Fitness and Education!
Fitness classes and instructors are all the same, right? I used to think just because a certain instructor’s class was packed that the instructor really knew what (s)he was doing! Oh how I was wrong. I have been a fitness fanatic for many years and have taken classes with dozens of instructors. As many times as I have learned something new in these classes, I have learned equally what NOT to do in classes. I am also a member who has special needs – I have a herniation at L4-5 after developing a benign uterine tumor that caused the damage in my low back. The injury took me out of working out for several months and required a slow return to an active fitness lifestyle. During my fitness journey, I learned a lot about myself, exercise, and instructors.
First and foremost, not all instructors are the same. I did not understand the different designations until I personally became an instructor. A personal trainer is the highest level of trained fitness instructors; they have an in-depth knowledge of the body’s anatomy and knows how to safely train muscles and modify exercises to accommodate injuries. A group fitness instructor is technically qualified to teach any fitness class format. They have a strong understanding of the function of each muscle group. Then there are format-specific trained instructors. These are the ones who concern me the most – the saying, “a little knowledge is dangerous” applies to these instructors. I will add my own personal exception to this statement in that true Spin instructors (via Mad Dogg) receive a lot of training on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind proper form.
An old joke comes to mind … “What do you call the person who graduates last in the class from medical school from the most under privileged country’s university?” “The answer is ‘Doctor’.” Similarly, not all group fitness instructor programs are the same either. There are several that are highly recognized as credible within the industry – AFAA, NASM, and ACE are the top three. A format specific certification will only give the instructor enough knowledge to teach that format without diving deep into injury modification and muscle group impact. These trainings will not likely prepare an instructor to advance participants beyond a beginner level.
I see stark differences in training styles and instructor skill sets on social media. For example, I cringe when I see indoor cycle instructors doing push-ups on the bike. Let’s think about it … you are sweating while on the bike, the handle bars are not padded, and you are driving your face with momentum toward that unpadded metal bar with wet hands. Just think about that for a minute. In addition, a rider is sitting on a seat that does not allow proper form to execute an effective push-up. I see others still doing Russian twists in their classes. Any instructor with a real education knows the spine sustains a significant level of compression that is not worth the risk when there are far more effective and safe oblique exercises. Another wide-spread and cringe worthy post examples are plank photos. If you can see your shoulder blades sticking up, chances are you are sinking your weight into your wrists and sagging your back because you are not utilizing ab and back muscles properly. If your favorite barre instructor repeatedly calls, “TUCK,” please consider finding a new class. Please. I will not even get into the form problems when doing squats and lunges; there’s enough material here for a dedicated article. There is a huge difference between fad fitness and functional fitness. You need a skilled and educated instructor to recognize these issues. Instructor education is critical.
How do you avoid falling victim to bad instructor habits? Ask your instructor what training (s)he has – if the response tone is indignant or annoyed, there is likely a lack of education behind it. This blog may sound a bit preachy and soap box oriented, but it comes from a lot of experience in retraining members with proper form. Every single time I put the mic on, I want to ensure my members are getting the most effective and safe workout possible. I invest a lot of time, effort, and money in continuing my education to ensure I have the most current knowledge. Working out can be tough enough … dealing with injuries resulting from inadequate instructor education is easily avoidable by educating yourself.