Women stretching in a yoga class

Is your workout routine putting you in fitness debt?

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If you only train in one specific way, you might be in fitness debt. Here’s what that means. 

“Fitness debt” isn’t just the term to describe how expensive gyms are. It describes the difference between how much activity we should do and what we actually do. According to a new survey, Americans are in 14.9 hours of fitness debt a year, doing 115.1 hours of training compared to the recommended 130 hours.

While we know that inactivity is a problem, there are plenty of ways to add an extra 17 minutes of movement a week into our lives to reduce our fitness debt. The problem comes in those who are already moving, says Louisa Drake.

She says that those who are already active struggle to add in the necessary variety of movement needed to be all-round fit. “Many people hit their daily movement goals with a good fitness routine, but they neglect to do any other forms of exercise in order to be more balanced, reduce injury and sleep better,” she says. 

The reason? “People have connotations with certain exercises and think there are certain things that they can and can’t do. People don’t like pushing themselves out of their comfort zone,” she says.

This isn’t just about needing to be a master of all trades, she insists. If you’re already good at lifting weights, you don’t also need to become a yogi who can put their foot on their head. However, we do all need to reduce our individual fitness diversity debt in order to improve at the things we really love.

“Doing five yoga classes a week is great, but that’s only training you in one modality of fitness,” Drake says. “Really, we should be moving in more ways in order to avoid a plateau while improving strength, mobility, endurance and flexibility in order to really be fit.” 

The most common fitness debts

Strength trainers are in stretching debt

The trope of big, muscly men being able to squat three times their body weight but not touch their toes doesn’t really exist because lifting weights inherently makes you inflexible. It’s what you do after the weight lifting that counts. “Gym-goers often enjoy the intensity of strength training but don’t take time for the slower activities that release tension. Many of my very strong clients wouldn’t dare go to a yoga class, or even if they do, it might not be enough or the right type of yoga,” she says.

How to reduce the debt

“I’d start by adding in an hour of stretching a week – that could be in one session or just 10 minutes every day. How much you do and what your focus is on will depend on your goals and how in debt to stretching you are,” says Drake.

Still feel overwhelmed? Start with these five moves that you can hold for two minutes in a cool-down routine (remember, static stretches should only be done after training): 

Yogis are in pulling debt

“Yogis can be incredibly strong, but when you’re just using bodyweight you can’t really perform many ‘pulling’ movements that work into the back of the body,” Drake says. That imbalance is exasperated by the fact that our desk jobs also shorten our front muscles while weakening the back. It’s why you might find you have backache or knee pain and stretching it out just isn’t helping.

How to reduce the debt

“I just would love them to start swapping one straight yoga class for something that’s more strength-focused,” says Drake. “I get that walking into the gym and doing rows is intimidating, so I suggest easing in with more of a hybrid workout like reformer pilates or resistance band barre moves that have the yoga elements they are comfortable with but also include extra movement patterns that will build the posterior strength.” 

Runners are in mobility debt

Some people might think that running is just putting one foot in front of the other. You’re not making crazy shapes, moving deep into joint-opening postures or firing up the muscles with big weights – so who needs to be mobile?

They’d be wrong; runners need to be both strong and open, something that’s often neglected by the endurance exercisers who Drake sees. “High impact cardio routines need a lot of extra support,” says Drake. “Namely, they need to work on joint stability and mobility so they can continue to take the load that’s striking the body with every step.”

What to do? Mobilise the joints before every run – and add in strength work throughout the week to improve core stability.

Pre-run mobility work:

Core stabilising moves: 

Images: Getty 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).