Why Your Gym’s Fitness Classes Will Make You Quit Your Goals Not Reach Them


They attend the same weight training class

Group Classes – Are you doing them wrong?

It’s January, and as usual, your local gym will be receiving a great influx of people, like it had become the last boat leaving an island of undead Christmas turkeys. Most, with the goal of losing any excess wobble they’ve gained over the holiday season. In my seven years as an exercise professional, I’ve seen that this surge of new members never lasts very long, and in less that two months most have already stopped turning up or moon walked out after cancelling their memberships – the reasons for which I can only make educated guesses at. In my time working within the health and fitness industry, I’ve trained a multitude of clients and interacted with an even greater number of gym members, leading me to this current standpoint. Before I continue, I can’t overlook the fact that these rogue members may have just achieved their goals and decided that there is no longer a reason to keep coming. Which I can tell you from my knowledge and experience is a mistake, however I understand that train of thought.

So, my current stand point, although not peer-reviewed, is based on honest conversations, analytical observations, and scientific knowledge of strength and conditioning. It’s as follows; whether your goal is to pacify those judgmental scales via weight loss, toning up, increasing strength, or achieving all three at once and or in only specific parts of your body, the way in which most people use gym classes to achieve them is flawed, and counter productive. I am not trying to make fun of or patronize anyone, as I can respect the drive and mental strength it takes to undertake any four to six weeklong training routine. In addition, most often, this is no fault of their own and is just the result of the incomplete knowledge of training fundamentals expected of your average Joe, Jane, or Dr Strange.

Let me explain what I mean by how most people use gym classes. I have noticed that the majority tend to go to as many classes as their time and mental fortitude allows. Which in the great post-Christmas gusto era can be a lot, I find members will attend on average two 30-45 minute cardio & strength endurance (high reps, low weight) classes a day, sometimes back to back, four to five times a week. With others, even opting to do some additional free weight/body weight exercises after said classes. For extra clarity I’ll give examples of classes that fit this description; Body pump, Grit, Insanity, HIIT, FIT, and Spin. (this is not an exhaustive list) I will explain the problem with this based on the training goals I mentioned earlier, however if this type of group class participation and training structure doesn’t apply to you, then feel free to feel smug and simply read on for the banter.

You want to lose weight: Firstly, is the weight you want to lose just body fat? Secondly, if you are doing this type of high volume training, are you considering how much rest you need post workout for your muscles to rebuild stronger? Do you know what the scientific research suggests is the ideal amount of reps and sets to bring about increases in muscular endurance? What manner of strength (weight training/bodyweight) training burns more fat short and long-term? How to properly fuel your body pre and post workout? If not, I’ll keep it concise – there is a very good chance that you are overtraining. Which, although will lose you weight, that weight loss may also be from muscle being burned off and not just fat. This is a problem because muscle is one of the things that give your body and limbs shape, firmness, and tone. Furthermore, this overtraining will leave you always feeling fatigued instead of stronger and fitter session after session, week after week. In short, overtraining will make you look like Christian Bale in the Machinist and feel like you need spiritual Viagra.

You want to tone up: Now, everyone’s definition of toning up is different, for the sake of continuing the narrative smoothly I will assume that this means having less visible fat, and more visible muscle. Did you know that the best way to do this is to develop and condition fast twitch muscle fibers while reducing body fat? The excessive group training regime will cut the body fat, however as mentioned, will not necessarily develop muscle. What you should do instead, is try to combine heavy strength training sessions i.e. lower reps heavier weight, with the group classes in a way that complements each other. For example, one ‘lower body’ strength session (back squat, split squat and dead lift) and then two or three group classes all appropriately spaced out over 7 days. The heavy strength sessions will develop the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are predominantly on the outer portion of the whole muscle. Imagine slicing one of your quadricep muscles in half, the slower twitch fibers (the ones mainly used in group classes) would be closer to the center of the muscle, and the faster twitch ones closer to the surface of the muscle. Meaning, that to look more toned, it would make sense if you worked on the muscle fibers closer to skins surface, instead of predominantly focusing on those deep at the center. Again, less like the Machinist and more like Batman, or Cat women. Less straight lines and more curves. Not to mention that having more fast twitch muscle fibers will help you burn more fat in each workout and also afterwards on your rest days via increasing your metabolic rate. Imagine, spending less time exercising yet still achieving more! I get giddy just thinking about such delicious paradigms.

You want to increase strength: The reasons for this physical quality’s obtainment being negatively affected, is down to the fact that most group classes are not designed to predominantly focus on strength. Which is fine, and not a criticism of them, however if that is one of your primary goals, you should keep in mind that you might be better served doing at least one session a week that focus on gains in strength. The fast twitch fiber stimulating exercises mentioned in the previous paragraph applies here too. Although the explosive power worked on in a Grit class, and muscular endurance in a HIIT class are both types of strength – if your defining the strength you seek as being able to push, pull or lift heavier loads (weights), doing these types of classes 3-5 times a week is not the best way of achieving this. Let alone adding even more volume to your workload, through training the same muscles AGAIN in your individual light weight lifting workout straight after the class. Reason being (without getting too science-y), that your, within set repetition count will be far too high, the weight lifted far too light and the rest allowed between workouts too brief to get the adaptations required in your fast twitch muscle fibers (the best ones for strong and or high-speed muscular contractions). In short – the difference between Conan O’Brian and Conan the Barbarian, with the happy middle most of you are aiming for requiring a more precise structuring of you weekly regime than you might be currently employing.

The last piece of information I want to finesse your brains with is the potential for injury. All forms of training, no matter how well structured come with a risk of injury – such are the ups and downs of a vigorous life. However, overtraining your body in this relentless group class attending festival of pain, is a definite way to exponentially increase your chances of injury in the long-term. Complaints such as back pain, sore knees/ankles, muscle cramps/spasms/twinges, and perpetual fatigue will become synced to your vocabulary like a new catch phrase. Was actually speaking to my Osteopath about this exact topic, and she remarked on how many patients were coming in this month with overuse injuries from group classes.

To conclude – stand up tall and face the sun, let it’s rays warm you, and as you bask in it’s glow – be proud of the hard work and dedication you’ve put into becoming a better version of yourself. Just be sure to seek some professional advise about how best to channel your efforts, so as to insure the most effective and safe use of your time. It’s the difference between becoming the gym superhero of your story or the mediocre sidekick.

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh

© Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh – Alphaleveltraining.com 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh –Alphaleveltraining.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Should female professional footballers play on a smaller pitch than men?

This question originally came to me during the Women’s World Cup. I pondered it for weeks, letting its peculiar variables bounce around in my skull until this S&C blog post finally gave me a reason to organise them into a stream of expressible thoughts.

Why do I think that elite-level women’s football and possibly all its lower level derivatives should be played on a pitch with reduced dimensions? Well, it boils down to the fact that I believe the technical quality of the game would improve. In order to explain my rational for this statement let’s begin at the ideas inception.

During all the England matches I observed at the World Cup, I couldn’t help but notice just how many long distance passes (crosses included) and shots (which for the sake of clarity let’s define as beyond 30yrds) were off target – especially in comparison to men’s professional football. Now my first thought in trying to explain this was that it was nothing more than just the unavoidable fact that the women’s game is much younger than the men’s and, therefore, is still significantly behind their male counterparts technically. However, the seed of curiosity would not be satisfied with such minimal nourishment, and its roots delved deeper into my subconscious. At some point later on during the tournament, I recalled my belief that the technical standard of the elite women’s game was, give or take the odd under/overachieving individual, similar to that of men’s semi professional football. This in turn made me think that at that level (a level I’m very familiar with, both as spectator and player), their male players still don’t display that level of ‘poor’ long pass and shooting accuracy. Of course this is very subjective and I have not done any quantifiable tests to prove any of the above, but as stated in the title of this website section, these are just thoughts I want to share with you – and hope you find insightful and thought-provoking. And so, once I had that recollection I began looking for a different answer for this technical discrepancy I believed to exist between the sexes when playing on an 11-a-side pitch.

This is the answer I came up with. Within football (and many other sports), it is a well understood concept that when you go for power you sacrifice accuracy. Therefore, actions that require more power, like long distance passes or shots, will be less accurate than their shorter counterparts. And so one of the things that sets the very best players at all levels apart from the rest, is how accurate they can be at or near to maximal effort during (but not exclusively so) passing and shooting skills. Now consider the well-known scientific fact that female athletes are physiologically weaker then men (at the same weight or performance category) in terms of strength & power, and then ask this female athlete to pass/shoot the ball over the same distance as a male athlete (over 30yrds). One can reasonably assume that they will strike the ball at a force closer to their maximum capacity than the male, therefore, more frequently sacrificing accuracy for the required power, and thus reducing their technical efficiency of those actions. So I ask again… Should female professional footballers play on a smaller pitch than men? Personally I am convinced the answer is yes, so much so that I may very well try to answer this question scientifically in my dissertation next academic year.

However, to increase the validity of my mindset, I asked several female football players of amateur and semi-professional level their opinion on the matter. Interestingly, they all disagreed, stating similar answers of it possibly being helpful at lower levels of the game but not making a difference at the elite level. I wonder if after reading my rational they would change their mind, not to mention what the opinion of a professional player would be? I had also asked a fellow S&C coach who works with professional female footballers for his view, and he claimed fascinatingly to have never considered it – but, that after doing so, could see its potential merits, while also adding the anecdotal statement that, some of the female players would ask him how come he seemed to be able to pass the ball over the same distance with less effort? Could it be that like my colleague and female players have just never looked at the technical aspects of their game in this way? Does this lack of foresight when standardising the women’s game reach the highest authorities in football? After all, there is precedent for such action. In golf, they scale down the women’s game, and in baseball the women use bats designed to generate more power. And thinking about it now, it seems very intuitive and surprising that I did not come to this conclusion sooner.

As an aside, this thought process did lead me to another idea… Should women’s football use goals that are the same size as the men’s? Watching matches, I noticed that perhaps the goalkeepers were unable to get across the goal as well as was needed? However this could be an irrelevant thought, as you could say that the reduced shot power that female players produce automatically scales down the goal keeper’s job, thus making the goal size a non issue. Plus, you also see many pre-teen male players at prestigious academies playing matches in full-sized goal, something I find very peculiar and counter-intuitive. This is highlighted when a player scores a free kick in the ‘top corner’ and the poor 5ft goal keeper is left helpless to stop it. What could that pre-teen goalkeeper be gaining from such an experience? Not much would be my answer, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In conclusion, this idea, though something I am passionate about because of my love for the female athlete (in particular the female the footballer), and my dream to see the women’s game become as prominent as the men’s, is still in its infancy. And as such is still some way off answering the multitude of questions that will spawn from it. For example; how much smaller should it be? How will that affect participation, spectatorship and sponsorship? All of the above will require much more thought, peer discussion and empirical research before any kind of true answer is found. I just hope that this piece has gotten your cerebral cogs turning and that my uniquely inquisitive brain was the catalyst for the finding of said answer. I eagerly await that warm fuzzy feeling called satisfaction.

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh

© Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh – Alphaleveltraining.com 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh –Alphaleveltraining.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are your friends the biggest obstacle to you achieving your goals?

This question has come to mind based on my personal and professional experiences. Those as an athletic individual who has endeavoured to live a vigorous life for the last 15 years, and then as a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach training health and fitness enthusiasts and amateur to professional athletes over the last six years. Every one of these individuals, myself included, had their own specific training goals that they have invested time and money into the pursuit of. But how many actually achieve them?

In the professional realm, you can imagine that the success rate is most likely greater than at the sub-elite or recreational level. Although true, in my experience it’s still far lower than it should be – but perhaps that comes from a mind too bound by the philosophy of attaining one’s best version? As an S&C coach all you can do is implement the training interventions and modalities as best you can, providing as much technical and moral support as is necessary. However once you go beyond the scope of your time together with your client, your sphere of influence wanes and the client becomes vulnerable to a host of potentially negative extrinsic and intrinsic factors. And this is where I have noticed the most common similarities between what hinders these clients of all levels and professions from achieving their goals- the social aspects of their lives.

This brings us back to the question; are your friends the biggest obstacle to you achieving your goals? Well, firstly it’s important I just make it clear that there are obviously many other obstacles such as genetic and injury related ones, but in this piece I’m focusing on the social because, as mentioned above, its prevalence throughout all levels of physical training, its influence and the reduced control the S&C coach has over it sets it apart and puts it in place for special consideration. What are the types of social problems facing any individual that is attempting to train regularly in the pursuit of their goals? To begin with let’s examine the types of goals we’re referring to. These training goals range from the aesthetic – reduce body fat, increase muscle mass of intrinsically or extrinsically desirable body parts (pectorals, biceps, glutes, etc) and the performance based – improve strength, power, speed & endurance, etc. Then you have to ask what are the most important factors in achieving said goals? If we inspect those outside the S&C coach’s direct control, one would say, genetic limitations, nutrition, sleep, motivation and a support system are the most important. Looking at that list it should be intuitively obvious that a persons social environment can and will have significant effects on all bar one – the genetic limitations.

How specifically can it affect them? Well If I consolidate all my personal and professional experience with the anecdotal accounts of my fellow professionals with their clients’/athletes’ these are the pictures that get painted about the specific role of ones ‘friends’ in the hindering of their physical goals.

Let’s start with the big one – Nutrition. This, more often that not, is the biggest stumbling block with the recreational athlete or client, but can still prove challenging for professionals because, even though they maybe at a psychological level of determination, drive and habitualness that surpasses that of the non-professional, they were not always professional and as such would most likely not have been able to escape the types of social conditioning from birth to adulthood that creates unhealthy relationships with ‘junk food’ or counterproductive dietary habits. Its importance with the non-professional is often amplified by the fact that they;

  1. Generally possess goals that are skewed towards the aesthetic (e.g. gaining a ‘flat stomach’).
  2. Start their training regimes further away from their aesthetic target (e.g. I’ve put of lots of weight over the holiday period).
  3. Give themselves shorter time frames within which to achieve their goals (e.g. I have a holiday in 4 weeks).

Those three factors, though not an exhaustive list, give you an idea – and in each of those situations proper nutrition is just as, if not more, important than any training intervention one could wish to undertake. Now for the role of the ‘friend’ – which I define in this discussion as anyone who you exchange frequent interactions with and whose opinion can affect your decision-making. So for example, feeling the need to go on daily lunch or after work drinks with friends, feeling the need to go out to a bar/club for a heavily alcohol-focused night out every weekend, or when out for dinner – ordering meals you know you shouldn’t for fear of social mockery or alienation from the group. This effect of peer pressure is a well documented one, and one that extends to other unhealthy habits like smoking. However, complete discussion of those aspects is beyond the scope of this piece. Suffice to say, peer pressure is very detrimental to the kind of decision-making processes that lead to good nutrition and an increased potential to achieve aesthetic goals. The same goes for the professionals and their performance goals… Just look at the most recent example of professional footballer Gabriel Agbonlahor’s physical decline due to poor lifestyle choice – choices that (based on his explanations for his behaviour) were no doubt influenced in some way by his friendship group.

Next is sleep – this is an aspect of training that’s importance in homeostasis, fat loss, physiological adaptations and recovery is often understated or poorly recognized. There is a plethora of literature explaining said importance, but if we just look at it anecdotally, how many people have experienced disturbed sleeping patterns due to excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, late meals, and poor lifestyle choices? I predict a vast majority. And how many of the aforementioned were partaken in some part due to the influence of friends? Again I predict a vast majority.

Motivation – This can be more intrinsic or extrinsic depending on the individual’s personality type and experiences, and it would be hard to say which is greater in any given person. However, knowing that the external influences play a role, it’s safe to assume that negative or counterproductive extrinsic factors, will reduce the individual’s motivation to follow the training regime with the dedication and precision required to achieve their goals. These counterproductive external influences in the combined S&C experience of my peers and myself come in the form of friends, family, spouses and even fellow sportsmen and women. For example, a friend, family member, spouse, or peer suggesting that you come out for drinks, shisha, ill advised meals on the eve of your competition or training session because it’s their birthday. From their perspective this might make sense, but should their priorities be the same as yours? Should you feel bad for choosing your goals over theirs? Do you know their true motivations for asking this of you while knowing how important your training or competition is? Not a straightforward question to answer… The key is context and, more often than not, I have found the answer to all is a firm no. Simply because human nature is such that generally the only way to maintain one’s discipline and professionalism is by not allowing even the smallest backwards step or deviation outside of the prescribed planned ones (i.e. rest days, cheat days, off season periods, etc). We are habitual creatures and if your training regime becomes so regimented that its partaking becomes second nature, there is a greater chance of you seeing continual motivation-enhancing improvements and getting to the end goal successfully. Plus, although you may be able to trust the intensions of family or a spouse, can you trust those of your peers? Especially in non-team based sports? A question perhaps best answered in another piece, but food for thought nonetheless. Furthermore, you might be thinking a little drink or fast food here and there will not have a direct detrimental effect on your training and indirect effect on your motivation, and that in fact that little guilty pleasure might give you even more motivation via an improved mood or a guilt driven desire to train harder. Stop and think about this. The bad habits and psychological attachments and addiction we as a species have developed over the years with food, social interactions and smoking to name but a few, are never likely to be eradicated. Therefore, is dabbling in these behaviours in an unstructured way going to help you repress/control them or just increase the likelihood of a full relapse? This in turn breeds a turbulent guilt, shame, and self loathing cycle that destroys motivation – ultimately preventing you from achieving your training goals.

Finally, the support system, which is basically defining a particular type of close knit social group designed to give you emotional and practical help in your moments of need. In the professional realm, this can be the most important factor as the life of a modern day professional can become very lonely. In the early stages of their career they can find themselves becoming distanced from their former ‘real’ friends and having to make new ones whose motivations are harder to ascertain due to their increased financial wealth. The problem within this aspect of achieving ones goal’s is that a significant number of professionals and non-professionals do not have one to begin with- the professionals for the potential disingenuousness of those around them and the non-pros because those around them, family and spouse included, may not be living the same lifestyle as them. After all, for those of us who are regularly active, health and fitness may be the centre of our world, but we are still in the minority. And most people do not live lives anywhere close to conducive to an above average level of mental, physical and spiritual health, all of which regular exercise and good nutrition have been proved to have a positive affect on. This all means that when life or training is not going well and you are in need of support, they may not be the best people to provide it due to lack of experience or understanding of your plight – no matter the pureness of their intentions. Therefore, it could be a good idea when venturing on the road to an aesthetic or performance goal, to seek additional friendship from those following a similar path.

To conclude, the nature of human connection and interaction in the context of ones lifestyle choices, and pursuit of individual goals is a complicated one. However it’s clear that the people you see on a day-to-day basis – friend, foe, family or spouse will have a significant role to play in the attaining of said goals. So be very very mindful of who you allow to be close, and how much influence you permit their words to have on the decisions made about the body that has to carry you 365 days a year from beginning to end.

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh

© Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh – Alphaleveltraining.com 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh –Alphaleveltraining.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.