There is a difference between giving our clients a workout or even an exercise that is challenging and one that is simply difficult, and that difference may be visually very slight. The effects on that client performing something that’s challenging for them personally, or performing something (most likely poorly) that’s just difficult can be drastically different, however.
The difference being that something challenging will have a purpose behind it, a reason for that exercise or session to be completed. Something that’s difficult is usually done just for the sake of making a task hard to complete. A client with poor coordination and joint control could be challenged by a single leg balance on the floor. If a person cannot maintain balance over their base of support, it obviously speaks to a dysfunction that should be addressed.
However many clients would find this boring or not beneficial to their weight loss goal, so we as fitness pros will amp up the DIFFICULTY by adding weights or have them perform some other movement while balancing. But does this actually help that client improve their balance? The answer of course is no. How can they possibly learn to balance well when you’re tossing a 10 lb medicine ball at them and they’re just trying not to look as if it’s their first time on two legs?
But that client didn’t come to me to improve their balance you may be saying, they want to lose 20 lbs! Sure they may burn a couple extra calories throwing a medicine ball to you as they wobble back and forth. Looking as if they’re standing on the deck of the USS Enterprise while it’s under attack (nerd alert!)
But are we setting this client up for long term failure? I would say yes. I understand that in our impatient, results now culture it’s not easy explaining to a client the long term and far reaching benefits of performing challenging (to them) but may be considered boring moves, especially when they see other people at the gym doing box jumps and throwing med balls off of walls. So instead of trying to explain the reasoning behind it, we just “give the client what they want” and serve up an ass kicking, nausea inducing session, so they can walk away feeling satisfied and they got their money’s worth.
This may work well in the short term, but are we actually making that client more resilient and improving their functional ability? Which when it comes down to it we all want this, whether we realize it or not. Or are we setting them up for an eventual downfall and injury, either in the gym or outside of it?
I’ve seen time and time again people performing a move haphazardly and with awful movement mechanics, and this is under the guidance and supervision of their trainer! I can only assume that the trainer is aware of their faulty form. However they ignore it for the sake of making the client do something difficult, even if they’re not physically able to perform it well.
Some may argue that maybe the trainer didn’t know better and wasn’t aware of the bad form. I would argue that if you can’t coach something right, don’t coach it. We as fitness professional are trusted to know what’s best for the client, even if frequently they don’t know themselves. We shouldn’t get caught in the trap of making our clients perform in ways they’re obviously not ready for.
A progressive and systematic program is obviously ideal, but in the real world you may be competing with 150 other gym goers for space and equipment and clients lives outside of the gyms will always interfere with their schedule, so it’s very hard to follow a set plan.
That doesn’t mean you can’t progress a person’s abilities safely and effectively. No matter what a client’s goals are, they will be able to achieve them if trained in an environment and with tools or moves that are purposefully challenging without being excessively difficult. And that client will also end up being a better functioning human as a bonus!
Breathing. Everyone does it. I bet you're probably even doing it right this very second. It's one of those autonomous things our body does to keep us alive. Like a pumping heart or the self preservation instinct that resists my urge to jump in front of a train everytime Sarah Palin's on TV.
Breathing is so automatic that most of us pay it no mind. It just does it's thing while we go about our day. Yet it's the most important thing you do everyday. A person can go weeks without food. We can go a few days without even a sip of water. But breathing? Unless your name is David Blaine you'll be lucky to make it 5 minutes. Even if you lasted 5 minutes, well, what's left of your brain wouldn't be very happy with you.
My point is, for something so crucial to our survivial we sure don't pay much attention to it! A person's breathing pattern has far reaching effects on their bodies. It has an effect on your muscular system, your nervous system, your aerobic and anaerobic endurance, even how much weight you can lift! It has an impact on your overall sanity and well-being. You know the saying, "before you snap and completely lose your shit, stop and take 10 deep breaths." Hell, it can even impact the well-being and sanity of those around you! If you've ever slept next to someone that snores you know what complete frustration and exhaustion feels like.
Of course there are disciplines out there that realize the importance of breathing to your body, aside from that whole keeping you alive thing. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, and I'm sure there's others but those are just the ones that come to mind first. What do all of them have in common? Well first off they all emphasize inner mind/body awareness. Which is something sorely lacking in our current fast paced society by the way. That topic is for another time and rant though.
Second, they also can be extremely CALMING. Most people think that our situation or mood dictates our breathing. Like for instance how your breathing gets shorter and faster when you get angry (that ass-hole cut me off!) or when you're sad (like when you're crying at the end of Titanic. Don't lie, I know you do everytime you watch it.) But most people don't realize it can go the other way around, and that our breathing can actually dictate our mood.
Remember the example of stepping back and taking 10 deep breaths before doing something you'll regret? It's not simply the time it takes you to take those breaths that prevents you from flipping out, it's also the act of taking in long, deep breaths that actually has a physiological effect of calming you down.
I do something called fascial stretch therapy, and an integral part of the process is getting the client on my table to breath deeply and coordinate their breathing to the movements. I can't tell you how many times people have passed right out, and in a matter of minutes! Simply because they're so relaxed from the deep breathing (and the gentle stretching) they just shut right down.
How many people would love to fall asleep that easily, huh? Well maybe instead of counting sheep on a restless night you should be concentrating on taking slow deep breaths.
I'm talking about the kind of breaths that take over 5 seconds to complete, your chest AND stomache rises like you're a silver backed gorilla during mating season, and you can actually feel all the way down into your abdomen. If you're stomache isn't inflating then you're not breathing deep enough! If you can't take a breath like that spontaneously, then chances are you've got dysfunctional breathing my friend.
So what, you may be thinking? Well, are you prone to headaches, neck and shoulder pain, anxiety or anxiousness? If so at least part of that can actually be CAUSED by dysfunctional breathing. Lemme show you an example.
Stand up. Now take a loooong, slow, deep breath. The kind I described above. Did you feel it all the way down into your belly? That's called diaphramatic breathing, son, and that's how nature intended.
Now take a real short breath, you know like the kind you do when you're crying (think of that Titanic scene if you need help). Notice the difference? You may have seen your chest rise a bit, but more than likely you felt your neck and shoulder muscles doing most of the work, probably causing your shoulders to jump up towards your ears.
Those muscles are called secondary respiratory muscles. They're meant to be used in a stressfull sitatuation so that you can get oxygen to working muscles fast. Like when you're being chased by a hungry cheetah through the African sahara, or more likely by your neighbor's pit bulls on your morning run.
Basically it's part of your "fight or flight" response. Which is all good if you don't have to use that method of breathing very often and can avoid those situations. Getting chased by cheetahs? Stop going to Africa. Your neighbor's dog messing up your run? Find another route.
Unfortunately our bodies also sense our daily stresses of rush hour traffic, meeting work deadlines, getting yelled at by our boss or being nervous about giving that speech in front of the whole class, as situations in need of that fight of flight response. Which means your part-time muscles are working full-time hours.
When this happens you start to get constant tightness and tension in those head, neck, chest and shoulder muscles that weren't designed to work that hard. That tension manifests itself as headaches, eye strain, and of course neck and shoulder pain.
Your body then becomes accustomed to using those muscles to breath and initiates a vicous cycle of shallow breathing, which causes muscle tension, which causes pain and stress, which then causes more shallow breathing etc...
Your best defense against this is to take some time out of your day to focus on your breathing. Find somewhere comfortable, maybe leaning against a wall. Stand or lay flat but don't sit. Reason being most people also have tight hip flexor muscles which can limit breathing from a seated position, but again I'll go over that another time.
Now close your eyes and take in a deep, slow breath and really feel it make its way down into your chest and then belly. Do this for at least 10 minutes a day and see if it helps you feel more relaxed. We obviously can't always prevent a stressfull situation from happening, but we can always control the way we handle it.
Next time you're feeling stressed or panicked, take some time alone and just breeeeeathe.