"If you were in charge of the fitness industry, what would you change?"
It's a question that doctors, trainers, and even the government has tried to address — with varying degrees of success. Ultimately, no one has succeeded at finding the change that sparks a domino effect of positive change.
In assessing the typical problem areas, I've decided that the devil isn't in the details — it's the bigger picture that's causing the most damage. If we are truly to make a change for the better, here are three problems that need to be addressed.
1. Ignore the Negativity
My parents used to tell me that if I didn't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all. The simple advice is something that is badly needed in an industry where positivity is a rarity and criticism is everywhere.
Clients complain about trainers. Trainers criticize clients. The media attacks exercise and finds the "dangers" involved in every type of activity. And even trainers and nutritionists routinely fight with one another. No form of communication is safe.
The fitness industry needs more examples of exercises done right, programs that work, trainers and nutritionists who are great at what they do, and people who experience real success and are commended for their hard work and dedication. It's psychology 101: Positive reinforcement. These accomplishments need to be celebrated, shared, promoted and distributed to create an overall positive attitude about the efforts being made to improve health.
It might seem like a subtle shift and insignificant. But the psychology of fitness is just as important as the physiology. And if the right messages are the ones that become viral, then those behaviors will be replicated and spread. If you want people to be healthy, provide them with tools that can help them take action. Enable them. Empower them. And help them achieve their goals.
2. Don’t Be Dogmatic
I remember the first time I wanted to experiment with intermittent fasting. I was as skeptical as anyone (I ate 5 to 6 meals per day for about 15 years), but figured the need to see first-hand the benefits or detriments. As soon as I made it public knowledge that I had pushed by my first meal of the day a few hours, the criticism came firing at me:
You can't skip breakfast. You're going to ruin your metabolism and your training will suffer. Your habits are dangerous and not backed by science. You think you're an expert? You know nothing about it.
I was actually hit on both sides of the argument: Those who were against the concept and those who practiced it as a way of life. Even when I publicly admitted that I am NOT the expert, people still acted like I created a corrupt version of the style of life or had taken ownership of the concept.
People are too dogmatic with their health and fitness practices. It's great that people are passionate. I support that commitment completely. But when passion becomes dogma that unfairly (or inappropriately) criticizes people who don't follow a set of "rules," it becomes black eye for the industry.
The problem? The one-size-fits-all approach just doesn't work for everyone. There's variation, experimentation and personalization that must occur at every level of any diet or exercise program. This is no different than saying, "Performing 10 reps per set is the only way you can build muscle." We know that's not true, just as we know that many diets — and personalized variations of those plans — can be successful.
What's more important is focusing on the good habits and the lessons you can learn from science and real life experience. If you follow a plan to a "T" and it fits your lifestyle, that's great. If you adjust it and still find success and happiness, is that really wrong?
3. Stop Making Excuses
I don't have time to exercise
Healthy food is too expensive
I can't afford a trainer.
It's my genetics. I'm not meant to be fit.
A big reason why so many people fail to see results is that they don't believe that they can change their health. Or they have built-in excuses that they use as a scapegoat when changes don't occur.
Want to train but don't have time? Then do a 10 to 15 minute workout. Research shows that short bursts of exercise can help you be lean and healthy.
Think you can't afford a good diet? I know that I always spend more money — and eat worse foods — when I'm not cooking in my own home and using great ingredients.
Trainers can be great, but if you can't afford them, then find a reputable resource that offers workouts by some of the best experts in the industry. Use their workouts as the foundation of your better body plan, whether you prefer lifting weights, running, or cycling.
As for the genetics excuse? It's time to remove that mental block. Yes, it's true that some people have a harder time losing weight or building muscle. That's reality. But don't mistake a physiological truth as an immovable roadblock. If I've learned anything in this business it's this: Anyone can change their body.
The more you give, the more you will receive. It's a simple rule that applies to so many things in life, and it could be exactly what's needed to change the health game for the better.
Some might say it won't happen. But then again, we no longer accept excuses.