THEY'RE NOT TOO FOND OF FONDA
Whatever squabbles are going on in other aspects of the fitness industry, they're relatively minor compared to the hue and cry in the aerobic dance world. Which is no small world. There were about 22.7 million aerobic dancers in the United States in June 1984, according to a survey by The Sporting Goods Dealer, an industry publication. That's a lot of bending and stretching, and a lot of Caribbean vacations for doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and the makers of Ace bandages.
Check out aerobics action for a few minutes and it's easy to see the essential dilemma—the instructor is generally far better than most of the students. Many average out-of-shape men and women who sign up for aerobics training soon discover that the sizzling pace is simply too difficult to follow. Too many classes take on the aspect of a one-woman Broadway dance revue.
Three things can happen in that situation. One, an aerobics student can respond to the competitive pressure, follow the teacher, derive real aerobic benefit and cop a body like Kathy Smith's. Great. Two, a student can fall behind, get embarrassed and drop out. Not so great. Three, someone can get hurt.
"It's probably the biggest area for fitness-related injuries," says Ryan. "You would not believe how many submissions [to The Physician and Sportsmedicine] we've had about aerobics, reports on injuries to instructors as well as students. One big problem is that a lot of these classes take place in studios with a cement floor with only linoleum tile over it. We've seen a lot of problems with sprained ankles and stress fractures."
An even more severe critic of aerobics is Dr. Hans Kraus (SI, June 15, 1981), who at 79 is still recognized as one of the world's leading practitioners of sports medicine. "The reason most people get hurt is that most of these things, the books and tapes and everything, are done by people who don't know what they are talking about," he says. "There's no warmup, no relaxation, no cool-off. They begin very fast with multirepetition routines. And they have no reverse cycle when a person can limber down. Unless you follow a curve, you're going to expose people to injuries."
The injured have names. One is Roslyn Targ, a New York City literary agent who's in excellent physical shape for her age, which she publicly gives out as "not flaming youth." Targ was a Fonda fanatic, so devoted to the routine that she copied it on her Dictaphone and took it with her on business trips. But over the six months she did the Fonda workout she gradually developed severe pains in her back, the area that many experts say is the most vulnerable.
"I never put two and two together until I heard someone on TV talking about Fonda's video causing back pain," says Targ. "I always thought my pain was maybe job stress or something else. But I only know that when I stopped doing Fonda my back stopped hurting.
"I still work out, but now I modify an exercise to my own capabilities, and if I hurt at all I don't do it. I feel I'm much better off that way. Fonda and others talk about 'go for the burn, go for the burn,' but I now take that with a grain of salt. I really think part of the joy of exercise is lost in all this pressure to feel pain."
This isn't to imply that Fonda's program in particular or aerobic dance and exercise in general are the root of all exercise injuries. Kraus said he first began to notice the aggravated pulls and strains after the publication of the widely used Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plan for Physical Fitness in 1962. Done correctly, aerobics is a great way to get fit. But, like other aspects of the fitness boom, its message is spread by prophets with more marquee value than expertise.