Jean-Claude Vacassin – there’s no guarantee you’re doing things right online exercises.
Jean-Claude Vacassin is the Founding Director of W10 Performance, the Professional Fitness Coaching Academy and the International Fitness Business Alliance. He also consults on corporate wellbeing programmes, as well as to personal trainers and other gym owners.
He was recently asked – how much responsibility do online trainers really bear for people copying the workouts they recommend? Jean-Claude Vacassin, is not a fan of fitness via social media or, as he terms it “excer-train-ment”.
“What people see on social media is marketing. Extreme fitness sells, it’s exciting. It used to be that running a marathon was hardcore. Now, that’s not enough: you have to do a multi day ultra marathon. A lot of these online training regimes are aimed at millennials who want to buy on the first click and transform their body on the second – and they push themselves too hard.”
“No one wants to spend eight weeks moving more and eating less these days because, sadly, people don’t believe basic exercise, done well, is going to get them anywhere. There’s this idea that it’s boring.”
He cites the case of a builder who got a deal with a supplement company because he works out a lot and has hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. “But does that mean he knows what he’s doing? No! He’s a builder, not a personal trainer.”
Vacassin adds: “In our gym, we have gym standards. People undergo an assessment before they get a programme. HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training and complicated exercises under fatigue should not be in 90% of people’s fitness regimes because they don’t have the physical capability.”
“These online accounts trick people into thinking this is easy. No one posts a bad workout. No one posts the workout they missed. No one posts the depression they have when they get injured or the relationships it costs them. All you see is the good stuff.”
Deep squats, lunges, deadlifts and high-intensity cardio are the mainstay of online workouts. “We’ve seen an increase in the numbers of clients coming to us having injured themselves doing online workouts,” he says. “People get hurt largely because the message is: ‘This is what I do and there’s no reason it won’t work for you.”
Extrapolated across the population, that’s not going to be good. While it’s a great thing that people are being encouraged to be active, if you’ve never lifted a barbell and then start lifting 10kg, you’ll put your tissues at risk.”
Part of the problem is in the age differences. “The trainers are usually in their early 20s, but a lot of the people using the programmes are mid to late 30s and 40s. That matters, because your tissues are far more resilient when you’re under 30.”
Using Instagram, blogs and YouTube to learn about yoga and get fit is fast becoming ever more popular.
And despite getting collectively fatter and more sedentary, the British spend record amounts of money exercising. Figures from the 2017 UK State of the Fitness Industry report show that the sector is worth more than £4.7bn annually – up more than 6% on the year before.
A quick search for the #fitspo hashtag on Instagram brings up almost 47 million images – people in workout gear lifting weights, close-ups of ultra-defined abs, bulbous biceps, “transformation” pictures (taken before and after fat loss) – each one advocating a programme more punishing than the last.
These days, fitness sells. Even Nike, which made its name with that inclusive Just Do It tagline, has taken to lambasting joggers in its latest ad campaign: “If You Like It Slow, Jog On”, or “You Win Some Or You Win Some”, proclaim its new billboards.
Gyms run “go hard” or “hot yoga” promotions, with discounted packages for those taking up unlimited classes for short periods of time, such as 10 classes in 10 days – the kind of training that many dub “binge workouts”.
The new stars create a false sense of what healthy looks like. They’re also paid to shift products.
But nowhere is full on training more powerfully advocated than on social media, where inspirational quotes such as “Pain is Weakness Leaving The Body” and “Sweat Is Your Fat Crying” are liked and shared millions of times.
In the age of “wellness”, a well honed body is more desirable than the latest pair of designer shoes. The so called world of “fitspo” began as a niche way for gym nerds to share tips and document how their bodies changed, before spreading into a whole lifestyle movement.
Instagram’s short videos lend themselves to fitness content; people started following routines in the gym.
Fitness movements have been around a long time – think back to Jane Fonda, The Green Goddess and Mr Motivator – but working out has become a lot more complex since the aerobics days.
Increasingly, there seems to be this feeling of, ‘Why would I go for a gentle 5km jog or a moderate aerobic session when I can do a punishing high-intensity set?
High-intensity training (mixing all-out bursts of activity with short rests) gets mixed reviews from health professionals: some swear by the fast results, while many believe that unsupervised exercise of this kind can cause health problems.
Many young people I see are completely obsessed with Instagram fitness stars, and they follow workouts from so-called trainers they don’t know, which may not be right for their body or their levels of fitness.
Fitness athletes are stars online, but their followers often try to train at the standard of a professional athlete, without the core level of fitness. Following these kinds of workouts can very often lead to injury and burnout.
The National Careers Service advises that training to become a yoga or fitness instructor can be done on the job at a gym, as an apprentice, or via a college course.
Becoming a yoga personal trainer (YPT) is more advanced. YPTs are usually self-employed, and they need insurance, first-aid training, an awareness of anatomy and physiology, and a qualification, which takes anything from six months to three years to achieve.
Sadly, increasingly, gyms are looking for another asset in their PTs: they want them to be photogenic, with a big social media following.
As a new report reveals the mental health benefits of just an hour’s physical activity a week, it seems there is nothing a yoga or pilates workout can’t cure.
If it’s lunchtime, go and join a yoga or pilates class on foot. What’s to lose? You are going to feel better and live longer.
We have the sitting disease. According to a report by Public Health England (PHE) in May, physical inactivity is one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England. It is responsible for one in six deaths in the UK, which is the same as smoking.
If exercise was a pill, it would be the biggest blockbuster in the history of medicine.
Getting off your backside and moving about, preferably a bit vigorously some of the time, will stave off heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes.
It can keep your blood pressure steady and helps you sleep. You may not shed pounds, but it will help keep your weight stable. It can overcome anxiety and boost self-esteem. Older people who are active are less likely to have a hip fracture or a fall.
Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer who practises before she preaches, goes for a jog twice a week – even though she says she doesn’t much like it in order to set an example.
She advocates 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which is the equivalent of half an hour, five days a week. That can be walking or cycling. It should be enough to raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and feel warmer. Vigorous activity is something that makes you out of breath.
We weren’t built to sit in front of a computer, a TV screen and a steering wheel. We were designed to be moving around.
“It is what we were made to do,” says Nick Cavill of Oxford University’s department of public health. “Everyone probably knows the basic point, but often we overlook it in our busy modern lives. We are hunter-gatherers. We were designed to be physically active all day long.
“Our bodies are still stuck in neolithic times, while our minds are in the 21st century.”
Given our ancestors were chasing dinner all day long, you might think it follows that we need to be physically active the entire time we are awake, jogging on the spot at our standing desk. But, thankfully, Cavill says no. Long-term studies, following active and sedentary people until their deaths, have worked out that there is a dose response curve.
“The more exercise you do, the better it is – up to a certain level,” he says. “A marathon runner or a triathlete is not doing much better for their health than somebody who is reasonably active.
Half an hour a day is what they say now – or two for the price of one if you do vigorous exercise. Every vigorous minute is the equivalent of two moderately active minutes.”
Doing moderate exercise like Yoga and Pilates several times a week is the best way to keep the mind sharp if you’re over 50 new research suggests.
Thinking and memory skills were most improved when people exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis, a review of 39 studies found. This remained true in those who already showed signs of cognitive decline.
Exercises such as Yoga and Pilates were recommended for people over the age of 50 who couldn’t manage other more challenging forms of exercise, the study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said.
Physical activity has long been known to reduce the risk of a number of diseases, including type-2 diabetes and some cancers, and it is thought to play a role in warding off the brain’s natural decline as we enter middle age.
The theory is that through exercise the brain receives a greater supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients that boost its health as well as a growth hormone that helps the formation of new neurons and connections.
In this analysis of previous studies, researchers from the University of Canberra looked at the effects of at least four weeks of structured physical exercise on the brain function of adults.
In a variety of brain tests, they found evidence of aerobic exercise improving cognitive abilities, such as thinking, reading, learning and reasoning, while muscle training – for example, using weights – had a significant effect on memory and the brain’s ability to plan and organise, the so-called executive functions.
Joe Northey, study author and researcher from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise at Canberra, said the findings were convincing enough to enable both types of exercise to be prescribed to improve brain health in the over 50s.
“Even if you are doing moderate Yoga and Pilates exercise only once or twice a week there are still improvements in cognitive function, but the improvements were better the more exercise was done,” he said.
He said people should be able to hold a conversation while doing moderate exercise.
NHS guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and exercise the major muscles on two or more days a week.
Dr Justin Varney, lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said any physical activity was good for brain and body.
“Whilst every 10 minutes of exercise provides some benefit, doing 150 minutes a week cuts the chances of depression and dementia by a third, and boosts mental health at any age.
“Doing both aerobic and strengthening exercises leads to a greater variety of health benefits. Physical exercise is one element of improved brain functioning, but not the whole story.”
As well as staying physically active, Dr David Reynolds, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was equally important to look after our brains by staying mentally active, eating a balanced diet, drinking only in moderation and not smoking.
Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising, but they are standardised tools.
The problem with them that they are neither accurate nor sophisticated enough yet.
So personalised DNA testing sytems are growing.
“As well as providing data for us, companies need to provide coaching with this data. They need to take responsibility for the results they’re providing us,” says Prof Lane.
And Plextek’s Ms Johnson thinks they need to understand more about the individual user.
“They need to recognise whether Sharon from Uxbridge really should be doing two hours of fitness a week, how that’s going to impact upon her body, her joints, whether she’s at risk of osteoporosis.
“Fitness trackers can be too generic, personalising them will motivate us more,” she told the BBC.
Apps, like the Slimming World app, may be better for achieving sustained weight loss, she argues, because they allow you to track your weight loss progress and give you incentives after it has recorded your exercise.
“There is no doubt the industry is booming, but for it to really see results it needs not only to give us results, but to make them as personalised and as accurate as possible.”
So what tech innovations are making fitness tracking more effective?
Genetics and nutrition firm DNAFit advises on how we should be training and what we should be eating after testing our genes and applying its algorithm to the analysis.
You take a saliva swab and send it off to the company’s lab. After 10 days a report tells you which exercises your body will respond to best and which foods you should be eating. The company says its technology platform has been peer reviewed and clinically tested.
Other companies such as FitnessGenes, Genetrainer and AnabolicGenes adopt similar approaches.
Jo Rooney, 35, a deputy headteacher, used the test to try to cure her stomach problems.
“My results came back quite quickly and told me that I was actually lactose intolerant and had a high sensitivity to gluten.
“This did mean quite a radical change to my diet, and a lot more forward planning, but within a week I felt a lot less bloated, lost weight and I’d stopped having stomach problems.”
Body of evidence
Body scanners and tech built into sports clothes are also giving us more detailed results.
For example, Fit3D uses scanners to assess the whole body to calculate body fat percentage, assess posture and give body shape scoring.
While last year, OMsignal launched OMbra, a smart sports bra that tracks heart rate, breathing and distance between steps, and shares this data with a smartphone app.
Prof Lane believes that we’re also going to start seeing biometric devices integrated not just into clothes and wearable devices, but directly on to our bodies as well.
For example, US tech firm Chaotic Moon Studios – now called Fjord – has created a prototype tech tattoo – a skin-mounted monitor that connects to your smartphone to monitor heart rate, blood pressure and even track movement via GPS.
Now we just need an injection of willpower.
Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising.
Wearable and portable fitness trackers are certainly helping serious elite athletes to push themselves to the limit.
But what about the rest of us? Does knowing how many calories we’re burning, how fast our hearts are beating, and how many steps we’ve taken really motivate us to do more exercise and eat more healthily?
In short, do they really work?
“They’ve made us all aware of how we treat our bodies, and they have even helped people diagnose things like diabetes and obesity,” says Collette Johnson, head of marketing at design technology consultancy Plextek.
Last year the University of Pittsburgh concluded that fitness trackers were “ineffective at sustaining weight loss”.
The two-year study, conducted by the university’s School of Education Department of Health and Physical Activity, involved 500 overweight volunteers. All were asked to diet and engage in more exercise, but only half were given a fitness tracker to help them.
The study found that the group wearing trackers lost 8lb (3.6kg), but the ones who didn’t lost 13lb (5.9kg).
“Trackers are a reliable measurement of our activity, but we can’t rely on them completely,” says Andrew Lane, professor of sport psychology at the University of Wolverhampton.
“We can’t expect just to buy one and that’s it – some of the responsibility sits with us too. We still have to get off that sofa and complete those 10,000 steps a day.”
Prof Lane believes that, if used inappropriately, they may even start to have a negative psychological effect.
“What if we start consistently not reaching goals set for us by them? Ultimately it would lead to us feeling demotivated – the opposite effect they are supposed to have.”
Leading wearable fitness tracker maker Fitbit reported 2015 revenues of £1.3 billion, while researcher CSS Insight forecasts that the market will be worth £16 billion by 2020.
And the fact that smartwatch sales declined sharply last year, according to market analysts IDC, has led many makers to reposition them primarily as fitness tracking devices – another indication of where the business potential lies.
Such concerns haven’t stopped the market from booming – yet. Please see our next blog post for more information
With the start of the New Year we thought that we would give you some advice if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get moving a bit more.
Here’s some expert advice to get you started on the Couch to 5K running plan, including what to wear, warming up and nutrition.
If you haven’t exercised for a while, chances are you may not have any suitable clothing. Don’t let this be an excuse – once you have the outfit sorted, you’re far more likely to feel motivated to get out there and use it.
You need a pair of running shoes. Shop around and find sales staff with some technical knowledge. A decent pair of running shoes can cost around £30 to £40, and running socks can also reduce your risk of blisters.
In terms of clothing, you don’t really need technical gear. You just need something loose and comfortable in a breathable material, like cotton. If you keep running regularly after completing Couch to 5K, some specialist clothing would be a good investment.
Women should also consider using a sports bra, which is sturdier than a regular bra and provides additional support. Normal bras reduce breast movement by around 30%, but a good sports bra achieves closer to 55%.
Warming up and down
Include a five minute walk at the beginning and end of the session. Don’t just go out the front door and start running, make sure you go through the preparatory brisk walking stage. As for stretching before a run, opinion is divided on whether this is necessary or even helpful.
For a warm-down, the worst thing you can do is stop running and immediately sit down, so keep walking until you’re fully recovered.
You may want to put on an extra layer of clothing while cooling down, as this will stop you getting cold. For tips on cooling down exercises, read how to stretch after exercise.
How to run
Good running technique will help make your runs feel less tiring, reduce your risk of injury and, ultimately, be more enjoyable.
Avoid striking the ground with your heel or your forefoot first. Landing on the middle of your foot is the safest way to land for most recreational runners. Your foot should land below your hips – not right in front of you.
Eating and drinking
It’s important to have energy for your run, but don’t overdo it. Avoid having a large meal within two hours of your run. You need blood to be in your muscles, not your digestive system. However, a light snack, such as a banana, before running is fine.
As for water, provided you are drinking enough throughout the day, this should not be problem. Some people like to have a water bottle with them while running. If you’re thirsty, drink – just not too much.
If you have decided to start a Parkrun, you are probably making a commitment to becoming more active. This is great and is so important for your health, but making a change like this will require effort and dedication.
Persuade a friend or relative to get involved too. Running with a buddy can really help. Family members need at least to be supportive – it would be fantastic if they can buddy you and come along for a run.
Robin also says it’s important to accept in advance that you will encounter setbacks in your journey. You might have a hectic week at work, be away from home, or even experience illness or injury.
If you’re feeling under the weather – particularly if you have a temperature – do not run. It could be dangerous. But lapse is not failure. Everyone lapses, just don’t give up. It doesn’t matter – as long as you get back on the programme.
New research has found that elevated levels of exercise reduced the incidence of colds
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) can be caused by more than 200 different viruses, and it is estimated that the U.S. population suffers more than one billion colds a year (2-4 per average adult, 6-10 per average child).
A number of lifestyle factors contribute to URTI risk, including poor nutrient status, lack of sleep, and stress. A new paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine adds exercise habits to the list of lifestyle factors affecting URTI risk.
1,023 subjects between 18 and 85 years of age were recruited for this study, with 1,002 individuals completing all study requirements. Subjects were selected from multiple BMI groups (roughly one-third were of normal weight, one-third were overweight, and one-third were obese) to ensure adequate representation.
A comprehensive validated survey on lifestyle, diet, activity levels, stress, and URTI incidence and severity was completed by each study participant.
After controlling for potential cofounders, total days with URTI symptoms were 43-46% lower in the highest third of aerobic activity when compared to the lowest third, while URTI severity was reduced 32-41% for the high group.
Low stress levels, high exercise frequency (=5 days/week), and high fruit intake (=3 servings/day) also correlated with reduced URTI incidence.
The exact mechanism by which aerobic exercise reduces URTI risk is still uncertain, although it appears to be a combination of factors, including transient increases of certain immune cell types, a reduction of stress hormones, and specialized benefits to key organs (particularly the lungs, which serve as a primary barrier against URTIs).
Nieman DC, Henson DA, Austin MD, Sha W. Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(12):987-92.
Weekend Warriors who shun exercise during the working week then embark on a fitness blitz on their days off, gain almost the same benefits as those following daily guidelines, a new study has shown.
Previously experts believed that intensive activity at the weekend was not enough to stave off five days of sedentary inactivity, hunched over a desk.
But a new study suggests that the Weekend Warrior lifestyle actually offers significant longterm health benefits, lowering the risk of early death from cancer and heart disease.
“The weekend warrior activity pattern, characterised by one or two sessions per week of moderate or vigorous physical activity, may be sufficient to reduce risks for all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines,” said lead author Dr Gary O’Donovan, of Loughborough University.
The NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, or equivalent combinations.
But some small studies have suggested that cramming a week’s worth of exercise into just one or two days can increase the risk of injury and put too much pressure on the heart.
The new research followed more than 63,000 British adults between 1994 and 2012 to find out if exercise needed to be done on a daily basis.
During the study period there were 8,802 deaths from all causes, 2,780 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 from cancer.
But the risk of death fell significantly for all those who exercised, regardless of whether they crammed all their activity into the weekend, or spaced it out through the week.
Compared to inactive individuals, Weekend Warriors had a 30 per cent low risk of death overall, a 40 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer.
Those who spread out their exercise through the week had a 35 per cent lower risk of overall death, 41 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and 21 per cent lower risk of cancer.
“It is very encouraging news that being physically active on just one or two occasions per week is associated with a lower risk of death, even among people who do some activity but don’t quite meet recommended exercise levels,” said senior author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney.
“However, for optimal health benefits from physical activity it is always advisable to meet and exceed the physical activity recommendations.”
The study found that more men than women were ‘Weekend Warriors’, a divide of 56 per cent to 44 per cent, while around 55 per cent divided their activity over two days and 45 per cent crammed all exercise into a single day.
The results also showed that even people who did not meet the 150 minute recommendation, but still did some exercise, had a lower risk of death.
“Compared to inactive people, the results reveal that the insufficiently active, weekend warriors and people with regular physical activity patterns had reduced risks of death,” added Dr Stamatakis.
“This finding persisted after adjusting for chronic diseases and excluding those who died in the first two years of the study.
“These results mean that ‘Weekend Warriors’ and other leisure-time physical activity patterns characterised by one or two sessions per week may provide beneficial health outcomes event when they fall short of physical activity guidelines.”
The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.