23 June 2016

An individual approach to fitness works best

Habib Noorbhai, Health24's biokinetics expert, discusses eight health and fitness topics.


As a Fitness and biokinetics expert, contributing to Health24 for more than three years, I would like to share some information and opinions about key features in the health, fitness and sport industries.

I will focus on eight topics that come up frequently on the Fitness and Biokinetics forum.

1. Generic vs. individual approach to health (Listen to your body, not the pack!)

A healthy lifestyle is based on two focal aspects: consistency and individualism.

For a number of years we have been guided by a number of theories in the sciences of nutrition and fitness. Key concepts have been taught to us utilizing the “what” and “why” but failing to answer the more focused questions of “how” and “what if”. We have however come a long way and now reside in a modern era where research into lifestyle diseases and ill health is rapidly evolving.

It is paramount for us to challenge the way we have been taught. We need to be smart and think differently. Instead of randomly correcting our lifestyle habits, we need to rather look at things that have changed and how we can adapt to those particular changes.

Read: Aggressive treatment for unhealthy lifestyles

We often impose a generic approach to individual situations. The “quick-fix” or “one-size-fits-all” approach is wrong! Individualism is key, but unfortunately often ignored due to constraints such as time, effort and funding.

One example is group classes, in order to accommodate a larger number of individuals at the same time and place. Despite the fact that certain people enjoy training within a group, this is an example of a generic approach to exercise that makes more business sense.

We need to understand that we are all different in the way we respond to exercise, training, eating and other physical actions. Our metabolism, genetics, environment, age, demographics, health status and medical history all need to be considered.

2. Exercise programmes without assessment

“You cannot manage what you don’t measure.“

It would be particularly challenging for any health professional to prescribe an individual programme without knowing that person’s background. For example, a biokineticist or fitness professional would not be able to prescribe exercises without knowing specific assessment details (e.g. medical history, strength and fitness test variables, goals).

Read: Honest self-assessment better than false praise

If you are given a programme without knowledge of your background, it could do more harm than good. Before requesting an exercise routine or programme, have an assessment done. Also make sure you get to know your body, test your capabilities and limits, and understand all requirements before you commit to any health plan.

3. Exercise machines

Follow the three E’s for consistency.

To exercise consistently, the E’s are:

  • Enjoyment
  • Excitement
  • Entertainment

If you are continuously involved in monotonous body-weight exercises or cardio training, you may quickly become bored or become frustrated, especially when you don’t see any change. Exercise machines and other equipment were introduced to the market to address this problem.   

While certain machines are considered to be beneficial for the beginner, they don’t cater for the individual needs of more advanced exercisers. Most machines are either too generic or only work certain muscle groups. We needs to be selective about what machine we use, unless it’s been prescribed specifically by a professional.

Read: Virgin Active offers kettle bell classes

For example, it would be risky for a patient with high blood pressure to use the “shoulder press” machine instead of the “pull down” machine.

4. Ethics and Scope of Practice for dietary plans and guidelines

Exercise specialists are not qualified to prescribe for other health modalities.

I have been asked countless times about the most effective eating regimes, diet plans and what to eat and drink before and after training.

Although nutrition forms a very important part of the exercise sciences, exercise specialists aren’t specifically trained in this field. Biokineticists and fitness trainers may know the basics of nutrition, but it is unethical for them to provide anything more than guidelines as they are not doctors, dietitians or nutritionists.

Read: Sports nutrition for vegetarians

Our eating guidelines can assist you in making informed decisions on a healthy eating lifestyle, but if you are unsure or need more specific information, you should consult a qualified dietitian.

5. What eating plan should you follow?

Consistency is key.

Physically we are all unique, but many people still ask which diet or eating plan they should use.   

The answer depends on your goals and whether you just want to be healthy, lose weight, lose body fat percentage or improve your exercise performance or sport.  It is important to make sure you are consistent in what you do for both training and eating.

If you have been on the Atkins diet for example and you feel it works for you, then stick to it and the same goes for all the other diets. If you have been on a certain type of training and you see it working for you, carry on with it.

6. Nutritional supplements (the health industry’s ‘transformer’)

Avoid “Scamformance”!

Most nutritional supplements are developed and manufactured according to formulas that are reportedly scientifically researched and tested, but it is not clear how reliable these tests actually are.

Research published in the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that the industry is not appropriately regulated, and claims that are made on products may not always be accurate. As more nutritional supplement brands and products are released, both locally and internationally, the problem increases.

Read: Dietary supplements still popular

What needs to be done?

Manufacturers should be held responsible for their errors and omissions. South Africa’s National Health Act incorporates the Medicine Control Council, which is concerned with the efficacy, quality and effectiveness of medicines.

Although progress has been made, legislation and the implementation of regulations regarding nutritional supplements remains a challenge.  

7. Correct technique is not enough

Focus on the individual at hand.

It is a well-established fact that a textbook-correct technique does not correlate with improved performance outcomes.

Using cricket as an example, more attention should be given to how many runs a batsman scores than to how elegantly he moves.

Often “unorthodox” sportsmen use the “incorrect” technique, but if it works for them and helps them to score it doesn’t matter so much.

Read: Danger zones on the cricket field

If we focus too much on technique, it could be a never-ending process without achieving the desired outcome.

8. “Healthcare and professionals are expensive, so I consult online experts for advice.”

Answers are readily available, but it's more difficult to ask questions.

In the current digital age, there is a wealth of knowledge and information online that we can access and benefit from. A key question however is how do we know what information out there is correct and reliable?

It is easy to get answers, but unfortunately not so easy to question the individuals who supply this information. Such online forums or websites need to be regulated and safeguarded in order to ensure that accurate and safe information is being distributed to the reader, client or patient.

Read: Bogus therapies sold online

Before accepting the online advice, do some research on the organisation and person as well as their credentials and experience in the field.

I personally find it stimulating to assist an individual online, as it is at times challenging to find a solution by interpreting their description of their problem or goal.

I urge the public to not only get a second but also a third opinion, and not only to rely on online advice, but also to consult experts in person. People should also base their decisions on their own interpretations of what they are told.  

Read more:

Do you need a personal trainer?

Revive your fitness routine

Fitness industry is booming


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