The 8 Most Overrated Health Trends

By Mike Howard

exercise-ballsBefore I unveil my list of the most overrated exercise and diet trends, I feel a disclaimer or two is in order:

  1. I’m in favor of anything that helps people become healthy or fit. The word “overrated” needs to be taken into context and is certainly open to interpretation.
  2. Just because I deem something to be overrated does not mean I don’t think it has merit. I may feel something is “overrated” simply due to the amount of hype it gets or to the degree that its proponents revere it.

With those 2 things in mind, let’s get going.

1. Balls, BOSU’s, Balance Boards, Oh My!

Walk into any gym facility and you are bound to see trainers and other gym goers alike performing squats, pushups and other circus-like maneuvers on balance implements.

The truth is, plain old squats are far more functional and effective for the vast majority of people. These tools should really be used sparingly.

2. Acai Berry Juice

You may have had some salesperson tell you of the magical powers possessed by this exotic berry. When tested for polyphenol content, Acai rates below concord grapes, red wine and blueberries.

Stick with a variety of fruits and veggies here and save your cash.

3. Yoga

I usually get ripped for this one but there is a geographical influence here. See where I live, Yoga reigns supreme and don’t try and tell anyone differently.

The truth is, Yoga can be helpful for many, but indiscriminate flexibility is not always the ideal prescription for everyone. If you have time left after weights, cardio and specific mobility work – or you are training for something that requires being in one spot for an hour – knock yourself out!

4. Antioxidants

Especially when taken as supplements, vitamins C, E and Beta Carotene have proven utterly disappointing for preventing disease. It seems the whole, nutrient dense foods win out again.

5. Detox and Cleansing

I can’t see any justification for it – especially the more extreme ones. Eat healthily most of the time and there is no need to “cleanse” away your dietary sins.

If you haven’t been eating healthily, start eating healthily instead of subsisting on spiked water.

6. CrossFit

CrossFit is a very intense training method that combines Olympic lifting, body weight and gymnastics-type exercise with little to no rest. Barbells, boxes, gymnastics rings, big lifts, no machines…love it.

Arbitrary and extreme programming, no concept of progression, flimsy certification process, inadequate screening and rhabdomyolysis… not so good. Go with a coach/system that addresses the aforementioned.

7. Nitric Oxide Supplements

When browsing a supplement store last week I noticed a lot of shelf space dedicated to Nitric Oxide and other blood flow enhancers.

Many bodybuilding sites and other supplement gurus tout its benefits, but when put to clinical trials, NO has no effect compared to a placebo on body composition, insulin, carbohydrate uptake or muscle strength. Most rely on the workout supplement’s high caffeine content to invoke the illusion of helping. (See CaffeineInformer.com for the caffeine content of workout supplements.)

8. The Biggest Loser

The fact that the reality (let’s call it “unscripted”) show is in its umpteenth season tells me that it is more popular than it should be. You could make the argument that people will be inspired by the show, but I would argue that it sets people up for unrealistic expectations.

The premise of the show is completely flawed – promoting a “lose scale weight at all costs” mentality. Did they keep off the weight?

Which exercise and/or diet trends do you think are overrated?

Sources:

Robinson et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2003.

60 Comments

  1. Neil Whyte

    No, you don’t get it, and don’t understand human health and fitness.
    Not wanting people to balance is as bad as not wanting them to drink water. Do some more homework.

    Reply
  2. Jane

    Crossfit is so annoying. Everyone is drinking that kook aid lol

    Reply
  3. Phillip

    I couldn’t agree less. At its most basic form, cardio is probably the one necessity required to maintain a healthy body. You don’t need to be able to lift heavy weights to stay healthy and enjoy life into your later years, but you do need a healthy CARDIOvascular system.

    Reply
  4. Gil

    I couldn’t agree more, esp. Crossfit. Now, the concept in inself is good. However, the cultish mentality is what turns me and many others off. Speaking for me, and only me.

    Reply
    • CrossFitter

      You hate cross fit because you can’t cut it !!

      Reply
  5. NYC fitness instructor

    The author of this blog is COMPLETELY OFF BASE about balance boards, stability balls, and bosu balls.

    Then, almost in the same breath, he advocates performing squats.

    This type of archaic thinking is precisely why most personal trainers aren’t worth their weight in elephant dung.

    Reply
  6. Lincoln Brigham

    A couple of comments on the Crossfit entry:
    The certification process is not at all flimsy. Crossfit has at least 4 levels of coaching certification. The level 2 certification in particular is quite difficult to pass. Additionally Crossfit offers numerous discrete seminars on endurance training, barbell training, Olympic lifts, gymnastics, and more.

    Crossfit has a lower injury rate than almost all sports. It has also been shown to reduce injury rates over standard PT programs.

    With regards to rhabdo, Crossfit has been the leader in educating the public on the dangers of rhabdo in vigorous exercise programs, but it is not the leader in giving trainees rhabdo. That honor clearly belongs to marathon running and traditional military PT programs. Frankly, those programs (along with sports as fitness programs) should have been on your list.

    Reply
    • Jerry Richards

      Cetificaton is 1,000 bucks for 3 days. You can’t tell me that one can fully comprehend, coach, and demonstrate the correct form on all the olympic lifts in a weekend. Thats just silly. Plain and simple…3 days does not give you the ability to be an effective coach.

      Reply
    • Mike

      Your right. Crossfit has less injuries then most sports. Crossfit isn’t a sport, its exercise.

      Reply
  7. MA

    Thank you, Berlin. Excellent post.

    What is the author’s definition of overrated?

    I mix it up: weights, walking, running, soccer, tennis, swimming, hiking, and yes, yoga. (And more.)

    Due to chronic pain from a car wreck, yoga is what gave me relief, so that I could get back to running and lifting weights without pain. However, I continue with daily stretching, and many of the stretches are yoga poses. The stretches help take out the tightness I get from lifting and running. The poses/stretches help my SI joint, but they also tone my arms, legs,and abs.

    For those of you who think yoga is all about sitting and meditating, you are wrong. There are many kinds of yoga, including Ashtanga, which is a very active and challenging yoga. How many of you can hold a hand stand off the wall? Plank? Half plank? Table top? The warrior poses in a lunge? I’ve not done Bikram, but I know people who do, and one of them could be a GQ model.

    For those of you who think yoga is all about sitting and meditating or finding peace, try Ashtanga yoga. You’ll get a great workout for your body and mind.

    As for it being a trend. Nope. It’s been around for thousands of years and it seems to continue to grow in acceptance as more mind/body research is being done to show how effective it is.

    I am very grateful that yoga is as widely practiced and available as it is because it’s given my life back.

    Reply
  8. Berlin

    I would completely have to agree that yoga is overrated insofar as it is over-hyped. And the way it is hyped is insulting, really. Loads of skinny, young women and men posing in visually arresting poses that are only a small fraction of what yoga can be.

    I think this hype has been harmful not only because it makes yoga seem like a silly trend suitable only for PYT’s, but also because it causes people to misunderstand it as a form of exercise. While it is true that yoga is excellent as a gentle form of stretching, it can also increase the heart rate and burn excess body fat. It is an excellent form of cardio.

    I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 years now and I find it to be a wonderful complete body workout that has, among other things, improved my mood, increased my flexibility, toned my muscles, increased my lung and heart capacities and helped me to maintain (or lose) my weight. For those of you who are skeptical about these claims I’d suggest that you look at a few sources I’ve found useful over the years.

    The book Yoga As Medicine by Dr. T. McCall is about exactly what the title claims. The whole book is useful, but the chapter about yoga and obesity may surprise some of you.

    Alan Finger’s YogaZone video series is a great way to do yoga at home outside of the hype. Try the Sunrise/Sunset and Fat Burning tapes for both cardio and weight loss results.

    Try them all if you dare! The best thing about yoga is that it is individual. You get out of it not only what you put into it, but also what intentions you put into it. If you regularly do yoga with the intention to lose weight or increase your heart rate or even become a better person, you will do it.

    Yoga may be over-hyped, but that doesn’t take away its intrinsic power when yielded with the right intentions.

    Reply
  9. b

    Ha, yeah, those stars never mention that “all they did was yoga”…. on top of their usual 1000-calories-a-day diet. The sad thing is, I’m guessing most of them don’t say that because they’ve convinced themselves it’s normal and not a “diet.”

    Reply
  10. Janice M.

    Hey Mike,
    I enjoyed your article. I don’t know why people are so quick to jump on the miracle bandwagon. It’s common sense. Eat right, eat small, and listen to your body. I’ve tried it all, Yoga, wieghts ect. If I was designed to be able to bend my legs around my head, I wouldn’t have knee problems. In a nut shell…work out consistantly, ease up if you’re in pain and don’t use your work out as an excuse to eat a full pint of Ice cream for dinner! Pills and drinks won’t make it go away! I have learned the hard way that we eat our feelings and to break the cycle you have to get in touch with root of it, not worry about the latest and greatest (Adkins,South Beach etc.) and just eat right. Slow and steady get’s the job done! If you need to zone out for awhile…try some good tunes,a MP3 or Ipod and zone while you tone. Yoga can’t give you the same high as a kicken song that gets your heart pumping and makes you feel like superwoman!

    Reply
  11. Jonathan

    Mike,
    Thank you for saying all of this! I’m on board with you. I think the key is to realize that all of the items you listed have benefit to a certain degree, but they become overrated when PR and hype get their hands on them and start marketing them as the panacea for all things and all people. We’re in a business of hype, which is why Acai is the new pomegranate, balance boards are the new Pilates, NO is the new creatine, and people think The Biggest Loser has a basis in the real world. It is best for us to keep it all in perspective and to realize that fitness is best viewed as a toolbox within which lie many tools, and the skill comes in knowing how to use the tools together to build an effective structure.
    Thanks

    Reply
  12. SueK24

    I like your overrated list!

    (And I’m a regular at yoga class!)

    Reply
  13. Chip Vann

    Love this list as well… regarding Acai Berry, I am soooo sick of hearing about it. I can hear the crowds in the bleachers screaming – “OVER-RATED, OVER-RATED”.

    Are we Americans that gullible?

    Reply
  14. Roni

    *standing ovation*
    LOVE this list! Too many people over think and hop on bandwagons. What we really need is to focus on eating fresh whole foods and finding fun activities we enjoy. It’s not rocket science. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Erik Fay

    Mike,
    I would like to say that I started to read your list and I thought the same things you did until I read crossfit. I would also like to commend you on taking the time to learn about our community. But I also have to disagree with the statement that crossfit is overrated. I thought the points that you brought up were interesting but could use a little more investigation. Your first gripe dealing with arbitrary and extreme programing is something that is essential to increase your functional work capacity. If you always did the same routine and same movements your body would become complacent and conditioned to the work you subject it to. The no concept of progression is something that I have to scratch my head at as we constantly are trying to improve in the workouts and movements we do. The workouts do come up more than once and some appear more than other. So progression should not be an issue. As far as certification goes I can not speak on that as I am not a certified trainer. I will say that crossfit has a great deal of information on the website that is open to everyone to learn the movements and constantly exchange ideas and information. Rhabdomyolysis is no good, agreed. And lastly inadequate screening is something that is not really a valid point. When I first ran a marathon no one asked for my physical signed by my doctor. When my wife joined a local “globo gym,” no one asked her for a physical. Screening is each individual participants responsibility. I hope you will take these comments in mind when referring to crossfit again and I applaud you taking the time to think of and research some of your points. I would appreciate any response you would have. Thank you for your time.

    Sincerely,
    Erik

    Reply
  16. Rob

    Mike,

    I got a kick out of your article. However, as a Crossfitter myself it appears that I “have a bone to pick” with you (just kidding, but I would like to try and give you my opinion on some of the grievances you mentioned).

    I appreciate that you can identify the benefits of Crossfit as a whole. I also appreciate that you have taken the time to analyze the program for legitimacy in you eyes. However, I do not think that all of your criticisms are well placed:
    1. “arbitrary and extreme programming”: I do not understand your critique of this (unless it is the “extreme” part) as Crossfit is meant to be a broad and inclusive fitness program; it is meant to prepare the participant for the “unknown and the unknowable” as Coach Glassman says it. As such a specific programming that emphasizes a particular lift or activity would contribute to specialization: something that is discouraged in Crossfit. Make no mistake, Crossfit can be used to improve in specific sports, activities, lifts, etc; however, the average person who does not need to specialize benefits from the broad challenges that Crossfit provides.
    2. “no concept of progression”: You must have missed the “Start Here”->”BrandX Scaled Workouts” link from the main menu on the Crossfit webpage. This link leads to a forum that provides scalings for all workouts that are listed on the main page. Also, there are numerous “benchmark” workouts that regularly come up in order to gauge progression. To see these click the FAQ link on the main page and scroll to the “WOD” section (Workout Of the Day). Then click links 4.1 and 4.2 to view the different benchmark workouts. These two sections do not include all of the repeated workouts however. If the exercises used in these workouts seem strange see my explanation to point #1.
    3. “flimsy certification process”: I have never gone to a Crossfit certification so I cannot speak to this point (I have even questioned this myself about crossfit because I hear this critique a lot). However, I can say that I have seen numerous videos from the certifications many of which are taught by Mark Rippetoe and Mike Burgener. Likewise, I have seen many interviews of Crossfit cert. attendees that were also certified by “mainstream” organizations and these people have all said that the Crossfit certs were more informative and hands on then others they had attended.
    4. “inadequate screening”: Newcomers are always encouraged to start small via the “Start Here” link. Having said that this is a major concern for safety. My best defense (not an excuse; this is a HUGE issue for safety) is that there are good and bad affiliates. There are good and bad violinists. Just because many people cannot play the violin does not make the concept of playing a violin bad. (That was my best attempt at an analogy to explain my point.)
    5. “rhabdomyolysis”: BIG PROBLEM (as this is a scary and dangerous thing). However, as I mentioned in point 4 this reflects more on the trainers (and maybe the cert process that let them be certified) then on the idea of Crossfit (I hope that is not a contradiction).

    I hope this helps, I am not an expert on Crossfit but this is what I have been able to gleen from Crossfit in the 18 months I have been doing it.

    Please post you response, Mike,
    -Rob

    Reply
  17. BJP

    Mike H.,

    As I read through your list, I was mentally saying “Yeah! Totally! Yes!..”

    Then I got to Crossfit. Of course, I was primed for a surprise, since this post is linked in the Crossfit comments from the daily workout today.

    Your thoughts are clearly stated, and I appreciate the critiques on Crossfit. There is a real tendency to start ratcheting up the intensity before technique is nailed down. I speak from the perspective of a certified level 1 coach.

    Here’s where I think Crossfit and Yoga are apples in this bunch of oranges. As time goes on, you’ll see they are not trends. Crossfit, in particular, is effective, growing, and is here to stay.

    Reply