Yikes, it’s an ugly headline: Only 6% of USA adults meet the recommended guidelines for muscle-strengthening exercising (two or more days per week targeting all seven muscle groups)!

Ugly, but not surprising. One current fitness industry trend is offering group classes that focus on isolated or pairs of body parts, e.g., ‘abs’, ‘glutes and thighs’. Marketing aside, it’s interesting to interpret the public’s response to the trend.

At face value, the scant percentage that sustains a comprehensive health-related fitness routine (including strength training) is cause for alarm. Consider women’s bone health alone. Without reversing the growing prevalence, public health estimates that 1:2 women will develop osteoporosis by 2020. Science agrees in strength training’s mitigation so the reality is 1:2 women developing a devastating condition that is…preventable!

Then there is the impact that isolative training has on motivation. Level of fitness strengthens exercise adherence, meaning the more fit one is the more likely one will continue to exercise. The industry neglects this key motivation principle when it offers isolative programming AND messages that fragmented body part conditioning is ok. The more we program and encourage comprehensive fitness, the more fit participants become, the more resilient their motivation to stick to their routine.

Interpreted from a different perspective, the response to the trend is actually encouraging. First, even during the economic recession of the past couple of years, the general public has continued to spend discretionary income on fitness. Gym membership has actually increased as has spending on fitness apparel, equipment and DVD’s. The message here is wellness is a priority and ‘if we build it they will come,’ meaning the public trusts the industry so will populate whatever the offered programming.
That Jane and Joe Public listens to the industry only means more responsibility to the industry to offer programming that serves its best interest. Decisions need to be made cautiously so to not trivialize the physical activity experience, nor outright negate principles that strengthen adherence. Some exercise is always better than no exercise but we can do better than to expect only the bare minimum.

Finally, a message to Jane and Joe Public. It doesn’t take an exercise science degree to realize that fragmented fitness doesn’t make sense. Listen to your intuition when it tells you ‘glutes and abs’ does not make for a sound health-related fitness routine. As an add-on to a full complement of cardio, strength training and flexibility – awesome!! – as the staple of your physical activity participation there is just more to your physical activity self than your stomach and your rear end.

Loustalot, F., Carlson, S., Kruger, J., Bushner, D. & Fulton, M. (2013). Muscle-Strengthening Activities and Participation Among Adults in the United States. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 84 (1), 30-38.