The fitness industry has failed.
This is not going to be another blog about unrealistic expectations or the horror of modern fitness. This is much deeper than that. The fitness industry is flawed right down to its roots, to the very foundation of everything the fitness community coaches and markets.
It is flawed. And as the world changes it is getting even worse.
To my fellow fitness professionals I want to offer my condolences, note that I do not say apologies because I am not sorry. I do offer my sympathies because this is going to hurt. It is going to turn everything you believe on its head and wound everything you thought you know about what you do.
Also note that this is about the general population. This is not pertinent to athletes. Athletes are a whole different story and have a completely different set of needs and values. This is for the other 99% of the population that struggles ceaselessly to improve the quality of their lives, alas, to no avail.
Seth Godin talks about the sacred cows of an industry. These are the that any industry has that are held as the standards of what makes the industry what it is. They are the things that everyone so wholeheartedly believes are necessary that no one ever bothers to question their efficacy.
“Every organization is filled with vestigal activities, sacred cows that feel as though they must be defended. We defend them at our peril… do it too long, and the whole thing is gone.” – Seth Godin
As Mr. Godin states, we defend these sacred cows even though they are destroying what we do. And in order to make things grow and change we must first analyze and possibly destroy these long held beliefs.
How then does this apply to the fitness industry.
Let me describe it by a small description of what I do with my clients and what my business, Taylored Training, which I co-own with my wife, has stopped doing.
The sacred cows we let go of years ago.
We do not weigh people. We do not track and record how much weight clients lift. We do not track what workouts people have done. We do not periodize programs. We do not build individual workouts for each client. We do not track measurements. We do not record food journals. We do not do extensive postural and alignment screens.
What terrible fitness professionals we must be! All fellow fitness professionals (and the wannabe professionals) just had cardiac arrest.
We never do this…..
These tracking metrics are the sacred cows of the fitness industry. They are the strategies and metrics that everyone believes MUST be tracked and recorded in order to ensure success.
The general public has been taught that any fitness professional worth the money will have an extensive list of tracking metrics that will measure their progress. They think being measured, poked, prodded, pinched, and photographed is normal. Even though it scares the shit out of most people.
Remember, I am not some internet quack making this stuff up to be controversial and get a lot of blog hits. I live and practice this stuff every day.
Is it true? Could we slaughter these sacred cows and still make people happy, healthy, and fit?
Yes. Yes you can. Proof? Since getting rid of the sacred cows of the fitness industry our business has grown almost 100%, our staff have grown 300%, our referrals have increased by 100%, and our conversion rate from potential members to full members has increased to 90%.
The most telling statistic though is our renewal percentage. Repeat business is the heart and soul of any company and is a clear indication of how well you are matching the needs and wants of your clients. If we take out members who leave because they move out of town or lose their jobs, my business has an industry drool worth renewal rate of 90%.
That means that 90% of our members sign up for another year-long membership when their membership expires. 90%.
I can’t really give you stats on how many times people renew because we have barely had any members who renew once not continue to renew. They are still our member today and we hope for the rest of their lives.
Why do I cite these stats? For the simple reason that it is proof slaughtering the sacred cows of the fitness industry is not only achievable but, in fact, it is beneficial!
What is Wrong with the Sacred Cows? Kill These Sacred Cows. 5 Sacred Cows That Need to Die.
Why? Why is tracking weight, weight lifted, measurements, and workouts doing more harm than good? How is it possible that this is hurting the fitness world, and in turn the fitness of the population?
All of these traditional goal setting strategies and progress strategies instantly setup all of our clients for failure. I will delve into a couple of examples.
It goes up and down. There is a lower limit. You will never weigh 50lbs. You’ll die first. So at some point you will reach a lowest weight amount. Then what? You will most likely increase your weight again. Which will freak you the fuck out and spiral you into a yo-yo weight battle.
And lower weight doesn’t make people happy. Being 130lb vs. 140lbs doesn’t mean anything. People really care what they look like. What clothes they fit. Happiness doesn’t come at a certain weight. I have seen it time and time again. ‘Oh, I lost 10lbs, I could go for another 5 though…”
Specific Weight Lifted.
You are NOT superman. There is a limit to how much weight you can lift for any given exercise or movement. You will never bench press 5000 pounds. Disregarding the fact that 99.5% of human beings should never bench press.
This means that at some point you will have lifted the most weight you will ever possibly lift. From there on out it is all down hill. It is a constant message to yourself that you are not as good as you used to be.
I have done it. The little journal or book tracking every exercise, set, rep, weight, and other details about every training session. Where are all of those journals and books now?
I have no fucking idea.
I rarely even went back and redid a workout. The only thing the journal did was show specific weights on specific exercises, which I just mentioned about how stupid I believe this metric to be. It is normal to lift more one week and less the next and then back up again. Totally normal. So tracking this, again, leads to failure.
Yes, I recognize that it can also lead to success. But why the fuck would I want to use goals that I know a significant percentage of the time will lead to failure?
Postural and Biomechanical Assessments.
Just the tittle alone is enough to scare people away from your measuring tape, protractor, and spread sheet.
We have to know people are fit enough to handle exercise and we use a movement screen to ensure this. In fact we built our warm-up, that EVERY SINGLE member does at our facility, EVERY SINGLE training session, to include all the movement assessments we need to see.
Here is the deal. The human body is a fucking remarkable piece of machinery. But it isn’t perfect. In fact it is so fucking remarkable that is can perform at very high levels when it is totally messed up. Don’t believe me? Watch the Paralympics sometime and see just how spectacular the human body is! Those athletes are fucking remarkable!
Yet our industry insists on analyzing every joint, every angle, every imbalance, and every imperfection to see if it matches some kind of idealized model that in reality doesn’t exist. And when you don’t meet that model we work tirelessly to ‘fix’ you, to ‘correct’ you, and to ‘repair’ you.
The human body isn’t perfect. Striving to make it perfect is just simply going to dishearten people. Making sure they are safe is one thing but we have gone to a corrective exercise lala land attempting to mould everyone’s body into an ideal that changes every 5 years as we learn more about the body.
You are not a unique snowflake. I know. It hurts. I do not want to belittle your uniqueness but from a purely physiological standpoint we are all pretty similar.
Sure, there are a few basic differences between different parts of the population so some variety of programming is essential. But not much. So this inane need to create individual and unique programs for each person because everybody is different is just simple marketing to justify the need of one on one trainers to charge you $100 an hour.
If you look through history the times the human population has been the most fit coincides with very general programming, training, and fitness that was spread among the entire population. We still do this today with sports training. I have yet to see a soccer practice or swimming practice where each player on the team has their own unique training objectives and are each doing their own thing. Yet we instantly fall back onto this when it comes to fitness training for the general population.
This is not an exhaustive list of the sacred cows I have listed at the beginning of this article. However, I think that the general point has been made. All of these core beliefs are hurting our ability to improve the health of the population. We need to let go of these things in order to truly change the world and to change the direction we are headed.
I recognize that humans need goals and objectives. People need something to strive for. To build towards. We all need some way to gauge if we are on the right track and doing the right things.
And we do this.
I believe in tracking two things.
How frequently do you exercise. I truly believe that this is THE MOST IMPORTANT single thing we can track to ensure we are improving our health and fitness.
Gone are the days of telling people that 2 sessions a week for 30 minutes is all they need for their fitness.
This is THE BIGGEST BULLSHIT LIE we are being fed and that the ENTIRE FITNESS industry has to STOP FUCKING SAYING. Maybe it is because we are so scared of turning people off and losing a sale. Too worried to tell the truth.
Two half hour workouts a week ARE NOT ENOUGH.
Maybe at one point it was. But it isn’t anymore. Our obsessive need for convenience and ease has changed what we need. We don’t even open doors anymore, or walk up stairs, or cut our own food up, or walk a block to the corner store.
Now we sweep our foot or push a button and the door opens. We take escalators and elevators, even to the second floor. We buy pre-cut veggies. And we order food online and pick it up already bagged at the grocery store.
Each of these little things adds up. We barely move. We never lift anything. We barely raise our heart rate or challenge our hearts and lungs.
Your body was meant to move. To lift, twist, jump, throw, drag, climb, and carry. You HAVE to do all of these things EVERYDAY. No longer is a fitness program a luxury or a hobby. It is an essential part of our lives. Lack of a fitness program is literally KILLING huge portions of the population.
Yet the fitness industry loves to toss around these sacred cows. You HAVE to wait at least 24 hours between training sessions. You can only train each body part once a week. NEVER train longer than an hour. Keep your heart rate in this specific range. I could go on for pages.
But it is all bullshit. It is based on no science or poor science. Don’t you dare train two days in a row! But soccer practice 6 days a week is OK. What. The. Fuck. That doesn’t even make sense.
Frequency is king. And that is the primary goal we set for all of our members. We strive for a minimum of 4 days a week. As people get into the groove we recommend 6 to 10 training sessions a week.
Yes, sometimes that is 2 times a day. The right fitness creates an environment that makes this not only completely safe but actually good for you. This is why crossfit and The Biggest Loser can be so dangerous. You can’t train like THAT 10 times a week.
We want people being active, training, 6-10 times a week. This can include playing sports, quick workouts at home, training at our facility, or a host of other physical activities.
And I am not sorry to all of those out there who disagree. You are wrong. The human body was designed to move and be active many hours every single day. It is time we began to treat it like that.
Frequency is also a sustainable goal. It isn’t like the rest of the industry sacred cows. Training a minimum of 4 days a week never changes. It never ends. It is irregardless of age, sex, experience, or injury.
It takes away the negative aspect of all the other goals we typically use like weight, food journals, lifting more weight, or corrective exercise. Even if you have a week where you only get 2 sessions – no problem! Just do 5 the next 2 weeks and make them up. Problem solved. The world hasn’t ended. No negative feelings.
How do we track the success of these training sessions? Simple. Effort.
You should be sweating and breathing hard. You should be working out with focused effort. At each and every training session.
So it doesn’t matter if you weigh more today than yesterday, or if you are lifting 30 pounds today instead of 35 pounds last week. Totally does not matter. Are you lifting with enough effort that you are sweating and breathing hard.
That is all you need to track.
Often people go train and hit specific goal numbers. Yet they don’t break a sweat. Other times people train and they are busting their ass, sweating, breathing hard, maxing their effort, yet are lifting or doing less than a week or two ago.
Can you see how these sacred cows of the fitness world are not actually helping? How they can even be detrimental?
When it comes down to it, every single fitness goal can be met by only tracking these two metrics. Frequency and effort.
Want to run a marathon or tough mudder race? If you are consistently training 5 days a week with good effort for a year or more, running a marathon is going to be much easier.
Want to be stronger or just improve your health? I have yet to see someone train 5 days a week with good effort who does not improve their health and get stronger.
Want to lose weight? Training with good intensity 5 days a week leads to all sorts of changes, including eating healthier food. Weight loss will come if you train intensely, 5 times a week, and eat well most of the time.
Want to look hot in a bathing suit on vacation? You guessed it. You are going to look a lot better in a bathing suit if you train 5 days a week, with good intensity, and eat well most of the time.
See how these all build upon each other and they all have the same base?! And the best part is that there is no failure built in. There is no end point to hit and then ‘fall off the wagon’ or have to spend weeks soul searching for a ‘new goal.’
Yes, you can still have specific goals, and you should. Do an adventure race this year. Climb a mountain next year. Look hot in a bathing suit on a cruise the year after. And then join a sports league the year after that.
All the same tracking metrics apply and ALL are BEST achieved with frequent training at a high level of effort.
Is WHAT you are doing important? Absolutely. I also believe that everyone needs a fitness coach. I do not believe that people can do it on their own.
Lets say you are going to have a heart attack next week. So you need heart surgery. You and your friends read a few books and magazines, do some online research, buy some equipment and the local hardware store, and then get prepped.
Good idea? Fuck no. You don’t know the details about the surgery, the physiology. You don’t have the support staff (nurses, anesthesiologists, cleaners, etc). You don’t’ have the right tools or facility. It’s ludacris.
Your health and your body are important and complex. You cannot do it on your own and you shouldn’t. You need a coach to ensure that your programming and exercise choices are appropriate. That is their job.
Your job is to commit to adequate frequency and effort of training.
My final message to my peers and to the population in general is this:
Let go of the sacred cows of the fitness industry. Focus on what really matters. Focus what is effective and sustainable. Focus on what works for everyone. Focus on treating the body the way it is supposed to work. Stop trying to make it easy or fit within an otherwise crappy lifestyle.
Train frequently. Train with effort.
Everything else will begin to fall into place.