#18 – Gym Trickery and Why You Should Avoid It

If you’ve spent 5 minutes in a typical globo-gym like LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, etc., then you’ve seen it. Personal trainers guiding their clients through a series of single-joint exercises (tricep pull-downs, curls, calf raises), abdominal exercises, and other isolation exercises. Endless rows of people on treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, working at various levels of intensity. Lots of people achieving various degrees of “hot and sweaty.” Stick around long enough and you’ll see the same people, doing the same things, at the same weight (or the same intensity), over and over again. Hours and hours of effort put in, but little to no progress to show for it. We’ll call the sum total of this activity “gym trickery,” to be polite.


Globo-gyms are notorious for fostering this kind of exercise. And that’s exactly what these activities are – exercise, not training. Training presupposes the use of a logical process to achieve objectively measured progress. Since getting “hot and sweaty” or “feeling the burn” is a subjective outcome, we can’t really call gym trickery training.


So where does this impulse for exercise come from and why should we care? First, without applying critical thinking to the subject of exercise, it’s easy to assume things which just aren’t true. Like doing lots of direct abdominal work with long range of motion to build stronger abs. Situps, ab rollouts, twisting exercises, etc. On the surface it seems perfectly reasonable. What this approach fails to consider, however, is that abs and other “core” muscles (like the lats and spinal erectors, primarily serve as isometric stabilizers during normal human movement. So why not train them as such with heavy squats and deadlifts, which require strong isometric contractions to keep the back rigid under load? Squats and deadlifts build as strong of abs as anything else.


Humans are attracted to complexity. Complexity is seductive. And, unfortunately, trainers can sometimes feel the need to complicate their training methods in order to validate their fees. As Coach D says, “complicate to validate.” Simple is always better, if it gets the results.


The second reason we should care about gym trickery and do our best to avoid it, is time. Time is a finite resource, and should not be wasted. Gym trickery is, by definition, a waste of time, as it is not effective. So don’t waste your time! Stick with simple, productive training and fight the urge to complicate before it’s necessary.


So, let’s avoid the gym trickeration and focus on the things that matter. Simple, hard, and effective. Big compound lifts should make up the majority of our training.


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