Monthly Archives: December 2010

Time to ‘Bant’

It’s been way too long since my last post. In my defence, my girlfriend has just had our first child and I recently moved offices, but I still don’t post as often as I should.

One of the benefits of my new office is that we are directly opposite Silhouette, one of the commercial gym chains here in Geneva. I have a prime view of the cardio/sit-up area which provides me with endless hours of fun. I know I’m in serious danger of turning into a fitness snob (not cool), but I really do see complete idiocy on a regular basis.

My favourite at the moment is the old lady who comes every afternoon in full Jane Fonda gear. To be fair, she is probably much more active than most women her age, but I would still like to see her on a sensible programme with squats and deadlifts, rather than a series of retarded arm waves and 12 types of sit-up.

Think of this outfit. On a 70-year old.

As I type, there is a guy in front of me who has spent the last 25 mins doing shoulder raises. He probably weighs about 60kgs, so might be better off doing some heavy presses if he wants bigger shoulders, but he seems to be enjoying himself.

It never fails to amaze me the lack of knowledge among most people when it comes to fitness. Don’t get me wrong, it is really hard to find good info and almost everything offered by the mainstream and fitness media is usually nothing more than an infomercial selling the latest product or philosophy.

The truth is that the basics of strength and fitness have not changed in hundreds of years. Guys like Arthur Saxon, Eugene Sandow and Louis Cyr performed remarkable feats of strength in the 19th century without access to protein shakes, swiss balls, treadmills or multi-gyms.

In 1905, Saxon published The Development of Physical Power, which detailed his training methods using barbells, kettlebells and dumbells. Sound familar at all?

Arthur Saxon

In 1863 William Banting published a pamphlet entitled “Letter on Corpulence – Addressed to the Public” detailing how he managed, at the age of 66, to successfully drop 50lbs after years of ineffective attempts to lose weight.

Banting’s advice proved so popular – copies of his pamphlet were translated into French and German and the French emperor was said to have tried the diet –  that he became the the unwitting architect of the first known diet fad. His success was such that the verb “to bant” became commonly used in English to mean “diet”.

What was it about Banting’s advice that proved so popular and what was the key to his dieting success? The keystone of the regimen was to avoid sugar and starch and he ate three meals per day of meat, fish or game with some stale toast or cooked fruit on the side.

Banting was attacked vigourously by the press, most notably the Lancet which accused him of repackaging old news. To his credit, Banting never claimed to be an innovator. His goal was simply to share what he had learned with the general public, whom he correctly suspected would also be enlightened by his advice.

The point here is that good information has been out for a long time in both training and nutrition, but it is easy to get led astray by the latest technologies and fads. Most of them (CrossFit included) are just traditional fitness programmes which have been given a funky new name and shiny packaging.

There is nothing wrong with that and provided the principles are sound, so is the programme. Think compound movements and measuring performance a la CrossFit, rather than lat-pull downs, leg presses and crunches.

And if you do get fitness advice, always question it! Don’t just accept a trainer’s recommendation to do sit-ups, bench presses or whatever. Ask him or her why they have chosen those movements and their relevance for you and your goals.