It’s Time for a Makeover of Mainstream Fitness.

Via Ruthie Fraser
on Apr 25, 2013
get elephant's newsletter


As a Rolf Practitioner and therapeutic yoga teacher, I often work with intelligent, well-educated, earnestly interested people who are uninformed or ill-informed about what it means to engage in sensible body conditioning.

I believe we need to elevate common knowledge of the body, fitness and self-care to a respectable, constructive level.

Even when I work with clients who have exercised with “personal trainers” for years, I witness a trail of misconceptions and debilitating residue of harmful work-outs.

For the most part, the fitness world, including what is advertised as fitness yoga, is inadequate. The majority of people are adjusted to this low standard of information, often cruising by with minimal complaints for at least awhile, and unaware of the fulfilling body-integration experience that they are missing.

Pain, tightness, imbalance and injuries inevitably emerge and often lead those with curiosity about the body’s potential to turn to Iyengar Yoga, Feldenkrais, Structural Integration, Yoga for Structural Balance or another sophisticated body-conditioning methodology to supplement or replace the vague mess of “working-out” that they had been doing.

Gym exercise typically emphasizes toning for aesthetics, heavy exertion, sweating, pumping the heart and burning calories. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these goals. The problem is the context in which it’s all practiced: people are forgetting about the crucial prerequisite.

Prerequisite to safe physical exertion: be on the path to functional harmony.

“A mechanical analogy is that when your car’s wheels are misaligned, driving and turning them more will not improve matters; in fact, until you realign them, further movement will only increase the damage being done to your vehicle.”

~ Joseph Heller

People are working out in the midst of serious misalignment and muscular dysfunction. They go to the gym in order to receive the obvious benefits of any exercise—stress reduction, endorphin release, escape from sedentary-time, calorie burning. These are important factors but without shifting towards better movement techniques, they will pay the price later in other ways.

They continue with the same non-specific, perhaps pre-determined routine, thinking they are constructively “strengthening”and “getting in shape.”

Then something gives; the groin finally tears or the calves are so tight that plantar fasciitis appears…or the lower back spasms or worse.

Their perspective is: “I’ve been doing great, working out regularly, and then one day I just happened to get injured.”

My perspective is: “You’ve been working out in the midst of misalignment and muscle imbalance; your muscles aren’t working properly; you have way more strength than flexibility. Your strength isn’t balanced which causes overall fragility, your joints are compromised and largely immobilized. It’s not surprising that you got injured, and there is a world of joyful movement waiting for you with a little guidance.”

In the face of our culture’s ignorance about the body, our poor condition can often hide under “beauty” or superficial maintenance and go unnoticed until something hurts.

The average person cannot perceive what is going wrong because it’s not in the sphere of what we are taught by mainstream education or media. The common person can perceive those extra 10 pounds, or that little bit of cellulite, or flabby arms or bulky biceps—but perhaps those aren’t actually of consequence in the way we are conditioned to think.

Even many personal trainers don’t have the knowledge of anatomy, physiology and patterns of dysfunction to perceive muscles that are over-working or under-working, a dormant psoas, or a pelvis which is misaligned and paralyzed.

Until the body is in the state of harmony and balance in which a person can release the structural focus and be free to roam in exercise-wonderland, exercise needs to be a means to get there.

What are we working towards?

Let’s consider what we are working towards when we are taking the precious time out of our day to exercise; I often hear, “I want to be cut, hot, tight, ripped, skinny, tough.”

Unfortunately, much less often I hear “I want to be mobile, balanced, integrated, aware.”

> Fitness Value System vs. Integrated-Body Value System

> ripped, tight, cut vs. appropriate mobility

> isolated “strong” muscles vs. balanced strength

> develop more mass and power vs. as much flexibility as strength

> athletic performance vs. prevent injury

> weight loss vs. optimal body mechanics

> ”beauty” vs. order

> random “stretching” for five minutes vs. opening the restricted places

> burn calories vs. integrated movement

> tough, hot, strong vs. resilient, balanced, aware

> cardiovascular health vs. optimal physiology

> be seen at the gym vs. enjoyment of movement

> bikini body vs. integrated body

Knowing my clients’ bodies well, including their imbalances and injuries, I am often horrified when they show me what they are doing with their trainers. No wonder their problems persist!

I often ask them questions like:

Why did your trainer recommend this particular exercise?

How are you doing the exercises?

Which muscles are working or not working?

Is this exercise relevant to you and your body? If so, how?

If it’s going to help you burn calories but it’s bad for your spine are you going to do it anyway?

Frequently, clients respond to these questions blankly—baffled and uninformed. They are doing vigorous exercise without real purpose, without appropriateness. Though clearly motivated by an appearance-obsessed value system, I can’t imagine a logical or scientific framework that could justify or inform such poor movement choices and lack of technical detail.

Is it neglect, ignorance, lack of training? I’m sure there are exquisitely knowledgeable, elite trainers out there working brilliantly with a lucky few; I’m not speaking of them, but of the norm.

I give my professional opinion, which is to stop doing the inappropriate exercise and move towards a structurally-sound program. I see heartbroken faces, as people are attached to their trainers, they look forward to the work-outs, they’ve become comfortable with their goal of a “flat tummy.”

At that point, it’s a question of priorities and desire: How badly do they want to improve their body’s state?

For someone in pain, the answer is clear.

Many gyms and trainers do advertise “balancing muscle groups,” “flexibility training” and “customized routines”—but my experience shows that these statements offer a vague, inadequate approach grounded in overly-simplistic ideas at best and are empty promises at worst.

All too often, it’s simply not good enough.


Luckily, there are resources available to solve this problem. I suggest a five-fold path to bringing a more enlightened approach to body conditioning to the mainstream.

1. Let’s re-think beauty.

We are conditioned towards certain aesthetics of beauty. Digging deeper into the meaning of beauty requires some contemplation and meditation; it’s an existential process which is both universal and personal. Culturally, we need to get past unrealistic, unhealthy, and ultimately debilitating  aesthetic desires—like aiming for low weight, six-pack abs or bulky muscles.

When we grow to align our palates with the awe-inspiring beauty of nature and life, we open ourselves to seeing beauty in bodies and natural movement that reflect a human being’s uniqueness, vitality and life-force.

2. Let’s rethink medicine and healing.

Luckily, this is happening gradually. Western medicine is awesome in certain circumstances; many of us know it has major blind spots.

Western medicine requires “check ups” every year and we get tested for basic illnesses and abnormalities in our “vital signs.” But there’s so much that’s not considered or brought to our attention! Then when something eventually goes wrong, we are offered pharmaceutical, surgical or short-sighted solutions to “treat” our symptoms.

Someone might have tremendous lack of flexibility in their hamstrings and groins, a paralyzed pelvis, a psoas in contraction and hypertonic back muscles, but the doctor has no recommendations or maybe doesn’t even take notice. Then once the lumbar disc is herniated, the patient gets sent to a specialist and then to surgery.

We need to start studying ourselves regularly so that we can perceive our “trajectory” and respond holistically and accordingly. Even if not yet clearly an “illness” or a recognizable “diagnosis,” we can get to know where are our bodies have gone physiologically “off” due to the stresses of life.

Where do we need assistance to restore balance?

How can we take responsibility for our health by knowing our patterns, paying attention and acting preventively?

3. Let’s get inside the “human potential” paradigm.

We each have our own personal potential that is available for us to realize in our lives: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, creatively. When we strive towards our potential, we honor both our gifts and limitations; we recognize our greatness and root ourselves in a journey of self-discovery and evolution.

4. Let’s learn sophisticated techniques.

There are people who have dedicated their lives to creating methodologies for refining and optimizing human movement, bodies and health. Let’s take advantage of their invaluable work and study diligently! Structural Integration, Yoga for Structural Balance, Iyengar Yoga, Feldenkreis Method, and many more.

5. Let’s commit to our own participation.

There’s only so much we can lean into a practitioner, healer, trainer or technique. We have to be engaged, learning and listening both externally and internally. We are the synthesizers of all that we learn; we must select what’s most helpful and appropriate for our unique bodies.  



Like elephant Health & Wellness on Facebook.


Assistant: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Bryonie Wise

Source: via Cynthia on Pinterest




About Ruthie Fraser

Ruthie Fraser is a Structural Integration Practitioner and a yoga teacher in Brooklyn NY, specializing in therapeutics and creating structural and functional harmony in the body. She is the founder and director of both Decompression Project, which offers programs to improve body structure and promote awakened embodiment, and End of Knowing Yoga School, a unique learning sanctuary that fuses the ancient wisdom of yoga with the cultivation of structural balance. Through Decompression Project, Ruthie created an extensive Yoga Video Library, a collection of streamed therapeutic yoga sequences design to help people “practice right for their body types” at home. Ruthie writes regularly on her two blogs, TThe Primary Structure  and the End of Knowing Blog, as well as for many online wellness publications. Follow Ruthie on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest!


19 Responses to “It’s Time for a Makeover of Mainstream Fitness.”

  1. Natalie says:

    amazing writing. thank you thank you <3

  2. Korumaze says:

    A fantastic article – thank you 🙂

  3. Sandy Gross says:

    Fantastic article. Thank you.

  4. Devra says:

    Great article! I teach Pilates and I recently wrote an article that was similar in content although more targeted to the flaws in the way this wonderful method is currently being taught.

  5. What an exciting post to read! As someone who writes about holistic fitness, I love hearing someone else's language for our shared ideas. Mainstream fitness attempts to create a facade of beauty or physical power without understanding movement.

  6. CROSS FIT says:

    This blog is an excellent source of information about keeping ourself fit with shape and healthy.I like the way GYM,asked these 5 women what motivates them, then asked them to make their goals and objectives.Well,We all know that in order to have a healthy development, they need to have regular exercises.Here is the FITNESS GYM where i found my solution, Enrgfitness GYMS KILSYTH,MELBOURNE.

  7. Joe Sparks says:

    Hi Ruthie, another important message to the masses. It needs to be heard over and over again. The sitting culture in which are a part of is slowly getting the message about the damage of being down on our bodies by lifestyle choices. With the Internet we can come in contact with many folks around the world. The challenge is how to connect in a meaningful way. Your influence is being heard and appreciated, but it is the individual connections overtime that will create the tipping point. The mass media has trained us not to think, but to follow. We need to encourage individuals to practice "self care" not health care, being dependent on a system that wants profit over people. So, it will take each person individually modeling or embodying this value system. I have learned so much from Michaelle Edwards, about natural alignment and becoming sustainable within your own body. In her words," Sustainability means that you can live your life with relative ease in your body, freeing up your energy for activities that bring joy. It also gives you the tools to fix aches and pains that may occur rather than always having to rely on someone else to fix what is 'wrong' with you. " this is kind of messages people need to hear, and they are. Thanks!

  8. David A says:

    Hmmmm interesting… I remember hearing of 100,000 years of cavemen running ultra marathons and not giving one flick of a thought to "alignment" or "body harmony"

  9. Ruthie says:

    Yes david, i agree, of course! but their bodies weren't as screwed up as modern bodies– now we spend all this time sitting and in front of computers, we have totally different habits than back then! Dont you think that plays a role? Plus now people are eating crappy industrialized food, this also makes a difference. I think there are way less "structural imbalances" in bodies in indigenous societies. same way there are less dental issues/ mouth deformities (work of weston a price). In addition, i do think that cavemen stretched and received therapeutic massage, and i dont have a source to cite at the moment, but i believe there is evidence that indicates both.

  10. lorna says:

    What a great article. The difficulty is getting people to takee their bodies seriously enough to go see a professional sports therapist, most people have poor body awareness.

  11. Joyce says:

    You could add MELT Method ( to that list of sophisticated techniques. Sue Hitzmann's knowledge base and the genius of her simple but accessible method addresses everything this wonderful article talks about.

  12. gospel says:

    Let's re-think beauty: that one is for Gracyanne Barbosa, have you seen that women. it seems like she is working out to be fit & sexy, and nothing else?

  13. chaney02 says:

    Brilliant , I actually left the fitness industry recently after tirelessly trying to get people to train for health rather than aesthetics. Great writing

  14. james brett says:

    Awesome article…I’m a retired personal trainer. I was lucky enough to work in a wellness center that was owned by two chiropractors and we practiced almost to a T what you described as solutions…keep talking cause we’re getting through slowly but surely..ty

  15. Kingsley says:

    Wonderful write up, thanks for this great information

  16. Fitness says:

    Hey, great article about mainstream fitness! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  17. Losthealth says:

    I like the post because these techniques much health benefit. The nervous people like me comes very well this information.

  18. crazy bulk says:

    Beautiful article. Thank you.

  19. Cityfitness says:

    As your body firms and your conditioning improves, the way you look at yourself changes for the better. This frequently carries over into other areas of your life. Keep up the good work darling.

    You can learn more here.