Years ago, while I was taking a Western Civilization test, I learned a valuable lesson. The question was, “What ultimately caused the fall of the Roman Empire?” I remember writing three-and-a-half pages on that question and thinking I had nailed it. When I got the test back though, I was shocked by my grade: C+. My professor wrote on my paper the acronym K.I.S.S. Having no idea what that abbreviation meant, I asked the professor after class. He said, “Keep is seriously simple.” Over the years, I have used this philosophy on everything from my retirement portfolio to my management style. I have found it most useful, however, in exercise programming for my clients and myself.
Throughout my 10 years in the fitness industry, I have seen dozens of exercise trends come and go. I’ve also seen many personal trainers try to invent their own exercises using BOSU and stability balls. Typically, these exercises end up resembling a circus act more than exercise. When I ask trainers or members why they are doing these circus acts, they often respond, “To mix it up,” or, “To work on my balance.” Does this sort of stuff work? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that some of the athletes with the most impressive strength and balance, not to mention physiques, are gymnasts. Ask a gymnast if they use BOSU balls and they will probably say, “What’s a BOSU ball?” BOSU or stability balls are tools that people use to train on an unstable surface expecting to work more of their core and to improve balance. Well a gymnast’s routine is mostly made up of explosive movements and body weight exercises, and they have phenomenal core strength and balance. The point is that keeping it simple and sticking to the basics will get you much further than gimmicky exercises or equipment.
Basic exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, shoulder presses, planks and crunches are sure ways for anyone to make progress. Every one of these exercises can be modified to suit a beginner or modified to challenge seasoned fitness veterans. That being said, I am not advocating doing the same workout every time. Setting new goals each week for those exercises will help achieve consistent progression. There are several effective ways of mixing up your workout while sticking with the same exercises. For example, if you can only do three sets of five pull-ups successfully, then shoot for three sets of six repetitions the next week. Or you can do more sets with fewer repetitions. Doing five sets of four repetitions actually nets you five more total pull-ups than the three sets of five. Either method will have you doing more pull-ups in no time.
Let’s look at the squat now. If you aren’t challenged by your own body weight for squats, then try single-legged squats. Single-legged squats are highly effective in improving balance and core strength. If the single-legged squats are too tough then try doing as many squats at possible within a 30 to 60 second time frame. This method improves challenges the Type IIb muscle fibers, which are responsible for speed and explosiveness. Since the Type IIb fibers are the quickest to deteriorate as we age, this is a highly effective exercise.
In today’s society, we are flooded with misinformation. Think of it this way, with all the gyms and advanced equipment available today, we are in worse shape as a society than we were 50 years ago. Back then, we focused on basic calisthenics and body weight exercises. In closing, the BOSU and stability balls can be useful tools but master the basics first.
Hodson is the fitness manager for the Blount Memorial Wellness Centers.