What the Fitness Industry Isn’t Telling You
If you’re a fan of fiction, then you’ll probably love Lee Child’s work on the Jack Reacher series. Reacher is an ex-Army MP who wanders the country because he doesn’t like the confines of being stuck in one place. He has no possessions like a house or car, so therefore he’s free to do whatever he wants whenever he wants to.
Of course wherever he goes he runs into trouble, and Child does an excellent job of spreading the mystery out over 400 pages or so. It usually isn’t until the last 25% of the book that you figure out what is actually happening and why the bad guys are so bad, but Lee Child keeps you interested from page to page. In the very end, Reacher uses his wit to unravel the mystery and set things right.
My hope is to be your fitness Jack Reacher. The fitness industry has plenty of its own mysteries and I certainly believe that you don’t have the patience to sit through 400 pages of my unraveling them. Of course, some of these issues need 400 pages to explain the concepts behind them, but I’ll give you the short and sweet version.
The fitness industry is the wild west – it’s unregulated and anyone can jump in and claim to be an expert. You can tell the good guys by those who take things seriously; they’re more focused on having a career and treating this as a profession rather than making a quick buck.
A Unique Business Model
The fitness industry is unique in itself in the fact that its model is not dependent on repeat business. Glance through your wallet and see how many gym memberships you have. Now remember how many times you actually used them. It’s been estimated that well over 75% of people who purchase a membership stop using it after only several months of the initial purchase. But you’re locked into a long term contract for the next three years, so the gym has no worries.
By the way – has anyone from the gym ever called you to see if you plan on using your membership so you can get fit? (We didn’t think so!)
Plyometrics. Peripheral heart action. Wave loading. Undulating periodization.
Heard them before? Know what any of them mean? If not, don’t worry because most of the people promoting these concepts don’t even know either. But the bigger the words we use, the smarter we look, and trying to sell a workout program is no exception. In fact, the infomercial business was built on this concept.
I’ve graduated from school but I still read research to stay up to date with everything happening in the sport science world. I can throw the terms around with the best of them, but I know that most of my clients could care less about which big words I know. There is a time and a place for everything and each client needs their own unique approach to getting in shape. Slapping together some words for the sake of developing a fad isn’t going to help anyone get in shape. Watch this:
“You need to train with cluster sets! Cluster sets are designed to tap into what we call high threshold muscle fibers. These are the fibers that produce a lot of force and are responsible for giving you that hard and tone look everyone wants. Even science supports the use of cluster sets!”
Cluster sets sound great, right? In fact they are, but cluster sets are designed to help athletes produce a bit more power in technical lifts like the squat snatch or hang clean. They’re very demanding and I would only use them with people who have trained with me for one to two years.
The Almighty Dollar
Everyone has a price. Unfortunately for us, we tend to be at the expense rather than the cost. Morning shows are ingrained with dieticians hawking nutritious meals that you can find in your grocery store. This includes frozen dinners, smoothies, breads, fruit juices – anything and everything. I’ve even come across dieticians who recommend which fast foods a client should eat! It’s sad to see but some will do it for the almighty dollar while others work for large companies and have no choice but to hawk the product or lose their job. I knew another RD who was told to have all of her clients buy a certain breakfast bar because the makers of the bar had given the company she worked for a nice contract.
You can’t rely on mainstream media for fitness and health advice. There are just too many politics and strings involved in promoting things. Besides food, you can say the same for supplements and exercise machines. Many experts promote products that they don’t use or know for a fact will not help the client. Your best bet is to stay away from anything mainstream. Besides peer reviewed research, the industry leaders that I follow wouldn’t even be recognized on the street, but many of them are responsible for some of the most popular fitness trends that actually stood the test of time.
The Wild West
As we stated earlier, working in the fitness industry is like living in the wild west. For most states, this is an industry that does not require a license in order to work with people. There is no governing body to what we do and thus everyone can become an expert overnight. In fact, many certifications that personal trainers hold can be attained online, and unfortunately, there is no one to keep these things in check.
I myself have Bachelors and Masters degrees in Exercise Science, along with a certification from USA Weightlifting. But to the general public’s eye, that doesn’t really give me any credibility because they get their fitness advice from the neighbor who happens to look to be in shape.
I come across many confused clients who have literally become cross eyed from all the misinformation out there. Once again, I blame the industry for not taking itself seriously and having a governing body. In the end, clients spend their hard earned money and may never get in shape and worse, may end up possibly injured.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fitness industry. We could chat about this stuff all day, but I encourage you to do homework with any trainers or health professionals that you come across. Grill them. Ask them as many questions as possible. Remember, the fitness industry is the wild west and we need as many Wyatt Earps as possible.
Originally written: September 3, 2014