What has happened to us?

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wosnes
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What has happened to us?

Post by wosnes » Sat Sep 08, 2007 11:03 am

I was browsing Newsweek online yesterday and found the following article. It brought to mind a few questions that keep niggling at my brain: Why is it that we need experts to tell us how to do everything? Why can't we use our common sense and the wisdom that has been passed down for generations (get some exercise every day, don't eat between meals and so on).

Unfortunately, it seems the more we rely on experts, the less well we do. We just get more confused. Also unfortunately, this isn't seen just in the area of diet, health and fitness. There are few areas of our lives where some expert isn't telling us how to do routine, everyday things. Cleaning our homes. Managing our finances. And so on.
Are Classes and Trainers Bad for Your Workout?
Regular exercise is essential for good health, but some people sacrifice their independence in pursuit of fitness. The importance of self-reliance.

WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Wray Herbert
Special to Newsweek
Updated: 4:56 p.m. ET Aug 15, 2007
Aug. 15, 2007 - I work out in the gym a fair amount, and I have noticed that the regulars divide themselves into two camps. There are those who want a lot of structure and coaching. They sign up for spinning and Pilates classes and dutifully show up every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m.; more and more are even hiring personal trainers to keep them on track. The exercise freelancers, by contrast, prefer to grunt and sweat on their own. You’ve seen them off in the corner with the free weights. They don’t even like talking to other people all that much.

I put myself in the second camp, though I have wondered sometimes if I am losing out on health benefits by being so fiercely independent. I know I dog it at times, and like a lot of Americans could probably use an occasional nudge to work harder and longer. This is not a luxury issue having to do with expensive clubs. Our country is in the midst of a public-health crisis, with escalating rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and more. And regular exercise, while not a cure-all, can remedy many of these health problems. Yet it’s proven maddeningly difficult to get slugabeds to adopt an exercise regimen and stick to it. Is structure the answer? Or is there a downside to the trend toward formal classes and instruction and personal coaching?

Psychological research has a few things to say about this important health question. Consider a body of work known as “self-efficacy theory.†I’ll spare you the jargon, but basically what this theory holds is that we are powerful agents in our own lives, that we can take stock of where we are in life and change if we choose to, by setting goals and making plans and acting on those plans. This may sound obvious, but as they say, the devil is in the details. How do we make lasting changes, especially big changes, like going from being a couch potato to a gym rat?

The keys are mastery and self-regulation. We learn new things vicariously, by simply looking around and taking notice of what works and modeling it. In that sense, just showing up at the gym is probably a good start, and organized classes offer good models of basic skills like a proper sit-up. But there is a potential pitfall for would-be exercisers when they cede independence to an instructor or (especially) a personal trainer. Psychologists call these “proxy agents,†and the risk is that we actually can become too dependent on these people. If that happens, we end up learning technical skills but actually diminish the mental and emotional skills—delayed gratification, discipline—needed for long-term commitment to health.


Health psychologists are just beginning to explore the practical applications of these ideas, but at least one small study lends support. In that study, the psychologists compared the two camps of exercisers: the freelancers versus those who gravitate toward instructors and coaching. When the researchers in effect deprived them of any sort of formal workout structure, they found that indeed the freelancers were much more confident in their ability to manage their exercise programs on their own—setting realistic goals, exercising safely and so forth. The “joiners†had become overly reliant on the very coaches who were supposed to help them change.

These findings may not be all that surprising, but what’s interesting is that the exercisers were self-selecting in a way that’s not particularly adaptive. That is, the ones who desire a lot of help and support are the very ones who can be hurt by it. This is not just about ab crunches at the club. More and more people are hiring personal coaches to help them manage all aspects of their lives, and personal trainers are playing an increasingly important role in health-care settings—in cardiac rehabilitation and in nursing homes, for example. If it’s hard for us to stick to a long-term health-promotion regimen, just imagine how hard it must be when you have an excuse, like discomfort or disability.

The vast majority of the decisions we make every day are completely automatic, with no conscious deliberation. When I go to the gym every morning, I see exactly the same people there. I can guarantee you that they are not waking up and weighing the pros and cons of exercising that day. They are brushing their teeth and heading to the gym. But making exercise the default position takes months and months of doing it, until it requires no internal debate. Both individual exercisers and trainers need to be mindful that the best kind of coaching pumps up self-reliance and discipline as well as pectorals and lats.

Wray Herbert writes the “We’re Only Human . . .†blog.

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20286803/site/newsweek/
"That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do. Not that the nature of the thing itself has changed but our power to do it is increased." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"You are what you eat -- so don't be Fast, Easy, Cheap or Fake."

bopque
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What has happend to us?

Post by bopque » Sun Sep 09, 2007 3:58 pm

Yes. Self-reliance and personal responsibility seem to been in short supply these days. What's worse is that we rely on "experts" of dubious merit to guide us in the most fundamental human activities--eating for instance. What's much worse is that legitimate experts often seem just as lost as the rest of us. Here's a link to a discussion on the recent widely covered findings from Harvard researchers that obesity is contagious:

http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=082107D

This is not to dismiss the value of help from experts when we need it.

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navin
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Post by navin » Mon Sep 10, 2007 2:56 am

I take a different take on this. I think people tend to take those group exercise classes for completely different reasons than this author seems to think. The main reasons I do them are to learn something new and to have social interaction, both of which are good things. And having accountability to somebody else ("Hey, missed you at spin class yesterday..") makes a difference.

I think we do need experts - or at least other people with knowledge different from our own - to an extent. After all, one thing that separates humans from the rest of the animals is that we can pass knowledge to each other and through the generations. It would be silly for each of us to have to re-learn everything. So it makes sense for us to learn from a personal trainer, physical therapist, instructor, etc. how to do certain exercises to get maximum benefit and to avoid injury. But it also then makes sense to put that learning to use for our specific cases.

So I'm for both - taking group classes and having some personal instruction, but also doing things on our own. Of course that's what I do so maybe I'm just biased. :)
Before criticizing someone, you should try walking a mile in their shoes. Then you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

kccc
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Post by kccc » Tue Sep 11, 2007 2:19 am

Hm... I think the author is a tad biased toward his preference. Or maybe I'm a tad critical because my own preference is for classes. (Though I always have backup plans in place for breaks between them.)

I like classes. They push me harder, help me learn new things, provide a social connection, keep me from getting bored.

And who says picking the right class and committing to it doesn't take a certain amount of self-efficacy, discipline, delayed gratification, etc?

To each his/her own. If you're moving, you're good.

Brandon
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Post by Brandon » Tue Sep 11, 2007 4:55 pm

After first reading the article I thought "on the money", but after reading KCCC and navin's post, I agree with them. I was myself reading with my own preference in mind. I'd just as soon not speak to anyone when I'm working out. I'm too busy in my own headspace cheering myself on/flogging myself to be bothered with discussing the weather or weekend plans with some joker I only ever see at the gym. Therefore I dislike classes and agreed with the author at first, but I think it really does boil down to a personal preference. Some folks feel the need for group participation, and that helps them along the road to fitness.

Big Phil
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Post by Big Phil » Tue Sep 18, 2007 4:51 am

Don't forget - your chance of picking up hot chicks is much greater if you go to a gym or class than if you exercise by yourself. I think this is a much more important motivator in gym attendance than polite discussion and newspaper reports would have us believe!

Phil.

kccc
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Post by kccc » Tue Sep 18, 2007 7:12 pm

Big Phil wrote:Don't forget - your chance of picking up hot chicks is much greater if you go to a gym or class than if you exercise by yourself. I think this is a much more important motivator in gym attendance than polite discussion and newspaper reports would have us believe!

Phil.
LOL! I suppose that's one motivation... but hardly mine.

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navin
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Post by navin » Thu Sep 20, 2007 5:20 pm

Big Phil wrote:Don't forget - your chance of picking up hot chicks is much greater if you go to a gym or class than if you exercise by yourself. I think this is a much more important motivator in gym attendance than polite discussion and newspaper reports would have us believe!

Phil.
Heh, that's absolutely true! But that can be generalized, too. Going to group classes can also make you new friends... you might meet people in your spin class, for instance, that like to moutnain bike on the weeekends, and so you try something new.
Before criticizing someone, you should try walking a mile in their shoes. Then you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

Flnu
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Post by Flnu » Fri Oct 05, 2007 11:19 pm

Heh. The author also forgot about competition as a motivator. I greatly enjoy crushing the competition in my step classes, even though I'm the only who know it's a competition, so I really push. I also do a lot better at getting to the gym when I'm gunning for a specific time than "when I feel like it."

I'm annoyed at the "study" that found that people who are used to group exercise are at more of a loss when asked to exercise individually than are people who exercise individually. I don't think that's ceding independence. Although he may have a point about ceding agency to life coaches and the like.
Last edited by Flnu on Sun Oct 07, 2007 12:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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gratefuldeb67
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Post by gratefuldeb67 » Sat Oct 06, 2007 12:31 am

LOL!!!!
This is why I love Big Phil! :mrgreen:

Group classes have good energy too :)
Peace and Love,
Debs
There is no Wisdom greater than Kindness

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