The political correctness of working out . . oops I mean training.

Have you ever asked someone how their workout was only to be told “I don’t workout. I train.”? I have.

I have noticed that these terms can be used to refer to two different activities and the differentiation between the activities seems to be in the purpose behind the workout/training. “Training” is for people training for a specific purpose/goal, such as a competition or sports related performance, and “working out” refers to exercising for general fitness and everyday life. While I get what people are trying to say by separating the terms, I have to wonder how critical it really is for that line to be drawn. Any individual’s reasons/motivations for being active (or not being active) will vary depending on their unique circumstances and their unique personalty. Personally I have always used the terms “working out” and “training” interchangeably. (I find this need for some people to distinguish their training from working out an interesting idea to think about because it can be indicative of a person’s mindset during exercise and prioritization of the exercise.)

Other elements of fitness, like what you call an exercise sometimes seems to get ridiculous. There is no real standardization for names of exercises beyond the basics like squat, bench, row, etc. Yet I have heard people argue over what the correct name of an exercise is as though the name was more important than the correct execution of that exercise. My “superman” is someone elses “swimmer” or “flutterkick”. A burpee in one magazine is a “squat thrust deadlift” in another. (Yes, I really found that in a magazine.) When going to workshops offered by different facilities I have heard huge differences in the terminology used to describe exercises. Generally only the people that trained in that specific facility would know for sure what the presenter was referring to until the presenter demonstrated the move. New people who attended my class after attending classes taught at another facility were usually a bit confused until they attended a few of my classes and learned how I used terms.

Something that also tends to change and evolve is cuing for proper technique and muscle activation. There are shifts in terminology that seem to coincide with the coming and going of fads. As an example I will use the verbal cuing by fitness instructors for core activation. This is of course based on how I was trained and where I worked. I am sure other instructors have been taught a bit differently.

Once upon a time “tightening your abs” was a fine thing to say, then someone realized there was more to the torso then just the six pack and expanded to the idea of “the core” that includes everything from the pelvic girdle to the shoulder girdle. Which is fair since this does make for a more balanced and functional approach to training the body. All the crunches and sit-ups in the world (assuming you go for crunches and sit-ups) probably won’t fix lower back pain. But then how do you teach people to really activate their core? Consciously finding your transverse abdominal for the first time is quite fun and can be very difficult if you have never done it. It is like being asked to wear a corset made of sore muscle for a day or two afterwards. (Trying to help someone find their serratus anterior can also be interesting.)

In my training courses we were taught to cue core activation to participants with phrases like “suck/pull your belly button to your spine” and “ribs to hips” or “cough and hold” because this was the only way to properly activate the core and all abdominals (especially that pesky transverse abdominus). This was the correct way to cue core activation for about the first two years of my working in fitness until my third fitness conference. Every conference had a workshop or two on activating the core because lets face it the whole separate dedicated “core work” thing is its own fad. I am not saying core training doesn’t have its place in a balanced routine, just that people were a bit overly cooky for it for awhile. In reality all exercises are core exercises. If you don’t believe me, lie on the floor (on your back) and try to lift your straight arm and point at the ceiling without first tightening your core.Your mid section is not going to fall apart just because you don’t do a whack load of sit ups or whatever each week. A well rounded strength routine focusing on compound lifts with barbells and dumbbells will work your core plenty. Core or abdominal centric exercises are complementary accessory exercises.

At my third fitness conference the presenter asked us how we cued core/abdominal activation to our participants. I put my hand up and reiterated what this same lady had taught us two years previously: “cough” and “pull your bellybutton to your spine” and “ribs to hips”. The lady looked at me and tutted and gasped like I had just announced to the world that I ate babies in my spare time and liked it. She shook her head as though to say “you poor uneducated little thing” and told me that this was not correct. Those cues are bad and just make people hunch over and round their shoulders- a recipe for instant poor posture and loss of neutral alignment. It was magical. I mean the presenter’s selective memory was magical. She said it like she had never been one of “those” instructors who gave such poor cues to participants or taught other instructors to give those cues. She then proceeded to tell us the new correct way to cue core activation. We were to tell people to “imagine pulling your hip bones together” then “imagine lifting your rib cage away from your hip bones” and “imagine throwing your water bottle at the presenter’s head”. That last one is my addition. Can you tell? 😉 The points about posture and loss of neutral alignment are true. When participants get tired or are concentrating too hard on just working hard their posture can go to shit pretty quickly and telling them to pull their “ribs to hips” just makes it worse.


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