How to Shape Up

Whether it’s high or low impact aerobics, power walking, Nautilus machines, free weights, Step Reebok, Step Sculpt, body sculpt, not to mention gardening, chasing after kids, doing housework, walking to work, using the stairs instead of the lift, or even ballroom dancing (which is nearly as strenuous as jogging), getting fit needn’t be boring, time-consuming or painful these days.

Sport has always been part of the Australian culture, but the concept of exercising has not. According to Rob Draper, center manager for the Fitness Exchange in Melbourne, it owes its start, in large part, to former Hawthorn footballer Brendan Edwards who, with Michael Hunt, opened the first commercial gyms in the ’70s for people to pursue personal fitness.

Edwards was before his time in terms of the fitness training he did. Prior to that, said Draper, gyms were basically places where blokes went to pump iron. Since then, the industry has exploded and it’s still going strong, despite the critics who, after the first aerobics class was taken in 1979, said it was a fad that wouldn’t last. Draper believes gyms are the activity centers of a new generation. “There’s a bunch of people out there who have always been fitness conscious who are now in their 40s, even 60s, still doing conventional types of fitness training and have never stepped into a gym.”

There still is, and always will be, a place for basic free-weight training. With the development of machine weights, like Nautilus, this type of training has become even more efficient. There’s no question that the electronic equipment that has come on to the market in the past couple of years is the direction of the industry. It’s definitely here to stay. “In terms of aerobics, there has been a big swing to low-impact cardio-vascular activity. By definition, low impact work is where one foot is always on the floor. While there are fewer injuries, as you reduce the impact of the workout to some degree you decrease the level of cardio-vascular training benefits.”

Certainly aerobics has gone through an enormous change in the past five years because high-risk activities have been taken out. For a long time instructors didn’t like taking low impact classes because they had to think through their routines more to make them varied, interesting and to create a good, hard workout. But high demand has meant instructors have become much more skilled at maintaining good cardio-vascular training in a low-impact environment. In terms of an exercise program, Draper says some people place great emphasis on the selection of exercises in it. “That’s fine if we’re talking about a specific athlete who has to develop certain muscle groups. For the average person who wants to get fit, it’s not so critical. We change programs to achieve variety, rather than a specific result, which helps keep the person motivated.”

Not everyone joins a gym for specific reasons, says Draper, but he does feel people are becoming more aware and selective about the types of exercise they choose to do. Some people join because they want to lose weight, assume control over their own lives and bodies, avoid an addiction such as smoking or remain youthful. Others join for the social interaction, because of peer group pressure, medical reasons, stress relief or just to have some fun. Whatever the motivation, Draper has found that if people achieve a desired result, they’ll keep exercising regardless of their initial motivation. However, he has some concerns. “I get the feeling that people join a gym so they can eat and drink what they want, believing `if I go to gym it’s OK’. Obviously that’s a fallacy. Another misconception is that people believe it is possible to train specific problem areas. That is certainly not the case in terms of fat loss. You absolutely cannot spot-reduce.”

People usually measure fitness in two ways: when they jump on the scales and when they put on their clothes. Neither one is particularly relevant. It is important for people to understand how to qualify their fitness so they know what they can achieve and this must be done through percentage of body fat, cardio-vascular levels, flexibility and strength. Draper emphasizes that it is pointless starting a fitness program if a person is out of control with his or her diet. “The two must be done hand in hand. Too many people still diet heavily because they judge fitness by the scales. They end up reducing body weight but their fat- to-muscle ratio stays the same or worsens and their metabolism slows down to the point where body functions don’t operate properly. It’s very dangerous.”

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