Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Death of Dumbells

I would say my "somewhat poor posture" dates back to the second grade. Not saying that a student in grade two thinks about posture, but that's when it started. I was platinum blonde and a head taller than everyone else by age seven, thanks to my Swedish roots.

Fast forward twenty years: I'm 5'10 and I love it! However, I honestly think that slouching for the past 'how long' has cursed me with not being able to stand up straight. I sure hope not.

So, hello 2012... This year, I promise to have (or at least work on) better posture!

I was reading an article, published by Equinox Fitness, that negated the benefits of using traditional weight training dumbells to improve strength. I couldn't agree more with this mentality: supporting your own body weight is what truely improves balance and fitness, which both lead to having a more poised figure. It looks like I'll be hitting the Ballet Barre classes a bit more often to make me stand tall!

{Getty Images}

{Getty Images}

In an age of technological innovation, fitness pros are going old school. It may seem counterintuitive, but numbered weight stacks, moveable seats and removable pins are increasingly taking a back seat to a decidedly low-tech sculpting apparatus: your body.

Selectorized machines (your classic circuit-training contraptions) were initially designed to idiot-proof exercises by preventing unwanted movements and forcing desired ones. The problem is that as they restrict our movements they hide our imbalances. This means that you can sometimes become stronger and more "fit" without ever addressing underlying physical compensations — which is a bit like building a perfect house on a flawed foundation. When we don’t address our limitations, we become vulnerable to overuse injuries and nagging aches and pains.

In contrast, the principal challenge — and benefit — of bodyweight exercises is that they can't be faked. Think about push-ups, pull-ups and planks: You either have the necessary skills to do them or you don’t. There is no quick-fix work-around like those found on machines, such as lightening the load, changing the hand grip or adjusting the seat.

Gray Cook, MSPT, OCS, CSCS, world-renowned physical therapist and author of Movement, calls these "self-limiting exercises." Whether it’s jumping rope, yoga or a single-leg squat, he says, "the limitations these exercises impose keep us honest and allow our weakest links to hold us back … as they should."

"Bodyweight training requires focus and concentration…But guess what? It’s the secret formula of the fit."

Bodyweight training also improves the body's proprioception, which is essentially your ability to move better and avoid injuries — or what Cook calls "movement competence." It betters your breathing, grip strength, total body strength, quickness, alignment, balance and control.

It's no fluke that gymnasts, dancers and martial artists tend to have the most breathtaking bodies. When you train like this, you force your body to work in a balanced way (simultaneously stretching and strengthening), so your muscles develop accordingly. Plus, strengthening your body as a unit, not independent parts, ensures a perfectly proportioned shape.

Perfectionists, be warned: This type of workout doesn't allow for instant pseudo-mastery of an exercise. It forces you to focus on and address your shortcomings — a process which can be both daunting and humbling. It requires concentration and, at least at first, the guidance of a trainer or instructor. But guess what? It's the secret formula of the truly fit.

-Equinox Exercise Physiologist Geralyn Coopersmith

{Getty Images}


  1. Does Equinox offer Barre Ballet now??? Bummer - I know it was a growing trend right when we moved and our Equinox on Greenwich did not offer them yet. Sadly the gyms leave a lot to be desired here...

  2. Yes and I love it! I laughed at your post the other day about walking around Paris in your running clothes... I do that too! Made me laugh!