The Context Of Fitness

Imagine if I placed you into the cockpit of an airplane. You’ve never flown a plane before and actually don’t like being up in the air. But for some reason, you have a overwhelming feeling that you’re educated enough to fly it without any help. After all, you watched a video of some hot-shot pilot doing maneuvers and even read a slideshow article entitled “5 Tips For Making A Smooth Landing”. And there’s also a digital autopilot, so all you have to do is push a couple buttons and the plane will fly itself. Easy, right?
Halfway through the flight, the autopilot fails, visibility drops and you start collecting ice on the wings. You’re lost, scared and not sure what to do. The autopilot blinks various red lights at you indicating its inability to keep the aircraft on a constant heading. The windshield is quickly becoming useless as clouds surround you like a three-dimensional fog. With your limited knowledge of aviation and meteorology, how do you think this flight is going to end up? Do you think knowing a few tips will trump having real knowledge of how to fly? How bad do you wish you had done more than watch a couple videos on being a pilot?
It sounds ludicrous that someone would try to attempt this feat with so little information and instruction. Flying is an activity which is too complicated to understand completely with only a few minutes of reading. However, the same thing is done in the fitness world thousands of times per day. The only difference is that people end up with broken dreams rather than broken airplanes.

The modern fitness industry is flooded with tips, techniques and methods used by professional trainers, athletes and “personalities”. When these professionals give a 20 second soundbite or write a “Top 10 Whatever” article, they’re taking a complex subject and removing all context and higher understanding. Context such as “I’ve been involved in athletics for 10 years so it’s fairly easy for me to do this particular exercise with perfect form.” Or perhaps letting people know that “Even though I don’t eat after 8pm, that may not work if you get home at 10pm on a regular basis, so adjust this tip as required for your own life.” Without that context, most people take these professionals at face value and see no need to look deeper or ask questions.

Most exercises that are shown in magazines or television are technically sound. There is no reason not to do burpees, run for 15 miles or do plyometric jumps. The problem is that those individuals demonstrating the exercises often forget that their target audience isn’t made up of NFL draft picks, but ordinary people. Complex and difficult movements may take several weeks or even months to work up to after mastering the basics. But basics aren’t going to make the uninitiated say “Wow, what a great trainer! Look how athletic they are!” Thus, we are subjected to a bevy of exercises and programs that are difficult not out of necessity, but out of a need to show something impressive to entice people to buy into the program.

When it comes to nutrition, finding unbiased accuracy is like untying a Gordian knot. Partial truths mixed with outright lies combine to make some of the most God-awful advice ever distributed. When one considers the continuous onslaught of information on weight loss, weight gain, calorie counting, best foods, worst foods, never-eat-these foods, always-eat-these foods, magic superfoods, pill-for-this, pill-for-that, etc, it’s amazing that there are people out there who aren’t confused by all the conflicting information. Still it comes down to basics, and those are the dull, boring facts that many in the fitness industry gloss over or skip completely because you get more views or sell more books by talking about the glycemic index or which BCAA protein shake is the best. From a business standpoint, it’s genius. Talk about the more complex components of nutrition to sound highly educated to the general public. After all, there’s more money in confusion than understanding.

This is a very difficult situation for people. On one hand, they want to learn as much as possible about fitness and nutrition. On the other hand, there is a lot to understand and not all of it is straightforward. So they look for information that has been distilled by experts. I have no doubt in my mind that most people in the fitness industry do legitimately want to help others. However, sometimes enthusiasm can overtake clarity as it pertains to teaching individuals about fitness. Still others spend too much time in their own head and forget how to connect with those looking to them for knowledge. At the bottom of the bucket are those few people (thankfully) who are unashamed hucksters, peddling useless and occasionally harmful wares, plans or diets.

So now you understand my disgruntledness. There are some messy results when experts dispense orphanized fitness advice. I truly do wish that more thought was put into how advice was doled out. The general public will seemingly follow whatever someone of even modest levels of fame says (it goes doubly so if this person has an excellent physique relative to the viewer/listener/reader). It will take enormous amounts of counterclaims, evidence and eventually first-hand experience to sway people away from an idea that was good-intentioned but completely wrong. This phenomena is easily observable and it illustrates two alarming things about humans (at least in the United States). The first is that we adhere to the law of primacy with alarming tenacity. The second is that we do not like to research something if it threatens to disrupt what we believe to be true (I know carbs are bad because I learned it on TV and you can’t tell me otherwise!)

Please, please, pleeaaaaaase verify everything you hear, see or read. Check with multiple sources and treat no one person like a health messiah. Even those who have your best interests in mind can make mistakes, while those that don’t could hardly give a damn.




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About the Author: Christopher Williams