Equinox - best or bogus?

October 28, 2006

I recently visited the Equinox Fitness Club's website. It's very savvy, very eclectic, very chic. I mean, who wouldn't want to be a member? Their pool furniture Clubsprobably costs more than my farm house.

They are considered by many to be the best gym in the NYC - perhaps even in the entire country.

Their personal training department boasts that they are tops.

Reading their Fitness Tips Q&A section on their personal training page I was stunned. Though they got a couple of things right, most of their fitness tips are not only wrong, but will lead you down the path to injury and overtraining.

As an example:

FEATURED QUESTION: When during my routine should I work my abdominals?

Their answer: Your abdominal muscles are very important stabilizers of your trunk, and help to control your posture during most of the exercises that you do. In order to ensure that they will be able to provide the necessary trunk stability, you should work them at the end of your routine.

Where did they come up with this nonsense? The main function of the rectus abdominus is to flex the spine. In some exercises the abdominals contract isometrically but they barely do any real work - certainly nothing hard enough to even remotely render them fatigued enough to worry about loss of stabilization if you do your abdominal exercises first.

Think of it this way - your shoulders are involved, either directly or indirectly, in every single upper body exercise you do. Every one. So when should we do shoulder exercises? At the end of our workout because they'll be too tired to stabilize the shoulder girdle for other exercises?

The question itself is silly. There are better questions to be asked like "How does one best exercise the abdominals?"

The answer should be: There is no correct or incorrect time in your routine to do abdominal work. Do it when you like or whenever the ab machine becomes free.

Trainer's Tips Q: How can I lose fat in one spot?

There's no such thing as spot reduction. Overall weight loss occurs as more calories are expended than consumed. Fat will usually come off in the opposite order to which it's put on. So the first place to gain fat is the last place to lose it.

Pretty much correct. They got this one right.

Q: How many times per week do I need to train?

That would depend on your training goals. Typically, two to three sessions per week are required for minimum results.

WRONG. It does not depend on your goals. It depends on science. Research indicates that as little as 2, 15-20 minute strength training sessions - at most 3 - will provide all the health fitness benefits you need. 2-3 sessions per week is, in fact, the maximum amount you need. But what else are they going to say? They want your personal training money.

Q: Do I have to use free weights, can't I just use machines?

While machines can be very effective, they don't provide much of the stability that our bodies need to establish during motion. We also need to be able to change our movements, to replicate more natural movement conditions. Free weights involve both body stability and variable motion.

WRONG again. Muscles are the stabilizers of the body. The stronger they are, the better they stabilize you. Doing exercises that require stabilization or training in an unstable environment makes any exercise less effective. Doing exercises that require stabilization is how you get hurt. 

In fact, if you see someone using free weights in strict good form, you won't see any movement whatsoever other than the particular joint excursion that should be happening - just like in a machine. Machines disallow the weights to move around so you don't have to balance anything. Machines, if designed properly, provide a greater stimulus for muscular strength gains to occur. Greater strength gains translate into better stability.

There is no such thing as 'balance' per se. There is no general balance ability.

My advice: NEVER try and move around as you would in real life while lifting weights. Do NOT do pushup on big rubber balls or anything that requires stabilization to perform the exercise itself. Smile and walk away from a trainer who suggests you do anything like this.

Q: Why is my weight on the scale still the same but my clothes are fitting looser?

Weight loss on the scale does not reflect only fat loss because if you gain muscle mass at the same time you are losing fat, your scale weight will not have changed much.

Good answer. But they need a lesson in grammar.

Q: How many reps should I do in order to increase strength?

The number of reps you do is a function of how much weight you are lifting. As loads increase, the number of repetitions will decrease. For optimal strength gains, you should choose a load that allows you to complete between 6 and 10 repetitions before you experience fatigue.

Really? 6-10? Where did this reccomendation come from? Not from science I can tell you that. What, 11 reps is not good? 5 is bad too?

The right answer: The number of repetitions you complete per set does not matter. Depending upon the repetition tempo, you might complete 3 reps or 15 and make very good progress.

Science indicates that a set should last between 30-90 seconds. Outcomes will be relatively the same regardless of the number of reps you choose to perform within this time frame.

I get really annoyed when people in my field spew such false information. But it's better for my business I suppose.

Speaking of annoying, their new tag line is right up their with raking fingernails across a chalkboard - to me at least:

Equinox — It's Not Fitness. It's Life.

No. No it's not. It's friggin fitness. More specifically, it's health and well being and doing what is safe, efficient and effective.

"Be careful of what you read in health books (or websites). A misprint might just kill you." - Twain.