Should You Really Ditch the Gym?

Yesterday I wrote, again, about ditching the gym in favour of a home workout concluding; sure, on the condition that you know what you’re doing. Why the condition? Because there are risks inherent to any exercise program. The higher the skill base necessary for an exercise, the more coaching you need to do it right, and the more coaching you need to get the most from it.

Think about it.

Pick your favourite athlete. Does he have a coach? I may have noted somewhere along the line that I’m a hockey fan. The NHL has 31 hockey teams, and 31 head coaches. Those head coaches have assistants to help with offense, defense and special teams, and that’s just the guys standing behind the bench at game time.

At practice there are skills coaches, skating coaches, a goalie coach, and who knows what else. These are multimillionaire athletes, the best in their game at the highest level it is played, and they have multiple coaches and trainers to help them achieve peak performance.

Football (both kinds), baseball, basketball, tennis, swimming, golf. Name it. The best always have a coach.

So, what about you? Are you sure you don’t need a trainer?

I’m not reversing course here, and saying, “Don’t ditch the gym, you need a trainer.” I’m saying that you need to clearly understand both the benefits of home exercise, and the downsides. The first downside from the lack of teacher/trainer/coach is that you give up the outside force of someone pushing you to do more. Someone to tell you, “You can do it, you’re stronger than you think.” That happened to my just this week in the dreaded double yoga/Pilates classes. If I hadn’t had a teacher (in each class) pushing me, I would not have known I had the strength to go as hard as I did, for as long as I did.

The second downside is that at best your skills plateau, and likely decline. We say that we’re our own worst critics, and that may be true, but being critical of ourselves is not the same thing as being able to clearly criticize our own performance.

Last month I was sweating away in Pilates, listening closely and doing exactly what the teacher asked. I thought. Except I wasn’t. She came by and made a small correction to the way I was performing an exercise and that small correction yielded huge results. I thought I was doing it correctly, but she saw how a little correction would make it even better. Doing the work at home, I would have missed that.

Finally, the risk of injury.

I’m a huge fan of Bikram Yoga. I also have lower back problems from a lifetime of deskwork and poor posture habits. Why do I put those two things together? Because one of the selling points of yoga is, “It will help your back, and your posture.” It’s written right into the Bikram script that it will improve your posture.

Yeah, maybe. Depending on your posture problems and on your anatomy. Mine, specifically my lumbar problems, in combination with my hip structure actually make much yoga, and specifically Bikram Yoga, actively detrimental to my lower back. At least if done precisely according to the script.

As the first few years of my Bikram practice went by, I noticed some amazing benefits. My stress was lower, my sleep was better, my marriage still existed, I looked and felt younger, and I was taking far more joy in my kids. But as time went on, I noticed my lower back was increasingly bugging me. Since I knew, as everyone knows, that yoga is good for your back I attempted to solve this problem by…more Bikram classes.

Around this time a new yoga practice fell into my lap. Seriously, the club owner invited a teacher in to do a non-Bikram class twice a week. It was through this class I discovered a little test that revealed…so much. I learned that my hip sockets are so deep that standard yoga postures cause impingement of my femur onto my pelvis.

Geeze, Andrew, that was wordy, and what does it mean?

It means that when I try to do certain postures, instead of gaining a benefit, I get hurt. My hips jam, my lumbar spine flexes and when the posture calls for pulling “To give traction to the spine” what I actually get is a loaded bend on my lumbar. Eventually resulting in pinched lumbar nerves and I almost herniated a disc.

I did this yoga in class, under the watchful eyes of the instructors, exactly according to the teachings, and I was hurting myself. Until I found the correct teacher, with the correct knowledge, and spent the next six months chewing her ear to relearn seven years of yoga to ensure that it serves me properly. None of this would have been possible if I just bought the tapes, or turned on YouTube, and did it at home. In fact, had I done so I probably would have done myself a serious, possibly permanent injury.

So there you have it, the counter case to home workouts. It is true that; no one will judge you, you won’t have to wait for machines, everything will be clean to your standards, it’s cheaper and more convenient. But you lack the watchful eye of the coach who will improve your technique, improve your results, push you to your real limits (not the ones you impose on yourself), and help you prevent injuring yourself.

As a final note, this is not intended to be a knock on Bikram Yoga, nor should it be taken as one. I continue to go to Bikram classes about twice a week, but I do so having learned to modify it to my benefit.

One Comment

Comments are closed.