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September 14, 2012, 11:14AM PT in Fitnovatives Blog  |  0 Comments

Get Off the Pendulum (Part 1)

sit upsOne of the more peculiar aspects of human behavior is the tendency to reject an extreme, incorrect approach to something only when a completely opposite and equally extreme point of view begins to gain favor. This disturbing tendency is particularly common in the fitness industry. While the middle ground is the correct place to be in most areas of life, many fitness professionals choose to "ride the pendulum" from one extreme to the other.  

As trainers, we have been riding the pendulum on a number of topics for far too long, examples of which I will provide in this blog. For every example, I'll explain why each extreme is the wrong approach and provide a method for you to find the intelligent middle and avoid the mental laziness of extremism.

From one extreme…

To the other…

Perform endless reps of crunches
and sit-ups

Never do crunches—do endless planks instead

Long, slow, distance cardio is all you need

High-intensity interval training is all you need

From Endless Crunches to Never Do Crunches to Endless Planks

As I covered in my "When Pigs Crunch" article in ACE Certified News, the recommendation to avoid crunches is based on a severely flawed rationale.  While crunches may not be the greatest exercise, they certainly are not the worst.  It's a fact that our spines can safely flex and, while there is no question that crunches have been overused in the past, there are beneficial ways to safely and effectively perform crunches using asymmetrical loads and unbalanced variations. To view examples of innovative ab exercises, visit the  Top Tips and Never-Before Seen Exercises for Training the Abs video series, as well as my book, Abs Revealed, which is available in the ACE store.

Individuals who feel that crunches are a waste of time often respond by overusing the plank. Serving as a teaching exercise, the goal of the plank is to learn how to create 360-degree core stability all the way around the torso and hips. Practicing planks for more than 20 to 30 seconds is a waste of valuable training time—after all, life is movement, not the absence of it. Once someone can successfully create and hold a plank for up to 30 seconds, it's time to move on by performing either a moving variation of the plank (see my "Plank School" ACE video), or a different, more challenging exercise.

What you should do: Use the resources listed above to know when and how to use crunches and how to progress planks.

HIIT is the Only Cardio You Need

Several decades ago, distance running was all the rage and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) did not even exist. Now that it's become a popular form of cardio exercise, however, many people have fallen into the trap of thinking it's all that's needed.   This idea was inspired by the now famous "Tabata study" published by Dr. Izumi Tabata and colleagues in 1996. The study results were subsequently misinterpreted to such a degree that many people mistakenly believe that a few minutes of HIIT cardio is equivalent to an hour of traditional cardio. This is, of course, an attractive idea to those who want to do the least possible to get results.

Here are two main problems that need to be addressed with this overreaction:

  1. No one actually does true Tabata training— not even you.  In the 1996 study, researchers used a protocol that consisted of seven to eight sets of 20 seconds at 170% VO2 m ax followed by 10 seconds of rest, but since it’s impossible to do Tabata training with squat thrusts or push-ups, the majority of humans will never do anything at 170% of VO2 m ax. You can do intervals of 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest, but it is not considered Tabata training unless you are using the same impossible levels of intensity used in the study.
  2. Steady-state cardio is the only proven way to increase blood volume and, thus, the buffering capacity of your blood.  (An increase in blood volume means there is more sodium bicarbonate carried by the blood to buffer acids.)  When muscles fatigue, acids build-up, and when the acids build up faster than the blood can buffer, performance declines rapidly.  Thus, anaerobic recovery is dependent on how quickly you can switch back to aerobic pathways to speed recovery.

You don't need a lot of traditional aerobic training, b ut most non-endurance athletes should  perform this type of training at least once per week.

What you should do: Perform both HIIT and steady- state (or "regular" interval) cardio to obtain the benefits of both.

By Jonathan Ross
Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is the two-time recipient of Personal Trainer of the Year awards (2010 IDEA & 2006 ACE), has served as Discovery Health Fitness Expert and hosted the Discovery Health series “Everyday Fitness.” His book, Abs Revealed, delivers a modern, intelligent approach to ab training, and his business, Aion Fitness, delivers exceptional fitness training,speaking, and writing services. Ross is a master trainer for TRX and has shared his renowned thought-leadership philosophy at many conferences and in the media.