90’s Fitness Fad?
I was first introduced to resistance bands early in my teaching career in the 1990’s. This long piece of elastic was recommended as a portable and effective form of resistance training. Having only used weights for resistance training, this concept intrigued me, only to be quickly disappointed.
Although the workshop presenter was very engaging and informative, I was frustrated as to how to anchor the bands and then perform the exercise. In addition to this, to add resistance, I had to either wrap the elastic band around my hand (thus reducing circulation to my fingers) or to grab and hold it firmly further down the band. This process was annoyingly repeated every time I performed an exercise – anchor, perhaps try another anchor, set up exercise, maybe anchor again, add resistance, lose circulation and then move…
Often the positions were complicated and awkward and left me annoyed, fustrated and losing interest fast.
Enter… the handle
When tubing with handles came onto the market, I discovered the new version that was even worse than the original!
In my opinion, the handles reduced the exercise options even further. I avoided anything to do with resistance bands after that. I chose to stick with what worked really well for me which was weights and body weight training, and subsequently my clients.
Some time later, a flyer came across my desk (when I was group fitness coordinator) advertising tubing attached to a stick! I thought ‘Oh my God! Just when I believed it couldn’t get any worse… it has morphed even further and turned into a comedy! What a ridiculously ineffective tool. NO THANK YOU!
The flyer went straight into the bin.
Later that year at a National Fitness Conference, I saw a demonstration using the tool from that flyer, on the main stage at the expo. The instructors were sweating and appeared to be working hard. I thought someone must have sprayed them with water to make the workout appear intense, and this thought was reaffirmed when the distributor offered me one of these sticks to join in. It weighed nothing and this was going to give me a workout?? What a joke!
So I walked away with my pride intact and head held high, not having been suckered into an absurd exercise fad purchase. No way was I being fooled!
In 2006 the YMCA had a conference that included education for group fitness instructors. I was invited to work on an expo stand for a music company. Whenever the education sessions were in progress, I would walk around and check out the other stands and lo and behold, there was that stick with the two rubber bands. I tried to avoid eye contact and quickly scurry away, but the woman who was working at the stand knew me and called me over. Trying to avoid appearing impolite, I walked over (mentally working out how I could get away). She asked me if I had used one of these tools before and I ungraciously said no. I knew what was coming next… “Why don’t you try it out?” My strategy was simple, get this over with and then be done with it!
She placed the stick in my hands and asked me to put the tubing loops around my feet. Having done so, I stood up and waited recluntantly for further instruction. Now I was to step forward into a split stance and perform a split squat, whilst holding the stick on my shoulders.
Expect the unexpected
As I stepped forward something unexpected happened.
I felt my body respond to the bands pulling in different directions. I felt my abdominals respond in a way I had never felt with this exercise before. My body wanted to stay upright and my mind immediately thought of how this would be a corrective teaching tool. As I performed several repetitions, I realised that there were more muscles being used than I had experienced before with weights for this particular exercise.
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As I stepped out of the exercise and removed the stick off my shoulders, I asked how I could change the resistance – ‘Oh by simply turning the stick so that the bands could wrap around the end of the stick’. It was the best OMG moment! So I didn’t have to lose circulation in my hands! I could tighten it a little or a lot. And it was so simple. I didn’t have to worry about anchoring the bands as they were looped around my feet.
‘What else can I do with this thing’? I asked excitedly, in spite of my initial reservations and the instructor proceeded to demonstrate a range of standing, kneeling and abdominal exercises.
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I WAS SOLD!
This was so versatile and the options appeared endless. I could do all the traditional weighted exercises and then add resistance to other exercises, that were often difficult to intensify in a group exercise class.
I was blown away – firstly by the versatility and effectiveness of the tool and secondly, how the resistance bands could actually provide a challenging workout. I realised how silly I had been to jump to conclusions about this tool from my limited experience with resistance bands. I had always thought that weights were the answer for muscle overload and was now experiencing an epiphany as to how resistance tubing could be effective, especially when attached to a stick.
I walked away from that YMCA convention with an order for 20 Gymsticks and introduced it to my instructor team. We brainstormed all the muscle groups that we could use the Gymstick for. We were still muscle centric focused back in 2006 and the concept of functional training had not really come into the group exercise market.
My eureka moment
In 2007, I was approached again by the distributor to have a look at the Aqua Gymstick and perhaps endorse the product as I had been presenting aqua workshops for some time. I offered to work with the tool to see what could be done with it in the pool. It came with a poster of exercies that were predominately static upper and lower body exercises. Being well known for my energetic approach to water, I felt that this limited the full use of the Gymstick. I decided to start with propulsive and turbulent exercises that I was familiar with and EUREKA, I discovered a way to really push my clients to a higher level of intensity in the water. My goodness, this thing was good.
Later in 2007 at a convention in Boston, I overheard a conversation regarding Gymstick looking for presenters in the USA. My ears pricked up as it was clear that no one had used it before and were thinking along the same lines I had initially. I interrupted and taking a risk, I mentioned that I was familiar with the Gymstick and that I would be interested in being part of the presenter team. I was offered an opportunity to present aqua sessions at the 2008 conferences. Life is about jumping in a taking risks, and I had no idea what they knew, but it couldn’t be more than what I did.
The Aqua Circuit
My first presentation was to provide an aqua circuit class with the Gymstick in March 2008. Grrrrr… I really dislike aqua circuits. I have always found them difficult to run and feel that I have to clone myself to get around and make sure everyone is working effectively. Different from land, moving from one station to another is more challenging in a pool with varied depth and then with an Aqua Gymstick in hand, it was cumbersome. The first presentation with Aqua Gymstick was a flop! Dusting myself off and licking my ego wounds, I requested that I come up with my own presentation at the next event in May.
For the next 2 months, I worked on a format that was closer to my style and what I felt comfortable with. I delivered my presentation in May 2008 with much more success. Unbeknown to me, the session was videoed and then sent to Finland to Gymstick HQ with the comment, ‘check out what this presenter is doing with the Aqua Gymstick’. Shortly after coming back to Australia, I received an email from Gymstick HQ requesting that I come to Finland to deliver a day training with the Aqua Gymstick. Gulp – this was moving fast and I had no idea what was going to transpire.
This was truly the biggest thing that I had ever done in my career. To fly to another country to deliver a full day of education around a tool I had just picked up and started working with. I was NERVOUS! The date of the education was in September 2008, so I had some time to get working on what I was going to deliver. Having never had formal education in Gymstick, I was worried that I would be off the mark and not be successful. I had no idea of the expectations.
So there I was in Finland in September 2008 with master trainers from around the globe delivering to the best of my ability an Aqua Gymstick workshop. During those three days, I was able to participate the other formats that Gymstick had for land based training, and I was particularly impresssed with Gymstick Muscle, the group exercise format. Based on athletic movement patterns, Gymstick Muscle made sense and it was the first time I had seen a program that incorporated all the components of fitness in a few movement patterns. It was smart and there were many new ways of using the bands that I had not considered before. Yes, I was humbled again, as I felt that my team back home and I had been very successful with all the exercises that we had come up with. I left the master trainer education with focus and passion for the Gymstick and resistance band training that I had never had before. I had no idea, but this was the start of a massive shift in my career.
Since then, I have become the Gymstick Master Trainer for Australia, the International Master Trainer for Gymstick International and also their head of education having since come up with the Gymstick Personal Training and Gymstick Older Adults education. You could say, I love the Gymstick.
11 years ago I started a journey with a tool that I laughed at and now it is still my favourite class format and go-to workout when I am exercising on my own. I have a very low boredom tollerance and the Gymstick provides an endless number of exercises, which challenge my full body strength, endurance as well as balance and coordination. I am able to add or reduce resistance to suit my needs and am now teaching five regular classes per week as well as delivering instructors education in Australia and around the world. I love the constant surprised look that people have when they use the Gymstick for the first time. Many participants have bought their own Gymstick for exercising at home or to take on holiday. Knowing that they are continuing with exercise outside of the gym, makes me feel fufilled as an instructor.
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I am so glad that I was trapped into a situation where I had to use the Gymstick. I am mindful of my arrogance around what I think I know and now give new things a go before forming an opinion. I love the Gymstick and I hope you will check it out for yourself.