I sometimes wonder if other industries are full of so many fads as the fitness industry. It seems someone is constantly putting out some new training style, new diet plan, new health tips that has everyone worked up until the next trend comes along. You gotta be quick if you’re gonna make it on this trend train! On one hand it provides plenty of humor for those of us who recognize the ridiculousness of some of these trends and on the other hand, it’s really sad to see so many people get sucked in. They are so excited about the opportunity to be healthy and fit but unfortunately fall prey to some nifty marketing tactics and sales methods. Here are three fitness terms that get thrown around a lot in the pursuit of attracting new gullible clients. Buyer beware.
What’s the opposite of confusion? Clarity? Organization? Take a look at some of the greatest bodybuilders and powerlifter’s of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and what do you see? A bunch of confused muscles? Surely not since most of their training methods were pretty basic; major lifts, typical 4-5 day body part or lift based splits, basic barbell, dumbbell, and machine based exercises. So how did we come up with the idea that basic barbell training wasn’t good enough? That all these muscle cells in our bodies are getting a little too narcissistic, chests puffed out thinking they got it all figured out? How did we decide we need to shake things up a bit and confuse the shit out of our biceps? Well, I’m not entirely sure who came up with the phrase but it sure did take off with Tony Horton promoting P90x. Since then, people have been trying to stay one step ahead of their pesky smarty pants muscles and bring them down a step or two with some good ole muscle confusion. There are two problems with the term muscle confusion. First, it is an illogical and incorrect statement. Muscles do not act as an independent organ but instead the neuromuscular system works together through incredibly complex physiological processes to allow us to do everything from removing the top off a jar of peanut butter, to walking, to lifting a thousand pounds. The muscles in and of themselves don’t really have the ability to be confused per se. When you place new stress/stimulus on the system, the system as a whole is forced to adapt. This means physical adaptations through an increase or decrease of different tissues and neurological adaptations. New stress doesn’t come solely from new exercises. It could come from an increase in weight (intensity), an increase in volume (more reps or sets), an increase in frequency (how many times it is trained over a certain period of time), a change in tempo (the speed at which the movement is done), or a change in rest periods. All of this brings me to my second point: if you are constantly changing exercises in the pursuit of muscle confusion, you will never become skilled at anything. Powerlifters don’t become good at the squat, bench, and deadlift without routinely doing those exercises. Golfers don’t get better at their sport by constantly playing other sports. Even bodybuilders don’t need constant variation, especially beginner bodybuilders who are trying to build a quality mind muscle connection. This isn’t to say that some variation is a bad thing just that it takes time to develop any skill set and there isn’t an exception in the case of training. Muscle confusion isn’t a type of training, it’s code for I have no idea what I’m doing so I just make shit up that looks hard.
What does functional mean? According to good ole Merriam and Webster it means “designed to have a practical use”. If you ask many people what functional training is, they’ll struggle to give you such a definitive answer. Much like muscle confusion, functional training is used in very broad terms to fit any number of different training methods. Maybe it means some balancing exercises on a bosu or physio ball, maybe it means laying on the ground and standing up with a kettlebell, maybe it means doing things with bands, maybe no one really knows. The term seems to have come from a point in time in which personal trainers and exercise based physical therapists started to use many of the same methods (I’m sure there was plenty of cross over between the professions). At some point, trainers realized that certain physical therapy exercises were pretty difficult and if there is one thing that tricks people into thinking they’re doing something worthwhile in the gym, its an exercise that is perceived as difficult. This has led to many gyms being filled up with different balls, bands, and goofy training gadgets designed to strain your neuromuscular system into figuring out how to accomplish these circus acts. All in all, some of these particular exercises aren’t a bad thing. If someone has some significant injuries, muscle imbalances, or pain as a result from a dysfunctional body then fixing that dysfunction is a good path to take. However, if we are going to go back to our original definition of functional, many “functional training” exercises don’t serve this purpose. In order to determine how functional an exercise or person is, you have to first define the end goal. If a person wants to look good naked, their ability to do so doesn’t truly hinge on their hip mobility or stability and their ability to do a single leg squat. If a person wants to bench heavy weight, then having highly mobile shoulders would actually hinder their progress more than help it. However, I have heard on many occasions people claim that they are more “functional” than said bodybuilder or powerlifter which is funny because said bodybuilder and powerlifter have both competed in their given sports and have a level of comparison where as there is no widely accepted test for functionality. Before you throw the functional training term around, think back to what Webster said: “designed to have a practical use”. Is looking good naked a practical use? Is having a healthy cardiovascular system a practice use? Is competing in strength sports a practical use? Is balancing on one leg a practical use? The answer is: it all depends on the person answering the question.
I’m not a celebrity so maybe that is why I don’t fully understand or appreciate the intrigue with cleanse dieting. What I mean is I don’t get the desire to eat/drink a special concoction of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and what not designed to send your GI tract into freak out mode and force you to have diarrhea for a week but you know what, to each their own. Now, I do see the need for most people to “cleanse” themselves but not in the above mentioned ways. I can’t speak for everybody but after working with a lot of people over a lot of years I’ve come to the following realization: when you eat like shit and treat your body like shit you tend to look like shit and feel like shit. I know, I know, it’s ground breaking stuff. So, that being said I do realize the need for many people to stop eating bad things (fast food) and start replacing them with good things (less processed food), to stop doing bad things (laying on the couch, not getting enough sleep, not managing stress) and start doing good things (exercising, getting quality sleep, learning to manage stress). Your body has a pretty good method of keeping out and getting rid of “bad things”. Your stomach is filled with hydrochloric acid, you have a liver and a digestive tract to filter out what you eat, you have kidneys to filter your blood, and you sweat and respire out “bad things” as well and they all do a pretty good job. Are there benefits to choosing organic foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, less processed foods? Absolutely! As you begin to change your nutritional and life style habits, your body will take care of the rest. You’ll start feeling better and looking better and performing better. A juice cleanse to start the process off isn’t going to do anything other than make you wish you had a toilet nearby.
While my brain likes to shut off when I hear these terms, hopefully this article will get your brain firing and start thinking twice when you hear these terms being thrown around.