Do you LiveSocial, FitPon or GroupPass?
Do you move from class to class to find a bargain?
Do you rate a class or trainer on;
How tired/wrecked you are after?
How much yelling and loud music there was?
How much fun you had?
If others seemed to like it?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you may have – EXERCISE ADD.
Now, ask yourself this – Do you think you may be missing something? Do you have a nagging feeling that you’re “not getting it” and that there is actually something to “get.” Do you think there may be a big joke that you’re missing, and it may be on you? What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. Is this you?
If you answered yes to any of this second set of questions, then read on. If you answered yes to the first set of questions and no to the second set, then this article probably isn’t for you. If you answered no to the first set of questions, and yes or no to the second set, you may still want to read on, even though you probably don’t have EXERCISE ADD.
WHAT IS EXERCISE ADD?
Truth be told, I just made it up. There isn’t really such a diagnosis in the ICD-10-CM but, maybe there should be. We all hear, and see, that there is an epidemic of poor fitness and health in the U.S., obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypokinesia, poor movement patterns, back-pain and other orthopedic issues. Approximately 20% of Americans exercise regularly, which means that 80% don’t. I’m not talking about the 80% here, I’m discussing the possibility that the 20% is actually much less because of EXERCISE ADD.
There are many similarities between the way most people approach exercise and the characteristics of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) The problem is that this stops most people from getting the true benefit of exercise as opposed to the benefit of activity. The irony is that the non-pharmacological treatment of ADD/ADHD that has been shown to be one of the most effective is EXERCISE! Or at least lots of physical activity.
According to HealthLine, there are 3 main types of ADD/ADHD; Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. As a trainer, coach, instructor and entrepreneur/solopreneur working in “fitness” for more than 20 years, I have noticed these behaviors or symptoms in the way a majority of American Adults approach health and fitness. Fortunately, I”m not trying to make a living training the majority. Here are some examples of the similarities between adult American’s fitness behaviors and symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
Some other behaviors such as getting up from a seat when remaining seated is expected and running around or climbing in inappropriate situations are appropriate for exercise situations but they would be classified as activity, not exercise and when done at inappropriate times, even in a gym or fitness setting can create potentially injurious situations for all involved. Likewise, the benefit of a program is mitigated by the inappropriate application of work (climbing) and rest (sitting) intervals. Possibly more insidious is the likelihood that these behaviors preclude the individual from more focused skill based pursuits because they are unable to quietly play or take part in leisure activities.
According to HealthCentral, some of the manifestations of Adult ADD/ADHD include; beginning, but not completing tasks, being easily distracted and missing important details of conversations, and a lack of self motivation, even if the project sounds like something you would like to complete. Additional symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD that make participation in any meaningful (involving progression and requiring precision) exercise pursuits include;
Self-efficacy and coachability are things we look for in those attempting to learn and become expert in sport or other pursuits. Coachability is a criterion and section in most sports combines. Certainly someone that doesn’t deal well with frustration, is easily stressed out, is hypersensitive to criticism, and has trouble staying motivated will have difficulty participating in any meaningful (again, involving progression and requiring precision) fitness pursuit. Our society and the fitness industry especially has taken the path of least resistance in its approach to exercise and catered to this EXERCISE ADD/ADHD problem instead of trying to fix it. This starts with participation trophies and extends to walk-in classes with no progression or precision that use the most simplistic movements/exercises to cater to the masses. It continues with fitness organizations that advocate “finding something you like and sticking with it” as if any and all exercise has the same result and benefit. Methods that claim to teach proper technique, movement, posture and strengthen the core are also at fault as they cater to those that don’t know that have been fooled into thinking these things are an end in themselves and not a foundation for actual work/exercise. The problem is further compounded by a blurring of any distinction between activity and exercise and completely distorted by fitness gurus that offer quick and easy solutions and explanations to a problem and process that is neither quick nor easy to explain or solve. Quite literally, this is a form of HEALTH/FITNESS CENSORSHIP.
In the coda to a reprinting of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury discusses the more insidious form of censorship that occurs in the interest of mass-appeal and, sadly, profit and market share;
|“Some five years back, the editors of yet another anthology for school readers put together a volume with some 400 (count ’em) short stories in it. How do you cram 400 short stories by Twain, Irving, Poe, Maupassant and Bierce into one book?
Simplicity itself. Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy. Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquito – out! Every simile that would have made a sub-moron’s mouth twitch – gone! Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writer – lost!
Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepenciled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story. Twain read like Poe read like Shakespeare read like Dostoevsky read like – in the finale – Edgar Guest. Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instant’s attention – shot dead.”
Other fitness experts admonish Personal Trainers for being biased in the programs they design. They accuse other trainers of not focusing on the clients’ goals and needs but instead using the methods and exercises the trainer likes regardless of the clients’ goals. This is an oversimplification. Is the Trainer, Coach, or Teacher a servant pandering to the wants of the client or participant? Or, is the Trainer, Coach or Teacher an Expert Physical Educator leading the clients and participants on a journey to self actualization through a curriculum of physical education, culture and skill? Many of the same fitness experts fail to call “foul” on the Method gurus that clearly teach one biased method as that is all they are trained to teach. The marketing and pseudo science of these Methods overshadows principles and research but somehow that is okay in the fitness industry. Has our fitness industry and physical education system succeeded in making good consumers but failed in making a physically literate population? Are exercise and fitness simply entertainment or are they more profoundly linked to the very core of what it means to be human? Certainly Physical Educators would agree to this profound linkage between physicality and our humanity but the fitness industry instead promotes or even takes advantage of the EXERCISE ADD/ADHD of our population and compounds it with a pandering, slederized, demarrowed version of exercise that won’t demand so much as one instant of attention. We have succeeded in making good fitness consumers but failed in making a physically literate population. Planet Fitness epitomizes how far we’ve strayed from meaningful exercise pursuits. Look here to see just how bad it’s gotten.
| “The great thought of physical education is not the education of the physical nature, but the relation of physical training to complete education, and then the effort to make the physical contribute its full share to the life of the individual”
Thomas Wood, 1893
QUANTITY AND QUALITY
There’s a difference between exercise and activity. There is a difference between programmed, progressive exercise and activity masquerading as exercise. The definition of exercise is “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. Physical Activity on the other hand is defined by the World Health Organization as “as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.” Notice that in the definition of Physical Activity, there is no mention of its purpose of improving health. Also, notice that neither definition mentions anything about progression, precision, variety, quality or quantity of exercise or activity. In order to begin to examine the aspects of quantity and quality (intensity necessary to make a change) of exercise or activity we have to look to American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM and most authorities define moderate exercise as 40-60% VO2max: 3-6 METs (an intensity well within the individual’s capacity, one which can be comfortably sustained for a prolonged period of time (45min). Whereas, vigorous exercise is > 60% of VO2max; > 6 METs; exercise intense enough to represent a substantial cardiorespiratory challenge.
Although one should start of slow and progress (e.g. low to moderate to vigorous) and although the main disease prevention benefits are obtained by those at the lowest end of the fitness spectrum adding a minimal amount of activity, this certainly does not make better citizens ready for labor and defense or citizens able to live lives filled with quality experiences and pursuits. Instead of raising people up, we’ve lowered the bar for all but the elite few with athletic potential. When ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) released its first recommendations regarding quality and quantity of exercise for development and maintenance of fitness in adults, Military Readiness was the established criterion for their recommendations of exercise frequency, intensity, duration and mode. These recommendations would achieve in healthy adults the development and maintenance of a level of fitness similar to that required by all Military Troops for readiness. Note the change in goal or objective in 2000 from fitness to health and the concurrent change from the recommendation of continuous activity to a cumulative total.
ACSM’s recommendations for Frequency, Duration and Intensity of Cardiovascular Exercise 1975-2000.
Starting with ACSM’s position stand in 1990 and subsequent exercise recommendations there was a shift away from an exclusively “performance-related fitness” paradigm to one that includes activity recommendations for both performance and health-related outcomes: “ACSM recognizes the potential health benefits of regular exercise performed more frequently and for longer duration, but at lower intensities than prescribed in this position statement.” This was repeated in the 1998 position statement. Additionally, over the years, ACSM has added more complete recommendations for Resistance Training, added flexibility training guidelines and most recently added recommendations for and about Neuromotor exercise.
- Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week.
- Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (tai ji and yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.
- 20-30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise.
Despite all this useful scientific inquiry the split between recommendations related to “performance based fitness” and public health related “disease risk reduction” activity and the lesser known swept-under-the-rug because it will discourage people weight maintenance recommendations, we still lack a realistic and sustainable system of exercise. The aforementioned Institute of Medicine study recommended 60 minutes per day for the purpose of weight maintenance going against other public health recommendations for 30 minutes per day. The primary recommendations, for health and fitness tend to focus on cardiovascular exercise, probably because it is easier to study and quantify, the fitness and/or disease prevention recommendations for resistance training, flexibility and neuromuscular exercise are not as well established, reported on, or disseminated. Conversely, methods of exercise such as Pilate’s, Yoga, Crossfit and others are advertised but lack evidence to support their effectiveness, efficacy, or the underlying principles that make them effective. If they are effective.
“After the release of the IOM report, headlines and articles in the popular press focused on “twice as much exercise as before.”
Although the ancient Greeks, early European exercise systems and early American physical educators understood the connection between physical education, fitness and the whole human. Instead of appealing to our better nature, we’re being duped by a fitness industry that caters to the ADD/ADHD, edutainment, reality TV, exertainment basest side of our nature. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.
Although the ancient Greeks, early European exercise systems and early American physical educators understood the connection between physical education, fitness and the whole human. Instead of appealing to our better nature, we’re being duped by a fitness industry that caters to the ADD/ADHD, edutainment, reality TV, EXER-tainment basest side of our nature. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.
PHYSICAL LITERACY, PRECISION, PROGRESSION AND RAISING THE BAR
I’ve often had potential students/clients that introduce themselves as “experienced boot campers”, “experienced exercisers”, or say they “just need a few sessions to get started” because they “played ball” in college. I’d like to have a Fitness-SAT or Exercise-SAT to measure these people with. Or, more importantly, use as a mirror by which they could measure and see themselves in a more realistic way. Just because you participate in the things that you are good at and have success in them because they are the things you have an aptitude for and therefore like them does not mean you are good at everything else. Nor does it mean that you will continue to grow beyond your initial success. This is a form of cognitive bias is called illusory superiority. The Dunning-Kruger effect is an extension of the behaviors of those with illusory superiority which seems, by my experience to be rampant in fitness settings – once a person knows a few exercises and has achieved some minimal result, they fancy themselves and expert. Additionally, the advertising and acolytes of a specific method or technique tend to be very vocal while the experts tend to be more quite. Fitness marketers and advertisers seem to prefer incorrect information disseminated loudly with confidence over correct information that is complex delivered with humility and deference.
Wait!!! I almost forgot. There is a way to determine what “level” a potential client is at with respect to fitness and physical literacy, it’s called fitness testing. Sadly, though there are many appropriate fitness testing batteries (FitnessGram, YMCA, Eurofit, and many customized batteries for specific populations most commercial gyms do not use these tests because it may create a barrier to entry. A barrier to entry. Actually educating someone may stop them from participating. That in and of itself demonstrates how far our exercise ADD has gone. We don’t want to make people think or have them understand where they are in relation to fitness or even understand what fitness is.
Fitness testing batteries typically focus on the main aspects of fitness; cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal (endurance, strength, and flexibility) and body composition. Since most exercise ADD sufferers don’t have the bandwidth to devote to ALL these aspects, they just want to do ONE of them. They just do “cardio”, they just do “weights”, they just do some method for “flexibility” and “core strength” but they miss the complete picture. Their ADD distracts them from attaining a full, balanced picture of health and the fitness industry supports this. At least their buying something. Most fitness clubs don’t want to pay trainers more than a minimum wage and dismiss college educated physical education, exercise science, or fitness management majors as being over qualified and too expensive. Instead, the foster the prolific sales people and the prolific sales people typically sell by appealing to the basest nature of the populations ADD. Keeping them ignorant and happy.
“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Even within the realm of resistance training, the microscopic focus on one way to use weights (e.g. bodybuilding) as opposed to the way weights can be used to foster many different aspects of human performance (muscular endurance, strength, and power) is fostered by a lack of an understanding of what a true “expert” in weightlifting really knows. The NSCA has a developed a table which can be found on page 350 of the Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd edition by which a clients’ weightlifting experience can be determined, yet the distraction of big biceps draws the limited attention of most exercisers and puts acolytes on a pedestal while the true experts must be sought out. Seeking out experts is beyond the attention span of most of the population and so they are relegated to the substandard pandering product of commercial gym chains.
A person with enough experience in resistance training to be considered “advanced” would need to know >15 free weight and machine core (multiple joint, load the trunk, safely test a 1RM) and assistance (single joint) exercises and most power/explosive exercises. Most commercial gyms don’t allow lifting chalk, much less have bumper plates or qualified staff to teach these exercises. Yet so many adults that have taken a few circuit classes or know how to do a few dumbbell exercises consider themselves advanced and nobody calls foul on them or the industry that allows them to have this distorted view of their own level of expertise. Once again, though them measurable elements of musculoskeletal fitness can be qualified, it’s only the Method Gurus that hold the ersatz credibility of teaching something deep, meaningful and worthwhile.
In addition to being able to qualify what it means to be advanced as a “weightlifter” or resistance training participant, we can also quantify it through fitness testing. Based on one’s body weight there are strength ratios considered to be average for specific lifts which can be adjusted by age and gender. With other methods, the discretion of what is advanced in either quality or quantity is left to ersatz experts and subjective assessment. It maybe too far to say these subjective assessments are designed to keep students needing the instructor instead of fostering their journey to self actualization, so I’ll let you decide. Not giving criteria, a road map, lesson plan or specific learning outcome for exercisers to focus on appeals to the ADD nature of the typical American fitness consumer.
The man who grasps principles can successfully handle his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Methods are a million and then some, but they appeal to those that want simple answers and can’t muster the attention to take control of their fitness- those with EXERCISE ADD. A better solution would be to run gyms and fitness education like a dojo. Starting in grade school physical education class children should be taught the basics of Physical literacy: Locomotor skills, Object Manipulation skills and Body Management skills. This can be done through a structured curriculum that includes gymnastics, track, and swimming as well as various martial arts and weighted objects such as Indian Clubs, Medicine Balls, Dumbbells and Barbells. Sports and games as well as free play can be part of recess while PE classes focus on education and structured movement. Perhaps then, we’ll have an adult population with a better appreciation of how the physical is a means to the full life of an individual. There was a golden-age of physical education in the U.S. we need to get back to it and stop letting corporations, venture capitalists and private equity make money by taking advantage of our EXERCISE ADD.
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”