Fitness Fools Gold

There was a good stretch of time where I was completely fed up with working in the fitness industry.  Whether I was keeping tabs on “trends” (mostly to scoff at them), picking up things from other coaches, or palling around through youtube looking for something new; it felt like everything people we’re talking about was such utter crap.  Fantastic claims that anyone with any insight could tell were NEVER going to work.  But to people desperate for a solution it was exactly what they wanted to hear and they would buy like crazy.  It just felt like you were playing a rigged game and the only way to win was to outright deceive and lie.

I was so fed up with the industry I remember thinking to myself, “you know what, I’m just gonna go something else.  At least other industries aren’t filled with so many charlatans.”  I remember thinking that for weeks and one day it dawned on me:  “Wait a minute, EVERY industry is filled with these kinda people.”  I don’t know what you do for a living but I can almost guarantee you you can think of 10 competitors right now that drive you up a wall with exaggerated claims and absurd promises.  

I guess all I can do is shut up and keep being honest with people.  No, in all likelihood you won’t lose 40lbs in the next 6 weeks.  No, this program will probably not add 50lbs to your bench press.  But you will get better, and you will get there eventually.

Anyway, in light of that I thought I’d throw out 3 things I consider the “Fool’s Gold of Fitness.”  These are CLASSIC things that “coaches” use to back up their outrageous claims with #alternativefacts.  

(Quick note: I’m not saying these are worthless (they are typically quite worthwhile, but they shouldn’t be emphasized or used as a benchmark by which to judge quality).

  1. Soreness

Soreness happens.  This is part of training.  I don’t want to go into why it happens but it’s not in and of itself a bad thing or a good thing either, it’s really just a thing.  If your coach/trainer/friend/whatever has ANY idea of what they are doing they should know how to make you sore.  I’ll give you a hint, it’s all about eccentrics (or in layman’s terms: the lowering of thigns).  Ever notice when you’re super sore that it’s really hard to go down stairs or sit down in a chair?  But it’s nowhere near as bad standing up?  Right, that’s eccentrics.  

But this isn’t common knowledge.  I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard people judge the efficacy or expertise of a coach by how sore their workouts make them.  If that’s what you like and you’re being safe and having fun; I say mazel tov.  But it’s just not a good benchmark towards getting better.  I think most Fool’s Gold Trainers know that’s what people think and go out of their way to make that first workout so punishing the person walks away crippled.  I think it’s a subtle way of going “wow look how out of shapeyou are, that crushed you, if you want any hope of being decent you better come back to me.”

I actually tend to go the opposite route for most people.  I want them to feel like they can do it and that they can come back for more.  Of course I want them to feel like they worked hard (because if they worked with me I guarantee they worked hard) but I don’t want them to feel obliterated.  

  1. Complexity

I wrote about this before but I am on a war for fighting unnecessary complexity in workouts.  I think this is another way of bad coaches/trainers “showing off.”  You’ve done squats before, sure; but have you ever done 8 second tempo squats on a bosu ball with a supinated grip?  Well THAT’S what’s missing in your training!  Thank god you came to me!”  That might be an exaggeration but it’s not far from what a lot of people do.

Whether it’s force plates or beepers that tell you how fast a barbell moves or random things like that, people are suckered by fancy (or really just the appearance of fancy).  I know how tempting it is to think there’s some scientific revolution around the corner that’s gonna unlock the key to health, strength and aesthetics and maybe, just maybe, that key is a single legged pausing kossack squat with vibrating dumbbells.  But I have a feeling a good squat will probably serve you better.

So instead I’ll just stick to making sure people know how to squat and deadlift correctly and just keep making it fun.  That’s been a very successful business model so far.  So instead of buying force plates I’ll just get new barbells, thanks.

  1. Suck Factor

I have absolutely no problem with workouts that REALLY suck.  Workouts like Kelsu or Bull or some really brutal evil stuff.  Those are great and totally worth throwing into training every now and then.  A good meat grinder of a WOD never hurt anyone (......right?).  I like to think of them as aspirational workouts.  Workouts you probably shouldn’t do (in the strictest sense of the word) but it’s good to throw your hat into the ring and see what you can do (yadda yadda safety...yadda yadda don’t be an idiot).  But again, just because it sucks doesn’t mean it’s a good workout.

It’s a lot like the soreness thing above.  It’s SOOOOO easy to right a workout that’s really hard to do.  Honestly, maybe the easiest thing to do in the fitness world.  But it’s fool’s gold if you think it’s what makes someone good at their job.  

I always like to tell people, “You want the hardest WOD ever?  It’s 8 x 800m with 3 minutes rest.”  If you’re actually good, that’s maybe the most horrific thing I could think of.  But it’s boring, it’s not sexy and you will probably quit halfway through.  There’s a fine line between adding just enough fun to get people coming back but also making things smart enough so they won’t get hurt.  But making things exceptionally difficult for difficulties sake is dumb.

So again, for clarity, each of those elements mentioned are perfectly valid in context and are parts of good workouts and program design.  But they, alone, are not good measurements of a good coach or a good program.  I just can’t stand seeing dumb coaches using them to take advantage of people or to sell their wares on the unsuspecting public.  When in doubt just remember, there are people who are bad at their job in every profession (you probably know a ton in yours) so hopefully this will help you discern the charlatans.  

Justin Gilman