We all have a certain type of figure in mind that we would like to have. Reaching that goal may require weight loss, bigger and/or more well-defined muscles, increases in strength, building endurance (running, biking etc), or even maintaining the figure you already have. There are many ways to exercise, but they are not equivalent. What you want to achieve should depend on which fitness program you use. The blog post you are about to read compares six different approaches to getting or staying fit. My clients are roughly 90% female and are mostly between the ages of 25 and 55, so this blog was written with this demographic in mind. Although what is addressed below will apply to women in this category, most of the information is universal and will be relevant for a wide range of people.
Here are the main workout categories:
I will discuss pros and cons of each workout, and have assigned them grades on a scale from 0-10 (worst to best) in each of four areas:
2. Probability for injury
Your Own Workouts:
Doing your own workouts is by far the most economical and can be convenient. There are as many problems as there are positives.
The price point is great… free. However have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s worth what you paid for it”? Exercise whenever you want. The ultimate flexibility with your schedule. Freedom to do whatever exercise you like.
Many times when you design your own exercise program it is what you want to do NOT what will bring the best results. I have meet people that workout 5 and 6 days a week to their own “program” but I can’t tell. Good results are not that easy to achieve. Fitness isn’t rocket science but it does take an education.
One of the biggest problems with doing you own routine is there isn’t anyone that. You are held accountable to. Cut corners, stop early and skipping exercises tend to be the norm. Nobody wants to admit this… but that’s the way it is.
We have all seen the person lifting a weight that is too heavy and with really bad form. They have probably dropped the weight and strutted around after the set. The problem, there isn’t anyone to monitor proper technique or select the correct weight. Many times the ego takes over and everything else goes out the window.
Results are a mixed bag. Initially you will see result of your efforts but they will very quickly plateau. Without the correct variety and changing the routine results are short lived.
IT’S BORING! Working out on your by yourself is not fun! Motivation will fall off very quickly for most people.
Effectiveness: Poor to good 0 to 6
Probability for injury: Likely 7
Price: Very affordable 10
Convenience: Very 10
Most people know of, or own, workout videos such as the Jillian Michaels Workouts, P90X, Insanity, etc. Different videos will present you with different types of workouts. However, no matter what video you use, there are some features they all share. One thing to remember is that this is a virtual person leading you through the exercises. We have all seen their successful before and after photos, and read their inspirational testimonials - but these typically don’t translate well into the real world. Most of us can name someone we know that has one or all of these videos, and who still hasn’t been very successful at their weight loss and/or fitness goals.
The good thing about professionally marketed exercise videos is the people doing the workouts have excellent form and posture (this is not always the case for Youtube videos), which lends them credibility. Also, completing each exercise just as the video instructs will help keep you safe from misalignment and injury. Some videos provide hard, medium and easy modifications to certain exercises, so that you can tune the workout to your current fitness level.
One problem with a video workout is you can work as hard or as little as you want to in every workout, without a lot of accountability. The relative intensity of your workout is determined primarily by how you feel when you hit “Play”. A stressful and frustrating drive home from work can destroy your motivation. On good days, you may be super into it; on bad days you will just go through the motions. Let’s think more closely about the “super into it” workout - which sounds good, but may not be. Unbridled enthusiasm can be dangerous, because there are types of pain that you shouldn’t be working through. I wish I had a dollar for every time a client has told me that their shoulder is sore, knee hurts, etc., after doing an Insanity video. You also need to keep your expectations in check - videos don’t typically teach you how to manage that. We all have good and bad days; you will not always have a phenomenal performance. Another problem is that, with videos, you can easily be distracted and act on those distractions. It’s pretty typical for people to stop to answer the phone, send a text message, return an email, or flat out just stop when you don’t want to exercise anymore. And, don’t forget about fast forwarding to your favorite part or just redoing parts of the video that interest you most - which may prevent you from getting a well-rounded workout. (Although I can’t blame you for wanting to fast forwarding through the bad jokes and annoying monologues) Finally, if you have an ailment or injury, most videos will not provide alternatives or modifications to their exercises.
Effectiveness: Poor to good 0 to 6
Probability for injury: Likely 6.5
Price: Very affordable 10
Convenience: Very 10
Big Box Gyms:
A “Box” gym, like L.A. Fitness, Any Time Fitness, or the YMCA, has both advantages and disadvantages. Like fast food restaurants, they seem to be everywhere. You don’t have to drive far to find one.
These gyms are normally located on major traffic areas. Chances are you won’t have to drive very far out of your way to get to them. You can normally stop on on the way to or from work or while you are out running errands. Gyms like these are usually not expensive. So, if you are on a tight budget, this may be an important consideration.
There is typically a high turnover rate at box gyms. The management and trainers tend to change every few months. One reason for this is because box gyms don’t pay their staff well. It is very difficult to hold onto good people when they have trouble making ends meet financially. This translates into poor quality and dependability over the long run. Trainers and managers also tend to be young, with very little experience. A 21-year old trainer doesn’t understand how the knee pain of a person in their forties feels - in fact, they usually don’t understand many types of acute or chronic physical limitations. Inexperienced trainers can’t anticipate when problems or injuries are likely to occur, and are also not skilled at designing alternative workouts to accomodate or prevent injuries. Managers often don’t know when or how to assist members with personal problems related to the workouts and/or trainers - and often, because of company policy, are prevented from doing so.
Big gyms have a lot of corporate policies that require strict adherence by employees. Many trainers resent operating within these limits. Even if they would like to host special events or bring in “outside the box” exercises, they can’t. Big gyms have a lot of limitations placed on trainers and management staff, which can, in turn, limit your experience.
Effectiveness: Poor to good 6.5
Probability for injury: Likely 6.5
Price: Very affordable 7.5
Convenience: Very 7.5
Super-intense gyms have become very popular. Some would even say a cult following has developed. They can offer a very different experience to the Big Box gym, which can be refreshing. They tend to be very results-driven, and they workouts are typically hard-charging.
People are usually very proud of attending a “Super-intense” gym. This is understandable, as accomplishing a hard workout is certainly something to be proud of. Super intense gyms are a good fit for people who have jobs that require them to be at 100% physical effort at a moment's notice. Examples include fireman, policeman (really, most all first responders), and some military assignments - you get the idea. A gym that demands all the exertion a person can possibly put out fits nicely into the routine and culture of people with highly physically active and demanding careers.
Super-intense gyms like this will provide results up to a point. You will get stronger and lose weight.
One problem with giving 100% all the time is that the body will begin to wear out. Injuries and premature aging of body tissues are common with super-intensity workouts. Keep in mind that recovery time is just as important as the workouts. Chiropractors have said repeatedly that super-intense gyms (like Crosfit) keep them in business.
The instructors at super-intense gyms tend to be single-minded and narrowly focused. “Harder and more” is the prevailing mantra, regardless of the client and the exercise. I have listened to many people who have gone to super-intense gyms complain about not getting enough instruction on how to perform exercises safely. When the instructor is convinced that their tool of choice is a hammer, they treat everything like a nail (meaning - you!). This is not how fitness works. Injuries will set you back anywhere from two weeks to many months - and sometimes, permanently. I know many people who have told me that they are no longer able to do the workouts they used to enjoy.
Many of these super-intense gyms have a particular series set of exercises they do, without any deviation from this routine. This limits the trainer’s creativity and thoughtfulness, and for the client it often means that workouts become stale and boring. Often, motivation to continue exercising can drop, and people may burn out and stop trying.
The mentality of a super-intense gym can be a lot to take. Sometimes, competitiveness between clients is fostered and encouraged, instead of instilling a sense of comradery and support. This type of hyper-competitive atmosphere often results in unfriendly, unwelcoming, and arrogant attitudes among members.
Effectiveness: Good 8
Probability for injury: Very Likely 9
Price: Very expensive 10
Convenience: Good 7
Locally-owned studios typically either shine or fade out of existence. A local studio can be a beacon of light in the dark night of exercise mediocrity. They tend to excel with personalized attention and diverse and changing exercise programs. Because they are usually individually, owned, they don’t have restrictive corporate policies that constrain format. Thus, they can adjust the program to fit whomever happens to attend a given class. In many cities, locally-owned studios are the best the places to exercise.
Local studios tend to have excellent and motivated trainers who have your best interests in mind. They are typically people who have been in the fitness industry for many years, and who are looking for more creative freedom and better pay. Local studios are usually the only places they can find this combination. Local studios are vested in cultivating long-term relationships and ensuring happy clients - good trainers make this possible.
Most local studios will take the time to correct poor posture and bad form. This keeps members from developing new or re-activating old injuries. Experienced trainers can perceive when a client isn’t at their best (e.g., tired, sick, upset) and keep an eye on them, which also is an important safeguard against getting hurt. Safety is something all gyms mention - but not all gyms take the steps needed to prevent injury. Knowledgeable and conscientious trainers prevent the possibility of injury with good, solid instruction and careful monitoring of all members in a class.
Local studios typically hold classes during the most popular hours to exercise: before and after the 8-5 workday. Some studios also offer lunch and day classes. A perk of local studios is that they often have special events throughout the year that offer fun and unique exercise challenges. These events can be nice break from the regular class schedule, and can provide a big calorie burn.
Trainers at local studios highly value their members, and this is often reflected by excellent “people skills”. It is common to find instructors chatting with members before and after class, catching up with members during training, and making sure everyone feels welcome. Believe it or not, small gestures like this can really make a person's day - there is something rewarding in knowing that your trainer is happy to see you in class.
Running a local studio is more complicated and labor-intense than most people realize. If there are only or a few people (some of them may be part-time) handling all the responsibilities, there are some things that may occasionally fall through the cracks. For example, the floor may not be swept every day, equipment may not be always put away or in the best condition, emails and phone calls may not be answered immediately. With an owner-operator studio, there may come a time that “burn out” is evident. Prices can range from reasonable to the high end - higher prices may turn some people off.
Effectiveness: Good to fantastic 7 to 10
Probability for injury: Unlikely 1
Price: Very affordable 5 to 7
Convenience: Very 8
A personal trainer is absolutely the best way to go! Here’s why:
1. You choose your workout days and times
2. Your exercise likes and dislikes are factored into the workout design
3. The intensity level can be adjusted for you
4. You are very unlikely to get hurt
5. Workouts are always creative and new
6. You may be able to occasionally bring a friend without extra cost
Personal training is absolutely the best way to: get results, fit your workouts into a busy schedule, ensure that you do not plateau in your progress, and be held accountable for your overall good health. Personal trainers also will give you workout plans for times when you are away from your one-on-one sessions.
Personal trainers see everything that you are doing, both right and wrong. Good trainers will talk to you and teach you about how to do things correctly and how to stop bad habits. Many trainers communicate often with their clients throughout the week, for example, to discuss how a workout felt, or to give adjustments to a plan so you can achieve a specific goal.
Your trainer will always have a modification for an exercise to accommodate your body type and fitness level (although there are some cases in which injuries preclude certain exercises). Good trainers want you to get the most of your workout without compromising your health. They will strive to push your limits toward fitness improvement - without injury. .
Personal trainers will be sure to include exercises that you really enjoy. In most cases, they will avoid exercises that you absolutely hate. With personal training, you have a huge say in what are included during your workouts. This is a benefit that most people are not fully prepared for in the beginning, but learn to appreciate as the training relationship develops. As time passes, many people find that their personal training sessions are an indispensable part of their week.
The major problem with personal training is the cost. In most average markets, prices can range from $70 to $150 per hour. For many people, this is over their budget.
Effectiveness: OUTSTANDING 10
Probability for injury: Not likely 1
Price: Very expensive 10
Convenience: SUPER! 10
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