Sunday, November 21, 2010

Health club rules: No grunting allowed?

David Tam was well known in our corporate fitness center for his muscular physique and his vocal workouts.

You’d usually hear him near the end of a 45-minute session, when he’d forcefully grunt, growl or even yell “boom!” as he brought the weight bar to his chest.

In many ways, Tam, a software engineer, is the ideal gym member. He doesn't swear or hog the weights, he wipes down the equipment, he motivates others and he truly loves working out.

But the center is small; you could hear him scream during yoga class, in the locker room and at the front desk. When a manager asked him to tone it down a little, Tam grew frustrated and sent me a note. Here's part of it:

“I train hard. I know what I'm doing. I would like to think it shows,” he wrote. “I'm also 37. I feel as if I'm cheating chronological age by about a decade. I played sports in high school and I still love martial arts. I love working out and training - it's honestly fun for me. When I get in there with the same group of guys on a regular basis - we have a ball.

I understand that some people just don't get it; they think I’m showing off. Maybe they are intimidated. You don't get to bench press 400 by just showing up to the gym and magical osmosis when you are there. You put in the work and that's what I do. I'm inspiring guys at the gym to do the same.”

Tam, who follows the training principle that involves pushing your muscles “to failure,” doesn’t think he yells too loud and doesn’t understand how grunting, groaning or growling for one to three reps near the end of his training can ruin someone else’s workout experience.

And in fact, screamers and grunters are prevalent in the weight lifting and body building culture, said certified exercise specialist Vik Khanna. Lifters do it both “as a psychological/emotional boost and also to draw attention to themselves,” he said. “Many lifters make a powerful exhalation during the lifting portion of the movement, so it is the perfect timing for vocalizing something.”

The problem, however, is that “it’s often very disruptive to people around them and can be one of the things that intimidates others at the gym or even dissuades some people from joining and trying a gym,” said Khanna, the executive director of Health and Wellness at the Sisters of Mercy Health System in St. Louis.

Khanna still follows the advice one of his strength training mentors gave him decades ago: “On each lift, your body has a finite amount of physical, emotional and psychological energy to put to use. Don’t direct any of that energy outward with a scream or grunt. Take that energy and make a conscious effort to direct it inward, toward the nerves, muscles and bones that are doing the work. “

But others say there’s a place for grunting. “When you grunt you tend to hold your breath, but when you say “KIA!” (pronounced ‘key eye!’) then you exhale and yell,” said Jeffrey Stout, vice president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “In martial arts this is used to exert maximum force.”

Stout doesn’t know of any studies showing whether yelling provides a benefit but suspects it might. “On the other hand, holding your breath or jaw clenching has been shown to enhance strength. So, I would prefer people working out in the gym not scream, but I don’t have a problem with grunting.”

That’s good news for Tam, who cancelled his membership at our fitness center on Tuesday and has since joined another gym.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

That Tam fella sounds like an arrogant douche bag. Good riddance I'm sure you all said.