The Changing World of Men's Exercise

Demetrios Demetriades  BA,NASM/CPT-IFT, ACSM
Demetrios Demetriades BA,NASM/CPT-IFT, ACSM

Dispelling the machismo and getting back to reality.

The evolution and growth of the fitness industry has, of late, shown stark contrast to the trends in the health of the average populace. According to a recent study the country with the highest percentage of 10 year old boys that are overweight is right here. You guessed it! The United States. We land at a hefty 45.8%!

Despite the intense growth of the fitness industry, men's fitness has begun to miss the mark. I believe one of the factors to blame is old outdated ideas of what men's fitness goals should be. Women are pressured to be skinny from a very early age. An unfair and unhealthy standard that needs to be addressed in another article. But today I'm talking about men being conditioned from an early age to be BIG.

In the history of this country it wasn't until the 1820's and 1830's that public gymnasiums began to take hold in the U.S.A. but the concept of physical training for the betterment of human health dates as far back as the ancient Greek empire.

It's easy to see why the early human cultures recognized that superior strength in males was a desirable attribute, to defend one's self and to be able to handle the physical labor that was required to feed one's self and family. So the development of that strength has been studied for centuries. Yet still in this day and age, with all that we have learned and all that we know, the science of making the body stronger is still being refined and revamped.

Early on, as gymnasiums flourished in the country the main focus was gymnastics. Hence the word "Gym" Then, sometime after the 1920's the main focus for gyms changed. Sports specific performance training for activities like boxing or baseball and basketball, men began to train differently and the drive to train for flexibility, balance, and speed gave way to increasing muscle mass and size and the generation of power.

By the year 1940 through 1970, the golden age of Bodybuilding had arrived. And unless you were an athlete in another sport that didn't require muscle-pumping size workouts but rather speed and agility, such as boxing or soccer...or if you were a man who worked out at all, it was most likely in a gym mainly geared towards Bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding training, by definition, enhances the physique through exercise. The main goal is to show visually the combination of low body fat, muscular size and symmetry. Bodybuilding does not aim primarily to increase strength, coordination, flexibility, endurance, speed or balance although I've known enough bodybuilders not to underestimate their athleticism it is a sport that requires discipline and dedication and some bodybuilders can perform incredible feats of strength and endurance.

But as bodybuilding took hold and set the standard for the ideal male physique, the concern for the average male was to raise their level of muscular size and damn the consequences.

But there was a light on the horizon, the Kung Fu / Karate movie craze of the 60's and 70's sparked the nations interest in ancient martial arts. Martial arts studios began opening up and dispelling the notion that being the biggest and strongest was the only way to be the alpha male. And the ancient practices of martial arts are rife with functional training.

Concidentally, in the late 70's and early 80's something else very extraordinary happened to the fitness world... women.

For such a long time discouraged from exerting themselves or being too tomboyish. Women interests in the areas of fitness gave the industry a new focus. Women had the opposite goal as men. They didn't want massive muscles to flex at muscle beach, they wanted lean, toned, bodies and a great set of legs. And the realm of women's fitness at the time focused only on activities such as gymnastics and dance which lent themselves to developing longer, leaner, sculpted bodies as well as flexibility, balance, agility and grace.

Aerobics, Jazzercise, Step, all these began as independent studios that quickly displaced the bodybuilding macho gyms as the prime earners of the fitness dollar. Women became highly motivated and, interestingly enough, ended up changing how men worked out for the better. These activities increased heart health and challenged men to move with balance and coordination and develop badly needed flexibility.

So, for a time in the late 80's and early 90's the two melded together, the notoriously muscle-centric guy's gyms added an aerobics studio. It wasn't long after that we saw old "muscle-beach Joe" donning some leg warmers and stepping to beat. Okay, I'm just kidding there, but you see my point, men and women started training together and the fitness industry became less sectionalized by sex.

I credit women's influence on fitness for this mixture of training goals that changed the industry again and inspired the new catch-all innovations of; muscle sculpting to music, indoor cycling, and cardio-kickboxing to fit the new goals of the varied audience.

Enter the age of the health club. A smaller version of a country club geared towards exercise. People could get their sweat on and socialize at the same time. New class formats were the untapped gold and everyone wanted to be in the newest fitness craze.

But for some men, the sheen of all those new innovations was lost. They still only wanted to get BIG. And for some men still today, the only impetus to sweat is to get a big chest and arms, some flat abs and to look good shirtless and not have anybody dare to kick sand in your face.

And here's where we come full circle, the age of the amateur bodybuilder is going by the wayside. In men's fitness a new age and format is coming along. Functional training. Something the ancients I mentioned before did because, well, there was no other goal but to be functional!

Functional training has emerged from what was originally sports conditioning and injury rehabilitation programs. The smart man of today will achieve his fitness goals using a well-rounded program integrating exercises which contribute to balance, stability, neuromuscular communication and efficient and safer performance of real world activities and movements.

Functional training helps a man not only develop strength, but agility and coordination that carries over into dynamic activities such as swinging a bat or a sledgehammer, climbing up a steep unstable trail, pulling yourself up on a ledge, throwing a sandbag down a work line, or unloading heavy boxes from a truck.

Today's training methods should improve performance. Today's man trains to throw further, run faster, and achieve a higher vertical jump.

Core training is an integral part of functional training. Core training involves exercises that activate the “core” muscles. The core consists of the deep abdominal muscles and the muscles closest to the spine

The core anatomy consists of the following muscles:

Transversus Abdominus, Internal Oblique, Lumbar Multifidus, Pelvic Floor Muscles, Diaphragm, Latissimus Dorsi, Erector Spinae, Iliopspoas, Hamstrings, Adductors, Rectus Abdominus, External Oblique

The stronger the core, the more access a man has to amplification of power and a significant decrease in his chances of injury. Personal trainers today are well schooled in core conditioning and functional training. Trainers have more access today to medically proven methods to help you not only achieve that great looking body, but make you faster, more agile, better balanced and much, much, healthier. I highly recommend finding a great personal trainer to guide you in your fitness endeavors. Just picking up weights and watching what the other guy across the gym floor is doing not only doesn't cut it any more, but is really, really dangerous.

Now if you don't have the money to hire a trainer, and I would ask you before you make that statement, how much have you spent on your cable bill this month? How much did that X-box system run you? hmmm? But, if you don't have the money to invest in personal training, then take some classes. The great benefit from the women's fitness age is that now there is group exercise. The Trainer pictured above runs one of the most gruelingly effective abs training classes in the San Francisco Bay area. And the club members don't have to pay anything but their gym fees to attend. There are also small group training classes and shared private training that costs less because of the multiple attendees. The point is there is fitness out there for every price-point. Money is no excuse.

Finally, another little shot to our male machismo, one of the best core training methods ever developed, has...brace yourselves gentlemen.. been perfected by women. I'm speaking of Pilates.

But don't please don't despair or feel emasculated guys, after all, the inventor of Pilates was named Joseph.

Still if Pilates is not for you, there is still a new wealth of information on how to develop a well-sculpted, functionally sound machine of a body that will last you into well your later years. That is the goal of the new man. Longevity. Anybody see pictures of California's bodybuilding governor lately? Not looking too hot is he?

Get real guys, get functional. If you want to look and feel good all the way into your 90's then train for all the elements, strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, speed, agility cardiovascular conditioning and do not forget good nutrition. But that's another article altogether.

-Coach Albert

TRX Functional Training

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Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Nice hub.

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