Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top 5 most pointless fitness fads and gimmicks

These are the things that make me want to go on a palm striking spree.

When someone claims something is the next biggest thing, it usually isn't. Sometimes the thing that annoys me most is not the actual fad or piece of equipment but the hyperbole, when fitness gurus tell you how this particular invention will change everything, when patently it wont  In this post I will show you how to dissect fitness guru speak that makes no sense, and how you can create your own fitness trend.

Number 1 - The ViPR

The website for this piece of equipment says that it is the "evolution of free weights" and mimics barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. No it doesn't.  At the recent leisure industry week in Birmingham where equipment suppliers hawk their wares, my friend said to one of the Fit Pro clones that he thought the vipr was a gimmick, at which point the guy said the whole industry is built on gimmicks - yeah it is, thanks to fools like you!

If you're thinking 'that looks like a piece of rubber with some handles cut into it' - you'd be right!

According to the Vipr website, this piece of equipment
"uses the four pillars of human movement: gravity infused, stretch-to-shorten, tri-planar and integrated."
Lucky for me it uses gravity infused movement because I normally train in the weightless environment of  outer space and don't usually have to deal with gravity (insert sarcastic laugh here).

Apparently it's also safer that normal steel free weights, because hey, dropping 20kg of rubber on my head is obviously lighter than 20kg of steel dropping on me.

Currently the vipr gurus have developed over 9,000 exercises. Which means they have developed approximately 8,990 pointless exercises. Check out the website videos where you can see people doing tri-planar movements like toes taps/ step ups on the thing or pushing it side to side.

Here's a piece of pvc pipe I covered in tape, it costs about £5 to make. I call it the Cobra, its a multi planar myofascial release device, you can buy one off me for £80
If they just said, this is a new piece of equipment that you can use in a circuit classes as one of the stations, or you can do a few exercises with this that you can't really replicate with a barbell or dumbbell, I'd be fine with that, but they always have to over hype and over price.

Do yourself a favour. Make yourself a slosh pipe, a piece of pvc pipe filled with water which makes it unstable to carry and you can adjust the weight by adding water. First time I read about this was an article by Dan John here, far as I can tell he invented it. Recently I've noticed a website that offers professional slosh pipes, this misses the point of home made equipment! The point is you're mean to get all McGyver and make the thing yourself.

Slosh Pipe - pvc pipe filled with water, make it yourself

Look out for a personal trainer using the vipr in a gym near you and making outrageous claims, then go home and make a slosh pipe to beat him with.

Number 2 - kettlebell fusion and kettleworx

I like kettlebells, I think nearly everyone could benefit form doing swings, goblet squats and turkish get ups. However, their recent popularity leaves me with a dilemma, everyone's trying to do them these days or claiming to be an expert. Back to Leisure Industry Week, about 5 years ago I went to it and there was not one kettlebell in sight, I had one at home that I'd bought from a guy he'd forged himself,  but the equipment manufacturers were selling the usual machines. Fast forward a few years and everyone is selling them.

The problem I have is people swinging around 2kg kettlebells. Hello, I've seen octogenarian women on GP referral schemes lateral raise more weight, therefore you can't do a swing with it - it's too light! Stop doing crazy exercises with it, stick with the basics. In my opinion anything less than 8kg and you shouldn't be doing kettlebells in the first place.

Now I see in Health Club Manager magazine certain enterprising individuals are creating fusion classes like Pilates and kettlebellsand yogabells. To take a phrase from Pavel (the guy who probably started the whole kettlebell thing) - the dishonour! If you're doing Pilates, do Pilates, don't try to latch onto the coat tails of the latest trend to keep your class numbers up. Please stop doing kettlebells badly, people who wouldn't normally even do a dumbbell press and haven't lifted a weight in their lives are jumping straight into snatches. Oh, and for the record I got people to do body weight 'turkish get ups' in Pilates 2 years ago, so I already invented Pilates kettlebell fusion, so there!

Here's how to create a fusion class/ concept. Combine two things, and then use some fancy words and marketing speak that doesn't make any sense. I just made these up, I hope they don't exist!

'Hotbells' - kettlebells in a hot room, combining the benefit of saunas, Bikram yoga (see below) and kettlebells. This class will literally remodel your muscle fibres and re-align your fascial trains, while burning fat at an unprecedented level.

'Great balls of fire' - take your hotbells to the next level. We heat up the kettlebells. They're literally so hot you can't hold them, as you throw them away you will develop plyometric power and rate of force development, train like the Russian Inuit special forces. As used by the national Finnish sauna team.

Okay, maybe I'm just bitter because something I like went mainstream.

Number 3 - Bikram yoga

Please note that this does not refer to yoga in general - but specifically Bikram yoga. I think yoga in general has many benefits when used in the right way and in the right context.

Bikram yoga was 'invented' by a guy in the 1970's, he had the bright idea of performing yoga in a room that is heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn't bother me that the founder of  it lives in Beverly Hills and has 40 Rolls Royces (according  to this article in The Times). And even the spurious health and fitness claims don't bother me that much (several Bikram yoga websites claim that it makes your body burn fat more effectively and redistributes fat in the muscle structure - hmm, so if I sit in a sauna I'll burn more fat). What mainly bothers me is a bunch of guys wearing Speedo's. Sorry, but I don't want some dude in a pair of swimming trunks doing a down dog in my face and spraying sweat all over me!

The only time you should be wearing speedo's is if you are in a swimming pool in an actual swimming competition
Okay, I lied the spurious health claims do bother me. As does standing on someones back while they are in full spinal flexion, McGill is somewhere in Canada, probably in his spinal lab shedding a tear. Bottom line, I don't think overstretching ligaments and tendons in a hot environment is a good idea.

Here's a picture of Mindi Smith to help erase the last picture from your memory. If your retinas are still burning from seeing the guy in swimming trunks, this should help with the pain
Let me repeat for those of you who skim read - this is specific to yoga done in a superheated room, not the yoga that has been practised for 1000's of years.

Number 4 - Underwater spin bike -  hyrdorider aqua bike

Cycling is a low impact exercise, but it turns out that it needed to be made even more low impact but putting the spin bike underwater. But hang on, doesn't water have more resistance than air, yes it does, so even though movement in water is harder, don't worry because the aquabike is

"Making it easier to work harder... the unique feature of the aquabike is its variable resistance facility letting you decrease the resistance of the Aquabike prior to a class beginning so you can even bring your granny along."
So it's easier but also harder, and you can decrease the resistance but the resistance can't be less than a bike on land, because air has less resistance than water, so the aqua bike is always going to be harder, right?! And bikes on land have gears and resistance levels, so you can make them harder too. Cycling is a movement without much eccentric muscle action, therefore not much muscle soreness, but don't worry with the aqua bike you can cycle backwards too. And don't forget that according to hydro fitness "water creates a massage effect", what like swimming does, or if I was in the water moving without the aqua bike?

Don't try and be all things to all people.

Number 5 - Functional training that is not functional

Somewhere along the line functional training jumped the shark. It metamorphosed into people standing on various objects filled with air while doing a rotational lunge matrix. I was hoping this stuff was dead, but only a couple of weeks ago I saw a guy trying to stand on a swiss ball, and last year in a London gym I saw a trainer with his clients standing on the bosu with a medicine ball.

Functional Clown Training

If something is functional, what is it functional for. Unless your clients spend their lives standing on bags filled with air then there is very little functional carry over. A quick summary of the research on unstable surfaces goes like this: Standing on these objects may help if you have previous history of structural instability in the ankle, sprains and so forth - if you haven't its not going to help and it may actually cause more problems in the knees and ankles. It may fire off a few stabilising muscles and make you better at balancing, but this is unlikely to carry over into everyday activities, as in life the surface is normally fixed. It is probably more applicable to upper body training, where the feet are fixed on the ground, and may help in a deload phase, for example a dumbbell press on the ball because you can't lift as much weight basically (hint: you don't need a deload phase if your aren't lifting any weight in the first place). However, for your fat loss client who can't lift any weight to begin with and who is now standing on the bosu with their ankles inverted, their knees bowing and their lumbar spin flexing it's going to do diddly squat for fat loss and probably make them more unstable. And before you say, what about sports where people are on an unstable surface, I don't see many pro surfer clients. And even then, people need to get strong first and move in the right way.

Functional should relate to the task at hand. For example, with some elderly GP referral clients, things like squats from a bench (getting out of a chair), step ups (for walking up stairs) and suitcase deadlifts (for picking up shopping) are all functional to their needs.

There is no need make clients start doing rotational lunges in the transverse plane with a flexed spine, when probably 90% of clients when I first see them do a squat completely with their knees and lower back rounding and have no hip hinge ability. It's also surprising how many people can't do a lunge in the sagittal plane (back and forward to you and me, fitness gurus like using terms like this with their clients to look impressive) to begin with. And please don't tell me we have to train the back to lift while rounded and twisting because that's what happens in everyday life. It happens because of poor mobility, why groove in poor movement patterns, why not get people to move right in the first place, and minimise dangerous loading in joints and ligaments and maximise the spine sparing effect. Core pendulum theory states that, yes, the back should be able to fully extend and flex, but ideally we want it resting in the middle, in a state of equilibrium. We know from McGills work that continuously flexing and extending and twisting the back with low load will cause disc problems. It's the repetition that causes the problems.

The tools aren't the problem, it's how you use them. If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but please don't try and use that hammer if you haven't got a screw driver, get the right tools. I can think of one good exercise on the bosu, so for me it's not worth spending £70 for the one exercise I'm going to do with it, I can find something else to do the job. And to the guy on PTonthenet who says the bosu is "not just a product, it's a philosophy", err no! It's a tool, it's half a blue ball filled with air.

In short, most of our clients want to lose fat, need to get strong, be fit for everyday tasks and gets some additional muscle mass; do all of this before you start doing crazy gimmicks because you can't think of anything else to do, because you think it makes you look cool and you're worried your clients going to get bored..

Numpty - or £50 per hour - you decide
A few things that didn't make the list

The bodyblade and power plate (vibration training) didn't quite make the list. The work of Charlie Weingroff has helped convince me of the benefits of vibrational training for certain injured populations. However, this doesn't mean you should have rows of them in health clubs with otherwise healthy individuals standing on them when they should really be focusing on weight loss and strength. You are not going to vibrate your way to a size 8 dress size.

A note on bodypump - why it didn't make the list.

A few people wanted me to put bodypump on the list. However, I don't have too much of a problem with bodypump. Anything that gets women and some men to lift weights is a good thing. I might have a few misgivings about the exercise technique they use on some of the movements, but at least they are lifting weights. I have as many misgivings about some peoples deadlift and squat technique in the gym. And using high repetition weights all the time is not the way to go, but then again neither is the standard 5 day body part split countless gym rats follow with no apparent leg day.

The problem with any system is when people don't progress, if you are lifting the same weights as you were lifting 5 years ago, you haven't progressed, if you're body shape is the same, you haven't progressed. If you only do high repetitions or low repetitions you need to do the opposite every so often.

So with that in mind, bodypump can be used as a training tool as long as its not the only thing you do. You can use it as a high repetition day, or as a change of pace if you normally do explosive movements. You can even see it as more of a glycogen depletion type workout (to steal someone elses phrase) to aid with fat loss. If you want to hit your legs and you don't normally do legs, give it a go. Overall, more women lifting barbells is a good thing. If it introduces them to free weights that's good, and we can iron out any technique differences when they start lifting heavier in the gym.

Top 5 greatest fitness things

Ok, I've covered the worst things, here are the top 5 things you should be using

  1. Body weight (ok, a cop out, but your body was designed to run, jump and move, body weight exercises can be some of the most effective
  2. Barbells
  3. Dumbbells
  4. Power rack
  5. Kettlebells
  6. Ab wheel
Ok, that's 6 things, but i don't count bodyweight as equipment. Basically if you had a gym with only these things in, or trained at home with only have of these things you would get results. It doesn't need to be complicated or expensive. Choose things that have been proven to work over and over again. I need to go and lift some weights now.


  1. This was forwarded to me by a colleague. I will be reading your blog more often. Great stuff. Funny too, but only because it's all so true. www.dfitlife.com

  2. Hi Everyone;

    I am looking for an exercise table that bends in half.. It was invented by a guy from Winnipeg or surrounding area in around the 1970's. It is similar to an inversion table except that the thing bends in the middle. I can't remember the name but I demonstrated for the guy in Thunder Bay Ontario @ the County Fair Plaza. It was a good workout and used most of your core muscles and depending how you used it, it worked other muscles as well. If anyone remembers what the thing is called please get in touch with me.

    Bess L

  3. Came across your blog. RIGHT ON!! I only recently came across the VIPR. It just screamed MacGyver Me. Is it a foam roller, is a tube? And the exercises, other than the twist ones, what do you need a VIPR for? Kettle bells...well the design is unique, the exercises aren't. Lack a kettle bell use any weight, any plate, any dumbell, any brick, any hammer. Or if you like...go even more obscure, Indian clubs a.k.a bowling pins. Oh, yes the purists will say you can't or can't replicate the true movements. It'll lose its mystic. Hot yoga? Start out in a hot shower, then just do your routine in a sauna or steam bath. Whatever stretches you like. And no class fees! Water fitness? Swim some laps, run some widths, do some balances. By the way when Mohamed Ali posed for his underwater boxing routine, it was a prank. Everything's better with a bosu ball. When it gets beyond simple balance & core strengthening what are we doing? Love the pic with the squat on the ball. As for BP. I've seen the BP haters. I agree it doesn't replace a regular weight training routine. Its not meant to. If its marketed that way its wrong. High reps, low weight, small or no rest periods is however, a standard part of a complete program. To me its the toughest part. Cheers!J

  4. Missing the point. What matter is that people just get up and do something. Maybe a "gimmick" is what gets them off their butt. Sure, alot of people can do a number of things in bad form, it's going to happen. Try being alittle pro-active instead of criticize. Isn't there some push-ups you can be doing right now. Spit that twinkie out of your face and focus on yourself if your not going to help others with whatever inspires them.

  5. "If you're doing Pilates, do Pilates, don't try to latch onto the coat tails of the latest trend to keep your class numbers up."
    Thank you for the above comment. "Pilates" has become a very broad-based term, and in some instances, the moves taught look nothing like the original method.
    The disciplines in the Movement Practice Professions have been converging for well over a decade, and, at AASI, we like to think that's all good...anything to get bodies and minds moving!
    However, once they get moving, they are going to want to find quality teachers. And this is where understanding the boundaries between disciplines is a very good thing!

  6. we had something a lot like that ViPR in the Army....had the same handle set up and everything....except it was a section of telephone pole....

  7. HydroRider (spinning under water) is actually an ideal way for those with knee/hip injuries/surgeries...to get some exercise without impact...was hoping when I found your site...that you were going to mention 'that'.