How Not to Exercise – Work Smarter, Not Just Longer

April 4, 2014 5 Comments

Brazen FitAs 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!

Have you ever done one of these programs? Did you finish? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments below….

Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Sophia Ravenna
    April 6, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I did the 250 squat challenge and a push-up challenge (can’t remember the number) in the same month once, because my dance teacher and a couple other dance friends were doing them. I got my husband to join me on it, too. And yes, we actually completed them.

    My general thoughts? They definitely take a long time at the end and there were times in the day 20-30 range where it was less about my muscles being sore and more about me just wanting to be DONE. Even with switching it up between sets of squats and sets of push-ups, I got bored, even when my husband and I were doing them together and talking our way through them.

    I also found that these sort of challenges aren’t ideal if you do other fitness stuff, like say, belly dance class. If I had to go to class on one of my “rest days” and we did something in the warm-up that used the same muscles I’d been hitting hard with my challenge, it kind of negated the point of a rest day!

    That said, I did see results, mainly from the push-up challenge. I did a photo shoot around that time and I had such amazing definition in my shoulders!

    I said I was going to keep squats and push-ups in my belly dance practice warm-ups after that to keep up the momentum, but I think that only lasted a week or two 😛

    I don’t think I’ll ever do another 30 day challenge like that. With my busy class schedule, it’s important for me to be able to choose and stick to my own personal rest days rather than some arbitrary fitness challenge schedule.

  2. Kamrah
    April 7, 2014 at 5:56 am

    LOL! Yes, I do call them stupid, because I hate doing them! But I know how important they are, and that’s why I do them. But the irony is that I started belly dance to *avoid* doing those types of exercises. I could never, ever commit to going to the gym and walking on a treadmill, or contorting myself on the machines. It’s why I started belly dance; I could do it without going to the gym, it was fun, and I was learning something, and I could commit to that. Now I do those stupid exercises because I want to improve my strength, stamina, and flexibility for belly dance 🙂 I can commit to that, too, but I still hate doing them!! 😉

  3. Jo
    April 14, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I love the fact you are repping progressive training rather than mindless reps. As a powerlifting bellydancer I cringe every time someone tasks about toning from body pump out whatever excessively high rep program. I don’t expect everyone to want to be able to lift 2x their body weight on big lifts but I think women especially are cheated constantly from the real benefits of a true training program that would be eithe body weight or iron.

    1. Mahin
      April 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      I don’t have an issue with BodyPump classes if they are done once or twice a week. I do them once a week myself and both find it an effective part of my larger training plan (which includes a lower rep/heavier lift day and running) and enjoyable too. I can be progressive with it, adding to my bar when it’s not challenging anymore. My beef with these plans is the high reps of the same exercise for days on end. Also, they are short-sighted. I don’t see them as a functional part of a long-term training scheme for overall fitness. But I agree with you that many women don’t realize how wonderfully beneficial serious lifting can be for their physique and their dance!

  4. Diana
    April 28, 2014 at 1:21 am

    This makes me feel better about not completing the plank challenge lol. I do agree that it gets you off your butt and exercise. I absolutely hate traditional exercising, even though I know it’s good for me all the way around. These challenges and fad programs try to spice it up, but nope, still boring. Only this time, the intensity just puts me at risk.


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