Exercise is good only until its harmful

Sep 29 / SSISA Academy

Exercise is good only until its harmful

"Having thousands of people jumping around trying to mimic a celebrity trainer may seem fun and motivating, but it is a recipe for injury, burnout and reputational damage to the industry at large."

Access to leading exercise scientists, their guidance and expertise, should not only be the preserve of elite high performance athletes, but should be made accessible to the masses, writes Sports Science Institute of SA Academy CEO Dr Mike Posthumus.

The national lockdown forced gyms and trainers to adjust, with most offering some kind of “online” training. While this should ordinarily be celebrated, the problem with the vast majority of these one-size-fits-all programmes is that they are often designed without care or concern for a scientific best practise approach. 

Having thousands of people jumping around trying to mimic a celebrity trainer may seem fun and motivating, but it is a recipe for injury, burnout and reputational damage to the industry at large. Exercise is vital, but it must be appropriately progressed to ensure that it is sustainable and can result in consistency – the most important factor in any regime.  

The Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SISSA) has seen its fair share of overuse and poor training injuries – when people come through the doors seeking help after being damaged from the latest exercise fad in an almost unregulated industry where little regard is placed on teaching people how to move, when to move and why to move – safely. 

If you want to build a long-term sustainable fitness business, it has to be underpinned by the science. Educating the fitness enthusiasts on the correct technique, will result in decreased risk of injury and improved performance.

This doesn’t mean the old way of going to a reputable facility with highly qualified biokineticists is the only solution. The world has changed, and any business that does not change with it will be shut down before it even realises it has been disrupted.

One of the most compelling advantages of digitisation is the democracy effect. It is also the single-biggest risk to established players in any industry. What may have been elite, and the preserve of a few, can quite literally be placed at the fingertips of anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. This is exactly why we developed the SISSA Academy.

Our fundamental philosophy is the democratisation of sports science. Before, high-performance sports science was the preserve of the elite, of sports people at the pinnacle of their discipline. Our job is to bring the campus, the education, the science, to the people. 

South Africa has a population with immense potential – yet inequality in access to applied scientific principles perpetuates a situation where only a handful ever achieve their potential. 

In our more than 25 years’ experience, people want to learn. They want to become better, faster and healthier while becoming more informed. SISSA Academy, therefore, is unlike other online portals. We have bet on the belief that coaches, fitness professionals and the average person on the street are all driven by the desire to learn. This is reason that all training should be underpinned by education. 

When we understand the ‘why’ behind what we do, and how to do it correctly, it becomes empowering. This personal growth enables us to make sustainable decisions in our own lives. Training is no different. 

It is this unshakable belief in education and science that has driven SISSA group CEO, Manda Moyo, to support and drive the formation of SSISA Academy, a startup business which is currently seeking investment support to help achieve the desired scale.  So that people, anywhere in the world, can have access to online human performance programmes, so that professionals and sports enthusiasts can have access to online skills development, and so that licensed affiliates, be they in Melrose Arch or Khayelitsha, can tap into the rich academic and practical tradition.

The academic practise of peer-reviewed scientific rigour has underpinned the top sports science departments in our country and the rest of the world for many generations. It also remains a duty of every academic to not only conduct and publish peer-reviewed scientific studies, but also translate the findings, a process which has traditionally taken far too long, to become common practise.  

The fact that technology has allowed us to translate these findings – whether you want to run a personal best or become a better cyclist, for instance – is an excellent opportunity to speed up the translation from lab to field. 

Consider a new car. If it were pretty on the outside, but its mechanical components were sourced from anywhere and stuck together in an uncoordinated manner – where the only motivation was trendiness and its ability to sell – would you buy it? Or would you spend your money on a car whose components were meticulously designed for the purpose of that vehicle?

Exercise should be no different. You can pick and choose, stick in a few trendy terms and add loud music, but at the end of the day, if improved human performance is the end-goal, there is no alternative other than to follow a carefully designed programme and course that has been developed by highly qualified, content experts and thought leaders in the field.  

This is how we develop a culture of excellence – by ensuring that live content, webinars and carefully curated programmes, all underpinned by education, find their way to all the corners of the world. This is why SISSA Academy will disrupt online training and put science back into exercise. 
Dr Mike Posthumus is CEO of SSISA Academy. SSISA Academy was established in July 2020 and is on a fundraising drive to be able to scale its business so that anyone in the world can have access to its online skills development and online human performance programmes.