Sorry - we have failed you. We have failed to communicate the things that are most important when it comes to getting in shape, staying in shape, looking your best and staying healthy for the long-term.
The fitness industry is still very much in its infancy. Big chain gyms only started in the early 1970’s which only gives us about 50 years of evolution.
We have gone through many different iterations of what seems to be the best, most clear picture into how fitness can have a positive influence on your life.
In today’s post I’m going to detail how the fitness industry has gotten exercise and nutrition wrong, how we can reframe what already exists into a more sustainable approach while also getting killer results from the effort put into your health.
What has the fitness industry done well?
Before I go bashing up the industry, let’s first talk about a few things that the industry has done well.
For starters - introducing a space for people to use equipment that they would otherwise not have the money or space for in their homes. Barbells, dumbbells, machines, cardio equipment...all of these shiny things play a huge role in helping people attain their physical peaks.
Having a space to go to that is separate from work and home is crucial in creating the “getaway” that many clients have told me is so important. The gym not only becomes a place that you can get strong as hell at, but also a social space to share with like-minded people.
It’s inspiring to see members of a gym help each other, guide, support, and cheer each other on. The gym is usually a pretty damn positive place whether you are at a big box gym or a small boutique gym (like LIFW!).
As a trainer who has been working in a gym for 5 and a half years it’s definitely the most positive, exciting, and fun places to work.
And this is for a specific purpose - to make people feel comfortable but also attain that stress relief from the outside world.
Gyms give us this ability to focus on one's own self, one's own health and the betterment of the mind, body and soul!
The fitness industry has also given people something to believe in, something that can have huge impacts on your life.
For better or worse, the industry has put a focus on what you can change in your diet and exercise to help get off medications, strengthen your immune system, move more freely and ultimately look better.
Newspaper media, TV Media, articles both in print and online all have the intention of teaching people how to live their best lives. Tips on good recipes, ideas about what exercises are best for you, information on recovery and rest. All of this is good stuff, vitally important to creating a life that you can be proud of.
The industry has brought in many people that would have never cared about their health. I think back to my grandparents and how they never went to a gym, never thought about health in the way that it’s thought of today.
So for that reason - I think it’s powerful for people to take their health in their own hands and decide what’s best for them.
This is where I start drawing blanks for more positive attributes…
The push for perfection
When you think of someone who is in shape - what do you see?
Are you imagining a man or woman who has 6 pack abs, chiseled arms and muscular legs?
Do you envision someone who is very skinny/lean?
It’s very easy to immediately think about those people who have become the poster child for fitness. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger, Suzanne Summers, Jane Fonda, or Shaun T. All of these people fit this mold of chiseled bodies that appear to be the example of total health.
Now I’m not going to argue that they AREN’T super fit - but instead think about how they relate to you.
This vision is one of perfection, of a body that is the “ideal” which has been promoted both by the fitness industry and by various media channels.
It’s the pursuit of this perfection that I feel is unhelpful for the average professional.
I think that this gives people a false sense of what it means to be successful. Just because someone has 6 pack abs does not mean that they are healthy. There are many different markers of health (which we’ll get into a bit later) that aren’t on the outside for everyone to see.
Yet the focus of health from the fitness industry has been very much focused on the OUTSIDE rather than the INSIDE.
Take a scroll down instagram with the hashtag “#fitlife” and you’ll see the majority of people looking like versions of the above mentioned fitness stars.
And this is the image that the fitness industry wants to show as successful. These images of the greek gods and goddesses carved out of stone.
Is this actually realistic for the everyday person? Or are we just setting up people to fail?
The amount of time and commitment to get to that physical point is daunting.
These people make it their full time JOB to look the way they do yet you believe that you can get there while having a full time job, kids, family, friends, and your own wants, desires.
I’m not saying it’s not possible, no not at all….but rather the FOCUS is misguided and not in alignment with the regular everyday person.
The misguided personal trainer
This one hurts…
As a trainer for almost 6 years I’ve had to battle against the stigma that I am incompetent, consumed with body building, and the type of person who is going to yell at you to make you feel like shit.
All the great personal trainers can thank those who see personal training as a temporary job, not as a career.
This stigma of the hard ass trainer who is jacked and only trains people, like he/she trains themselves is the epitome of bad taste.
I know this because I’ve seen trainers come and go in my own gym and have seen how people who don’t have a client-first mentality fail to grow and eventually move into a different career.
As we think about how fitness has become all about how one looks - it’s easy to see how many self-centered and egotistical people wind up believing that they can help others “look like themselves”.
I don’t think it’s purposely done, but I do believe that people who are already fit gravitate towards becoming a trainer.
This leaves many bad apples on the table, pushing their clients to injury and pain. The modern day trainer forgets about the PERSONAL part of the equation here.
And with this comes the dissatisfaction, disengaged and ultimately, a person who gives up on training because they couldn’t make it with this alpha trainer.
The focus on the scale and weight
Look at any fitness and health advertisement and it will promise to have you lose X amount of weight in a very short time frame.
Speak to any personal trainer, any gym owner or nutritionist and they will tell you that the main reason people get into exercise, health, and fitness is to lose weight.
There is a reason for this; losing weight is how we’ve been programmed to see change. Losing weight is associated with better health, more confidence...a return to that 20 something year old body!
Now I know this happens for 2 big reasons:
People respond to promises of weight loss, so businesses will highlight weight loss as the big benefit for joining a gym, starting coaching, taking a supplement (more on this later!)
Being at a lighter weight generally means you have less fat on your body, therefore looking the part of a fit person.
Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a business catering to the wants and needs of its customers. I know that here at Forever Fit we do talk about weight loss and most of our clients are in the arena of wanting to lose weight.
However there is a big problem with the focus on the scale: it simply doesn’t tell the whole story.
When all your success boils down to if the number on the scale is less than it was last week - this is very short-sighted and is missing out on the key ingredients as to why and how people actually get healthier.
The unwanted result of this focus on the scale has led to many “fad diets”, crash diets, cucumber diets that are not healthy however result in a change in the number on the scale.
This diet culture we now live in is consumed with the quick wins of losing a few pounds after a week of juice cleansing.
Snake oil salesmen, the push for supplements and quick fixes
Another big issue that I see the fitness and health industry fall into is this idea of quick fixes.
Every time I see a new product that promises to be “a fat burner” I go just a little bit crazier.
The idea that a pill can burn your excess fat away while maintaining all your muscle without you doing anything aside from remembering to take a pill each day is downright malpractice.
These companies are trying to profit off of YOUR impatience for change. It’s trying to take the easy way out.
Now when in life is the easy way out EVER the best course of action?
There is a reason why things that matter are more difficult. It takes time, perseverance, education, grit, hard work and determination to truly succeed at any type of change.
How long did it take you to get into the position in your career?
Did you one day decide to take a magic course and then within a week you were making 6 figures?
Did it take YEARS of hard work, showing up on time, doing the work, checking to see how you could do better, implementing those changes, making meaningful connections with peers and going the extra mile to prove you have what it takes?
The same goes for fitness and health…
We have been told in the media and the fitness industry that “you can get abs in 20 days”. You can lose 7lbs of weight in 2 days on this cleanse.
Where’s the hard work in this?
I truly believe that our reliance on quick fixes is detrimental to our overall health. Even if you did see results in 7 days - what happens 3 months from now when you’ve gained your weight back?
Do you then purchase your supplement tea and go through the motions again?
These are all but temporary changes AT BEST.
And that’s where the fitness industry fails us...focusing on the temporary changes.
Our industry needs to highlight those who have struggled for years yet persevere to see changes that are long and life lasting.
We don’t need more before and after pictures showcasing a change in 60 days. We need to see and hear from people who transformed their lives after YEARS of working towards a goal.
No matter who you are, you will have "failed" at one point or another. The key isn't why you failed, but how you decide to move forward.
How the fitness industry can and has to do better
Okay so I’ve bashed the very industry I have been in for nearly 6 years.
Now that I’ve gotten it out of the system - let’s talk about how we can do better and why we NEED to do better.
Firstly, if it’s not obvious from above…
We need to stop the scale worship.
Look I get it, your weight is important. However how many times have I seen someone GAIN weight after starting a workout program.
I know that’s scary to even think about but think for a second...if you are building muscle...that mass needs to account for something.
This is why many people might gain or stay the same weight however their pants are looser, they look better in the mirror, and have more energy.
These aspects are far more important and truthfully, are a better indicator that you are doing the right thing.
Weight can fluctuate so much based on water retention, salt in the body, menstrual cycle, water intake, time of day, type of foods eaten prior. So many factors can change your weight day to day.
For more reading about how the scale sucks, click here.
Secondly, we need to celebrate the journey
Instead of focusing only on how you look in a picture of what the scale says, we need to celebrate the small things day in and day out.
Did you get an extra 20 minutes of movement today?
Did you choose to have a fruit instead of candy today?
Did you try a new vegetable and enjoy it? Hate it?
These small wins are far more important because they are the things you can control day in and day out.
You can control if you have a new vegetable and although that might not seem like a landmark event, if you are someone who rarely eats them...it’s a big deal!
Lastly, why MUST we do better as an industry?
I see the fitness and health industry as one that falls within the preventative health arena.
By taking care of yourself with exercise, nutrition, stress, and sleep you are promoting long-term health. Long-term health is what will be with you for the next 20,30, 50 years of your life.
By focusing on your health now you can avoid major health related issues down the road. Not only is this important for you in the future, but it’s important for the family around you.
Obesity is a national problem and the fitness industry is the “solution” to this problem. It’s therefore super important for the industry to do it’s best to help all people connect with and work within the scope of what is sustainable.
We need to attract those people who are overweight, have injuries, and preconceived notions of what it means to exercise and eat healthy.
We don’t need to convince super star athletes to eat right - they already have that drive.
What we need to do is connect with those who we have failed to help.
The person who got hurt with a past trainer,
the person who was told they needed to exercise everyday,
the person who has been on 10 different diets in the past 10 years,
the person who was told to never eat sweets again but failed.
The lifeblood and health of this nation depends on the fitness industry to adjust it’s message so that it’s not all about losing weight quickly. It needs to start shifting into how we can create a lifestyle that complements a healthy life.
Sorry we have failed you - I promise to uphold and preach sustainable, long term health that is generational in nature.
Pass this onto your kids, so that they can pass a healthy lifestyle onto their kids.
The cycle continues on and on until we can create a world where health is celebrated, appreciated, and empathic to all people.
*Steps off soapbox*