Chantal and I have a somehow weird habit: when we are sitting at my parent’s couch after a lovely sunday supper, we love to browse in female fitness magazines and spot the newest pseudo-fitness weirdness. Of course my mum does not buy that crap, the newspaper guy gives it for free to her 😉
Long story short: mainstream fitness media is a cestpool of half-truths, outright lies and generally people who want to sell you something. If you have not been into evidence-based fitness for some time, it is sometimes difficult to see through the fog of ads and unrealistic expectations. I have written this small guide hoping that it helps you think critically when you next consume fitness media!
Fitness media is omnipresent as the industry is booming and everybody wants a piece of the (low carb) cake. I’ve listed the most common sources of (mis)information for you, but there are many more that I probably didn’t manage to cover. Still, the principle is always the same: keep your critical thinking hat on and you are on the safe side!
I don’t want to talk bad about other trainers, but sadly most of the “celebrity trainers” featured in magazines or other media are not the best trainers out there. These trainers are mainly good at one thing, and that is marketing themselves. They promote special “workouts” or strange exercises that they “invented” and ride the hype that their celebrity clients creates for them. Be mindful when consuming content from such trainers. The alarm bell should ring as soon as they try selling you some shady product, like detox teas, overpriced protein powders, magic “30 days change your body programms” or whatsoever.
Quick guide on how to recognize a good, honest trainer
- Selling products like detox teas, supplements or other stuff is not part of their coaching. They instead offer their help, knowledge, experience and support.
- They teach you the basics and how to do them safely. They do not use strange, combined exercises. Note on the side: whenever I see someone teaching something like “lunge into curl”, I want to slap them in the face.
- Good trainers don’t need crash or fad diets. They know that energy balance is king and they help you to find a way to a sustainable diet or guide you safely to your contest prep.
- Good trainers don’t “entertain” you and try to keep you hooked by constantly changing your training plan or making you dependent on them. They work with you together to reach your goals and are happy to have successful clients regardless if they decide to keep working with him or if they want to walk alone.
Look out for those people and forget the rest!
Fitness magazines are still an everlasting spring of stupidity. I’m not talking about the bodybuilding specialised magazines with their bro splits and testo-booster ads on every second page. I am talking about the mainstream magazines you can buy everywhere. Although I have to admit, that the “male” magazines recently stepped up their game, most of their “female” counterparts are still in the stone age of fitness myths.
Similarly to the celebrity trainers I mentioned above, they still promote strange exercises or workouts, unsustainable diets (usually also lacking enough protein – girls, eat your damn protein!) and generally a body image that is “weak”. The fitness models they use are generally pretty, young, thin girls that never touched a barbell. I know, not everbody needs to lift weights, but not everybody needs to do cardio and yoga either! I see far too many skinny cardio bunnies and far too little strong girls.
Also be aware that magazines need to sell themselves, so they contain a lot of ads or sponsored articles. This makes their content extremely biased towards what “the industry” wants you to believe/buy. Instead, follow some good blogs (most of them are for free! For example Andy Morgan’s), listen to podcasts (our favs are The Iron Culture Podcast, Revive Stronger and Mountaindog, just to name a few) or buy a book. Magazines are likely the worst way to educate yourself about fitness, although somehow fun if you have the critical thinking hat on 😉 .
Social media is a weird place to be. Everybody is shouting out as loud as possible in the web how awesome and great they are, struggling to grasp as much attention as possible, desperately searching for ways to “break the algorithm”. Almost any means are used for this, like transformation pictures or perfect mirror selfies with diced abs while eating pizza or similar unrealistic scenarios. It is ok to promote a business (we are doing it too!), but it is key to be honest and stick to reality. Close your eyes for the attention whores of the business and search for people who get consistent, long term results for their clients or who put out valuable content.
Also remember that social media is a place of illusion. Almost nothing you see is the whole picture as everybody likes to paint a better picture of themselves (intentionally or not). Beware of unrealistic body images or timeframes of weight loss or muscle gain. You never know the whole story and chances are pretty high you are getting lied to.
Successful competitors are often used by the fitness industry to sell products by implying that said product helped the competitor to reach the success they are currently having. There are quite a few problems with this: first, something a competitor does right now may be vastly different from what you need to do to get better. Ray Williams, one of the strongest powerlifters of all time only squats one time a week. He also can’t squat more often, because he uses such inhuman weights that even his body cannot take more than one training session per week. This doesn’t mean that you have to squat only one time, probably you need to squat 2-3 times a week to learn the movement properly.
Also remember that competitors are genetic freaks. Nowadays sports are such a brutal environment that it is not enough to just be talented, you also need to have good genetics. Unsurprisingly many competitors also have parents that were competitors of some kind in their days. To make things even “worse” almost all of them got into sporty really, really early when they were kids. We, as mere couch potato-y mortals, can never compare to these people! And what works for them may be very different what is best for us. So ditch the “competitor workouts and diets” and do what really works for everbody: master the basics!
Successful competitors or athletes have also often a mindset that average Joe and Joelle do not have. They are ready to sacrifice a lot in order to win. They do everything what is needed for achieving their goals. This is something that may not be sustainable for you in the long run.
Gamechangers, Supersize Me and so on… We all have seen or at least heard of it. Since everyone with enough money can produce a documentary, there are no scientific prerequisits or peer-review that you have to go through. In other word: you can say everything. Well researched documentaries (very rare) show you both sides and all the nuances. Bad ones cherry-pick interviews and publications and show you just one side. By the way, if you want a good review about the Gamechangers, here is one by Dr. Mel Davis from Renaissance Periodization.
Note on the side: the producers themselves often have conflicts of interest and are trying to sell you something.
The only way to consume fitness media, or any media, is to think critically about what you see and read. Always keep in mind that if somebody is trying to sell you something that seems too good to be true, it probably is just not true. There is also plenty of good information for free out there but never shut your brain down. Keep asking questions if you do not understand something, stay curious and eat your protein 😉 .
If you have any questions about something you heard/seen/read about fitness and you are uncertain if it is true, just contact us or write a comment in the section below. We are both more than happy to help anybody with their questions surrounding fitness and nutrition!