Cardio, intermittent fasting, Tabata intervals, isometrics, muscle confusion…
There are probably a thousand top-secret, proprietary techniques out there being hailed as the ultimate answer to solve all of your health issues… and most of them pan out to fall well short of the magical results we’re told to expect from them.
A lot of fitness claims are simply BS.
We’re not completely unbiased either, but there are certain ideas out there you can (and probably should!) avoid – mostly because you want to get the biggest bang for your buck with your training.
Most Overrated Ideas in Fitness Training (you can skip these…)
We’ve got our own opinions about various methods of training, but we wanted to do something a little different and share some responses from a few other trainers we know and respect.
Below, some of our favorite fitness writers weigh in on what to leave out.
The most overrated idea right now is this whole axis of functional movement and corrective exercise.
I’d like to go into more depth but to save everyone the headache, let me just say that most of these physiotherapy-inspired methods are sorely lacking in academic research support, and my own tinkering over the years has left me less than impressed with them insofar as their promoted use of “fixing” movement problems. I don’t think physiotherapy, and this wider trend towards obsessive movement “analysis”, has any capacity to prescribe useful workouts.
Use at your discretion.
Matt’s blog is one of Jarlo’s favorite fitness reads.
Overrated: Fat Loss Training.
People keep looking for the “killer fat burning workout” when they should really be looking at their diet if they want to lose fat. The longer I help people lose weight, the more I think that damned near any training protocol will work as long as the diet is dialed in.
My personal preference is a combination of heavy strength training with some high intensity interval work. But I’ve helped people lose fat with body-weight circuits and even (gasp) long slow cardio.
Participate in movement and exercise that you enjoy, whether that’s deadlifting or dancing, while placing an emphasis on diet for fat loss success.
Vic’s blog is almost as cool as his dog, Coda.
Holding a plank for longer and longer durations – While it’s positive whenever people push themselves, this isn’t the best way to challenge your core. You’re basically training the same muscles for endurance over and over, which your body adapts to quickly. Many people who can’t do 10 crunches can hold a plank for a long time. For a more balanced approach which will make your core muscles stronger, do 30-second planks with different variations (for example, single-leg/arm planks, moving planks, or planks on a stability ball).
Boot camps – If you love boot camps, you know they can provide a good calorie burn and provide full-body conditioning… IF you’re already in good condition. But here’s the rub: Boot camps can be quite strenuous, utilizing random outdoor objects such as benches of varying heights and requiring extreme movements such as carrying another person or rolling a giant tire. If you’re not properly conditioned, you can hurt yourself. Boot camps often rely heavily on plyometrics, which for the average person, aren’t meant to be done frequently. High-impact jumping puts a lot of stress on our joints so should be done in moderation. Take a class from well-educated instructors and don’t try to be at the highest level right away.
Suzanne shows women how to stop being afraid of the weight room at Workout Nirvana.
(Al always keeps things short and sweet 🙂 )
Check out Al’s tutorials and good humor (as well as righteous facial hair) on his blog (with a swank new design).
Don’t get me wrong… it’s not invalid by any means – just like anything, it’s got a place and purpose – but I find counting to be totally overrated for two key reasons:
The first one deals with a bit of DELUSION. It’s easy enough to get caught up in a numbers game and believe that more weight, more reps and more time are proportional to better work. But, subscribing to that intoxicating view can be a dangerous game. Often times what lies beneath the proud badge of volume is corrosion, and we tend to find that the quality of performance doesn’t’ quite (being kind here) add up to the quantity of performance. Consequently, perceived “success” and “failure” can easily be distorted, having potentially negative impact on our training moving forward.
The second deals with a bit of DISTRACTION. When engaged in a training session we’ve got a lot of variables to be concerned with – our structural alignment and posture, breathing habits, technique, levels of discomfort, spatial awareness, emotional stress, mental chatter and the like. By focusing on counting reps, we can easily lose sight of what really matters, and any of the aforementioned variables can suffer. By removing the variable of counting we can work to hone our focus down to a more refined point, where ultimately, the numbers aren’t the ‘thing’, but instead, the movement is the ‘thing’.
John is a long-time GMB Beta Monkey, and you can find him at Day 1 Fitness Solutions.
I think the most overrated principle is the need to constantly vary exercises…especially in novice trainees. If someone is in their first year or two of training I’ve found that a selection of exercises can last many weeks or even months before effects cease to be seen.
In advanced trainees, perhaps the need to vary exercises is greater, but certainly not as great as increasing volume/load over time.
Mark is probably one of the most honest trainers on the web.
The most overrated principle in my opinion is that of variation. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very important, but some people take it too far. When every single workout is hugely different, how are you ever working on one thing enough to actually make progress in it?
Many people, myself included at times, go overboard with variation, and thus aren’t focused enough on one or a handful of goals. If you do this and have too much variation, chances are you’ll be violating the principle of progressive overload.
If you switch exercises to often you’ll never get good at any one exercise. If you switch how you do one exercise to often (different variations, sets, reps and loads) then you’ll also not make progress.
Variation is great but keep it in balance.
Logan teaches handbalancing and strongman skills at Legendary Strength.
The training world is a finnicky and fickle place-trends come and go. One minute (or decade) you see everyone doing every exercise on a bosu ball, which was clearly an overrated piece of equipment, then the next minute it’s taboo to do anything with a bosu ball less you be mocked by some brosef who is telling you that getting your 1 rep max heavier is all that matters. Well clearly that swollen looking bro is just as wrong as is the skinny dude in a matching lululemon outfit squatting a 20lb dumbbell on the bosu ball. Useful training always is in the middle of the extremes.
I think one of the most overrated things you can do as a trainer or trainee is to become a “guru” of one type of thing. For instance, the kettlebell is an amazing tool. I would say that I personally believe it to be more useful than a barbell, yet I still use barbells. I don’t ever want to become a ‘guru’ with one specific thing, because then you become emotionally attached to that thing. Your identity is defined by that one thing, and you are blinded by it and become somewhat useless in any real conversation about training.
It sounds like this: aspiring football player “I’m going to add in some BB power cleans to really load myself up” KB guy “no, all you need is some KB’s to clean. Double KB clean’s will be better.”
BA Training is full of ridiculously practical training advice.
I would have to say “cardio” as the classic definition exists for many people where it involves a moderate pace and done for a predetermined amount of time.
Getting the heart rate up is all good, but there are so much more efficient and fun ways to do it than watching the clock tick down on an elliptical.
When I hear the term ‘principles’ this quote always comes to mind I first came across from Dan John:
“As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
I love that quote in light of my last three years of fitness practice and dedicated study, which has left me overwhelmed and downright confused at times. But when you go back to principles and seek to understand what’s at play, all of the “new” ideas are often easily chunked into existing categories, based on principles.
What’s of course rampant in fitness is the promotion of methods, tools, machines, programs, and schemes without highlighting the principles in play for each.
So it’s hard to say an actual principle can be overrated since principles are what bring clarity and allow us to evaluate “new” strategies or ideas. Although I am sure some principles get emphasized to the exclusion of others. Fitness trends are cyclical.
One idea, as awesome as it is, that seems to be gaining cult status and overrated in some circles is the idea of lifting heavy. No doubt a heavy load is called for at times regardless of your goal, but my concern is that men especially, get overly caught in the idea that “if it’s not big, you’re wasting your time.” The danger of that belief is that you’ll tend to mute out certain biofeedback signals telling you your joints need a break which leads to injury. Since you’ve narrowed your idea of a ‘workout’ to mean heavy, you’re not able to modify your plan for the day. In your mind the choice is: lift big or go home. Since going home is for pussies you decide to ignore those nagging aches, lift big, and proceed to get hurt. At least now you have a manly excuse for staying home and not training.
Second, it’s very few that can consistently get psyched up to lift their 3 rep max every session. Lifting heavy can be exciting and extremely rewarding but managing your mental state to be able to do this every time is beyond most people. So even if you escape injury, you’re likely to get derailed emotionally by rigidly holding to the “lift big or go home” mentality.
Finally, you’re short changing yourself by not taking advantage of the other ways to produce overload, higher volume, density, or longer time under tension that’s not possible with heavy weight.
The sad thing is that most of us just go back to our sweet spot. Those that prefer lifting heavy continue to do so without exploring other variables. Those that like more volume miss out on the benefits of high loads.
Yusuf is building a better world through stronger dads at ClackFit.
It’s Your Choice
Yeah, there are a lot of things that might be helpful to some people in some cases. But you shouldn’t necessarily organize your entire training plan around something you read once in a magazine.
Given limited time and energy, it’s important to chose the most effective methods to meet your most important goals at any given time.
Image via Port of San Diego