ESSA, Michelle Bridges, and Why You Shouldn’t Say That Exercise is “Fun”.

English: Michelle Bridges at the film premiere...

Michelle Bridges (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Media Article

Back in August, Michelle Bridges, a personal trainer popularised by the Australian hit tv-series “The Biggest Loser“, came out with this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, on why personal trainers should stop calling fitness “fun”. Let me say straight up I’m inclined to agree with her, at least to an extent.

Her views are well balanced and seem to be in line with managing clients expectations about what exercise entails. While exercise certainly can be fun, particularly in the case of team sports and aerobics, activities such as high intensity training, sprinting, jogging, and weight lifting – all those that probably carry a majority of the benefits seen from exercise – probably aren’t best encapsulated with the noun “fun”.

My Thoughts

Challenging? Yes. Life altering? Yep. Healthy? Of course. Self-esteem building? You bet. But fun?
Ummm, no, no not really, not the first concept I would be using to introduce exercise to a newcomer. With that said I think it’s important to have an element of fun in all of the workouts we participate in, but to white-wash exercise in general as “fun” is definitely misleading for the average customer.

Now I’m neither a fan nor an opposition of Michelle Bridges, and I’ve probably seen a total of 10 accumulated minutes of The Biggest Loser over it’s entire duration, but I think it should be clear from her article that she’s targeting personal trainers who are using the “fun” concept as a way to draw in new customers, regardless of their expectations as to what exercise may actually entail. This could potentially destroy their motivation to exercise when they discover that it’s really not as fun as they were lead to believe.

The Plot Thickens with ESSA’s Response

Now to the crux of the matter. How did ESSA (Exercise & Sports Science Australia), the registration and organisational body for exercise physiologists and scientists respond to Michelle’s article via their Facebook page? Well yes, I’ll tell you because if you’ve read this far you’re probably keen to find out. The response was along the lines of:

“Dear Michelle, we here at ESSA believe that exercise is not only good for your health, but that it’s also fun!”

Isn’t that trite? A nice one sentence sound-byte for the masses.  And why did I say “along the lines of” instead of quoting them directly? Well they removed their quoted response from their FB page after I criticised their reaction, though I assume it was still sent in some public form as a Tweet, article response or message to Michelle Bridges (My Googling skills failed me on this instance, sorry I can’t provide the exact phrasing).

English: A senior citizen while practicing his...

A senior citizen while practicing his fitness exercise. Is this ‘exercise’, and is it ‘fun’?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This response came from the registration body who we’d hope have a better and more complex understanding of the issues surrounding the psychological and physiological complexities of exercise compared to the average professional provider, but nope, Michelle’s article was passively denegrated without truly understanding her message.

Tensions Between Personal Trainers and Exercise Physiologists

Why? I have a theory. I’ve noticed a lot of tension between personal trainers and exercise physiologists – if you’re in the field, tell me why you think I’m wrong. I’ve noticed two primary characteristics of the tension that exists between PT’s and EP’s:

  1. Many PT’s believe they already possess the knowledge and expertise of an EP, while being unaware of the complexities involved in training chronically ill clients
  2. Many EP’s continually denegrate the role of PT’s, while being unaware of the valuable role that PT’s play in exercise delivery to healthy populations
  3. The fields overlap to some extent, and although EP’s are more highly qualified they may not possess as much hands-on experience (due to EP being a relatively new profession) as PT’s in the field, some of which may have 20+ years of experience.

These observations come from both my experience as a professional personal trainer and the views espoused by my lecturers and peers (eg ESSA) while studying exercise physiology. I won’t lie, I’ve denegrated personal trainers on countless occasions myself – the degree of appalling quality exercise delivery and outright commercialism for every fad exercise modality that comes to my attention is overwhelming, but there are certainly good PT’s out there who are experienced and know what they’re doing, they’re just hard to find.

I’m at a loss for a solution to this divide between the two professions, but I will say this – I was disappointed with ESSA’s trite response.

In Summary

Nobody’s perfect, but let’s be humble, and to the PT’s out there – let’s stop telling clients that “exercise is fun” and make more of an effort to manage their expectations. That doesn’t mean there can’t be fun aspects to exercise, nor does it mean we should torture clients in the way that Michelle Bridges does on TV, but let’s try to find a happy middle ground where benefits are seen while managing expectations and avoiding making exercise a chore.

Exercise should be for life, not for the term of the contract.

What are your thoughts? Should fitness be advertised as “fun”, or is the term overused?

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6 thoughts on “ESSA, Michelle Bridges, and Why You Shouldn’t Say That Exercise is “Fun”.

  1. Hi Jason,

    Thank you for the feedback on my blog surrounding this topic as well! http://martialartsdevelopment.com/blog/1602/

    This is a great article as well! Nicely thought out and well written!

    I agree with your blog. I am a professional athlete and early on in my career trained under PT’s just trying to help out with Strength and Conditioning required in professional MMA. However, once I started working with sports specific EP’s you see there is no comparison. Having also worked in the fitness industry I agree with your thoughts on PT’s and their lack of knowledge/experience. I know a few local PT’s keeping the physiotherapists in my area extremely busy.

    I am no PT or EP, so unfortunately some of my knowledge may be lacking in certain areas compared to someone like yourself but my opinions stem from being an experienced coach, trainer and athlete along with a lot of psychological study at Uni. My personal thought on all this as I mentioned in my blog was that I think fitness should be fun. As you mentioned in my blog, there are a ton of things that are not fun. However, I think that the concept of ‘fun’ should be encouraged to new-comers in fitness. If a newcomer is encouraged to have ‘fun’ in the beginning, they will most likely stay on track with their exercise and eventually develop more specific goals and become slowly conditioned to that hard work which is essential.

    I see this from personal experience coaching professional fighters, many guys just start out having a bit of fun and the rest is easy once they get started. If i started them the opposite way, they wouldn’t be around for long.

    What is frustrating about Michelle Bridges article personally, is that she is a role model to many people who aim to get fit, etc. Yet she is telling people no it wont be fun or shouldn’t be fun. So if anything, she could have written a more balanced article in a public forum encouraging fitness rather than what seemed like a bit of a rant.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blogs!

    David
    http://www.martialartsdevelopment.com

    • Thanks for your reply David. Yeah, again I agree that exercise has certain fun elements to it, I’m personally just very cautious about about over inflating the ‘fun’ elements compared to the other elements, mentioned in my blog post above, and that was my interpretation of Michelle’s article in the context of ‘cowboy’ PT’s who are using advertising strategies above and beyond the considerations for the clients expectation and long-term habits.
      Not even just PT’s, think about Fitness First. Aren’t people always smiling and having such a great time while they’re exercising? I rarely look like that when I’m really pushing myself and gaining the most benefits from high intensity exercise.

      I’ll reiterate I’m no fan of Michelle’s or her training methodology, but perhaps I’m more empathetic to her article because I’ve seen the behaviour that she’s implicitly referring to. All of your points are valid though, and I couldn’t agree more.

      I look forward to reading more articles from your blog!
      Jason

  2. The tension between EPs and PTs exists because many (but not all) PTs cannot accept the limits of the scope of practice. Many PTs in the industry try to venture into managing clients with chronic diseases and advise others on injury treatment when they have nowhere near the training or knowledge to do so after they attain their cereal box certificate. I am an EP, but I have many PT associates who are very good at what they do, and I can appreciate the importance of PTs in improving the health and lifestyles of the Australian public. However, there is a reason we EPs spend 4yrs studying at university…sometimes longer, including hundreds of hours of placement and experience to ensure we prepare ourselves thoroughly for the industry. We may be a new profession but ESSA ensures that a high standard is maintained through a tough accreditation process and continuing education each year after accreditation.

    • Thanks for your thoughts PG. I agree with most of what you say, but I can understand why many PT’s, particularly those with a diploma not the Cert IV, are mislead into believing they are qualified to train people with chronic illnesses – because that’s exactly what they’re told by the education providers! That includes TAFE, which is where I studied my diploma in fitness and IMHO delivers one of the highest quality qualifications around.
      I never realised until I started studying exercise physiology how *little* I actually knew about chronic illness, and that as a ‘fitness specialist’ with a diploma in fitness I actually knew nothing about it. Though our TAFE tutors did an awesome job and are very thorough, I think they were a bit too thorough in some instances in wanting to also teach us about chronic illness, and should perhaps they should avoid teaching it as though we would be qualified to train those with who suffered from such a condition.

      PT’s have a very important role in training healthy pops, but I *am* surprised that more of them aren’t sued for worsening their clients condition by delivering sub-par exercise methodology for their particular illness. It’s important for them to know about chronic illness, but definitely not for treating it.

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