I’m not a fitness expert or health nut, but I’m not getting any younger (although, seriously, aside from Benjamin Button, who is actually getting younger) and I need to be more active to stave off the various genetic “gifts” given to me by my parents. These gifts include, but are not limited to: diabetes, arthritis, and cancer of all shades. Being overweight doesn’t exactly help either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a self-loathing fat person either–I belief in the concept of Health at Any Size. My cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and vitamin levels are all within the acceptable, healthy standards. The only thing off is my height to weight ratio. But that’s because that ratio (also known as BMI or Body Mass Index) is based on the erroneous assumption that we are all of the same body type. After all, Shaquille O’Neal weighs in at over 325 pounds and, despite the fact that he is visibly walking, talking muscle, his BMI puts him in the Obese category.
Now, before the Trolls get started (and a few well-intentioned commenters as well), my intention is not to talk about body-shaming or whether you can be fit and fat. Rather, I bring this up to point out that when we go hunting for information on how to live a genuinely healthier lifestyle, there is an incredible amount of ignorance and lack of critical thinking involved–even by the so-called professionals. I mean, as clearly illustrated above (and you can go ahead and check my math, please do), even doctors can get it wrong. By the way, the BMI calculator I used was on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website. Just sayin’…
And just because you drink protein powder at the gym doesn’t actually mean you know what you’re doing.
Case in point:
I was at my local gym (one of those 24/7 places because I do actually like working out at 2 am. What can I say? I’m a night owl.), and observed a relatively fit-looking guy working out. Now I need to point out that he was fit-looking, not that he was actually fit because that would be an assumption without the necessary facts. I mean, I definitely don’t look fit, but as I wrote earlier–my blood work begs to differ. Normally, I don’t pay attention to the people around me, preferring to get into that mental zone where the only thing that exists are the muscle groups that I’m working and making sure my form is solid and on-point to prevent a discouraging injury.
However, this particular evening, I could not achieve that Zen state because Mr. Protein Shake (and I call him that because I don’t know his name and because he made it pretty obvious that that was what he was drinking when he pulled out the enormous keg of protein powder from his gym bag) was too busy loudly breaking the pectoral cable machine. As I tried to focus on my opening cardio work on the treadmill, I couldn’t help but notice his reflection in the numerous mirrors that what he was doing was letting the weight stack slam back down, instead of lowering them back down in a controlled manner. The resulting sound was like listening to Hercules having a tantrum in the weight area. As you can imagine, it was more than just obnoxious it was very distracting and a douche-bag-level of poor gym etiquette.
The closer I observed him (and that’s clearly what he wanted because of how much attention he was drawing to himself), the more I realized that he didn’t know what he was doing. As I stated in the beginning, I’m not a fitness expert, but even I know a few things about proper form and this guy was setting himself up for injury.
First, he was not breathing through the exertion; specifically, he was holding his breath as he moved the weight. You are supposed to exhale as you exert yourself and then inhale as you come back to the starting position. Holding your breath creates a dangerous level of pressure in your chest and abdominal cavities when combined with strenuous exertion–such as when doing chest flies on a machine, like Mr. Protein Shake–which leads to possible internal injury. Just Google “proper breathing while exercising” to see for yourself. Seriously, when Military.com & SparkPeople.com (the military’s website and a website devoted to helping the average Jane get fit, respectively) agree on how to do something, chances are good that it’s sound advice. But again, putting it into practice for yourself will prove the point better than some chubby blogger pontificating at the keyboard. As Buddha and LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow put it: “Don’t just take my word for it.” When you’re breathing correctly, your eyes won’t feel like they’re about to pop out of your skull.
Second, Mr. Protein Shake was dropping the weight back down instead of controlling it through the entire range of motion. Exercising your full range of motion is for the purpose of developing the entire muscle, not just a small section of it, and controlling the weight through that range is for the same reason. If you’re using momentum to push the weight and then dropping it, physics is what’s actually doing the work, not your muscle. Slow and controlled is the best way to ensure that the muscle is actually exerting itself in order to become stronger. Also, it keeps you from injuring yourself and breaking the equipment.
Third, he was using too much weight and too few repetitions. Specifically, he was doing two reps of push and drop with the entire weight stack of the machine. Now, granted, in order to work on strengthening the muscle in question sometimes lower reps with higher weight is appropriate, but seriously, what is two reps really going to do for you? Now, it’s true that power-lifters will work with lower reps and higher weights, but they also control the weight in order to really push their muscle and stimulate their growth. However, this guy seemed more interested in swaggering around the gym than seriously working out (as evidenced by him actually leaving the machine to go see what everyone else was doing and then preening in front of the mirrors as well as giving my big ass dirty looks).
Fourth (I know, this list is just going on and on), he was wearing jeans while he was working out. Seriously, brother? I’m not saying you need to be all spandex’d out, but come on, man, you still have to wear something that’s not going to make your workout harder. For real, denim is not your friend at the gym.
Finally, when you put all of these elements together, you really don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Mr. Protein Shake was just another guy who knows just enough to be dangerous to himself and his health.
I realize that this may come off as me being judgmental (and goodness knows that I can be a hyper-critical jerk sometimes), but ask yourself this: Is peacocking yourself to impress others really worth the gym membership costs? If so, then perhaps your membership fees would be better spent getting therapy for your fragile ego.
Honestly, though, how truly impressive is someone who ended up with a catastrophic or even a permanent injury because they couldn’t be bothered to do right by themselves?