Uncomfortable at the gym? Sometimes I am too

I am upset. I dislike it when other trainers – particularly those less qualified and less educated than myself – make comments on my workouts. I currently work alongside a trainer who frequently hassles me about my workouts. Comments like “done already?” are getting quite old. His ignorance of my knowledge regarding the scientific bases and effectiveness of my workouts is evident. I typically let these unnecessary comments roll off my back. As I reflect on his comments made earlier this week, I am concerned about what he may say to others – and how some individuals may take it.

The situation

Earlier in the week I ran to the gym prior to teaching a strength class. I ran just over 5 miles and I was walking on the treadmill to cool down – sunglasses atop my head and gloves in hand – when he began to talk to me. Here is how the conversation went:

He asked “did you run here?”
“Yes.”
“How far?”
“A little over 5 miles.”
“That’s not bad, how are you getting home?”
“I’m getting a ride after I teach class.”
“Why don’t you run home?”
“Because I train smart.”
“Well if you are going to do it you might as well do it all the way – I mean” and I cut him off,
“once you join me on my training plan you can make comments, until then keep them to yourself.”

Comments gone bad

He is an example of a hater. He is an example of someone who assists in making the gym environment intimidating and uncomfortable. Mind you, he is an average trainer – no education and no certifications. He is in great physical condition. He works out “hard” but his methods of “killing” people are not based on science and are based solely on making it as hard as possible. Does that get results? Sometimes, but not without unnecessary risks. photo (27)

Back to the comments. If you tell me I am not working hard enough – you have not done my workouts. Nor can anyone make those comments without doing a full needs assessment. He does not realize I have a history of over-exercising  – but then why would he care? He does not know the physical obstacles I have overcome and for which I carefully allocate for when designing my workouts. But he does not bother to think before he speaks.

The gym culture

I do not like the gym culture this cultivates. Every piece of cardio equipment around me was occupied – and individuals were listening to this conversation (he does not talk quietly). What does the woman who just came in to get 20 minutes on the treadmill next to me now think? Is she now thinking, well if her workout doesn’t count why did I bother with this? We do not know. I personally wouldn’t risk making this comments and threatening someones confidence, determination, etc. Most individuals – and especially women – are uncomfortable and self-conscious at the gym to begin with. This justifies those thoughts and feelings to a certain degree.

I have been trying to decide whether or not to approach him about the matter. Do these comments truly negatively impact the culture, or have I been spoiled by the truly positive environment I previously worked in? There is a time and a place to hassle individuals in an effort to push them – based on my observation he is not cognizant of these boundaries.

While we work at the same gym – as a trainer he is not my competition. No individual will be choosing between him or me. If someone wants to train with him they would likely never have the desire to work with me (and vice versa). However, they may come to me after they get hurt training with him. Regardless, he is not my competition.

The bottomline

I needed to vent. I suppose my focus on the psychological aspects of exercise makes me more sensitive to these issues than most trainers and avid gym-goers. But I believe this is another example of when we should stop and think before we speak.

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Yoga ball = School chair?

Today’s Star Tribune printed an article out of Pennsylvania, Teachers make move to improve student focus by ditching desk chairs in favor of yoga balls. The shallow article does not include specific references and vaguely refers to nonexperimental research. Do you trust the article?

The research

I took it upon myself to find the research. Oddly enough, I have yet to find any scholarly research that supports the claims made in this news article. The research of Kilbourne (2009), who is mentioned in the article, is unscientific and purely qualitative. For example, students were asked before and after using the exercise balls to rank their perceived level of focus. A self-report measure, really? How about – at a minimum – using a math time table test score????

The ball 

A yoga ball? The stability ball – best known to Americans as a Swiss ball – has origins in physical therapy. Pilates, yoga, and other schools of exercise adopted the tool, incorporating them into workouts. I have a number of friends who are teachers – would you seriously consider replacing your chairs with stability balls on a permanent basis?

Improved focus

This is a hot research topic in my field (sport and exercise psychology). Does exercise improve cognitive processes? Cognitive performance seems to be improved by lower exercise intensities immediately after exercise, but by higher intensities after a period of physical recovery (Pesce, 2012). Further, findings support that with increasing cognitive task difficulty, performance would be worsened by a withdrawal of resources away from the task and towards motor control (Pesce, 2012). In dual-processing tasks – one task will always suffer.

Improved balance & posture

There is no scientific evidence that sitting on a stability ball will improve balance. Based on what exercise physiologists know about the human body and its ability to adapt, an individual may see minimal improvements initially and then nothing moving forward. In fact, as the human body adapts to sitting on a stability chair, posture will not be effected and may even be adversely effected.

Inappropriate generalization

This is a common error of our society – cherry picking information and applying it in ways that are not intended. For example, there is plenty of evidence to support the dose response of exercise (Everhart, 2012; Travlos, 2010). Attention levels and aptitude to learn have been shown to increase following bouts of physical activity.

The bottomline

Research supports improved learning following physical activity. The research specific to concurrent physical activity remains inconclusive. The reports in this article are unfounded and need to be critically assessed before implemented. The proposed benefits, such as improved focus, defy research findings – as well as logic.

One important aspect of school is learning social skills and socially acceptable behaviors. Allowing children to bounce all day? – maybe I am the only one that views this as a way to exacerbate attention disorders. Children need to learn to sit still, as they will need to sit still in life. While children are designed and need to move, it would be more beneficial to get out of the chair on a more consistent basis.

While there may be minimal benefits – there are also significant physiological and biomechanical risks associated with the use of stability balls as chairs.

However, sitting on a ball could reduce the prevalence of leg crossing – which may reduce hip and knee injuries – but this is me making a hypothetical claim (I did not find any research to support this).

References

Everhart, B. (2012). The influence of daily structured physical activity on academic progress of elementary students with intellectual disabilities. Education,133(2), 298-312.

Kilbourne, J. (2009). Sharpening the Mind Through Movement: Using Exercise Balls as Chairs in a University Class. Chronicle Of Kinesiology & Physical Education In Higher Education20(1), 10-15.

Pesce, C. (2012). Shifting the Focus From Quantitative to Qualitative Exercise Characteristics in Exercise and Cognition Research. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology34(6), 766-786.

Travlos, A. K. (2010). High intensity physical education classes and cognitive performance in eighth-grade students: An applied study. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology8(3), 302-311.

Weight loss, muscle loss, and mind games

Weight loss is a desire for many. When on a journey to lose, we have the misconception that all weight loss is positive weight loss. Weight loss is a secondary component of one of my 2013 goals – bench press my bodyweight. However, I am concerned with the rapid weight loss I am experiencing. I hate to overanalyze, bu I am beginning to overanalyze. The thoughts in my mind, “Is this real?” “Am I losing muscle?” “How come I still cannot see my abs?” “How little must I weigh to see my abs?” “Am I doing too much cardio?” “Am I not eating enough?” “How many weeks will I continue to lose at this rate if I continue what I am doing?” “Am I sick?”scale

Unfortunately, I am not tracking my body fat percentage. (I do not have access to an accurate measuring method at this time.) Further, I failed to take my circumferences at the beginning of the year. Therefore, I am only measuring body weight and tracking my weights lifted.  At this point, my underperformance in measurement tracking is being perceived as an epic failure. Notice my automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)? I am disappointed that I have allowed myself to gauge my improvements on weight at all and even more disappointed that I haven’t tracked numbers that I should have otherwise maintained.

Thankfully, I do not dwell on these thoughts and I am relatively successful with thought stopping. With that said – How do you know when weight loss is attributed to muscle loss?

My truths

In my current situation, I believe it is possible that I have lost some muscle. But to say that I have would be purely anecdotal. I honestly have no idea and all I can say is that it is possible. Honestly, I am not too worried about it. I know that my strength is increasing (evident with my lifting increases). I know that my clothes fit differently.

Because I have obsessive tendencies, I do not want to be too rigid with my  fitness improvement methods. I monitor my diet, but I do not want to begin tracking calories and macronutrients on a daily basis – because I know I will become obsessive with it and it will take over my life. (I primarily only track when I feel like I have not been eating enough.) I eat a real food diet and am meticulous with my nutritional timing.

Losing muscle

My predicament is reinforcing how important it is to find a method for measuring my body fat percentage and definitely time to take my body circumference measurements. Regardless of your starting point, it is important to use body fat percentage (NOT BMI) and circumference measurements. This will be your best indicators of whether you are losing muscle mass along your journey.

The chances are that I have not lost muscle. I have read that it takes 6 weeks to lose 1 pound of muscle. I’m not even sure what that means. Six weeks of inactivity? Six weeks of poor nutrition? What are the conditions? I doubt there is such a simple equation. I do know that if you do not eat adequate amounts of protein you will lose muscle – because protein fuels and builds muscle. The research is undeniable, nothing other than protein will do! I could cite endless sources – if you want sources leave a comment and I’ll send you a few.

I eat plenty of protein. I eat adequate carbohydrates for my level of activity. I life heavy things and I safely put them back down. After thinking it through – maybe too deeply – I am confident that I am maintaining lean muscle mass!

Mind games

My own mind is playing games with me. You see, if I did not lose weight, I would freak out. But I am losing weight – faster than anticipated – and I am freaking out. I have found myself in a lose-lose thought pattern. I worry, “It is coming off too quickly, I must be doing something wrong!” It could be exhausting, but I redirect my thinking to safer topics.

The bottomline

Sometimes we think too much. My shock with my weight loss lead to unproductive thinking – focusing too much on the outcome and not on the process. I carefully planned my workouts and I am meticulous with my nutrition, without being obsessive. I do not really have anything to worry about.

HOWEVER, I want individuals to know that sometimes weight loss is muscle loss – is that desirable?

Is muscle loss something you control for and monitor? – increasing muscle is what will burn more calories in the long term, so do you really want to lose it?

References

Layman, D. K., Evans, E., Baum, J. I., Seyler, J., Erickson, D. J., & Boileau, R. A. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. J. Nutr. 135(8), 1903-1910