Or, Training Solutions for the Rest of Us: Beyond the ‘WOW Factor’ of Exercise Porn and the Essence of Program Design

Exercise porn – yep, it’s a thing.

I see it every single day, and you likely have as well – especially on some specific social media platforms that are all about grabbing attention in minimum time.

But I get it.

Every industry is saturated. Fitness is just another example of this. And social media make this reality a bit worse. Instead of a few great places consumers can go to get expert advice, now everyone is an expert and this dilutes the expertise base substantially.

There are gazillions of social media sites and social media personalities trying to break into the fitness business.

These folks try to accumulate followers and likes in any way they can – and of course that makes sense, especially in the social media world we live in. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this. It is what it is.

But one of the ways many wannabe’s try to get established is by presenting what I call ‘exercise porn’ exercises and training sequences that are beyond the pale. This can attract a lot of eyes – because these days; anything with a ‘wow’ factor is sure to be liked, shared etc. And that is how you build an audience online.

But beyond the wow factor we must also look at “pragmatics

Listen, I’ve seen some exercises and sequences on social media that are truly impressive – and even to my very-experienced and well-trained eye, some of these displays have sheer “WOW” factor, as in, I even catching myself thinking, “Wow, that’s really impressive.”

And it can indeed be motivating to watch ‘hot bodies’ doing incredible, even impossible exercises etc. – again it creates an instant hit of your ‘like’ button

But let’s bring all these ‘circus acts’ and ‘exercise porn sequences’ back to reality and address some fundamental elements of exercise physiology and the true essence of an intention of what program design should be composed of.

First off are my two fundamental Abel Principles:

  1. A collection of exercises does not automatically translate into being an effective workout!
  2. A collection of workouts does not automatically translate into being an effective program!

So – we need to always address these very impressive ‘circus act’ exercises and ‘exercise porn’ sequences with some fundamental questions regarding overall ‘context’ of how and when such exercises and exercise sequences can be used in order to further any trainee’s progress.

So, I need to make this point: “just because a thing, can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.”

No one is trying to take away from the fact that these sequences have a WOW factor and are impressive to witness.

But let’s dig a little deeper beyond the ‘exercise porn’ element of attracting eyeballs and competing for your time

You must address what you are seeing with the following fundamental questions of ‘context’ in mind

  1. Is this exercise or exercise sequence ‘necessary?’
  2. Is this exercise or sequence ‘effective?’ (In term of making progressions or moving toward a goal)
  3. Is this exercise or sequence ‘widely applicable?’

There’s no point in developing circus act exercises and exercise porn sequences if only the best of the best, highest end fitness buffs or young bucks-and-does who live in the gym are the only trainees who can perform them.

Nothing is more deflating to an average trainee than to be assigned an exercise or exercise sequence that is beyond their capability. Furthermore, real people with real jobs and real lives can waste a helluva lot of precious gym time trying to master some silly exercise that has no practical value worth mastering in the first place – like one trainee I knew spent almost 6 months trying to be able to do a single arm pull-up (chin), even though his goal was physique development – why?

But let’s stay on point.

Let’s talk about an exercise or exercise sequence being widely applicable. Here’s an example. On a very simple level – almost anyone can perform a cable lat pulldown – but far, far less trainees can perform weighted chins. For real-people seeking general fitness, weight loss, and/or physique transformation, should precious workout time be invested in aiming to do weighted chin ups, when the same trainee can make ‘progressions’ simply by getting stronger on the lat pulldowns machine and moving the pin down the stack to the next heaviest load.

So, I’m not talking about how heavy someone can lift – I’m talking developing workouts and programs that are widely applicable to most trainees, who maybe aren’t athletically gifted and who haven’t been living in a gym their whole adult lives, and who want to make cosmetic improvements on their physiques, without having to risk injury or embarrassment while doing so.

Remember…

There are no magic exercises!

PERIOD.

The majority of people trying to include a fitness lifestyle as their new normal, must be assigned exercises and workouts that they are able to do consistently – consistency builds compliance and compliance builds confidence and all three lead to giving birth to someone’s own individual and personalized established fitness lifestyle; and shouldn’t that be the goal anyway?

Your fitness regimen has to fit into your real life. Your real life shouldn’t have to fit into your fitness regimen.

So, no not everyone can do a butt-to-heels pistol squat standing on a Stability Ball while holding a DB over their heads. (This is just one recent ‘circus act’ example I saw on IG) – and while that maybe a really impressive thing to witness – let’s look at this example while addressing the  ‘qualifying questions’ I posed above

And keep these questions in mind within an overall context of most people working out to 1) become more fit, 2) lose weight, 3) physique transformation (just look better and feel better).

Therefore, in regards to the example above, ask yourself…

  1. Is this exercise or exercise sequence really necessary for an average trainee in order for them to make physique improvements?
  2. Is this exercise or exercise sequence effective for an average trainee in terms of them making progress and improvement?
  3. Is this exercise or exercise sequence widely applicable for an average trainee in terms of being put to use on a regular basis for the purpose of them making progress and improvement?
  4. Oh, and finally, one of the most important questions to ask – IS IT SAFE for the average trainee to even try to learn and do the exercise?

In regards to #4, I know of more than a handful of very experienced trainees who have blown out a knee or broken a limb by trying to execute some ‘sexy but inefficient,’ ‘sexy but useless’, ‘sexy but irrelevant’ circus act exercises and exercise porn stunts like doing BB squats on a Stability Ball.

Many basic exercises like BB Squats and BB Deadlifts are technically difficult to execute already and can be unsafe for the inexperienced or average trainee – so how does a single leg pistol squat standing on a SB with a DB overhead lockout hold, factor in to the ‘risk to benefit’ analysis?

When I was explaining this to someone the other day, they fired back – “Well I get motivated watching guys bench 500 lbs, or squat 700 lbs, what is wrong with that?

I reminded him – “That is not what I was saying!” I was not saying that any feat beyond your current capability isn’t worth appreciating. That would be silly. Remember we are talking about the exercise and exercise sequences themselves.

So to answer his question within the context of my qualifiers – yes, barring injury or other limiting scenarios, most trainees can indeed perform squats and bench presses – so the moves are indeed widely applicable. They are also necessary and effective for most trainees – so therefore these exercises fit my qualifiers listed above.

Compare whether YOU can do a bench press or bench press variation (like DB bench) and a squat or any number of squat variations (DB Squats for instance to keep it simple) – compare that to my example above of a one leg pistol squat on a SB with an overhead lockout hold – can YOU do that? And would it matter much if you could?

About 15 years or so ago I learned a very valuable lesson on this topic. I was developing my MET/HYBRID training programs for muscle growth and fat burning. And even though I used exercises that almost everyone could do – the sequences I created with these exercises were just too advanced for most trainees, and only the fittest of the fit could use these initial programs effectively. And rather than building consistency, many trainees just abandoned the protocol altogether.

I had to dial things way back to make the methodology more suitable for the “widely applicable” qualifying point above, and I ended up with a sort of beginner, intermediate and advanced approach so that these protocols could be more accessible and doable for the average trainees seeking physique transformation/development and fat burning.

But listen; when it comes to “exercise porn” I get it. It’s provocative. It’s eye-catching. It’s alluring (especially when ‘hot bods’ are performing it). It’s even motivating.

Just don’t get too caught up in in investing much time in watching all this exercise porn, or worse, going out and wasting precious gym time trying to do sexy exercises that have no real-world contributing value to your progress.

The traditional basics can take you almost all the way to your transformation goals – from there it’s more about advanced individualized programming than it is about fancy exercises of little value

Enough of the circus acts and exercise porn – don’t be fooled. – Let’s get back to practicalities and fundamental principles.

 

KEY WORDS IN REVIEW:

Pragmatics

Necessary

Effective

Applicability

Safe (in general)

Risk-to-benefit