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.
How your foot strength impacts longevity and 3 exercises
Right now you aren’t running as fast as you could, standing as tall as you should or likely to live as long as you would if you paid more attention to your feet.
Consider this: The medical and fitness communities have known for a while that your grip is a reliable indicator of longevity.
But an emerging field of research indicates the strength of your feet might be an even better measuring stick for your health.
A team of Japanese researchers examined the toe-flexor strength of 1,400-plus men across various age groups. (Toe flexors are muscles like the abductor hallucis, which lets you lift and wiggle your big toe.)
The scientists found they could tell how well people took care of themselves based on the test results.
The data accurately predicted a person’s age, sleep, exercise and drinking habits. They also observed that foot strength started declining at an earlier age than grip strength — and fell off more dramatically than grip strength over time.
That’s bad news when you consider that the muscles in your feet are very much involved with balance control, and that as you get older, falls are a common cause of death. Weak feet and ankles may be holding back your athletic performance right now.
“Foot and ankle strength crosses over into everything you do,” says Dr. Joel Seedman, who trains and coaches high level athletes and regular people. “Without proper foot and ankle activation, it’s impossible to have ideal mechanics on any lower body movement.”
Seedman describes having weak feet and ankles as “a massive energy leak.” If you’re an athlete, that means you’re losing force you could use to propel you forward. “It slows you down,” Seedman says.
The good news? You can be on the road to recovery starting right now.
Just add these three foot exercises to your routine.
They require no equipment and can be performed anywhere, at any time. But adding them at the beginning of workouts fires up not only your feet and ankles, but your entire lower body.
“It’s impossible to get full recruitment of the posterior chain without proper foot and ankle activation,” Seedman says. “Once you start firing the feet and ankles, most people start to feel a huge burn in their posterior chain, because it starts sending better neural signaling all the way up. It even starts affecting your posture, upper body and neck.”
1. Single Leg Stand
This one is as basic as it sounds: Just lift one leg off the ground and balance on the other. You should find that within a short time the muscles in your bottom and along the back of your legs have to fire up to help keep you upright.
No matter whether you’re a marathoner or a hard core Cross trainer, you can benefit from this move. “If I had to throw one exercise out there that’s a cure all for everyone, this would be it,” Seedman says.
If you’re a strength and power athlete, load the exercise by holding a weight for 15–20 seconds. Or if you’re a runner, do these with your bodyweight or just a light weight and hold for 1–2 minutes per side.
2. Ankle Push Outs
Performing ankle push outs is simple. You just do three things: Stand tall; press your big toes into the ground and push your ankles laterally outward. “I’ve seen this do wonders for my clients,” Seedman says. “Often, they can notice the difference within a few days — especially if they’re religious about doing it multiple times per day.”
3. Toe Raises
This exercise is essentially the opposite of a calf raise. While calf raises have you go up onto your toes to work the backside of your lower legs, in toe raises you keep your feet flat on the ground, lift your toes as high as you can, and spread them as wide as you can.
“It strengthens the muscles around both sides of the shins — the peroneals and tibialis anterior — which are basically toe flexors,” Seedman says. “The ability to dorsiflex, or pull your toes back toward your shins, is a critical aspect of foot and ankle function. I see even high-level athletes struggle with this big time.”
Try it and you’ll find the front of your shins might burn faster than you think. You can take the exercise a step further by adding a calf raise and performing the move with weight.
Any polite gym goer will wipe down a spinning bike or weight machine after a sweaty workout to stop the spread of germs, so people should do the same for communal yoga mats.
“If you swab a yoga mat you probably are going to pick up viruses and certainly funguses,” says Dr Seth Rankin, a GP and chief executive of the London Doctors Clinic. “Minor things like athlete’s foot can be picked up in any moist environment, it’s why we wear flip flops in the gym showers,” he says.
A US surgeon – Dr David Anthony Greuner – recently issued a more serious warning by claiming that herpes, a virus more commonly associated as coming from sexual contact, could potentially be picked up from dirty mats.
He says in a blog post: “Making skin contact with a dirty yoga mat covered in germs and bacteria can lead to skin infections, acne, toenail fungus and even transfer of the herpes virus and staph and strep infections in susceptible individuals.”
But GP Dr Rankin insists the risk of catching a more serious infection from a mat or seat is “vanishingly rare” and tells people not to worry.
Sue Millward, Nuffield Health’s lead for infection prevention, who monitors hygiene in its 111 gyms, says staff wipe mats and exercise equipment at the beginning and end of each day. But she says it is impractical for gyms to clean machines after every workout.
“We keep an eye on what’s going on and who’s using equipment,” she says. “If our staff see that somebody has been perspiring a lot and not cleaning they may go round and clean it.”
The best way to avoid getting ill from the gym is to accept that you will be picking up germs during a workout – and wash your hands and kit afterwards, says hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley.
“Don’t get too hung up about it,” says Dr Ackerley, a chartered environmental health practitioner. “Yes, there’s a risk of cross infection where you share equipment, but people do it and we’re not dropping dead from it.”
She says people usually have a shower after a workout – but during exercise, should avoid rubbing their eyes or touching the top of a drinking bottle.
She adds: “Kit can get really smelly, even if it’s being cleaned, because people wash it at a low temperature.” She says a sure fire way to kill germs is to wash clothes at 60 degrees Celsius, or consider using a laundry sanitiser.
She adds: “It’s simple really, after you’ve been on your gym equipment, don’t go and have a sandwich without washing your hands.”