A London gym recently hit headlines with claims a newly launched class, Flatline, is the toughest in the world. With paramedics on standby and a cardiologist on site the intense workout is not for the faint hearted.David Cooper, director of Gymbox, said:
Flatline comes with a significant warning: do not even think about this class if you are unsure in any way about the ability of your body to be pushed to its absolute maximum physical limits, and probably some way beyond. A lot of Gymbox members have said to us that their dream is to have a body to die for. With Flatline that will be a lot closer than some people think.
Flatline participants reportedly have to sign a disclaimer, acknowledging the medical risks involved.
'Death waivers' are nothing new in fitness. Surprisingly you're probably more at risk of experiencing a medical emergency during exercise when you're not asked to sign a disclaimer in advance!
Whether training for your dream body in the gym, taking part in Zumba classes, or pursuing Zen like balance with yoga and Pilates all physical activity exposes you to risk.
As a fitness professional I understand why screening my clients is essential for their health and well-being, and how failure to do so could end in a medical emergency, injury or even death.
This may come as a shock to those who want to lose weight, or simply look and feel better. News headlines frequently tell us sedentary living, poor diet and obesity can lead to a host of medical problems. We are told our generation is at risk of being the first where parents will outlive children, such is the concern over rising childhood obesity levels, yet no-one warned us going to the gym could also be a killer.
While the promoters of Flatline acknowledge participants will be pushed to their maximum physical limits, even a 'gentle' stretching class can be dangerous for deconditioned individuals.
So how can you be sure your fitness activity, class or personal training session won't end in disaster? You can't, that's the honest truth.
There are no guarantees your good intentions to get fitter, lose weight or tone up could instead result in injury, exacerbate an existing medical condition, or even lead to your death. This is why every client I train must sign a 'death waiver', a disclaimer acknowledging the risks and although a paramedic isn't on standby, I am ready to administer CPR if needed. Far from indicating how brutal, risky and 'extreme' these sessions are my clients, and those of other trainers up and down the country, are in safe hands. This is down to the pre-screening process all qualified and respected instructors will carry out with their 'in person' clients and class participants and increasingly, in our digital world, online clients. In addition all fitness professionals are expected to hold a First Aid qualification and to have adequate personal liability insurance to the sum of £5 million.
A health screening form, often referred to as a PAR Q (physical activity readiness questionnaire), is something anyone taking part in organised exercise should complete. It asks a series of questions designed to establish current health status, identify underlying conditions, and previous medical history. It provides a talking point and opportunity for the fitness professional to explore any particular issues, refer to a medical practitioner for guidance if necessary, and eliminate anyone they are not qualified to work with. It shows a duty of care and, importantly, is a legal requirement. Failure to complete a medical screening form could not only end in disaster for the client, but invalidate any insurance, and result in an expensive legal claim for the trainer. Having completed and discussed this PAR Q, exercisers should then be fully briefed of any risk before signing the 'death waiver' or an Informed Consent Agreement, as we prefer to call it in the fitness industry!
Before all this talk of risk, injury and death in the gym completely puts you off getting fitter it's important to emphasis the real killer is much closer to home than you think. Your desk, chair and sofa may not come with a 'death waiver' but being sedentary and inactive is recognised as one of the biggest health threats of our time.
In July Public Health England produced new guidelines and recommendations outlining minimal activity levels for adults. These guidelines are aimed to not only improve the declining health of the nation but address the drain on resources and the NHS. Current estimates suggest physical inactivity is costing the UK £7.4 billion a year including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone.
Low physical activity has been identified as one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England.
If we can encourage less active people to become more active we could prevent one in ten cases of stroke and heart disease in the UK, and one in six deaths from any cause. Furthermore, regular physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, many of which are on the rise and affecting people at an earlier age.
The good news is you don't need to train at the extreme level, like a Flatline class, to reap the health benefits of physical activity. Public Health Guidelines state adults should accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more, to help improve both physical and mental health. This can be made up of activities such as walking, cycling, gardening and even chores like washing the car.
With this in mind, you've probably been sitting down for long enough reading this article. It's time to get up, get moving, and remember although desks don't come with a 'death waiver' too much time at one is riskier than the average fitness class.