Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is The Entire Fitness Industry BS? Part 2: A review of Les Mills CXWORX and what is a master trainer anyway?

In part 1 of this series I covered personal trainers. In this part I will review the CXWORX class I took part in at the same conference as well as trying to figure out what a master trainer is.

CXWORX is a core program put together by Les Mills somewhere in deepest darkest New Zealand. In case you don't know Les Mills are the same people who brought you the body training systems programs: bodybalance (basically yoga to music), bodyjam (like Zumba but for people who have co-ordination and rhythm), bodycombat (punching & kicking into the air and making a travesty of the martial arts), bodystep (like step but with the word 'body' in front), bodyattack (jumping jacks & spotty dogs to music) and bodypump (actually makes women start weight training and using free weights, so generally this is a good thing, I have a few problems with it like the awful overhead press technique they recommend and doing bicep curls for 3 minutes with a population that is mainly interested in weightloss, and always doing very high reps but otherwise at least they are lifting weights).

CXWORX is a 30 minute core workout which according to their website is 'based on scientific cutting-edge research' (more on this later). See the promotional video below.

The Good, The Bad & The Stupid

Firstly the class was taught by a 'master trainer' who was hot and had some of the best delts I have ever seen, and if she doesn't compete in figure competitions she needs to! Unfortunately, I can't remember her name, so sorry lads, no photos or links.

We started by doing some supine leg lowers, where we were instructed to brace our cores. Excellent, I thought, the concept of bracing has entered the main stream, no longer are we 'pulling in' or hollowing.

However, we then started doing some crunches, and sit ups and then oblique crunches. Great, flexion and rotation, I could feel my lumbar discs starting to de-laminate (I have a confession here, oh hot master trainer, I actually cheated and did McGill back saver curl ups and dead bugs at this point).

Now, at this point, remember the CXWORX website says the program is based on cutting edge scientific research, although on the very same page is a picture of a bloke doing a twisting oblique crunch. No, no, no! Maybe, they've got access to some cutting edge scientific research that I haven't seen, maybe they read McGill(2002) and McGill(2004) and thought, no, all the research on repeated spinal flexion being bad for your back must be wrong.

Or maybe they read Contreras & Schoenfeld in the NSCA journal and thought, yep, these guys are right. (Of course, they're not, listen to this audio interview from McGill for some insights, knowledge bombs and McGill being diplomatic)

Or maybe, they thought, you know, even though the evidence is overwhelming that crunches are a stupid idea, people want to do them,if you have no history of back pain you can get away with them, so we have to put them otherwise people wont come to our class.

However, if 4 out of 5 people experience back pain at some point in there life there is a good chance that someone in the class has a back issue. And seeing that an overwhelming number of people have a head forward, shoulders rounded, Janda upper crossed posture; there is a 100% chance that there is someone in the class who doesn't need to groove in this bad posture with crunches.

Anyway, that was the bad part of the class.

The good part. The instructor said the core is not just the abs but the posterior chain & glutes as well. So we did, some band work for the glutes, x-band type walks, monster type walks, as well as some band resisted bird dogs. All good.

The instructor even mentioned the 'back slings' of the body, again excellent, I don't know if she was consciously referencing the myofascial anatomy trains & slings or it was something that was in the script she had been given, but it was a nice touch.

We also did some exercises with a weight plate, similar to a snatch balance and sotts press, see these videos here & here to see what these exercises are. Again, it was good to see the instructor emphasising the whole body training approach to hit the core. I think I might even use these weight plate versions with some clients!

There were some planks & hand walk outs, again all good. Though I'm not sure if the average class attendee is going to be doing these. Plus, one of the down sides of all the Les Mills programs is the instructors don't have time to go out and correct anyone's technique, they have to keep with the music.

We did some other resistance band, side lunge stuff, which was a bit too Gary Gray, Paul Chek functional folly for my liking.

There were some side bridges, at which point we were instructed to pull our abs in. Which made me think, maybe the instructor just said 'brace' earlier because it was in the script and really didn't understand why we were bracing in the first place. Side bridges, went into some side oblique crunches, again pointless, especially for a class population who generally don't want their waist to be wider. Do some asymmetrical carries instead.

There were a few more crunches to finish, to really work on our 'six pack'. Of course, the six pack is really a matter of genetics & diet, and don't forget the main action action of the rectus abs is to resist rotation, not forward flexion (MCGill, 2002, 2004 etc). Again, their cutting edge scientific research must be different to mine.

They Almost Get It

The instructor did some good things, but also some stupid things. Its like they haven't quite connected the dots. Which makes me wonder, do the really get it, do they really understand bracing, and flexion or are they regurgitating  a script and haven't read any of the research, or have been highly selective in their interpretation.

Its like someone gave them the house fully built, but if they really understood the blue prints they could build their own house, and have a deep understanding from the foundations up.

Its not like this stuff is even new anymore. Check out the year on the first McGill reference, 2002, this information has been in the public realm for a decade!

Should I get CXWORX?

Firstly, let me say I've never quite understood the BTS model, you have to buy the licence from them. And in most of the programs the exercises never change (bodyjam excepted because its a dance routine). So you are essentially buying a music playlist. Just in case you can't work out how to use the playlist function on your ipod, Les Mills have done all the hard work for you. And by the CXWORX instructors own admission, the music for this program is deliberately low and in the background.

Secondly. If you are  a fitness professional and you can't actually workout how to put together a 30 minute core routine you have either taken a blow to the head with a power club or you need to change jobs. If you really have no imagination Les Mills have done the thinking for you.

Lastly, I think I could design a better core routine right now. Get rid of those crunches and replace them with some dead bug variations would be a start.

What is a master trainer anyway?

In the last few weeks I've met quite a few 'master trainers'. Now in my mind, if you use the phrase 'master trainer' I expect the re-incarnation of Mel Siff to turn up, and if he's not available, at the very least I expect Pendlay, Pavel or Abadjiev to turn up; not someone who has bought one too many tight black technical t-shirts.

I'm not sure how you become a master trainer. Do you have to go to the Dagobah system and train with Yoda?

Yoda: Training master trainers for the past 500 years

It takes a certain amount of confidence to call yourself a 'master' if you are not an 80 year old Japanese martial arts expert.

Champions of the stupid*

(*stolen from Charlie Weingroff, as used in this audio interview here and in this blog post)

It doesn't make sense, that if you were a master trainer, you would still be doing crunches. But this is not the only example, I've come across recently.

I get a magazine called Fit Pro Network sent to me, as part of my job role I get it free. It's aimed at personal trainers and studio instructors. In the latest issue there was an explanation of how to do a swiss ball crunch. Firstly, the person who wrote it is apparently a 'Vipr master trainer', which is obviously an oxymoron. And secondly, a swiss ball crunch, are you kidding me! If you are reading a magazine aimed at fitness professionals I'm hoping you don't need anyone to tell you how to do a crunch on the swiss ball.

And, also you guessed it, why the hell are you doing a swiss crunch in the first place. Yes, rectus abdominis activation in increased, but compared to a normal crunch the spinal load doubles!(McGill 2004, again). I'm sure the master trainer knows this, otherwise he is just another champion of the stupid!

WTF: I will hunt you down. The kettlebell & battling rope will be my weapons of choice in the game of functional training top trumps
Last example. This time a technogym master trainer, who had a degree in biomechanics. Don't get me wrong, he was a nice guy. and up to a certain point he was making sense. But then like a lot of master trainers and functional gurus he took it too far. One minute, we're looking at the cardio wave machine. fair enough, lateral movement, gets you out of the sagittal plane. But then he jumps the shark - not only could we be on the cardio wave we could also be throwing medicine balls and swinging kettlebells on it, or as one of my staff said in a gently mocking way 'we could stand on top of it and then jump onto it'. Kettlebells are good enough already on the ground, you don't need to be doing CV at the same time.

Its the old, bullshit baffle brains concept. Maybe a newbie inexperienced trainer is falling for this and believing them, because they are master trainers, and all knowing and all seeing. If only they new the truth.

Without bagging on the same master trainer, he then went onto to say how the cardio wave could activate the VMO, and help people with knee problems. Hmm, lack of VMO is a symptom not a cause of knee pain in my opinion. See here again. And then like it was Flex magazine in 1993, went on to say how you could change the muscles you were working by changing foot position on the leg extension (yeh, or I could do some squats instead).

Also a note to all master trainers, please don't show me the Smith machine (and also a note to all equipment sales reps whether they be Life Fitness or Technogym, the Smith machine is not a transition between machines and free squats, its a completely different movement pattern, don't try and tell me this!)

Masters of nothing

I still don't know how you become a master trainer. But there is a good chance they know a lot less than you think. The same goes for celebrity trainers. I see Matt Roberts has a new book out on running (no link on purpose). Matt Roberts is the patron saint of master trainers, he may have even patented the haircut that most of them have. Do me a favour, if you are going to buy a book on running, get this one by Matt Fitzgerald 'The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel' or The Runners Body, or the book FIT by Kilgore, Hartman & Lascek and read the chapter on endurance exercise. In short, go to some people who have some in-depth knowledge and deep experience.

Question everything, especially self styled masters.

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