Simplicity in Fitness

April 29, 2013

By Rachel Girardi

Everyday we come across advertisements and promotions from Big Box gyms, infomercials and celebrities telling us that we need to try their latest fitness product. It’s new. It’s innovative. It’s never been done before.

Why is it that we automatically perceive new as better? What is so special about that particular workout video or the wobbly board to stand on when you squat? One possibility is that maybe the new ideas are the greatest thing to ever hit the fitness world. More likely, they aren’t any more effective than what’s already out there but since they seem flashy and exciting we are drawn to them. The bottom line is that new is attractive to consumers.

Not only do we fall for the ‘latest and greatest’ but somewhere out there a message got relayed (and internalized) that by adding a BOSU ball, a flexible stick, stability board or standing on one foot, the exercise would be dramatically improved and it’s the way to go in terms of training. Sadly that isn’t the case.

Want the real truth of how to have effective workouts? Here are two pieces of advice to keep it simple.

 Ignore the hype and stick to the basics: Squats, lunges, pushes, pulls, bends and twists.

So how does someone go about sticking to the basics? You have a few options. If you are totally new to exercise, or are unsure of whether or not you can squat, lunge or bend properly, find a personal trainer to help you. You know you’ve found a good trainer if they focus on the basic movements and make sure you can do them properly before moving on. If your trainer ignores the basic foundations of movement, you should be moving too: away from that trainer and onto one who knows what they’re doing.

If you are already confident in your ability to perform the basic foundational movements, then make sure to incorporate them into your workout and start small. Start with body weight exercises, controlling your movement and gradually increase the load that you are lifting. Every time you are strength training, make sure that you base your program around the major movements that we use in life. Rather than standing on a BOSU ball, lifting one leg while shoulder pressing, place both feet on the ground and perform a full squat ensuring proper form and add weight as necessary. Don’t forget that just because something appears more challenging, doesn’t mean it’s more beneficial, especially when the challenge significantly increases your chance of injury without any additional gains being added.

 Make the best use of your time.

If you are like most average gym goers, when you go to the gym you do a couple of leg exercises, a couple of shoulder exercises, a couple for your triceps and a couple for your biceps before focusing on your core for a good solid 15 minutes. How about taking a different approach? Rather than focusing on movements involving one joint, get your whole body involved using multi-joint exercises, or as I like to call them, exercises with the best ‘bang for your buck’. Exercises like squats, pull-ups and push-ups will utilize much more of your body than isolating exercises, such as bicep curls.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients ask me to give them more ‘ab’ exercises. I oblige them, not by giving them crunches as they expect, but by making them do more squats. When you perform a crunch (one of the most common and essentially useless abdominal exercises) the only muscles being activated are your abdominals. However, when you squat, not only is it imperative that you activate your core to stay upright, but you also engage practically every muscle in your body to lift yourself up. The energy required to complete a squat is far greater than to perform a crunch. Therefore you end up working harder and achieving much greater gains in the gym.

So often people are tempted to bypass the basics of exercise to get to the newer and flashier ways on working out, but before you start jumping around, changing direction while being on one leg and throwing weights above your head in an attempt to mimic an Olympic lifting style movement, get a solid grasp of the basics. Pick multi-joint exercises. Perform them on solid ground. Add weight slowly. Prevent injury and appreciate slow and steady gains. Keep it simple.


Rachel has worked as a personal trainer for the past two years and over that time has helped clients to reach weight loss, performance and other health goals. Can-Fit Pro and Precision Nutrition Certified, she has a special interest in nutrition and teaching others how to incorporate proper nutrition into their busy lives. Follow Rachel on Twitter & Facebook. Read more about what Rachel has to offer on her blog:

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