Exercise = Recreation. Or Does It?

I’m often asked by my clients why I consider “exercise” to consist almost entirely of strength training, strength training, and some more strength training. After all, all the major certifying bodies in my industry call just about any sort of activity “exercise”; who am I to buck the system?

Well, in my highfalutin’ perspective, I see the role of a trainer as a clinician. A clinician does not perform or prescribe willy-nilly; he takes great care to define his terms and acts in precise accordance to scientific postulates and “the laws of nature”, as discovered and perceived by man.

It’s exactly the randomness with which most in the fitness industry tackle the problem of exercise that needs to be combated.

But what’s the great danger? Why not equate exercise to recreation and blur the lines between the two? I mean, I love to snowboard and play Jiujitsu; it’d be great if those two recreational, sportive endeavors could count towards my weekly or monthly “exercise quota.” They’re certainly much more fun than slogging it out against the weights (though I get some sick enjoyment out of fighting the iron, too).

But I’m afraid I can’t consider that. Both activities are highly skill-based. To observe change in either one is to see improvement in sports-specific conditioning – indeed, even charting short-term progress would be a task in and of itself with all the ever-changing, random variables involved (if you don’t believe me, you should see the training logs of Olympic sprinters – yikes).

Also, not everyone can do what I do. I train a 73 year old woman with arthritis so severe she can barely make it down the stairs to the training floor. Is her 20 or so minutes of sub-max level weight training equivalent in benefit to the 2 hour walk she took the day before? (hint: it’s far greater.) What would be the “exercise equivalents” of, say, two hours of stairmaster to one hour of kickboxing? You could compare the two via calories burned, but there are other things to consider, most importantly:

How does performance of this activity get me closer to my goals?

In order to gauge value, one needs a system by which one can rank and compare. If anything goes, no such system is possible.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (the AMA of the fitness industry), in context of health, almost any physical activity, from gardening to lacrosse, can be construed as “exercise.” While on the surface, this seems like a good approach to opening the door for more people who wouldn’t normally be involved in “exercise” to “exercise”, it robs those same individuals by downplaying the significance of particular modes of exercise being more advantageous in delivering health benefits (cough cough strength training cough) in less time, safely, and more effectively.

When you label anything as “exercise”, you get this kind of garbage. This is the ACSM’s recommendations – taken to the point of reductio ad absurdum:

Easy Exercises.

What happens is that people go out to walk their dogs and think, “Well, I’m exercising. So it’s ok if I don’t weight train.” or some nonsense like that. Perhaps I’m overstating a bit and need to get myself into bed for some recovery, so let me summarize:

Drinking a glass of water is NOT exercise.

I hope that’s clear. Good night – email me if you need a more detailed explanation.
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