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Body Confusion — Fact vs. Fad

Posted by Lara Salahi  July 16, 2013 08:23 AM

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Nick Downing is in his second season as the New England Revolution’s strength and conditioning coach, a position that was created with the hiring of head coach Jay Heaps. This is Downing’s second go-around with the club, having previously played for the Revs a decade ago.

In his current position, Downing is responsible for developing and enhancing the Revolution players’ speed, strength and endurance, as well as their overall conditioning and fitness in conjunction with both the coaching and medical staffs. Through an integrated approach – including weight training, cardiovascular training, plyometrics, and nutrition – Downing has created both position-specific and individual programs to help the Revs emerge as of Major League Soccer’s most fit teams.

Almost every time I turn on the TV, I’m inundated with infomercials hawking the newest, most extreme fitness systems. P90X, Insanity, Beachbody, the Ab Ripper… you name it. And aspirational viewers are buying what these “fitness gurus” are selling.

The philosophy behind these videos is body confusion– basically the idea that your body gets used to certain exercises and stops improving. Or at least that’s what the infomercials claim. Each session is tailored to shock your body with new moves, so your muscles can’t adapt and slack off because they’re acclimated to the same old routine.
One major selling point of the body confusion method is that it helps you break through a plateau, whether you’ve physically stopped getting results or mentally run out of steam, after doing the same routine day after day. People who suspect they’ve hit a physical wall can keep pushing themselves further with new and different exercises. People who get bored easily are constantly challenged with new moves.

I understand the appeal. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t believe in the body confusion method. I don’t believe your body recognizes certain exercises and becomes immune to them, and I think the idea of rapidly changing up the speed and intensity of your workout is risky. You aren’t building any real skills, and you can seriously injure yourself when you try to go too hard and too fast without that core skill set.

It just so happens that the biggest target for these at-home videos – people who have never set foot in a gym – are the most likely to seriously injure themselves, trying to keep up with exercises that are far beyond their skills and experience. For many, firing up these videos means going from the couch to burpees and mountain climbers with the flick of a remote – maybe for the first time ever.

Let’s face it, most people probably aren’t doing these hardcore moves correctly. And that’s just dangerous, not to mention ineffective.

So what about all the people who swear they’ve never looked or felt better after trying the body confusion method?

Sure, anyone who fully commits to any intense exercise regimen is going to get results. But what happens when the video ends? Have they learned skills they can take to the gym and build on? In my observation, these videos don’t offer much teaching or correction. So there’s really nowhere to go but down once you’ve achieved those initial results.
I’ve seen many fad exercise routines come and go, and I’m sure body confusion’s 15 minutes are almost up.

Infomercial “scientists” may argue otherwise, but in my experience (as the Revolution strength and conditioning coach and a former Revs player) constantly switching up your workout doesn’t always yield the best results (health-wise or esthetically). In my practice, with Revs players and my private clients, I get the best results with workouts that balance basic skill-building with fresh and exciting new elements.

Instead of jumping all over the place, you should slowly build your skills. Try blocking out your routine in six- to eight-week periods:


  • Start with a strength-building base workout – the basics: squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, dead lifts. Master the form and learn what your body can do.


  • Next, move on to six-to-eight weeks of more advanced training. Now you can start sprinting, jumping and learning how to decelerate and land properly. This is what I call the explosive period, focused on mechanics and building speed.
  • For the last two weeks, cut your workouts in half. Unload half the weight, do half the reps, recover.


  • To keep your workouts interesting, mix it up with basic circuit training that keeps you moving quickly from one machine or exercise to another within a given block. Compete against the clock by tracking your progress each week and trying to beat your previous time. Then, at the end of the cycle, test yourself to observe how your strength and speed have improved.

A slow and steady base regimen may not be as flashy as P90X or Insanity, but it will give you a solid fitness foundation AND deliver all the results touted in all your favorite infomercials.

Plus, think of all the money you’ll save on shipping and handling.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.

CONTRIBUTORS

Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at Boston.com. She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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