Zombie Fitness: The Downfall of the Commercial Gym


Two years in a commercial gym have driven me to a point of disillusion with everything it stands for; pushy sales people, rolling contracts, the promotion of sugary bars and ‘glow in the dark’ energy drinks, abdominal machines, abs classes, abundant cardio machines (with TV screens) and choreographed classes.  Don’t forget the satisfaction people have with their poor weight-training technique and their lack of willingness to learn anything different.

It is what I call ‘Zombie-Fitness’ where people sign up having seen the usual components they expect from a gym; cardio, weights, stretch area and studio.  Then they just come in and do what convention tells them to which is one or all of the following

  1. 3 sets of ten on a collection of weights exercises
  2. 30-40 minutes cardio followed by some pointless abdominal exercises
  3. A Les Mills class

Of course a protein shake afterwards and it’s off home.  The choreographed classes epitomise Zombie Fitness where you simply turn-up (and set up in the case of BodyPump) follow the leader then leave (often without even saying goodbye to the instructor).  Heck you could have had someone on a TV screen telling you what to do and showing you the routine.  At least with Spinning® we aim to be proper teachers giving a different style of workout every week and providing an element of autonomy over which riding technique you select, provided you are in the right cadence range and energy zone.  Going back to the original point the outcome of Zombie Fitness is as follows

  • There is no or little interaction so the social element is removed.
  • Circuit classes where there is more interaction, do not get a look-in because only Les Mills  instructors are getting paid.  Circuit-Training, or Metabolic Conditioning, provides the best mix of weights and cardio allowing us to achieve our results a lot quicker.

The end result is that people get bored, lose motivation and not before long, leave the gym.

There is however light at the end of the tunnel.  It seems that such gyms are now promoting new styles of training that break from the norm, using different names like functional-training, HIIT Training or MetCon.  Fitness First are calling it Freestyle Training and are now outlining dedicated freestyle areas like the one below.  This is why I have chosen to stay put but now it takes the general gym-goers to come out from the ‘dead’ and embrace this style of training more, not just because it is more effective but because the collective nature of these workouts create more social interaction, enjoyment and fun.


The style of Metabolic Conditioning that I shall be teaching soon is TACFIT, or Tactical Fitness where we aim to also address mobility and flexibility to help keep you injury free.  We keep the exercises limited so that you get better and better with time, sometimes in the same workout, as opposed to traditional bootcamp or ‘Insanity’ where there are just too many exercises, thus preventing the body and nervous system to adapt to a certain move.  Remember, sufficient variety may be good to work different muscles and keep you interested but a degree of consistency is also required to facilitate neural drive and help the body adapt to a new stimulus.

Again, going off the topic a little but my hope is that you can understand the existence of Zombie Fitness and how we need to be aware of it.   I don’t want to discourage people from classes so keep enjoying them.  Just implement two things:

  1. Accept an instructor’s offer of engagement whether it is to cheer or clap, or simply take a feedback form and fill it out.
  2. Open your mind up to circuit-training and of course read up on TACFIT at RMAX International.

Train for a reason, Train with reason

My good friend John Bass from Bass Planet TV produced a lovely little video for me so thought I’d post a link to it in my blog.

Also feel the need to explain the reason behind preparing such a video without it looking like I’m showing off 😉

For a start we have the one-handed push-up.  Here’s a great tutorial by Nick Tumminello, one of my favourite coaches, on this exercise


Now, on my video you’ll see me struggling a lot more on my left.  This is partly becuase of me being right-handed but that is not the full story.  My shoulder stability is a lot weaker on my left.  I find it harder to squeeze that shoulder down and create a firm and stable foundation.  Hence, the one-handed push-up is about combining strength and mobility which is why I call this training with reason.  Now I can wait until I get an injury and pay a fortune on physio or I can address this now which is why I perform those shoulder mobility exercises at the beginning of the video.  I can even find an exercise that will help improve my shoulder stability and work my core at the same time.  Enter the hammer swing as pictured below

This basically involves swinging the club in a clockwork motion round and round.  An amazing core exercise that tests your cardio and trains you to maintain the connection between your shoulders and torso.

I also demonstrate a pistol or one-legged squat; the photo shows how my thigh is touching my chest in the bottom position

Again a good balance of strength and mobility is required.  If my lower lats, or more specifically, my thoracolumbar fascia, are holding on to my pelvis too tight this position would be more diffcult.  Likwise if my glutes  and IT band were tight or I had a lot of capsular tightness in the acetablum where the thigh meets the pelvis.  Getting very technical now but in a nutshell, a one-legged squat isn’t all about mere leg strength.

Even the muscle-up combines strength with mobility as I have to go through quick, smooth transitions from pulling-up to pushing off.  If I were obsessed with weights and tightened up all the muscles and tendons (rotator cuffs) crossing the shoulder joint the muscle-up would become about brute strength which is not what you want for long-term health.

I hope readers can appreciate the value of this vision on fitness afterwhich I can only attribute it to one man in Scott Sonnon and his great team of coaches at RMAX international.

So here’s the video and I hope a more dignified reason has emerged for putting it up.


Purposeful Training, Part 5: Overtraining? More like improper training!

Practically everyone that has lifted weights for a considerable amount of time has incurred some sort of injury, ache, pain or niggle through ‘overtraining’.  Is that what you call it?  For starters you’re probably lifting weights for too long, then you want to be thinking that perhaps you weren’t training too hard, just doing it wrong!  Pointlessly lifting heavy.  Doing bicep curls with a hip jerk which would have made you a champion bicep curl jerker but probably did nothing to give you proportionally shaped arms.

So purposeful training is about training in a way that is true to form and good form even if it means we don’t break PBs.  Training in a manner that we stay injury free.  Shoulder injuries are amongst the most common in the gym and worst still we try and address it through cable internal rotations.  Hello! Practically all the exercises you’re doing are involving internal rotation of the arm.  As Charles Poliquin explains in this article it is often an imbalance between subscap and supraspinatus leading to such an injury.


The sucbcap assists in internal rotation so is probably too strong.  Hence you want to work the supraspinatus through lateral raises or better still ‘scaptions’ demoed by another great trainer Brent Brookbush


Another issue is that the muscles linking the arm to the torso collectively become so tight that the whole of that joint capsule carries a fragile sign.  Your shoulder needs to move with mere momentum as demoed in this great video


This is just an insight into correct form and how to lessen the chance of getting injured whilst still blowing smoke in your workout.  It shows that just aiming to strengthen isn’t enough and in fact counterproductive.  A good trainer has a better idea of getting this balance right.  A bad trainer doesn’t have a scooby doo.  I endeavour to become from amongst the first group which is why I like to deem my style of training as purposeful.

Looks like I’ve kocked out a few blogs now so it’s time I got everything organised to make it easier for yourselves.

Purposeful Training, Part 4: Don’t be Gimmick Specific

Any new kit that finds a home in our gyms is immediately seen as another gimmick or fad.  Then you just have a hot guy or girl using it to let people know that this is the next big thing.  While a trainer can benefit you through providing variety it is important that a trainer knows the purpose of using a new gadget.  I always think to myself, could this exercise be achieved through a conventional method.  With the kettlebell for instance the swing enables us to exert huge power through the use of our posterior chain of muscles.  For many this is such an under-recruited area in the body that even on a swing there is a likelihood that the quads are the dominant drivers.  A good trainer should realise this and explain the importance of redressing the balance and provide exercises where the hamstrings are specifically targetted like the swiss ball curl.

The TRX is a huge gimmick.  Valid for home and outdoor training maybe but in a gym?  Can you not perform bicep curls with a dumbell?  But wait, then we realise that it is a great way for girls to get use to performing proper push-ups.  The bicep curl on a TRX engages the core more and the squat allows people to learn proper form and recruit the posterior chain more.  So only use the fancy stuff if you know why, otherwise stay conventional.

Another problem with one-trick pony, gimmick specific trainers is that they expect everyone to perform an exercise in the same way; we all have different bio-mechanics and levers, differing levels of flexibility.  Hence, a good trainer adjusts and tweaks to find the right method for each individual.   Better still, a good trainer provides the mobility drills that allow one to perform an exercise correctly in the future.  Kettlbell gurus keep shouting at us about how to rack properly but fall short when explaining the limitations when trying to execute this position.  Not Scott Sonnon though, check this video out:


I could actually watch this video all day.  Tight arms lines are endemic in society and a result of typing, pen-pushing, texting, gaming, steering and too many bicep curls.  Coach Sonnon has addressed this while teaching kettlebells.  This is where a gimmick becomes a PURPOSEFUL tool and training becomes PURPOSEFULL.

Hope the concept of purposeful training is getting clearer.

Purposeful Training, part 3: Stop being so Pushy!

Ok so updating my blog from my mobile so a little tricky this time.

So first we had the 80s obsession with aerobics and Fame, then the 90s obsession with cardio equipment. Then the naughties and the emerging concept that weight training helps burn more calories so c’mon girls get involved and you won’t bulk up; let’s do body pump. I did body pump for my first time and found it really tough. It even left me feeling that this is more of a bulking up routine.

So cardio involves a lot of repetitive movement creating excessive oxidative stress. Weights involves a lot of pushing and pulling, exerting a lot of metabolic energy and leading to distortions in length-tension relationships if not done in a balanced fashion.

A key missing link is the use of elastic potential to load the body ready to explode. If ever a concept was more suited to toning it would be this. How ironic that the best way for a girl to tone her arms is to perform a ‘manly’ exercise, boxing. Franchises like Boxercise involve the safe use of boxing gear to perform in the form of fun workouts. Good for all ages and levels. Click on the relevant link to find out more. Needless to say I am a certified Boxercise instructor, at least I will be once I renew my registration (ooops).

Other examples of exercises that adopt the same principle include ball slams or kettle bell swings.

An even more exciting form of training is club bell training. Weighted clubs are believed to be the oldest exercise tools. Ever watched the Flintstones? I am privileged to have trained in this discipline under Scott Sonnon who demonstrates his skills in this video

So purposeful also refers to the deployment of eccentric training. Better for mobility and more conducive to toning.

Purposeful Training: Part 2, Cut out the crap and make every exercise count

So everyone needs a slogan and I chose Purposeful Training.  Guess I need to explain what that means.  After attacking the ‘station-hopping’ ritual I now wish to talk about proper planning.  I remember one of my tutors in Premierglobal UK saying words to the effect that ‘You must know the purpose behind each and every exercise you perform.’  Already I can imagine some of you thinking that ‘I do that! A bench press works my chest and a bicep curl works my bicep.  So let me illustrate what I mean by proper planning by going over a chest workout that is, in my opinion, adequately planned (as much as I hate ‘station hopping).

1. Base Exercise: Bench Press. Purpose: Monitor Progress and create intial exhaust

So we start with our base exercise so we can see where we are and how strong we are gettting.  If the bench press station is busy don’t waist your time waiting for it unless your competing in powerlifting compettions.  Dumbell press, smith machine press, technogym press are all exercises you can use for your base exercise where you monitor progress and begin the process of working the muscle fibres in the chest.  All you want is a better looking chest and the base exercise isn’t really where you will make the big difference.

2. High intensity work: Superset dumbell chest press and flye. Purpose, increase concentration of growth hormone in the body

Baechle and Earle’s book on strength and conditoning is like the bible of fitness.  In it various studies are mentioned that show how Growth Hormone levels in the body increase in high-intensity workouts (Baechle and Earle, 1994).  Thus, a superset involving two different chest exercises helps achieve this.

3. Intelligent Targetting

Now that your chest muscles are starting to cry you begin targetting specific areas.  You should know by now which areas aren’t responding too well.  Okay maybe not, you’re probably doing the same thing every time not realising the bottom or top chest has become dominant.  So if for example you can’t get a boob-cleavage like midsection which you crave you need to start targetting this area with more intelligent exercises so leave a comment and I will aim to put up a video or two on this.

The point is, there must be a purpose behind each exercise else you are just going through the motions.  Good trainers can help set these goals for you and give you a specific programme to follow in pursuance of such a goal.  And set yourself more specific goals than ‘toning-up’ or ‘bulking-up’ and more ‘doing ten pull-ups or ten proper push-ups’.

Hope we are now understanding the concept of ‘purposeful training’.

Purposeful Training: Part 1, Abandoning the ‘Arnie culture’

So just got my new hoodie and no doubt people will be asking me what I mean by Purposeful Training. Those cynics amongst you will be saying, ‘So you think everyone else’s training is unpurposeful, or even useless’. So I guess I better be prepared to explain what I mean by purposeful training:

1. Station Hopping

So I see a lot of people carry out a ritual of station hopping every time they are in the gym. Invariably a guy just puts a weight on, bang out a few sets, rest a bit, do a few more and so on. That’s how your supposed to do it right. As for girls, a lightweight and repeat about fifty because obviously ‘loads of light reps makes you tone up right?’ Don’t you just find that boring? No wonder so many people just drop out the gym. This article is just from this morning stating that the rate is as high as 70%!!!!


So what’s the alternative. Well I’ll give you an alternative, Circuit cardio. Find a place in the gym, get a mat and a couple of dumbells, and just do a set of four exercises back to back, 10 repetitions on each. You can even make it all bodyweight. Here’s a good one:

1. Lunges

2. Press-ups

3. Crunches

4. Squat thrusts

My client Zainab demonstrates this workout in the following video


This kind of workout is more purposeful, you get fitter, stonger, leaner, it is less time-consuming, more fun, you can even challenge your friends.

On the other hand if you want something more hardcore look no further than TACFIT. Quick twenty minute workouts equivalent to 4 hours of cardio.


TACFIT classes are to be held regulalry at The Field and Training Clinic Marylebone

So part one of making our training more purposeful is to make it less Arnie and more fun.

Look out for part 2 of purposeful training: Good planning

Until then stay active