New Year’s Fitness Fads, Diets and other Bullsh*t!

As we go into January, the inevitable launch of the latest fashionable diet and exercise fad is upon us. With this, heralds masses of inactive people looking to get fitter, and lose inches in 3-4 weeks that probably took them years of inactivity and poor nutrition to put on. If you are one of these, the end result, more often than not, is one of the following:

  • Twelve-month gym membership abandoned after one month.
  • Injury or pain leads you to give you up wha
  • Diet given up after a couple of weeks because you went gung-ho and asked too much of yourself, too soon.
  • Injury or pain leads you to give you up whatever exercise form you took up, and resort to “wait til you’re a bit fitter” before resuming.

All of these outcomes can be avoided with a little bit of rational thought and consultation with an educated, professional exercise/nutrition coach. [Side note: Why did I say educated? Surely any professional personal trainer is educated. Not necessarily… I am a certified strength and conditioning coach and learned very valuable information, but some of the most important coaching knowledge I have learnt came from sources other than my certification, i.e. books, DVDs and workshops attended year in, year out. So choose your coach wisely]

Anyway, back to the topic at hand – why do so many people looking to become healthier in the New Year fail? Usually, it’s because despite the best of intentions, they make the following mistakes. By alerting you to these, I hope to save you frustration, lack of progress, and most importantly, injury.

Typical Fallacies of New Year Health Fanatics

  1. Number one on my list is taking up a sport or exercise class without a proper assessment/movement screen. The simple truth is, many people are not ready to jump into an exercise programme without some kind of intervention to correct movement dysfunction, poor core stability, etc… You can read more on the importance of assessment here.
  2. Taking up running. What??? Taking up running is bad? Well… let’s just say that for many, taking up running, or jogging, or whatever you want to call it, is ill-advised. Oftentimes, it comes back to the lack of assessment. You may be too overweight and/or have too little muscle tissue for your joints to support the stresses of running. Running places loads of 3-5 times your body weight on your joints  every step. I realise joining a running club has many incentives: it’s group-based therefore offers motivation, it’s cheaper than joining a gym or a class, very little equipment needed. However, there is much more to increasing fitness than cardio work, which is where running falls. And, crucially, you never see orthopaedic surgeons running along the road. Why do you think that is?
  3. The dreaded detox diet – ok let’s get this straight: there are health risks to following any detox diets you read in magazines, newspapers or social media. Many people undergo a detox diet in January in a bid to rid the body of toxins that may have accumulated in the previous weeks, months or even years of unhealthy eating. One thing I always tell my weight-loss clients is, “you didn’t TRY to gain weight, so don’t TRY to lose it.” Make small, manageable, incremental changes to your lifestyle that are sustainable over the LONGTERM. For example, reduce sugar in your diet one week, and then reduce caffeine the following week, and so on…. By hitting your body with a cold-turkey detox diet you risk toxic shock, days of feeling miserable with numerous side effects. Anyone with health issues shouldn’t go on detox diets, e.g. diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic medical conditions. Teenagers and pregnant women should also avoid detox diets. Just eat healthily – plenty of vegetables, lean protein, gradually eliminate or at least reduce, sugar, caffeine, alcohol. Drink plenty of water and your body will detoxify itself.
  4. HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training: A popular method of getting rapid fat loss results, High Intensity Interval Training is both effective and time-efficient. The downside is that the associated elevation of heart-rate to quite high levels can be risky for several of the population. HIIT involves exercising intensely in short bursts with intermittent recovery periods. If you are not very aerobically fit, then HIIT can put quite a stress on you that you may not be quite ready for. It would be much more advisable to build up a base level of aerobic fitness before tackling HIIT. Strength training will lead to similar weight reduction and has the added benefit of enhancing your physique.
  5. Another factor to consider is that many of us are leading increasingly stressed lives. Whether it’s financial, physical or emotional is irrelevant. It still takes its toll on the body. Adding more excessive physical stress is inadvisable. To elaborate: the central nervous system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is used for “flight or fight” in stressful situations, but is not meant to be in use for long. Problems occur when we cannot disengage from the sympathetic nervous system and relax, thereby engaging the parasympathetic (or peaceful) nervous system. Exercising in the aerobic zone of 120-140 bpm heart-rate once/twice per week will help you to reduce stress levels, improve digestion and sleep better. This can be done running (if appropriate) or biking, or many other ways. Here is a great article on the subject:

To wrap up, please take some key points on board:

  • If you are currently sedentary, get a good coach who can thoroughly assess you, including a movement screen.
  • Don’t skimp paying for quality coaching. Saving money now can cost you far more later, in terms of pain and finances. You have one body – take care of it.
  • Take it handy on the nutrition improvements. Make small, consistent changes. Think long-term lifestyle changes, not short-term all-or-nothing fad diets.
  • Running may not be good for you. Get an assessment.
  • Strength training is essential, but you may not be ready yet. Get an assessment.
  • HIIT is effective for quick fat loss, but it may bring on more stress than your body needs right now. Get an assessment.

Wishing you all the best for 2016,

Shane Fitzgibbon

Want to learn more about rational training and nutrition, while you have time to spare over the holidays? Check out my book, “Training and Optimal Health for Sports.” Free shipping this week. Digital version is also available. See