How Not to Exercise – Work Smarter, Not Just Longer
As bikini season approaches, I see more and more fitness challenges on Facebook and Twitter. The “Brazen Fit Ab Challenge”, the “30 Day Squat Challenge”, and the “5/100 Fitness Challenge” are just a few examples . Anyone who has subscribed to the Daily Bellydance Quickies or has followed this blog for any length of time already knows that I am a huge proponent of fitness training for not only your general health, but also to improve your belly dance. However, I am not a fan of many of these internet challenges. Yes, I know you’re shocked. Let me tell you why….
Some of these challenges focus on only one exercise, like the “30 Day Squat Challenge”. Assuming this is in addition to a well balanced fitness routine that includes the upper body and core, it might not be that bad. But you could do a lot better. That’s great if you want to spend a month really focusing on lower body strength. And the squat really is a fantastic multi-joint exercise. This plan (and others that focus on a single exercise) simply increase the number of repetitions. If you really want to make strength gains, you need to keep your muscles challenged with new things, not just more of the same.
This program could be improved with the simple modification of gradually adding weight to the squats rather than just reps. Even better would be to change up the lower body exercises using different kinds of lunges (of which there are so many), single leg varieties and plyometric squats which include jumping (no weights, please!).
My dance friend, Kamrah calls these kinds of exercises her “stupid exercises”. I don’t think squats and crunches are stupid… unless you’re doing them in quantities like these. How long do you think it takes to do the 250 squats that are the goal on Day 30? I timed myself doing 50 squats at a respectable speed with full range and good form (and why would you do them any other way?) . It took 1:54. Let’s do the math….if you could keep up that pace for the whole 250 squats – which I doubt anyone could- you’d be squatting for about 10 minutes straight. I’m bored out of my gourd just thinking about it! I would love to know the statistics of how many people who start these things actually finish them. I suspect boredom, monotony and time constraints bump many people off this kind of fitness wagon.
Now let’s consider some of the multi-exercise challenges. I’ll use the “Brazen Fit Ab Challenge” pictured above as an example. This one gets points for using 3 different exercises, but well… not really. Why? First, none of the three target the obliques directly. Second, the leg raises are a very problematic exercise, especially in the quantity they want you to do them. It’s very easy to strain the low back doing these, especially once your abs fatigue. Another issue with these is that as the abs fatigue, the hip flexors step up to help – and that’s not what you meant to work. I talk more about that and demonstrate what’s going on here.
Another important factor with any of these high-rep programs is the danger of developing overuse injuries. Doing the same activity day after day in high quantities is hard on the body and can lead to issues such as tendinitis or compartment syndrome, both of which would require lots of rest to heal. That will set your fitness and bellydance goals back in the long run. I won’t even get into the possibility developing of muscle imbalances.
Regarding the quantity, again, why would you want to do 100+ crunches? If you check out the “Brazen Fit Ab Challenge” website, there’s actually an extension to 48 days where you can do 245 crunches! Really?? There are so many more challenging ab exercises you can do. When 50 crunches no longer challenges you, step up to other things. The same is true for planks, just longer is not better. Go for a minute of a tougher variation. Need a suggestion? Try the “walking plank” or this “plank twist” which will also target your obliques.
If these kinds of programs get you off the couch and doing something versus nothing, then great – let them get you started. Then start doing your homework or enlist help from a fitness pro to keep going in a way that will keep you challenged with variety and motivated to try new exercises. Work smarter, not just longer. Heck… maybe put in some extra bellydance practice time instead of 10 minutes doing squats!