How to leave the dark ages of exercise behind and achieve greater fitness results Featured

7:02pm EDT January 31, 2012
How to leave the dark ages of exercise behind and achieve greater fitness results

The so-called “fitness” industry has become awash in a sea of backward thinking, untested and unproven premises and, worst of all, dangerous practices.

“It may sound extreme to suggest it, but if ever there was a Dark Age for exercise we are in it,” says Joshua Trentine, president of Overload Fitness.

Smart Business learned more from Trentine about how to leave the dark ages behind.

Why do you say we are living in the dark ages of exercise?

Most of our collective consciousness concerning exercise is based on aerobics philosophy. In 1968, Kenneth H. Cooper coined the term aerobics to denote his fascination with running. He later expanded this to include a host of activities, thus crossing over to millions of people and their pet interests and pastimes. Over the past few decades, the term aerobics has been replaced by the term ‘cardio’ under the assumption that ‘steady-state’ activities serve to stimulate and improve the functioning of the cardiovascular system. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, aerobics undermines the necessary process to stimulate strengthening. It promotes injuries and thwarts the body’s ability to adapt to the stimulation were it to occur. In this regard, aerobics philosophy, i.e., steady-state notions, represent the Dark Age of Exercise.

Why are aerobics activities not as useful as many believe?

It is important to realize several facts. First, the center of metabolism in the body is the skeletal musculature. It possesses the greatest vascularity, the greatest concentration of mitochondria, and the greatest peripheral nerve supply. It is also the site of a majority of chemical reactions and heat production.

Second, although the heart is a muscle, it is involuntary. It is optimally accessed with exercise only by meaningful muscular (skeletal/volitional) loading. The very nature of steady state (aerobics) is to avoid meaningful muscular loading by burdening the bones, so that the muscles are spared to permit endurance and thus avoid exercise.

Third, cardio makes about as much sense as cutting your heart out of your chest and putting it on an exercise machine.

Aerobics is poor science. It is unhealthy. It is antithetical to exercise. It is backwards and uneducated. It is empty exercise. It subverts the loading required for exercise. It will not burn significant calories or meaningfully improve one’s appearance. It severely compromises what can be accomplished for the heart. Aerobics will incur injuries that lead to inactivity, depression, overeating and greater fatness.

Worse, in recent years, a literal wave of bastardized exercise trends have stemmed from the ‘cardio’ religion and have, in fact, transcended it in the fitness ranks:

n high volume training

n plyometrics

n pilates

n westernized yoga and its hybrid equivalents

n functional training

n explosive and ‘speed-strength’ training

n dance aerobics

n boxing aerobics and hybrids

n gyro-training

n vibration devices

n stretching programs

n spinning

n cross training and recent cross-fit programs

n boot camps

n home exercise programs such as P90X

Despite the apparent differentiation in the activities listed above, they are all built on an achievement-oriented premise that focuses on the process of the activities and not the results. If you’ve been engaged in a program of fitness that focuses on aerobic activity such as walking or running, using elliptical machines, jogging, or any of the practices listed above, you’ve been wasting much of your time.

This may seem shocking and outrageous but I suspect most readers will have their sense of shock immediately followed by a sobering moment of quiet agreement. If engaging in the above activities did lead to any good (as promised in every infomercial and health club banner), our society would be populated with the fittest people the world has ever seen because the majority of people are doing these things. But this is not the case. In fact, there are fewer and fewer lean and fit people today than ever before. And it’s getting worse.

So how can people stop wasting their time?

There is a solution to not only the challenge of physical conditioning but also the time commitment necessary to affect the kinds of improvements we all seek so dearly.

The key to all of this is proper exercise. And proper exercise is strength training. Strength training is the only practice that can lead to total fitness; that which directly and efficiently encompasses all of the suspected and unsuspected benefits that a person can experience from exercise. Strength training is the only exercise activity that asks not ‘how much can you tolerate?’ but more appropriately ‘how little do you require?’ In strength training, only the results matter; the process is secondary.

True exercise stimulates skeletal muscular strengthening. All reasonable expectations from exercise are accessed through the skeletal muscles — the only window into the body — by strengthening or attempting to strengthen those muscles. These expectations include: improvements in bone density, vascular efficiency, metabolic efficiency, joint stability, muscular strength and cosmetics.

It’s time to replace all the backward thinking, the erroneous concepts and the absurd and dangerous practices with valid principles and a new understanding.

It’s time to truly level the playing field so that the most feeble, debilitated and elderly homebody can eventually perform with the same sense of vitality and purpose as the most truly gifted, advanced and youthful athlete.

It’s time to ensure that a program of progressive intensity is never compromised by equally progressive risk of injury.

It’s time to admit that exercise requires not only ample intensity but also the correct dosage of volume and frequency.

Joshua Trentine is president of Overload Fitness. Reach him at (216) 292-7569 and visit