The Gym Experience

Today is Day 1. You’ve left the safety of your home and have bravely entered a crowded, pyramid scheme gym. To your right, everyone is drooling over an episode of Rachel Ray on the Food Network, trying to distract from abusing the treadmill. In front of you is an enormous front desk where the kids working behind it look like the cover of an Abercrombie catalog. They appear preoccupied flirting and updating their face book pages. To your left are the membership offices where the gym salesmen are looking at you like hyenas at a wounded elk. Now it’s time for hunt, sorry I mean the “tour” of the gym you will be pressured into paying for.

After the salesman has flexed his muscles in the mirror, obnoxiously flirted with the girls on the elliptical, and taken you into a free weight area that looks like the prison yard at San Quentin prison system, it’s time to sit in the membership salesman’s office for the kill. This is where you will be told how out of shape and screwed you are. Upon asking to leave, the general manager (AKA the lion) has entered the den for the “hard close.” “This is your last chance to save yourself,” he says. After all of the pressure and embarrassment you have just been put through you pay a $180 initiation fee, $50 for your first month and $50 for your last month. You’ve spent almost $300 dollars and you feel worse about yourself than ever before. Welcome to the jungle.

Now you are swearing you will cancel this membership later in the week and you refuse to return to this place—only to learn, it’s not that easy.  It’s like a Friends episode all over again. The fine print says, “You will pay all year,” and there is no way out. Now for the truth—that key tag you were given with that thousand number code, is the loser stamp given to all of the other people who came in and didn’t make it. With over 1,000 paying members and only 50 of them constantly using the gym, do you really believe you ever stood a chance? Why would you even put yourself through this? I have worked at over a dozen gyms in the last decade, and witnessed these events at all facilities. Here is the answer to your next question—YES, there is a RIGHT WAY to do this. There is hope; there is a great way to get your body under YOUR control.

Movement starts with learning how we move, and how to move. This means we need a movement screening. A full movement screening shows all aspects of your structural imbalances, your deviations, and muscular overcompensation. THESE PROBLEMS ARE THERE! Whether you want to admit it or not, there is a problem. Group fitness classes, spin cycle, one size fits all programs will only make this worse. Why on earth would you do a workout program made to fit another persons deviations—or a program that was made by a “trainer” on their way to the gym on a napkin? I don’t bring my car to a shop and say, “Give me the same thing you gave all of the other cars,” when I know the problem is from a head on collision. As a society, we can only help ourselves if we are better informed. This information is not readily available because it’s more profitable to tell people we need to just blindly pay to pack into small spaces and then feel liberated about it.

I am standing for something different; MASS F.I.T. is about a higher standard. We are going to set the bar in Philadelphia and see what other studios are willing to step up to the plate and be transparent. I have heard all of the excuses, rebuttals, and insane logic from other trainers and members. This is written for those of us who are looking for a whole program, a full schema and template using science, logic, and common sense –not sales strategies and aggressive cult mentalities. If you are still reading, you know how serious we take movement. The next step is yours. This is your only body—choose wisely, or take your chances in the jungle.

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Movement Advice

 Congratulations! You’ve just joined a gym and made the first step towards regaining your health. You’ve felt like it’s time to get your body back in shape.

 Time to get started. The safest thing to do is get on the trusted treadmill—but wait, that kind of makes your ankles hurt. Ah, let’s go for the elliptical. That’s a thing, right? We can do this without any impact, just like that lady that’s been on it for the past 30 minutes. “Wait, is that how long I need to be on this?” “Wait a minute, this actually makes my lower back and hips hurt.”  So, you try a few sit-ups, pushups and low impact machines. SUCCESS! You’ve made it through your first big day at the new gym. The day after your experiment workout, there is lower back soreness, elbow pain, and calf cramps. “That’s probably just my body getting back into shape,” you tell yourself. I’m sorry to tell you, my friend, but that’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. It all started back to our high school gym teacher who told us to run, lift, jump, pushup, and sit up. Yes, that’s great if we are trying to qualify for the army.

Let me ask you a few questions about what’s important to you and explain what SHOULD be important to you.

Do you have any lateral availability?  This means movement from side to side without loss of balance. What is your capacity to rotate without borrowing from “the wrong spots in your body?” Is there a way to test your ability to move and train in order to regain full movement before creating new problems? You might be putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. What if I told you there is a way to test for movement deviations? What if I said there’s a way to find postural overcompensations and structural weaknesses pertaining to balance and movement—and then, to train problem areas head on to regain a complete body filled with natural mobility? I live by a saying, “If you cannot move well, you have no business moving other objects.” The truth is, we live in a three-dimensional world. We need to be available in all planes of movement. Why aren’t we training ourselves that way?

Joe Smith sleeps in a fetal position all night, and sits at his breakfast table to eat with flexed hips, inactive glutes, and a rounded spine. He texts, drives, works, and watches television hunched over, a forward head and internally rotated shoulders. So WHY, oh WHY does Joe go into a gym and train in the exact same poor position he has been in all day long? He’s busy doing exercises in the forward (sagittal) plane, seated exercises on a machine (that require no real-life stability), or jumping on a spin bike with tight hips, and a rounded back—or better yet, a boot camp class filled with other people butchering exercises to a trainer whose in left field with a hockey stick. Do we honestly believe this will help Joe, or is there just not enough information and too many bad trainers? You might just find yourself working harder than a one-legged man in a butt kicking competition.

Solution—There are various ways to test the quality of these movements; whether it’s through neurokinetic therapy, functional movement screenings, active range strength & conditioning, etc. There are hands-on assessments designed to find these imbalances in the body. Then, there are active strategies to train out of these new-found imbalances using science-based principles—not guess work and dated theories.

 After testing, training, and retesting these areas using well-developed programs anyone can regain total body awareness. After developing appropriate movement patterns, strength training becomes much simpler. As long as you train smart and use science-based progressions and regressions to move your training program in the right direction, the sky is the limit. It’s simple—you wouldn’t let someone who doesn’t know cars work on your car, so why would you let someone that doesn’t understand joint-by-joint function write your strength training program?

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First Visit to Mass F.I.T.

Like many clients, I was attracted to Mass F.I.T. by their sign, which is typically funny. When I walked by it featured something about gluten or pumpkin spice or some other sassy thing. When I checked out the gym on Google, I was excited to learn that Mass F.I.T., and the owner Steve in particular, specialized in helping people recovering from injuries, or working from a low baseline fitness.

After a gnarly ankle sprain I was dealing with both (I stepped in a hole while walking and looking at my phone – learn from my mistakes), I had stopped running. At my prior gym before I moved to Philly, I did group fitness classes that were awesome, but not tailored to the individual. As soon as I sprained my ankle, those stopped completely. Add that to a busy life with school and work and my work out habits, always sporadic, had gone out the door.

Plus, I was nervous to restart exercise. Because the ankle had a tendency to get angry even months after the sprain, I didn’t want to injure it again or make it worse. So basically I just made excuses to not work out. (Have you ever done this?)

That’s why I was pumped to meet Steve and get started again! He took me through a functional movement screen and was able to pinpoint where I was compensating for my ankle.  

A  few weeks after our first meeting, I started training. Steve had created a series of stretches and exercises that dealt with the muscle groups where I needed the most work. People at the gym were friendly and chatty, but it was a small crowd. Mass F.I.T. has primarily private training, so there weren’t hordes of people on treadmills watching me struggle through leg lifts. And that was a plus, because this workout was HARD.

Though the movements seemed basic, I woke up the next day seriously sore, but excited to be back in the gym! By the second week, I had made improvements in my form and flexibility and I was feeling considerably less sore.

Check out my next post and I’ll fill you in on where I’m at after one month of training with Mass F.I.T.!

- Katherine