Confession: I’m an exercise junkie.

If I don’t get my fix I start doing pushups and handstands in inappropriate places.

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Seriously, WTF?

I’ve lifted weights for a couple of decades now. How the time flies. Back in my day gyms weren’t like they are now with their… actually, they haven’t changed that much. The challenge of lifting heavy stuff is cool and the added side effects of being (subjectively) stronger, fitter, healthier and sexier are awesome.

Fitness is sexy
Fitness is sexy. Steroids are sexier.

After being around gyms and fellow fitness junkies this long you start to realise that articles on how to get in shape are as numerous as new programs claiming to be the best program ever. Every person and their pet has their five cents on the subject (cough, cough). There is nothing wrong with different programs with different ideals. Not everyone loves running, not everyone loves bench pressing on Mondays, not everyone needs to look super lean for their next Instagram shoot. Variety can be good. And some variety can be quite funny:

functional-stupid

But something happened to me between when I wrote about an F45 promotional ad news article and now. I’ve stopped reading exercise articles, blogs, and scientific papers.* Essentially, there are only so many times you can read “Exercise in a progressive way and eat healthily in amounts that match your energy needs/expenditure.” Doesn’t stop people writing them though.

Okay, big deal, you’re tired of reading the same 3 articles (Eat less/more, Do exercises that address a weakness, Train to progress), what’s your point?

Good question, imaginary audience surrogate.

Not a problem. Are you going to answer the question?

Not unless you can find a way to incorporate the answer into a segue to my list of things to look out for in any fitness article.

1) Fake experts.

So many articles are written by some unqualified hack who just happens to be in good shape in spite of any fitness program and diet they followed. These hacks quite often have some impressive modelling photos, or celebrity cache, or online course credentials, or all of the above. Sometimes the fake expert will be the opposite of this, with lots of legitimate qualifications and knowledge but zero idea of how to apply it.** Often it is very hard to tell the difference between an actual expert and someone who woke up with abs one morning and decided to advise others on how to do the same.

What to look for:
Fake experts will try to reveal some magic secret or brand new piece of knowledge but will likely have little evidence or be running counter to the majority of evidence. They’ll be citing one study, or what worked for them, or some other similarly small amount of evidence.

2) Quack medicine

The fitness industry is filled with alternative/complementary medicine nonsense. Health-conscious people will go looking for medical help. And there are lots of quacks looking to lighten their wallets.*** If any of this stuff worked it wouldn’t be called alternative medicine, it would just be medicine. Many of these fitness articles lend credence to quack medicine or use quack medicine to support their claims. The advantage of using quack claims is that it doesn’t require real evidence, which makes it easy to sell people on the new fitness fad.

What to look for:
If it comes under the banner of (S)CAMS or alternative medicine, there’s a good chance the article is rubbish.

3) BRAND NEW!!!

I remember when F45 was called circuit class. I remember when HIIT was called interval training. When Crossfit was just a cult… nothing new there. A few tweaks here, a brand name there, and you have the new fitness craze. This is more marketing than anything because no one wants last season’s wheel, have to reinvent it.

What to look for:
Advertorial disguised as news or an article.

4) Buzzwords, appeals, and contradictions

Have you tried holistic functional fitness? Get a six-pack for summer! How to focus on this extensive list of things.

This sort of meaningless nonsense is rife in an industry represented by people who failed high school. You know, athletes. You either focus on one thing, or you aren’t focussing at all. What exactly makes swinging a kettlebell functional versus doing a weightlifting snatch? How exactly does balancing on a ball while I wave dumbells around get me a six-pack and not a date with my shoulder surgeon? All these questions and more will be glossed over as someone tries to sell you on their new program or fill space between adverts for supplements you don’t need.

What to look for:
Marketing and spin.

5) Random numbers

Articles will often have a set of numbers that will be regarded as heavy or a long distance or a fast time by the author. Most often, these numbers are made up or arbitrary. This is most obvious when the numbers aren’t given any context. E.g. One-hundred kilograms is ridiculously heavy for a bicep curl, but light for a deadlift by an experienced lifter who weighs at least 80% of that.

Sometimes these numbers are just naïve. That sounds big enough to me. Sometimes they are humble brags. Yeah, those are my bench numbers. Impressed? Sometimes they are the inflated internet numbers. What do you mean only three people in history have run a faster time than that?

What to look for:
The context for the numbers or a reference to accepted standards.

Hope this helps you become disillusioned too.

 

* What? Didn’t I mention I’m a nerd and like going to the source for information?

** This is surprisingly common across a range of science fields. We may have the answer down to an amazing level of detail but it has little application to the average situation. E.g. a highly knowledgable nutritionist might be able to give you a full biochemical breakdown of how what you’re eating is killing you, but that does very little to address the underlying habits and reasons for those habits that would lead to actual diet changes.

*** To be fair, many of the alternative medicine people are genuine in wanting to help. The problem is that they have been sold on nonsense and become unwitting purveyors of it themselves. In many instances, reputable institutions who should know better hand out degrees in this stuff. Odd that the chiropractors aren’t in the physio or medicine faculties.

Oh, and before anyone says “My chiropractor is great” it is worth noting that most chiropractors make major misleading claims. “Physiotherapists didn’t make any major misleading claims, whereas 70% of misleading claims on chiropractor websites were major.”

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