West Wave Waffle

Just about everyone has read or heard the fitness slogans demanding greater effort. Expressions like “Go hard or go home” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “No pain, no gain” and “Success is earned with blood, sweat, and the occasional tear.” Many gym walls are papered with these calls to greater effort. Many trainers include them in their instructions.

I’ve seen some stunning displays. In one pool a group of middle aged, often overweight patrons gathered each Saturday morning for the health benefit of an hour of aqua-aerobics. What followed was an amazing cocktail of high intensity interval exercise. It was very dangerous. Every week I expected someone to pull up with a heart problem. Dive into the pool, climb out, run around the pool, faster you guys, dive back in, climb back out, do 10 push-ups, climb the diving tower and leap into the pool. And through it all the instructor demanded more effort. “Wake up. Work out. Look hot. Kick ass. Sore as hell and back for more.” she screamed.

The effect on the patrons was terrifying; bright red, gasping for air they staggered from one task to another. And as they left I frequently heard the instructor say, “That was great. Really made them hurt this morning.”

It was all so senseless, so dangerous, so nothing like the exercise I knew these people actually needed. For thirty years I have been fortunate enough to discuss swimming and athletics with some of the world’s best coaches; men like Arthur Lydiard, Arch Jelley and Mark Schubert. Between them they have coached a score of Olympic gold medal winners. Not once have I heard them berate their athletes with slogans of hard work and toil. Instead they have advised caution. Instead of, “Don’t stop. Keep going. Push harder.” These men had more sensible advice.

In my own coaching career I have been fortunate enough to coach swimmers and runners to Olympic Games and World Championships, a Master’s World Record Holder, 81 National Champions and 68 National Records and I would never dream of subjecting any of them to the abuse I have seen in aqua-aerobic and gym classes around the world. Without doubt cruelty of that type will never be successful and has no place in an exercise program.

But the reason I am writing this post is because I have just been to the Auckland Council’s West Wave Pool in Henderson, New Zealand. And I have witnessed the pinnacle of exercise stupidity. On their wall they have a prominent poster advertising their fitness classes and the heading says:


There can be no excuse that justifies that message. The West Wave Pool is a Council facility. They have a duty to know better than this. Their own Bylaws (the Health and Hygiene Bylaw 2013) puts it better than I ever could:

“The council may revoke a code of practice that –  (a) relates to the operation of commercial services that pose an associated health risk to any persons using or accessing their services, products or business operation.”

The Bylaw contains the following clarification:

“When you plan an event you are responsible for the safety of everyone at the event.”

Well, “train insane or remain the same” most certainly does “pose a health risk” to many West Wave patrons. At this point I could discuss the physiological reasons training insane is dangerous. Instead, let me use four examples of athletes whose training I know well: John Walker, Peter Snell, Rhi Jeffrey and Toni Jeffs. Two of the runners because I knew their coaches very well and the two swimmers because I was their coach. All four were medalists at world events. All four trained about 576 times a year. Anaerobic, insane training sessions were run or swum in 24 training sessions a year; 4% of the time. If race days are added to the insane training load the two swimmers competed on about 50 days a year – 100 races. And so combined the “insane” work load for these competitors was about 74 times a year – only 13% of their annual training. The other 87% was “train don’t strain”. And remember these were world class athletes, not 50 year old, 110 kilogram, West Wave patrons wanting to lose a bit of weight.       

The poster is insane. Whoever put it on the wall is not being “responsible for the safety of everyone”. It is difficult to comprehend how a paid exercise professional could possibly think this is a suitable message. If the West Wave Pool is going to offer fitness classes in their pool or gym they need to ensure their staff is aware of the rules associated with safe training. A poster like this suggests considerable staff training is required. And required quickly before someone hurts themselves trying to “train insane”.  


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