If you’re even remotely into the world of exercise and fitness, chances are you’ve noticed more people, particularly women, catching on to the various benefits of weight training over the past few years.
However, according to Dan Roberts, a personal trainer to models and movie stars, while there are countless benefits of weightlifting, there’s far too much emphasis on it within the world of fitness — particularly for women.
Business Insider caught up with Roberts at the Be:Fit London fitness festival, where Roberts gave a talk on mental health in the industry.
Originally a sports coach, Roberts has been a strength and conditioning trainer in New York, Australia, and London, working with elite and pro athletes and sports teams.
His accomplishments involve training India’s national tennis team, Britain’s junior ski team, and “a lot of pro wrestlers and pro fighters,” he told Business Insider.
About 10 years ago, he moved to Rio and became the in-house trainer for a big modeling agency, working with Victoria’s Secret models, before moving to Thailand to become a pro fighter for a year.
Eventually, his experiences led him to London, where he set up the Dan Roberts Group, which operates a number of companies offering personal training, online workouts, nutrition, branded fitness products, and fitness retreats, with a “small growing team” in New York.
While he says he trains “the biggest A-listers you can think of,” whether it’s an athlete, a model, or an actor preparing for a role, the company keeps things low-profile. “The reason I get clients like that is because I don’t tweet about it, [it’s not] on my Instagram.”
Through his company, Roberts tries to inspire better body image, as he believes there’s too much focus on looks in the industry.
“The main thing is exercise can be really good for mental health, but if you do it mindlessly trying to look hot, that’s not good for mental health,” he said. “Your approach towards exercise, the relationship you have with your body and food, and the relationship you have with exercise are all really important, so we try and help people with that.”
The obsession with squats
Roberts believes the one exercise the fitness world it too obsessed with is the squat.
“We tend to live quite quad-dominant lives, which means we sit down all day, and we sit up, we tend to lean forward, because when we sit down our hip flexors tighten, and our glutes switch out. Certain things tighten and these end up working more.”
He added: “If these are working more and your hamstrings are weak and your glutes aren’t working, to me it doesn’t make sense to do exercises which do exactly the same.
He said that holding a heavy weight and “going up and down a bunch of times” is “not very functional.”
“To me we don’t need to be that strong and it’s emphasising the muscles which, for most of us who sit down in the Western world, have overdeveloped.”
He also added that he works with a lot of women who want a firm bum and toned legs, but not big thighs — and the weighted squat is the opposite of what they’re after.
Instead, he recommends his clients do posterior chain exercises, like a deadlift.
“You bend over and stand up — that is far better than a squat,” he said.
“I very rarely give a squat just because I want people to have balanced bodies. When you have a balanced body and less muscular imbalances, you have less injuries.”
Strength is just one part
As a strength coach, Roberts believes that if you’re only doing a short half-hour workout, “weight training is more bang for your buck, because you strengthen the bones, you increase metabolism, and also when you’ve got a stronger body it’s more bulletproof to injuries.”
However, while he pushes the benefits of weight training, he said that fitness obsessives do not focus enough on “multi-directional movements — playing, basically.”
“We’re way stronger than we need to be,” he said. “If you go to the gym now people are deadlifting 200 pounds — [but] the only time you ever need to do that is in a gym. We don’t need to be that strong. We need to have a balance of flexibility, endurance, coordination, strength — strength is just one part. There’s too much emphasis on strength.”
He added that there’s a myth within the industry that because women don’t have as much testosterone as men, they can’t bulk up.
“A lot of what personal trainers are taught is you must have the right hormones to build up and weights will never get you bulky,” he said. “It’s not true — weights can get you bulky.”
Treat your body like a unit
Planning leg day, chest day, or back day at the gym is a very “1950s, 1960s bodybuilding view,” according to Roberts.
“If you’re a bodybuilder with those goals, it is an effective way. You don’t have to do total body if you want to isolate.”
However, he said: “Most of us aren’t bodybuilders, so that approach doesn’t really make sense. For 99% of us, it makes sense to work the body as a unit, because we’re designed as a unit. That’s why sports is really good.
“Say you’re serving in tennis or playing netball, you’re using your upper body and lower body together, working two or three planes of motion, twisting and bending, [which is] way better than just (lifting up and down).
“Generally, I disagree what that targeted approach. But there are always exceptions. If I’ve got to tone someone for a film, and they have to have a big chest, I’m not going to pay tennis with them, I am going to do a bench press. Like all of these things, for the majority of people I disagree, but there’s always exceptions.”
Work with your environment — and body
Roberts’ own fitness routine changes all the time.
“I’ve got a competitive sporting background,” he told Business Insider. “I was a county level tennis player, I played lacrosse for England, I’ve done ultra-marathons, I’ve had fights professionally, so it depends what’s going on in my life. At the moment, I’m doing quite a lot of cardio stuff.”
He added that he recently worked with a client abroad, so they spent time kayaking and swimming every day.
“I’m not training for a particular event right now, so I usually let the situational environment dictate. If I’m in a gym I’ll do more weights, if I’m outside I’ll do more running, if I’m on a beach I’ll do more swimming.
“I’ve done so much training over the years that I like just playing.”
He added that along with your environment, your own personal needs should also dictate the type of workout you’re doing.
“If you want to look after your bones, swimming is terrible for you, but weights is great for you. If you want to improve flexibility, don’t do boxing, do yoga. It depends on what you want.”
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