Like most strength and conditioning specialists I have always put myself a bit above the boutique style classes that "sculpt" and "tone", or "melt" and "burn" the fat away. A training program built around mastering the essential movements, utilizing full movement patterns, and progressive change over time is more my speed.
I just can't (couldn't) get behind these classes....
For one, I have studied enough science and experienced enough during sessions to know that "toning" isn't really a thing, and if sweat volume = fat loss, then everyone would do sprints in the Mojavi desert every year to shred up.
Secondly, and maybe most notable in my decision-making...I'm a guy who deadlifts, squats, and benches heavy, sprints as fast as he can, and plays sports to break a hard sweat. Give me a barbell, some kettlebells, an Airdyne or a Concept 2 and let me alone.
Don't give me a bunch of small weights and tell me to pulse at the top of a lateral raise, or flow from upward dog to down dog - into a push up - into a leg raise...etc.
And sure as hell don't stuff me in a room full of young ladies who are super talented in this class, turn the heat up to 105, and start banging some Lady Gaga as you tell me to go through heart center...
Well that was all before yesterday, and that was how I thought before. In fact, after taking the class I'd consider going back. It was actually an eye opening experience to another side of fitness, and an expose on my weaknesses as an athlete.
Why I Went
I'll be honest. I only went because a friend of mine, and member of my Equinox, was doing a teach-back with other prospective instructors. Essentially, she and her companions are given a chance to teach to a full class; one that is filled with the friends and associates of all of the testing instructors.
I also didn't have to teach Superhuman, my group class, that night due to renovations of the studio I host it in. Lastly, I hadn't worked out yet that day...
And so I had no reason to say No. Out of love, freedom, and a need to move...
I showed up at CorePower Yoga in Georgetown, Washington D.C. at 8PM for a Yoga Sculpt class.
And Holy shit...I wasn't ready
The class was fast paced and challenging. I don't believe I've ever done that many repetitions of anything, ever. Did I mention it was really hot in there? Oh, and my lovely friend set me up right in the middle of the room, surrounded by talented women who were going to laugh at my groaning for the next hour and twenty....
This blog is a review though, although I could certainly keep going in those terms.
Rather - i wanted to share with you a few takeaways that I have that speak in broader terms. These revelations really helped me understand a few key points that apply to physical fitness as a whole.
Moreover, and most importantly, it taught me how important my language regarding other forms of exercise is as a fitness professional.
1. Sometimes it is great to just Work, Sweat, and Work some more
I am a pretty hardcore programmer when it comes to exercise. As a strength coach who likes to believe I have a very firm grasp of the scientific principles that govern the body, training, and recovery I am to develop programs that create long term progress.
Once a session begins I never deter from coaching form and purpose. I'll often lose count of repetitions as I find myself dropping cues to improve performance. I'll cue externally, and not internal. I'll say "push the floor away from you" or "hold a credit card between your glutes" instead of "drive your feet down" or "contract your glutes".
Same goes for my group classes. Intelligent programs built around exercises that are proven to create results in a safe way. Constant cues are dropped over the beats of the music and my attempts at humor.
I"m not special. I imagine that is how all quality coaches perform their job. Everything is carefully planned and programmed to create a specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID Principle).
For those who may not know what SAID is - it is implies that the body will quite literally adapt to the demands placed upon it, positive or negative, if those demands are persistent.
Yet, sometimes I often wonder if we don't find ourselves OVERthinking our training programs. We get so lost in the sets, reps, loads, and percentages that we forget that we are training a biological vessel that is the collective of emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological factors.
These individuals have goals - sure!
They also have lives - complete with a past, present and future.
Sometimes people just want to move, sweat, and grind a little. Sometimes people want to have an experience associated with their fitness and not just a carefully designed and tactically executed training plan.
They should have a plan that they abide by and lean on to ensure progress occurs in steady intervals over a long period of time in the direction that they'd like to go. However, that program doesn't have to be a Holy Bible.
It is refreshing to let go of all the training variables for a little while and lock in on experiencing exercise. That is exactly what happened to me when I went to CorePower. I promised myself to go in with an open mind and quiet thoughts.
For one, I didn't want to act like a tool in a room of people who love their experience and want to have a great time. Secondly, it wasn't about me and my CSCS, B.S. in Kinesiology, or eight years of experience training clients...it was about supporting my friend in an endeavor she cared about.
So, I promised myself to turn off my trainer brain and just move. A promise that I'm proud to say was mostly kept. There were moments when I wondered how healthy everyone's shoulders were to be doing kickback pulses, or whether or not I liked the lingo used to describe "burning" fat...
But to be honest, those moments were fleeting...
Because I spent most of my time fighting to keep up and trying not to die.
I spent most of my time trying to keep up with a room full of bad ass women who were absolutely crushing this workout. Granted, I'm a 190 pound male who considers anything over ten repetitions as a form of cardio - and I made the ego mistake of grabbing twenty pound weights instead of fives...
Silly male weight-lifter ego...
I was sweating buckets...so much so that I ended up taking my shirt off in the class...just like everyone else had already done. I held out for a while trying not to be the shirtless guy trying to show off his muscles in a room full of ladies.
Yet, after a while...I need to lose the wet towel that was my shirt - and embrace my Irish glow.
DId i mention it was 105 degrees in that room?
Point here is this -
I fell in love with letting go for an hour. I was struggling to maintain pace at times because of the smooth flow to class, and how unfamiliar doing a single exercise for 1 constant minute was...yet, I was in bliss.
I wasn't thinking about creating tension and lifting with perfect form. I wasn't debating whether or not I should do something else....
I just moved along with the room and worked my tail off. I worked and sweat and worked some more. Everyone should have these moments in their workouts. I'm not saying they need to come from a CorePower class specifically, but I am implying that we can all grow in the long term by experiencing the occasional short term satisfaction of letting go and just working hard.
2. Just because you don't Coach It - It doesn't mean it isn't valuable
Just because I took this class does not mean that I'm suddenly going to start adding "horse-stance" front raises with a booty bounce to my programs.
I'm not. I won't.
But that doesn't make another coach wrong for doing them if they believe in them, can coach them, and execute them with a client safely.
The aforementioned horse stance does engage the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. The pulse keeps the hips moving. The sumo stance works the external rotators of the hips and better recruits the glutes. The core has to stay tight and drawn in. Oh, and your doing front raises with clean form and a steady 1-1 pace.
Credit: CorePowerYoga website. (They look so calm here)
If coached properly - this is a definite "plus" movement to your standard front raise with a dumbbell.
This exercise fried me - with 10 pound weights - and I regularly deadlift a few hundred pounds, and front raise thirty or forty pound DBs for reps.
This move, like any other move in the class that added flare, intensity, and rhythm to an otherwise "basic" movement pattern were perfect for that environment, clientele, and coaches.
I am willing to admit that all too often I'd see exercises like this and say something along the lines of "why don't you just do a damn front raise and superset it deadlifts...you'd get more out of both of those exercises". I'm sure many other coaches have had the same thought. We aren't wrong either. You will, in fact, get more out of doing each of those movements separately at maximum intensity than you will by combining them and needing to adapt load or tempo.
Yet, it goes back to a big issue in the fitness industry.
Are you doing what you want your client to do, or what they want to do?
If someone wants to feel their whole body working together moving with an element of flow and flare instead of doing strict sets, then who am I to rob them of that? Ideally I'd be able to combine some strict form work like barbell sumo deadlifts and DB push press with days where we emphasize these types of movements.
Any exercise is a great exercise if it is done safely, coached correctly, aimed at an end goal, and enjoyed by the person doing it.
Everyone gets what they want and need. Everyone is happy.
3. Quality Coaches should embrace these coaches and make them better - instead of shunning them
All too often strength coaches, strict yoga instructors, and full-time trainers will look down on the people who coach these classes. A thought of "how silly is it that they teach these classes" resonates through the minds of many closed-minded professionals.
Far too often it is because these professionals see group instructors at these boutique gyms as a threat to the industry, as people who are doing more harm then good. How could that instructor at SoulCycle or CorePower be good if all they do is teach a few classes a week?
Sadly, these instructors are seen as the reason so many people are struggling to meet their goals. They sell quick fixes and high intensity classes that aren't focused on long term success, but rather short term enjoyment. This thought isn't entirely wrong, but it certainly isn't right either.
I'll go on record as saying this -
Anyone teaching a class anywhere in any modality, or any trainer in any gym WHO IS WORKING TO MAKE THE PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW THEM BETTER (key part) - is cool in my book.
Very accurate graphic I may say
Sure, there are a ton of trainers and instructors who see fitness coaching as a bridge between their love of exercise and their modeling career, or movie star life. There are a ton of bodybuilders who fancy themselves coaches just because they can stomach a thousand pounds of broccoli and tuna before leg pressing sixty-five plates while wearing two belts, knee wraps, and Gold BeatsbyDre headphones as their friend makes them Instafamous.
Those folks are selfish jerks looking to make a buck.
Yet, that girl on the bike at your local spin studio who spent hours on her playlist and her ride is awesome. Sure, she is a law student who will never work a day as a professional trainer, but for right now, she wants to give you the best damn spin of your life.
That pilates instructor, Yoga teacher, or even personal trainer who is new to the field, inexperienced, but super excited to do ANYTHING because they love it so much....
And we as established coaches need to make them better and bring them up instead of treating them as second-rate citizens who don't belong. Rather then talking bad about them and pointing what they can't do...instead we should be pulling them to the side and telling them how to be EVEN BETTER at what they love.
Maybe all the flaws in those spin classes, barre classes, and HITT workouts could be ironed out if really great coaches took the time to improving the coaching skills of these really great personalities.
Sure, much of this falls on the instructor for wanting to grow and learn by investing in their education and experiences...
But that doesn't mean we can't offer a tip free of charge. For example, I told two instructors at CorePower that night that they were great, but they could benefit from coaching externally with images as opposed to talking muscles and actions
It is better to pull your belly button through the floor than it is to "draw your abdomen down and in".
Anyone who is in fitness because they love it, they love people, and they love making people better should be embraced and given an opportunity to grow...not looked at as "not a real coach".
I can't say I'm going to make going to these boutique gyms a regular occurrence in my life. Yet, I can confidently say that I'm a better coach because I went and took a class. I think as coaches we can all improve if we realize the original intentions that brought us to the industry in the first place.
For those who exercise and don't coach -
1. You should have a program, but sometimes...just sweat
2. Don't be afraid to try new and crazy things, but always be sure that you are being coached well
3. Pain is pain, and exhaustion is exhaustion...know that difference
4. Know your limits, but don't be afraid to inch past that line every now and again