Thursday, October 11, 2007

Exercise Pseudoscience

Today I met with a trainer at the gym. It seems that his primary goal was to sell me more training sessions.

He really struggled with his sales pitch because my weight is smack dab in the middle of the suggested range for my height. I suspect that the usual strategy for selling training to women is the promise to be thin. I'm smart enough not to tell him that in the back of my mind I secretly wish to lose 20 pounds and to return to the sickly-skinny weight that I was at when I finished grad school. No trainer would suggest that I get back down to a BMI of 17.5 and the life of coffee, insomnia, and cloudy thinking that went with it. When it comes down to it, they always side with fit over skinny.

As part of the interview, he asked me what size I wear. I replied (truthfully) that in most brands I wear a 2 or a 4 (didn't mention that at BR I frequently wear a 0). He asked what I thought of that. Instead of being a smart-ass and saying that I ofen buy children's clothing to find clothes small enough to fit me (especially tops), I said that I was fine with being that size. He tested my body fat with one of those hand-held gizmos; I didn't care what it said because I know that a single reading from one of those is pretty much useless.

When he asked if I could change anything about my body what would it be, I said that I'd like my injuries from my car accidents to stop hurting. Most of my body issues can't be fixed by diet and exercise. I'd like my eyes to be a little bit further apart (I have crappy depth perception). Better teeth. Less grey hair. Better skin. Better hearing and vision. No more endometriosis. I'd like to be about 3" taller. All of those would come before my heart murmur on my list of things to change. Minor alterations of size, shape, and body composition aren't even on my radar.

He claimed he couldn't give me a sample baseline workout because you have to change your workout very frequently or else it doesn't work. Whatever he might have given me today just wouldn't work next week. The only way to get progress is train with a trainer. Only a trainer can know what exercises to do and how much weight to use. He also said that since it takes 36 hours for muscles to rebuild, if you work the same muscle group on Monday and then again on Wednesday (which, by my calculuation is 48 hours later), then you actually lost strength and fitness. (I did not ask why in physical therapy you can make progress by doing the same exercise several times a day, every day for months on end.)

And here I'm thinking, I'm not an actor trying to radically redefine my body in a short time to play a role. I'm not training for the Olympics or trying to be a professional athlete or anything else that requires optimizing my training. I'm not trying for an inspirational weight-loss story. I'm trying to stay healthy and avoid hurting myself. How hard could that possibly be?

I suspect that my money would be better spent buying a book. The trick is finding one that's written by someone who is familiar with the scientific method and whose ideas are based on research, not the folklore that is spread at the gym.