While scanning Facebook one day, an advertisement for an app popped up with a picture of a woman doing dips. (A dip is shown in the picture on the right.) I honestly first thought it was an article on exercises to avoid.
The ad stated “this app has gone viral in days.” Curiosity got the best of me, so I opened it. It stated the “research backed program has become an international hit” and was “published in the leading research journal ACSM, and then popularized by the New York Times,” “equivalent of working out for over an hour – for only slightly longer than 7 minutes,” “the exercises are simple to perform, do not require any equipment, and therefore, can be done anywhere! NO MORE EXCUSES.” This was a “research-proven workout.”
This is brilliant marketing for sure – kudos to the designers. They used all the right tools to sell their product:
- A flawless image: A very fit-looking, toned, slim person doing a challenging exercise.
Reality Check: You can bet that almost all the images you see on advertising have been fixed in some way. Any hint of something out-of-place or unwanted has been carefully removed in the photo. Remind yourself that these “flaws” are natural and generally cannot be completely exercised away.
Just because an exercise is hard to do doesn’t make it automatically good for the body. PLEASE don’t do dips! Putting your body weight on your shoulders in their weakest position in order to “work” your triceps is not worth it.
If by “work” you mean burn more fat in that area so things don’t hang when you lift your arm – remind yourself that you are looking for spot reducing – and it is a myth. You won’t burn more fat in that area by using your triceps. So please don’t sacrifice your shoulder joint for the sake of a myth. If you want to strengthen your triceps, do a triceps kickback with correct form (see image on left).
- “Research Backed, Proven”
Reality Check: I could not find any research on the actual program in the advertisement. The article cited research on interval training done with cardiovascular exercise in high intensity intervals for longer than 7 minutes in total. The research on circuit weight training has been around for a long time, but not specific to this program’s details – the exercises, format, duration, etc. What we do know is that general research on this type of program does improve fitness. What is missing (but not actually stated in the ad) is research on this actual program and if it is effective for weight loss.
- Offer THE solution to low motivation and lack of time:
Reality Check: “No more excuses”? I’ll bet we can still think some up when we really don’t want to exercise. It’s “gone viral in days.” What they’re really saying is, it’s popular and easy. Keep in mind: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is !They recommend doing 2-3 sets of the program so it is really more like 14-21 minutes of exercise. Any amount of exercise is good if you had not been doing anything. But this ad makes a lot of promises for just 7 minutes.
- Leave out the unpleasant details:
Reality Check: This is a very high intensity program. It is meant to be uncomfortable. If you don’t like exercise to begin with and you think this is an easy way to get the benefits, think again. Most importantly, the app advertisement leaves out the contraindications. Who should not do this program? We definitely don’t want to hear the program that has gone viral is not for us. Are you ready for the list? If you are obese or overweight (69% of the US population), detrained (i.e. have not been exercising, 80% of people in the US do not get the recommended amount of exercise), previously injured, elderly or have co-morbidities (diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, etc). So basically the article says that most of the US population should not do this program, but the app fails to mention that.
- Throw in some big, recognizable names:
Reality Check: The article was published in the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal. The ACSM is a quality organization that guides exercise professionals (like myself) in their practice. This specific journal is aimed to bridge the gap between research and practice in a user-friendly way. From what I know of the ACSM, this article is not representative of the quality of their publications and recommendations. The fact that the New York Times picked up the article tells me that it is well marketed in attracting the masses.
Instead of blindly trusting an advertisement with these great marketing tools, be savvy about who and what you entrust your dollars and body to:
Who is selling it?
- Look at the credentials and specialty of the person or company offering any fitness program.
- Are they a “fitness expert”? Anyone can call themselves an expert. You need to be aware that the fitness industry is not regulated in any way. Hairdressers, electricians, dieticians – all regulated by licensing boards. Fitness professionals – nope! (except in Louisiana with other states working on this process). So please don’t be lured in by someone who is an enthusiastic, passionate, “expert” without the appropriate training to work with you.
- Do they have 20 years of experience but no formal training? Ask about education, training, years AND types of experience. ACSM is a good certification to look for because they exams are comprehensive and types of certification are specific to level of trailing. Ask about how long they trained, where they received their education, what they are most interested in, what they do for continuing education. If you have health concerns, you want a person with at least a bachelors, better yet a masters in exercise physiology and clinical experience in your specific health concerns ( heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc.).
- What is their specialty? Does it match your goals (i.e.: sports, clinical/medical, general fitness, etc.)? As with many professions, there are specialties. In the fitness field there is so much to know that you want someone who has spent their time learning about the specific science of training for your goals and considerations.
- Are they selling their personal success story? Red flag. Personal success without formal training does not necessarily mean they know what is right for you.
Who is it for?
- Does it align with your specific goals for weight loss, health and fitness, or is it more geared for competitive athletes?
- Remember that for health, fitness and weight loss, exercise does not have to be hard. Appropriate challenge yes. Hard no.
- Are there any cautions that apply to you? This program is a perfect example of being very aware of your specific needs and finding what is right for you. Just because it is in the top media, has gone viral, or is celebrity-worthy, does not mean it is a sound program for your specific needs.
What are the details?
- What does the program promise? What do you have to do to get those results?
- If it is research based, is it good quality research, done independently? This jump from research to reporting in the general media is pervasive. But, it is legal – so we need to be on alert when we see the word “research;” Research does not mean it is the bottom line about that topic.
- What does it entail? Seeing dips or other risky exercises in the program is a great red flag.
- Are they selling spot reducing in any way? Promises to sculpt, slim, tone all are spot reducing claims and are a myth. Just for fun, notice how many times you see and hear this wording in advertising. It is amazing!
- Quick results are usually a good red flag. The body adapts slowly. Going for quick results = higher injury rate.
- How long will these results last?? The answer: as long as you do the program. A short-term solution does not get you to a long-term goal. It needs to be sustainable. If you don’t want to work at the intensity they are selling for the long haul, find something that matches your body’s ability to work at a comfortable challenge.
There are many approaches to exercise for general fitness and help with weight loss. They do require some dedicated time. The best way to cut down on the time you spend exercising is cut out the myth-based exercises and keep it science based.
Exercise is great medicine. Used well, the “side effects” are great, too. Just as with any medication, ask the important questions before using.
Check it out this week. Take a look at what you do for exercise and ask yourself: Am I choosing an exercise based upon fitness myths, socially influenced programs, or quality movement science?
Post what you learn in the comments…
Janet Huehls, MS