I recently read an article in the New York Times titled “Fitness Crazed”. The article claims that all NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) trainers believe in avoiding barbell lifts in favor of using only wobble boards and stability balls. I am certified by the both the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association) and ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) both of which require that you have a bachelors degree or higher in Kinesiology, Exercise Physiology, or a related field. Although I am not certified by NASM, I do have several NASM Certified Personal Trainers (CPT) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) on my staff here at BioMechanix Strength & Conditioning Clinic and I know that that is NOT their belief. I know this because I work with these individuals everyday at our facility.

All of my trainers including myself use balance boards, wobble boards, BAPs boards, Bosu balls, stability balls, and body blades with our clients to improve and increase proprioception and balance. We do not however limit our training regimens by any means to just this form of exercise. All of us are huge believers in utilizing free weights, which means using barbells and dumb bells, and performing olympic lifts.

The author of the article “Fitness Crazed” claims that anyone looking to get fit only needs to perform three sets of five repetitions of each the squat, dead lift, power clean, bench press, and standing press. I agree that all of these are great exercises, but limiting yourself to just these five lifts is a recipe for disaster down the road. Although he is right about the progressive overload principal applied to this program but performing only five movements is awfully restrictive. The progressive overload principal was a concept developed by a US Army physician named Thomas DeLorme in the 1940’s. This principal states the need for greater demands to be placed on the body during successive workouts over time if improvement is to be achieved. It also states the importance of variation in training, which provides periods of planned rest and variation in the exercise stress. The author states in the closing of his article that if you keep the practical knowledge of this principal you will reach a state of clarity, but he also states that he does not believe in muscle confusion, therefore contradicting himself. Obviously this guy has no formal knowledge in kinesiology or exercise physiology.

Prior to anybody lifting weights they should have either a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) or a full musculoskeletal evaluation. This will identify where you have strength imbalances, flexibility limitations, and mobility issues which helps you choose both the right exercises and the proper ratios of work to do between agonist and antagonist muscle groups. Most people lack upper back strength especially in their posterior deltoids. In that case you would perform more back than chest exercises, such as a 2:1 back to chest work ratio.

Exercise or fitness routines should technically be exercise prescriptions, not just random exercises thrown together just to make you sweat. The act of simply lifting weights in some unplanned fashion will cause strength and flexibility imbalances. This will most definitely lead to some kind of musculoskeletal injury. The five exercises above are all great lifts as I had mentioned, but some muscle groups are ignored such as the back and posterior shoulders. Not training these muscles will cause a forward head rounded shoulders posture and lead to shoulder mobility dysfunction. A functional Movement Screen will identify who can and cannot perform the above mentioned lifts correctly. Truth is, in order to have good stability you must have good mobility and if you do not posses this, then performing some of these exercises can be more harmful than good for you.

For example, several years back one of my clients who had been lifting weights for years with several so called trainers (I refer to them as fitness instructors) prior to seeing me, had demonstrated how he did a standard barbell squat. His form was horrible as he had too much trunk flexion and his heels lifted off the floor as the weight was transferred all into his knees and lower back. Clearly performing this lift was not a great choice for this client (his previous fitness instructors should of known better), so we worked on his thoracic spine and calf mobility, and yes we used a lot of stability on the balance balls and boards as tools to improve his situation, but it was by no means the only thing he did, as free weights were the bulk of his routine. We stayed away from barbell squats for nearly a year as we strengthened his core and stabilizing musculature of the hips. He now does barbell squats with immaculate form and often super sets them with leg extensions for four sets of each, back to back with no rest between exercises. Presently his final set of squats is 225 lbs for 12 reps. His first set is 20 reps with a lighter weight.

My point is that fitness and exercise programs should not be some “cookie cutter” routine or the latest trend that you find in a book or magazine. Get evaluated first and see what areas of your body need work. You may not be able to perform an exercise with proper form and may need to work up to it. Doing an exercise wrong will cause you to utilize compensatory muscle groups, by this I mean using muscles that should not be involved in that particular movement. This benefits no one and will certainly cause a musculoskeletal injury and promote you to move wrong, which will transfer to everything you do.

One last thing. Most of these health and fitness articles found in the papers such as the LA Times and NY Times are written by people with no formal background in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or exercise science. Most of the times when I read these articles I just shake my head in disbelief of the misinformation they are passing along.

Jon J. Torerk, CSCS