The fitness industry is a funny place. Ostensibly, we’re all after the same goal of getting people healthier. However, to any outside observer, such would not appear to be the case.
Attack pieces seem to pop up in my news feed almost daily, and no one group is really free of blame. You see, since the fitness industry is an INDUSTRY, people have to figure out how to make a chunk of change one way or another.
In my opinion, the right way to go about things is to consistently put out good content and slowly grow a following as people respect you for the information you provide and the results you deliver. However, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, that is neither the fastest way to make a name for yourself, nor is it the easiest.
Conflict means page views. It’s really as simple as that. In everything you write, there has to be some sort of salient or latent conflict, or else it’s typically not worth reading. Take a piece that was as non-controversial as my latest T-Nation article. By saying that some people need to choose lighter variations of the powerlifts from time to time, there’s a teensie bit of latent conflict by implying that many people tend to program poorly and go too heavy, too often. So, nothing that’ll cause people to slam their laptop through the wall in protest, but at least something to imply some sort of tension, otherwise it’s just a snooze-fest.
As an adjunct to my last point, more conflict means more page views. Hence, hatchet jobs and hit pieces that pop up so often. When you call out a prominent coach, or condemn an entire facet of the industry (Crossfit, bodybuilding, personal trainers, etc.), or demonize an entire mode of exercise (cardio will make you fat, squats will kill your knees, etc.), 1) more people will click when the see it because of higher entertainment value, if nothing else, 2) more people will share it if they share your opinion, 3) more people will discuss it, thus leading more people to read it.
Basically, starting serious conflict sets in place the perfect storm for getting your name out there. Based on how it’s received, at best it means personal success, and at the worst it means at least notoriety. Both are better than nothing when you’re talking about an industry populated by people who tend to be hyper-competitive, all trying to get a larger slice of the pie and make more dough. As they say, no publicity is bad publicity.
However, this type of discourse is antithetical to (presumably) everyone’s basic goal: helping everyone be healthier, live better, and not die early. If that really is everyone’s goal, why try to turn people off of any type of exercise? The way I see it, we’re all on the same team here. There are no sides. I don’t care about personal drama between coaches or groups within the industry. We’re all trying to help people.
There are certain ways of doing things that I think work better than others. I have ways I like to train, coach people, diet, etc. But if someone tells me they read “Born to Run” (which I do not endorse) and they want to train for a marathon (which is pretty much 180 degrees counter to my preferred way of doing things), I’d certainly think it was a step up from becoming one with their sofa. If I couldn’t convince them there were better ways of doing things, I’d just say carpe diem and see where you training takes you, then adjust as needed. Of course, if marathoning is your goal, who am I to judge? Mine is to be ungodly strong, but that doesn’t make much sense in the broad scheme of things either. Ditto for CrossFit. I don’t really see the point in high rep Olympic lifting and in many boxes, proper periodization is scarce (disagreements I don’t feel the need to make a stink over, so don’t take it as such), but I see it as an improvement over both becoming one with the couch, and over marathoning.
If I can’t convince them the things I recommend are better, I’m not going to double down and try to convince them their alternate means of exercise is in some way bad or evil. If I don’t agree with a coach about some stuff, but at the end of the day his athletes are improving and not getting hurt, I wouldn’t mind discussing details with him or her, but I wouldn’t discount their programming as worthless and try to portray them as pernicious. There’s nothing wrong with disagreements about details and methods, but when the discourse becomes hostile, it stops helping people find information to fit their goals, and starts becoming tribalistic, almost cult-ish, at best merely clouding peoples’ objectivity, and at worst turning people off of exercise, period, since even the “experts” are clearly so divided.
So, now that I’ve gone on a rant, let’s discuss some actionable steps.
1. Don’t share inflammatory articles. If you’re someone who’s familiar with the fitness industry and you read something that’s clearly just trying to start conflict for hits and page views, you realize it basically amounts to a cry for attention. You’re not going to buy their products or seek their advice, and their attempt basically failed with you as a reader. However, when you share stuff like that, you don’t know how many people connected to you on social media AREN’T as discerning and familiar with such a style of discourse, and will read the piece and it’ll resonate with them for some reason. They’ll see whoever wrote it as some sort of visionary who realized the “fatal flaw” in a certain way of doing things that no one else had noticed before, and all of a sudden, the cult has a new disciple.
2. Don’t start a flame war in the comments section of an article. When you do, and people draw attention to it, that just generates more page views for the piece you disagree with. As much as you want to tell them what you think, let me assure you, they probably already know, and they don’t care. Odds are, they’re not simply misinformed. Their motives are profit and exposure, not truth-seeking.
3. For the love of god, don’t share it on message boards. Sharing something on message boards = feeding the trolls 101.
4. Do share pieces with good information that seek to further some discussion aimed at helping people better meet their goals. If the bad pieces are getting shares, do your best to drown them out with a stream of articles and information that’s actually useful.
That’s really about all I have on the subject. If you agree about the need for more civility in the discourse, share this piece around (give someone exposure for the right reasons for once. I wouldn’t complain 😉 ) and hopefully we can start a discussion about how to clean up some of the toxicity in the industry.