I work in an industry that is unregulated.
Calling yourself a personal trainer, fitness coach, strength coach, health expert or by any other tagline is as simple as taking a weekend course and paying attention to 75 per cent of its material. That's one reason why it creates a huge bias from the public as to whether there's any science or academic component to exercise whatsoever.
Add that to the fact that the median age for a personal trainer is probably somewhere in the mid to late 20s, our business suits are usually black T-shirts with running shoes and our offices are playgrounds. The end result is that the bias is reinforced without the biased person even knowing it.
There's a plenty of misinformation being spread by inept professionals who market their good bodies for the sake of a dollar. With the rise to dominance of social media vehicles like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, these types can easily market themselves and develop a huge following in the process.
I hate hearing the term "your body is your business card." Sadly, that quote permeates the fitness industry and won't stop.
And I get it: When an unsuspecting consumer or follower sees a fit-looking person promoting a questionable exercise, most people will take it at face value and follow suit, assuming that that particular exercise is one reason why that fit person is in shape to begin with.
Examples like the one above are the reason I hate hearing the term "your body is your business card." Sadly, that quote permeates the fitness industry and won't stop. I also have to admit that there's a fair truth to the phrase.
A fitness coach who shows visual evidence of being in shape will surely influence more people on knee-jerk than one who does not. People respond to visual cues; it's that simple. When we compare this to other industries (like, say, a dentist with a great smile, an accountant whose books are in good condition or an auto mechanic with an '84 Civic that runs like new), it makes me question why so much more pragmatism is applied when seeking help in those industries compared to that of taking care of personal health and fitness.
In the latter, however, people actively search for a second opinion or at least do their homework on the guy they're about to hire to do their accounting, their surgery or their drywall. Strangely, in the fitness world, all it takes is a six pack and a grin to make consumers reach for their pocketbooks to buy the new AbCrusher off a TV infomercial.
Don't Give Yourself Too Much Credit
I'm a walking, talking, living, breathing testimony to the fact that you don't need a PhD to develop a decent grasp on good, well-founded training principles. The truth is, on paper, many of my colleagues would humble me in terms of certifications, courses and other industry-specific credentials achieved.
Plenty of my own training and writing success has come from external research, industry experience and practical application. It goes to show that as a client or consumer, you don't need to be enrolled in a sit-down course that puts you back $3,000 dollars just to learn how to safely and effectively build muscle, burn fat or learn essential principles of training.
Unfortunately, most people don't even get that far. Like I mentioned at the outset, the idea of an "academic course for fitness" is crazy talk and the attitude of having the exercise game "all figured out" is what dominates. It's an attitude that those same infomercial TV coaches, duplicitous as they are chiseled, capitalize on to earn bank for themselves.
On the Internet itself, there are plenty of good training articles and resources that do well to dispel hackneyed fitness myths that have been circulating for years -- in part thanks to the same category of coaches mentioned above.
In truth, it's a matter of personal choice as to whether or not someone looking to get fit wants to make the effort to do some self-education. In this age of technology, we've come beyond the times where we can still blame a "bad coach" alone for the lack of results we're seeing in the gym.This may sound like I'm cracking down on the poor consumer who's only interested in losing 15 pounds of body fat and adding some lean tissue in preparation for the summer. And I won't lie -- you'd be right. If this wasn't an issue, there wouldn't still be myriad people who self-proclaim a "fit lifestyle" who would include any or all of these bullet points as part of their belief system:
- Yoga, walking, jogging, dancing or Zumba are all suitable forms of exercise that can make up the majority of your physical activity.
- Exercising twice weekly will create significant results for the long term.
- "Strength training" covers anything involving weights, even if they're five pounds.
- Using weights will make you big.
- Deadlifts are bad for your back, and full squats are bad for your knees.
- Directly training the legs isn't necessary as long as you play sports and walk to work.
If you raised an eyebrow at any of these points, it may be a smart idea to invest the time into educating yourself about your own health. What people tend to forget is that good professionals in the industry are navigators. We can recommend the right path for success, and even give great and smart workouts in the process.
What you do with your time outside the gym is the true dictator of your results. If you don't have the luxury of hiring a coach (good or bad!), then just who you decide to listen to for your exercise advice and direction matters that much more.
Instead of thinking "I've got this" or taking the gimmicky advice you "hear" to heart, it may be a smart idea to start looking for some second opinions. You'll be glad you did.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
The reality: "Crunches cause your abdominal muscles to contract, which will increase their strength and endurance, [but] crunches burn very few calories," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the Human Performance Laboratory at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. You need to burn 3,500 calories to lose just 1 pound of fat, and doing 50 or more crunches won't even come close to burning that much. A better workout tip: "A flat abdominal area with little fat covering the muscles requires a combined effort from an appropriate diet and other calorie-burning workout activities like jogging or spinning classes," Olson says. The takeaway? Combine cardio with ab-strengthening exercises and a healthy diet, and you'll have a flat belly in no time.
The reality: Variety is the mark of a good workout, not hours spent doing the same thing. "Mix it up, even in the same workout," says Michael Maina, Ph.D., an associate professor of health and human performance at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. "Spend five minutes on the treadmill, five minutes on the stair climber, and five minutes on a rowing machine." A varied workout is more motivating, and you'll gain extra benefits by changing up the muscle groups you're working.
The reality: Hot yoga might be all the rage, but that doesn't mean these workouts are high-octane calorie burners. "You will burn the same number of calories doing a series of sun salutations or other yoga moves regardless of the temperature of your environment," Olson says. "Fitness and calorie expenditure come from moving your body weight against gravity. The resistance from gravity does not change the intensity of your workout when temperatures change."
The reality: "Fitness is actually measured in five dimensions: strength, speed, agility, endurance, and flexibility," says certified personal trainer Amanda L. Ebner, MA, MEd, a FitOrbit.com Top 10 Trainer. "If you focus only on the old-fashioned cardio-and-weights duality, you will miss out on some amazing workout alternatives, such as power lifting (strength), high-intensity interval training (speed), team sports (agility), marathon/triathlon training (endurance), and yoga (flexibility)." Among her tips: Try to identify the areas of fitness in which you are weakest and take up a workout activity targeted at building those missing skills. Flickr photo by sportsandsocial
The reality: "Weight machines are generally designed based on the dimensions of the average-sized male, which can place your knees, back, and shoulders into positions where muscles are not pulling at the proper angle," Olson says. "This can harm your joints." She adds that one advantage of using free weights for the strength-training portion of your workout is that you can lift, press, and curl them with your natural range of motion. Another tip: "Free weights also engage more of your spine-supporting core muscles and help improve balance, preventing common lifestyle muscle pulls, joint strain and falls," she says.
The reality: No reliable fitness tip should advocate true pain as part of workout success. "There is a difference between being a little sore and being injured," Maina says. "You should feel a slight fatigue or mild discomfort following a good workout, but you shouldn't feel so sore that it affects your daily functioning." Flickr photo by lululemon athletica
The reality: "Stretching cold muscles, tendons and ligaments can actually harm them since they are relatively stiff to begin with," Olson says. "Instead, warm up your muscles at the beginning of a workout by doing dynamic movements, such as walking briskly for five minutes, performing half-squats with just your body weight, and marching with high knees. These activities will increase circulation of oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and literally warm them -- increase their metabolism, which produces heat. Save static stretching for the cooldown part of your workout, when your muscles are very warm and extensible."
The reality: "Muscle length is fixed once we reach our adult height," Olson says. "However, Pilates and dancer-style workouts often emphasize various posture factors, such as keeping your neck long, your upper body lifted, and your spine lengthened." Learning how to hold your body and conditioning the muscles that support a "stand tall" mantra may make you appear slimmer and more elongated. "But these workouts don't actually cause your muscles to grow or increase in true length," Olson says.
The reality: "True, the elliptical machine can minimize some of the jarring impact of running on knees and ankles, but the angle of the incline can also put your hips at risk if you have hip replacements or injuries," Ebner says. "If you have hip issues, walking and cycling are better cardiovascular workout choices." An additional tip for fans of elliptical machines: Because they minimize lower-body impact, they don't build bone density the way running or jogging can, Ebner emphasizes.
The reality: When you're working out hard, you need those carbs to keep you going. "Going low on carbs will rob your muscles and vital body organs such as your heart and kidneys (which are also composed of muscle tissue) from the energy they need to contract and prevent the muscle beds from being broken down, which happens in people who eat low-carb diets," Olson says. She adds that people who exercise regularly need only about 6 to 8 ounces of protein a day, which most adults get without even trying: "If you are an avid exerciser, you can get enough daily protein in just two medium grilled chicken breasts and one glass of low-fat milk." Flickr photo by Andrea_Nguyen
Follow Lee Boyce on Twitter: www.twitter.com/coachleeboyce