In my quest to try every new fitness class that foam rolls into London, I tend to notice when the fitness world is heading in a certain direction, trend-wise.
Until recently, it was all about exercise classes that were ‘the hardest workout ever’, where you had to sign a waiver to say ‘sure, it’s ok if my head explodes during this session’ and muscle-bound men screamed in your face while you attempted to make your wobbly legs box-jump 10 metres in the air.
Perhaps as a reaction to this, there is now a new wave of workouts based on the idea of ‘balance’ and ‘wellbeing’ (or ‘doing nothing‘, as the Mail bills it), with major gyms citing this gentle approach to exercise as an important trend going forward.
In my experience, these classes involve, for the most part, stretching veeeeery slowly and lying down on the floor – I may even have fallen asleep in the child’s pose at one.
Elsewhere, fitness bloggers are assuring fans it’s ‘all about balance’ and ‘listening to your body’, being kind to yourself rather than pushing your limits in the gym, and feeding your body ‘the foods that make it happy’.
And while it’s all a nice sentiment, I have to be honest: if I indulged all my body’s cravings for a day off or stopped exercising the minute I felt my muscles screaming, I might as well just wave goodbye to fitness altogether.
As for feeding my body what it wants, I would be living off chip shop chips and Ben & Jerry’s ’til the day I died.
I have no problem with people taking an hour out to stretch, avoiding injury or having a rest day, and I certainly think it’s dangerous for people to feel guilty if they don’t exercise.
But let’s be honest – if you are in the fitness game to improve your personal performance or change the way your body looks, then all this touchy-feely ‘just give yourself a break’ mentality is not going to get you anywhere.
I’ll give you a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean. When I was at university, I was a ‘runner’ insomuch as I could jog for about 20 minutes round the park without dying. I did this fairly regularly to maintain a decent level of cardio fitness, but I never really pushed myself or varied my routine.
When I hit my mid-20s I joined a running club and suddenly my performance and stamina were taken up to a whole new level. In fact, ‘suddenly’ is the wrong word – it took a crap-load of effort.
At that club I was made to push myself way out of my comfort zone, to the point I would be a gasping, sweating mess by the time we ended a long run or sprint session. It was tough, but it’s what I needed to do in order to start running marathons and getting consistent PBs.
More recently, I’ve realised the pay-off for hard work again. For months – probably years – I’d been tootling around, going to various aerobics or pilates classes but nothing that really pushed me too hard. Again, nothing wrong with this – but I couldn’t really understand why, despite the fact I was working out really regularly, I wasn’t getting any more strong or toned.
Then I started my fitness blog and began trying out some new types of workouts, such as HIIT and CrossFit, as well as doing more weight-training. It was harder, for sure, but – along with cutting out chocolate for a month – it really helped me see some results. Before I’d always said ‘I’m just not one of those people whose body changes through exercise’, but that was b***ocks; I just wasn’t trying hard enough.
I want to reiterate that I have no problem at all with people having days off (I’m having one right now!), holidays, stretching sessions or easing off from certain exercises if they sense an injury coming on.
But I worry that people who embrace the slightly touchy-feely mentality that’s currently having a moment will be disheartened when they’re not getting any results.
A friend recently asked her personal trainer about introducing gentle mobility sessions into her routine, and his answer was basically ‘Yeah not a problem, but it has to be on top of the fitness you’re already doing, not instead of’.
That’s the key really – you can’t get away from the fact that actually, there is nothing you can supplement for bloody hard work when it comes to fitness (and believe me, if there was I’d be the first to sip Mojitos by the pool while magically forming six pack abs).
By all means don’t kill yourself, but if you really want to see progress…You. Just. Have. To. Work.