Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross

It's no secret that humans have a tendency to think and act in "extremes," a behavior that is all-too-common in the fitness industry. In Part 1, I discussed the tendency of fitness professionals to "ride the pendulum" from one extreme to the other when it comes to abdominal and cardiorespiratory exercises. Here in Part 2, we'll take a look at some more examples of this extreme thinking and consider some effective solutions for avoiding this behavior.

From one extreme…

To the other…

Modern, overly cushioned running shoes

Barefoot training/minimalist running shoes

Depth jumps increase vertical jump height, but are Dangerous

Use bigger plyo boxes to increase vertical jump height

Use rotational movements for training

Use anti-rotation to train rotation

Modern Running Shoe vs. Barefoot Running

The "modern" running shoe became popular in the 1970s, and featured a highly cushioned sole and an elevated heel with additional cushioning. Unfortunately, these features allowed people to run incorrectly with a heel strike and a longer-than-natural stride. Even with advancements in shoe technology, the incidence of running injuries has stayed fairly constant over the years, causing an overreaction and assumption that the modern running shoe does more harm than good. The launch of the book, Born to Run, helped trigger this overreaction, with misguided barefoot-running zealots leading the charge. If your goal is to go "natural" with running, you can't go halfway—the logic has to be consistent all the way through. 

barefoot runningRunning barefoot on asphalt or concrete—with or without shoes—is actually unnatural. Ancient humans ran barefoot or with minimal covering on soft, flat surfaces—not on the unforgiving surfaces of streets and sidewalks. Of course, there will always be examples of individuals who don't experience negative side-effects despite practicing incorrect, unsafe exercise habits. However, as fitness professionals who are in a position to make recommendations to the masses, it is imperative that you set a higher standard. It is your responsibility to make recommendations based on more than anecdotal evidence and a single data point.

What you should do: If you or your clients want to try barefoot or minimalist shoe running, do so only on softer, unpredictable surfaces (such as grass), at least at the beginning, and only do so for short distances. Avoid running with the natural foot on unnatural surfaces. 

Use Bigger Plyo Boxes to Improve Jump Height

While exercising in the gym, young, fit males frequently approach me and say, "You need to get bigger plyo boxes." My response back to them is, "No, you need to use a harder exercise." If you're capable of jumping up onto a 36-inch box, you don't need a bigger box. Jumping up onto an elevated platform is nothing more than a demonstration of current jumping ability. Putting a larger box in front of a person does not make him or her suddenly capable of jumping up to it. This is the easiest form of plyometric training. The next most difficult progression is level jumps (e.g., in-place squat jumps or standing long jumps), followed by the more-challenging depth jumps. To jump higher, you need to overload the muscular and nervous systems by asking them to decelerate, control and produce forces at a progressively higher, more-challenging level.

What you should do: If you or your clients need to jump higher, train with harder exercises rather than repeatedly demonstrating how high you or they can currently jump.

Are Anti-rotation Exercises Enough to Train Rotational Movement?

Perhaps the most far-fetched overreaction of all is the growing belief among some fitness professionals that because of the increased stress and torque placed on the spine during rotational movement, training time should be spent solely on anti-rotational exercises to avoid the extra stress during training.

Proper training is stress—period. You cannot train the body to do something by preventing the body from doing it. Neurologically, it does not follow logic or physiology. Furthermore, life is movement, and you cannot train for movement by avoiding it. 

It is precisely because rotational movements are the most stressful that we must train them. In a controlled setting, we need to teach the body to create and control the most "dangerous" of movements so that when the body is required to rotate, whether in life or sport—which are often uncontrolled and unpredictable settings—it knows how to do so without the need for conscious control. This can only be achieved through sound practice, repetition and skill development. 

What you should do: Use common sense—you train for movement by moving, not by staying still. Limit the total volume of most dangerous movements, but do not avoid them altogether if these movements are used in life or sport.

It s important to remember that there is no "secret" answer that fits all situations and can address the massive amount of genetic variability that determines and influences our physical appearance, abilities, limitations and proper training choices. That's why I am encouraging you to avoid extreme thinking and instead develop a reasonable, balanced approach that weighs all factors for each unique situation and client.

So here's my call to action to you: Stop riding the pendulum. Hop off in the middle, think for yourself, and be a leader to those who need your guidance.

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