertise.

Unfortunately, they are few and far between.

The BOSU (BOth Sides Up) did prove useful, but when it first came out, I witnessed instructors using them in place of STEPS. I'm sure clinics around the country were seeing a rise in sprained and strained ankles. Seriously...where's the critical thinking?
K

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