Fitness today is like fashion a decade ago: everyone and the neighbour’s cat has become a self-proclaimed trainer.
Many of these trainers are either self-taught housewives, body builders or simply ‘fitness enthusiasts’ who feel that passion is a substitute for experience and knowledge. Or perhaps, they just want to make a quick buck by cashing into the trend of ‘boot camps’ and ‘quick fixes.’
Ultimately, it is the consumer who suffers.
Most of the women who come to me after doing many of the current challenges in the city can’t even squat properly; they fall over when they plank and jerk their necks every time they crunch.
It's astonishing that so many of them have done a handful of boot camps before coming to me and somehow didn't even learn the basics about proper form and technique.
It is high time that trainers start stressing form and technique over sweat.
No wonder then that so many people have come to fear exercise: clients are refusing to squat because they believe that the movement will damage their knees!
On the contrary, squatting is as safe as walking and actually strengthens the knee joints when done correctly.
When I'm working with my clients, I devote the first two sessions of all boot camps to mastering proper form and technique of key functional movements like squats, lunges and planks. It's not the most exciting form of exercise but in the long run, it's an important one.
The golden rule of fitness is that intensity follows form and technique. There is no point in going hard and fast if the fundamentals of each movement are being violated.
Why I think bootcamps aren't the best idea
If each movement is to be understood by the client, then the idea of 300 to 500 people in a single class spells catastrophe!
Even 50 are too much. To me, the ideal trainer to student ratio is 10 to 1. If the trainer is experienced (with an actual university degree in fitness), the ratio can be increased to 20 to 1.
Abroad it is so easy to take a fake and faulty trainer to court and make them accountable. In Pakistan, on the other hand, fitness is a relatively new field. There is no governing body that requires all trainers to have a set of qualifications. Most trainers don’t even have a valid CPR (an absolute essential in gyms abroad).
As a consumer, your health is in your own hands. Many trainers today have done ‘one-day certifications’ just to get the tag of a ‘certified trainer.’
A key example here is Zumba or a single day ‘bootcamp training.’ I have personally done over six Zumba trainings.
At each training, our instructors stressed that Zumba is a license, not a certification (as there is no exam). They encouraged us to get an actual fitness certification from ACE (American Council on Exercise) or Crossfit or any other institution that requires study followed by a proper exam/evaluation. I would say that really is the key.
To me, the ideal trainer to student ratio is 10 to 1. The idea of 300 to 500 people in a single class spells catastrophe!
Just like you would never go to an untrained doctor, you should not put your health in the hands of a trainer who has no understanding of basic human anatomy and physiology.
I personally have around 20 trainings in fitness and I still feel that what I know is merely the tip of the iceberg. Fitness is a field that keeps evolving so you want to work with someone who keeps surprising your body with new techniques and methods. No routine should be followed for over three months, to avoid weight loss and fitness progress plateaus.
What about popular diet plans?
On the subject of nutrition, if you are being encouraged to starve or ‘detox,’ or buy a certain ‘wonder product,’ you are in the wrong place. Juicing and so-called ‘detoxes’ play havoc with your health.
Your kidneys and your liver are your natural detox organs so you really don’t need to ‘cleanse’ your body with a juice that supposedly has supernatural curative benefits. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that supports juicing for weight loss.
When you juice, you are putting concentrated fruit sugar (fructose) in your body and depriving yourself of the fibre in the fruit (key for encouraging satiety and healthy bowel movements).
The sugar in the fruit leads to an instant insulin spike, followed by a rapid drop in insulin levels. In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need to stabilise insulin and blood sugar levels. This is particularly why juicing can be quite dangerous for diabetics or people who are clinically obese.
In any case, most of the weight loss is water, that quickly comes back as soon as one resumes a regular diet.
With so many weight loss gimmicks out there, it is up to the consumer to educate himself/herself.
Don’t follow the herd. Make informed choices about health and nutrition. Would you ever go to a doctor who has no education in their chosen field? Likewise, chose your trainers with care.
What I think works
I am a huge believer in small boot camps and personalised fitness as it yields superior results. Clients need to realise that fitness is personal: there is no one solution that fits all.
A key example here would be a lady in one of my boutique boot camps. She had tried every single challenge in the city and found that she was actually gaining weight. I decided to put her in a group class and saw that her stamina was amazing.
The problem clearly wasn’t laziness. After a quick talk on her dietary choices, I found that her nutrition was also excellent. I then told her to go do some medical tests that I felt might help her situation.
We found out that she had a yeast infection: every time she did HIIT, her body went into a state of stress and actually held on to weight. Each boot camp she did only made the situation worse. We have now put her on a special personal training program that combines Pilates, strength training and cardio no more than four times a week. And she is finally losing weight and feeling fresh and energetic instead of tired and lethargic all the time.
Many women in Pakistan suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Women with PCOS need to eat very differently to lose weight and if they workout at a crazy intensity everyday, their bodies will resist weight loss. What they need is an intelligent combination of strength training and cardio to lose weight.
Many women who come to me have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).
It is actually quite common in this geographic belt. Anyone with PCOS will tell you that weight loss is especially hard for them. Add a thyroid irregularity, and you have a especially challenging situation where all traditional weight loss strategies will fail.
First of all, women with PCOS need to eat very differently to lose weight. They need to stay very far from all ‘cleanses’ and elimination diets. Secondly, HIIT and ‘boot camp style’ workouts can actually create too much stress in their bodies.
In other words, if they workout at a crazy intensity everyday, their bodies will resist weight loss. What they need is an intelligent combination of strength training and cardio to lose weight. High intensity training should not be done more than twice a week.
Furthermore, they need to be active but intensity needs to be varied. So, if Monday is Insanity, Tuesday should be Yoga or Pilates , Wednesday should be an active rest day (go for a walk in the park), Thursday should be weight training and so on.
The point here is that while large group training sessions can be fun, they are not most effective in the long term.
Ultimately, you need to understand that fitness is so much more than a fad. As consumers, you need to hand over your health to someone who can create a program that is customised to your needs.
Do 5 boot camps and by the 6th one your body will stop responding completely. Do a crazy juice cleanse for 10 days and on the 15th day you discover you gained it all back!
The only way to avoid plateaus is to progressively make exercises harder, change your eating patterns for life and challenge yourself further. To do that, you either need a small boot camp (where the instructor knows your body and pushes you accordingly) or a personal training program that works with your physical and medical limitations.
Ultimately, you need to understand that fitness is so much more than a fad. Just yesterday I went for a pedicure at a prominent salon in the city and was told by the muscular salon attendant that he will soon be joining one of the leading boot camps in the city as a junior trainer… I wanted to slap myself (or the person who made that offer to him).
Unless that particular company is willing to sponsor his fitness education, how can a salon attendant start training other people? Since when has a pair of bulging biceps become a substitute for actual knowledge?
In Pakistan, when it comes to fitness (and many other things), the principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) has never been more apt!
As consumers, you need to hand over your health to someone who can create a program that is customised to your needs. Rather than relying on recommendations alone, you need to see how your trainer responds to you.
I would recommend you ask the follow questions of your trainer: Have they asked about your injuries/health history in person (not merely on a form)? Do they tell you why they have programmed a routine in a certain way? Can they modify a movement that you are struggling with? Do they tell you to buy certain products over others or do they encourage you to eat healthy? Are they there to answer your queries and address your concerns after class? These are the little things that separate true professionals from trainers who are in it just for the money.
Exercise and nutrition is science. Just like you look at a doctor’s credentials, it is high time you start asking about your trainer for his/her background in health and fitness.
Fatima Zara Mallick is CEO and head trainer at FZM Boutique Fitness. She is a Level 1 Crossfit Coach, a Zumba instructor and Pakistan's first and only Piloxing (Pilates and Kickboxing) trainer. She has completed courses in Kettle bell and Battle rope (velocity) training and is also a certified Boot Camp Instructor.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.