ASK A TRAINER: The Official BWW Fitness 'Steer Clear' List
"I am interested in pushing myself in the gym but want to do it safely. What are some things I should absolutely NOT do as part of my workout?"-Robin C., Framingham, MA
Thank you Robin for your question and for giving me an excuse to compile--
The Official BWW Fitness Ask a Trainer Steer Clear List:
-Steer Clear of crunches.
Crunches place an inordinate amount of stress on the neck and lower back. Curving the spinal chord while doing crunches is also extremely taxing on the vertebrae. Exercises that isolate "the six pack," while neglecting the rest of the core are inefficient because they aren't as challenging as total core exercises. Muscles that work the entire core, like planks, for example, force your body to work harder and, as a result, burn more calories. You can do crunches all day long but without reducing you overall body fat composition, you won't get the flat tummy or 6-pack you're seeking.
Along these lines, be wary of a lot of the ab machines in the gym. There's this thing at my gym called the AbCoaster. You put some light weights on the side, hold onto some handles on top and roll your legs up toward your body and along a track. The momentum of the machine takes over and it looks like a lot of fun. It doesn't, however, look like a great exercise to work your core, and it's not. The machine does most of the work for you.
-Steer clear of barbell bench presses without someone to spot you.
These days, I'm a functional fitness proponent and try to maintain more of a lean, defined look rather than training for sheer size. I am, however, a native of the state of New Jersey, and as such, in my early 20s, I used to train primarily for mass. (I actually went to the same high school as The Situation. True story.) I loved nothing more than to pile 45-pound plates on the barbell and inspire shock and awe in my fellow meatheads... And then one day I found myself pinned under a barbell, my legs writhing, my face red, veins popping out of my neck. Luckily, someone nearby saw the predicament I was in and helped me raise the bar off my fatigued chest. I walked away with bruised ribs and a damaged ego but it could have been a lot worse. Lesson learned.
-Steer clear of pre-workout stretching.
"You need to stretch before you workout or you'll hurt yourself." Your high school gym teacher probably drilled this phrase into your head. In recent years, studies have shown that stretching before you workout can impede performance. Forcing your body into positions it doesn't want to be pushed into, as you do with static stretching can cause something called a neuromuscular inhibitory response. In plain English, your body will stop cooperating and won't respond to messages from your brain appropriately. Instead of stretching do a light, dynamic warm up. Something like a light jog, some jumping jacks, high kicks, or squats with no weight. (For more on that, click here.)
-Steer clear of conversing with the "gym mingler." Is there a person at your gym that is always there no matter what time of day you squeeze your workout in? Yet, this person with an inordinate amount of time to spend in the gym is never exercising. Rather, they use the gym as their own personal talk show, roaming from one end of the gym to the other striking up conversation with anyone that will make eye contact with them. Avoid getting sucked in. If they try and lock eyes with you, avert their gaze. If they speak to you, pretend you don't hear them. And if you absolutely can't avoid getting sucked into conversation with the Gym Mingler, ask him or her to give you a spot.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @BuckleyBodyGuru. For training and consultation rates and availability, email Elizabeth Smith at Elizabeth@BuckleyBodySolutions.com