Mamamia! A Logical Fallacy Extravaganza in 7 parts: Trolling, Fat-Pride, BMI and Body Image.

This is a rebuttal to a minefield of a post over at mamamia.com.au, from yet another journo seemingly in favour of the promotion of overweight, obesity and associated chronic diseases – all seemingly in disguise as the altruistic promotion of self-acceptance of body image.

I’m going to start this rebuttal by first disclosing a few potential conflicts of interest on my part:

  1. I work as an Exercise Physiologist with clients with chronic illness, musculoskeletal injuries, and other diseases, so I have a specific interest in overweight/obesity and how it impacts on their health conditions. You might even go so far as to say that my opinion is somewhat informed and that I have some background on the matter.
  2. I’ve written a post in the past on my blog Skeptifit.com about my views on the “Big is Beautiful” crowd. Admittedly sensational, but keep in mind that that too was a rebuttal to a misinformed journalist, so do excuse some of the loaded language.

In a nutshell, I’m not a supporter, and I believe the journos should stay out of healthcare alltogether and stick to what they know best, reporting the news, not attempting to understand and interpret scientific literature that is well outside their scope of practice.

Discussion Points:

1. “Concern trolling”. The author writes:

“At the bottom of nearly every article celebrating body diversity, you will likely find some version of the following comments:

Concern trolls? Don't think so!

Concern trolls? Don’t think so!

  • “Aren’t you promoting an unhealthy lifestyle?”
  • “I’m all about confidence, but this is just unhealthy.”
  • “I just don’t find fat people attractive, that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
  • “I have no sympathy for these people, they bring it on themselves.”
  • “Think of the children!”

This is not concern trolling, it’s genuine concern. The author is either unaware of what trolling is or is straw-manning genuine comments for trolling comments, and we’re left with the impression that she’s attempting to undermine any valid criticism that have been levelled at her or others by poisoning the well and launching personal attacks.
For a definition of what concern trolling actually is I’ll paste a defintion from Urban Dictionary, which I think is sufficient for our purposes (second definintion was clearer):

“In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets.

(eg) In the 2006 election, an aide to Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught concern trolling the opposition on local blogs. While pretending to support Bass’s opponent, Paul Hodes, the aide argued that Hodes couldn’t win because Bass was an unbeatable candidate. Hodes won the election.”

I won’t go into depth examining semantics, technical vs colloquial usage of terms and different dictionary definitions. I think the tone of the opening speaks for itself and immediately calls into question the existance of alterior motives or conflicting interests on her part.

2. “People are allowed to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies, but we need to start treating people of all sizes with respect”

You deserve respect? Nope, you have to earn it.

You deserve respect? Nope, you have to earn it.

Nonsense. We no more need to respect a persons decision to live an unhealthy lifestyle than we respect their decision to engage in any other behaviour which might harm themselves or others, or that creates a burden on the healthcare system. An important distinction here – we respect their right to *make* that decision, but we don’t have to respect the decision itself, and we certainly don’t have to respect the person.

Many people might think I’m splitting hairs here, and I agree it’s a fine distinction, but again I think it’s an important one as I truly believe that respect is earned through displaying reasonable action and behaviour, and not freely given. In addition, the fact that all overweight/obese people immediately deserve respect for their lifestyle habits regardless what those habits actually are is an absurd generalisation which is almost as ridiculous as claiming that all overweight/obese people are in their condition because they are lazy. Neither extreme is correct, neither the straw-man examples provided by the author nor the authors position on the subject.

3. “BMI is BS”

Somewhat agree, for the reasons stated, but this is hardly a controversial point and most people (at least those who walk into my office) are already aware of this. Also this is only support for the fact that they should be talking to a health professional who takes a variety of anthropometrical and girth measurements to assess health measures within the context of other presenting chronic disease, rather than a simple BMI, and those readings then interpreted in context.
The historical points were an interesting read, however it’s a shame the link was broken and the source of the authors information can’t be verified (the source, not the information iteslf). It also makes one wonder why the sourced website might have pulled the page, if the link was the correct one in the first place.

4. “Fatness”

What exactly does this word mean? The author keeps using it as

Fatness? What?

Fatness? What?

though they’re trying to claim it and instill some sense of pride, which I guess is fine, but outside of that it’s a subjective term that adds absolutely no value to the discussion. While the inherent BMI problems with overweight and obesity were already outlined, they’re certainly much more useful classifications than totally subjective terms like “fatness” which appeal more to individual aesthetic preferences than anything else. Further to this, BMI certainly is a very useful tool for everyday, regular people who are not rugby players or pro athletes with an absurdly muscular build, as long as it’s interpreted within the context of other readings and measures.

5. “One’s relationship to food shouldn’t reflect on who they are as a human being”

Again, I call nonsense. Why shouldn’t it? Everything we do reflects on us as human beings, if your relatioship with food is unhealthy or you simply like to eat a lot, well I have news for you…that’s going to reflect on you, just like any other behaviour that you engage in reflects on you. You don’t get a free pass simply because some people (like the author) seem to want to make the issue taboo to discuss.

6. “But that’s not always the case: Multiple studies have seen little to no connection between weight loss and decreased risk of mortality.

Now this is probably the most salient point of the authors post, but again I think she missed the mark and is incredibly short sighted – perhaps due to her lack of expertise in the area of chronic disease.

The first link here is to an article posted on the NIH for people with Type 2 diabetes and obesity (not other demographics), so while it’s certainly informative for that sub-group of people it does not apply to the general population. The second link is a single study which shows that dietary intervention was not associated with improved health outcomes in the absence of exercise and health service interventions. It’s true that the issue of weight loss in overweight and obese people is controversial if they do not also present with other indicators of disease, but it’s also true that many overweight/obese individuals who also have chronic disease can see plenty of benefit from weight loss.

It seems as though the authors entire argument hinges on the Obesity Paradox, something which she’s implicitly generalising to all obese people as though it’s the norm. Just because there are exceptions for a small demographic doesn’t mean we should wholesale shift our position on the health risks of overweight and obesity, and I think the preponderance of evidence is still in favour of decreasing fat mass if a person is in the overweight/obese category, and achieving this objective through both nutritional and exercise-based methodologies.

7. “Not everyone wants to be skinny”

image

Image from original article

I find it kind of ironic that at this point, not only is the author implying that healthy weight = “skinny” (aka underweight, typically – so here she’s using a false dichotomy fallacy between being overweight or being skinny), and in addition to this slight of hand posts a picture of two women who for all intents and purposes, as far as can be seen from the picture, or at a relatively healthy weight range – which is exactly what health professioanls are advocating that most people should be striving to achieve!

Don’t drink the coolade, stay skeptical.
What are your thoughts?

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New Years Resolutions: Track It!

image

NYE Fireworks in Sydney, Australia

New Years Resolutions
As we close in on Xmas, New Years Eve, and the accompanying New Years resolutions which will no doubt follow the holiday festivities and overindulgences, many of you are perhaps preparing for your New Years resolutions. While there’s nothing bad about making new years resolutions per se, I’ve never personally been a big fan of them – they’re made, they’re broken, and most people end up on a merry-go-round of constantly broken resolutions from one year to the next.

One Ingredient for Long-Term Success
One method which I’ve applied both personally and professionally which can have an enormous impact on sustaining long-term fitness and exercise habits is recording each and every exercise session, including sets, reps, and weights lifted (or the equivalent if performing cardio). While it sounds fairly painful and tiresome to record every detail in this manner, it does become more straight forward and second nature after some practice and the initial learning curve. This is something I’ve put into practice myself for no less than 6 years, which has helped contribute to my own ability to sustain a long-term training schedule (about 10 years and counting).

There are enormous benefits that come with tracking and recording each workout, including the ability to monitor how you’re progressing from session to session, long-term statistics (that most good fitness-based apps include – such as Fitness Point) to monitor yearly trends, dips and troughs in your workout patterns, and increased flexibility, preparation and exercise ‘programming’ capacity.

I strongly urge you fitness enthusiasts to download a good app and bring your smartphone with you to the gym. While you’ll often hear “the gym is no place for electronic devices” I find this to be a bit of a self-defeating and short-sighted attitude. Just be sure to place your device in a safe position or keep it in your pocket so that you can easily record each set without a dumbbell getting dropped on it, and put it in flight mode if you lack the discipline to ignore incoming calls – when you’re at the gym, you should be in the training mindset, and that means not stopping for a chat or conducting business calls. It’s not that hard, really. And it shows that you’re serious about training and that you’re working with a program.

The Mindset

Don't be this guy.

Don’t be this guy.

This all takes a little bit of pre-planning, but that’s actually another benefit – by planning to take your phone with you, wearing appropriate shorts in which to store it, having your app ready to go and all of the exercises and program already ready-to-roll, you’re mentally preparing yourself to engages in a serious training session. No dicking around; get to the gym, follow your prepared program, get out. Done. Recorded. Filed.  Statisticalised (that’s a word now).

Your Resolution
If you have to make one new years resolution for 2015, let it be this: “I resolve to engage in exercise habits that I can sustain, without injuring myself, and to record every detail so I can look back with pride in 2016!”

Need an app? Sure you do, that’s why you’re still reading – both that and my amazing eloquence with the written language. I only have one app to recommend: Fitness Point Pro, and it’s all you’ll ever need. Don’t disappoint me, go download it. Download it NOW, show me how serious you are. The price of the pro version easily outweighs the value that you’ll obtain from using this app over the coming years, and if you need to be convinced before investing a lofty $4.99 then go ahead and download the free version first – available on both iPhone and Android.

I’m not a hypocrite. I use it myself.

Did you download the app yet?

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Infographs or Misinfographs?

Infograph or misinfograph, how to tell the difference? I was inspired to look at the exercise related infographs out there after making my own. Those I analyse below were the first to come up in a Google Images search (terms: “exercise infograph”). We’ll take into account that some of these may have been targeted to a specific audience or intent rather than for general consumption, and yet they’re still easily accessible and distributable to the consumer as the top Google Images results, so I believe that critical thinking and referencing rules still apply.

Topics I cover: High intensity interval training, anaerobic vs aerobic, monitoring difficulty, referencing, stretching, and bollocks.

 


 

Infograph 1:

Accurate & digestible but no references or source.

(source: http://theleap.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/image.jpg)

While the information is accurate and the content very easily digestible there is no way to tell who created the infograph and no references to back up any of the information.

 


 

Infograph 2:

Verifiable and sourced but inaccurate and misleading

(source: http://www.killerinfographics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ExerciseMyth.jpg)

This infograph is easily digestible, the website and organisation are displayed, and there’s a reference list – but the references all refer to other blogs or non-journal websites! This is essentially no better than a circle-jerk of cherry-picked information that supports existing beliefs. Let’s examine it a little more closely.

While most of the myths on this infograph are correctly identified and addressed, the following carry dubious premises and conclusions:

“Myth #2 – (heart rate) Monitors can falter depending on what kind of exercise you’re doing. Your own body is better at telling you how hard you’re working”

There are essentially two main methods utilised by clinicians for monitoring the difficulty of exertion during exercise, excluding more expensive equipment like VO2max ergometers and Wingate software:

  1. Heart rate monitors, of various types
  2. Perceived exertion scales, with the level of difficulty rated out of 10 or 20 points between ‘very easy’ to ‘maximal exertion’

While heart rate monitors can indeed experience technical malfunction and accuracy is dependent on the type of monitor used, with chest strap monitors considered more accurate than wrist watch or hand grip monitors, they are still a more precise and accurate measurement tool and are generally utilised in preference of RPE scales in the absence of heart rate abnormalities (such as those that might be caused by heart medications such as beta blockers).

RPE scales have their uses and are a quick and easy tool, but to claim that they’re “Better at telling you how hard you’re working” is not only questionable, but simply wrong. Heart rate monitors give objective data which can be used to calculate training intensity based on percentage of maximal heart rate while RPE scales give subjective data which, while useful, is limited in application.

Myth #8 “cardio is not the best way to burn fat”

Quite simply wrong. High intensity interval training (HIIT) was the biggest craze in 2013, and there’s a good reason why – because it works, and it works better at burning calories/energy/fat than any other method. This has been supported by one paper after the next. Some of the original research into HIIT was actually performed at my very own university, not that this makes me an authority, but allow me my moment of pride. This research has shown that HIIT is the most efficient method for losing the most weight in the shortest period of time.

To be fair, this ‘myth buster’ uses the words “best way to burn fat”, so depending on your definition of “best” it could legitimately be argued that long-term sustainability of weight-loss has yet to be demonstrated with high intensity interval training. Further, resistance training has multiple benefits that can’t be gained from aerobic training.

‘Aerobic’ vs ‘Cardiovascular’

That brings me to my final point on this particular myth – ‘aerobic’ does not equal ‘cardiovascular’. This is a common mistake made by both the lay and professional fitness community (but rarely from the health sector).

  • Cardiovascular = the CV system including heart, arteries and veins.
  • Aerobic = exercise that does not induce an anaerobic response, typically referring to the point at which lactic acid is no longer cleared by the liver beyond sustainable levels and begins to accumulate in the blood.

With these points in mind, resistance training and running/jogging/swimming are always ‘cardiovascular’, but may or may not be ‘aerobic’ or ‘anaerobic’ depending on the intensity. Unfortunately, resistance training has become equated with anaerobic, and running/jogging/swimming with aerobic, but this isn’t necessarily always the case.
Case in point being high intensity interval training, which utilises both aerobic and anaerobic training and so may be considered cardiovascular, aerobic and anaerobic, but not ‘resistance’.

Misinfographic myth-busting, busted.

 


 

Infograph 3: 

Easily digestible, sourced and referenced but inaccurate and misleading


(source: http://motivade.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/infographic-the-right-way-to-exercise.png)

Easily digestible, website and organisation are referenced, and yet some of the information is still wrong!

Stretching has been shown to be potentially damaging and even increase risk of injury if performed before exercise. It can have negative effects on performance, power and strength.

All back injuries do not have the same cause. Some are diagnosed and treated as generic ‘chronic lower back pain’, or CLBP , while others may be a result of arthritis, osteoporosis or acute injury. To mass-prescribe a single stretch or exercise to an entire population is simply neglectful and dangerous. While one stretch/exercise might be beneficial for CLBP, the same exercise could be detrimental and even crippling for somebody with osteoporotic back pain. For example, loaded spinal flexion is always contraindicated in osteoporotic patients, while loaded spinal extension is often recommended.

 


 

Infograph 4: 

The Absolute Worst Piece of Bollocks Ever

(source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/44/24/6b/44246b09275c1b2f1e39deaf085e0761.jpg)

And if you subscribe to this quality of misinfograph then I don’t even know what you’re doing on my blog. Perhaps go back to watching Sesame Street and refresh on the basics – it’s fun to exercise!

(It’s always good to finish a blog post by insulting your readership! 😉 )

What’s your take on the above infographs? Have you come across any particularly good or bad, exercise related infographs or misinfographs?

The Science of Broscience in Fitness Forums

Earlier this year, Dr Bryan Chung of Evidence Based Fitness wrote this blog post on scientific abstracts and those who share them, along with their opinions, without actually having read the full research articles.
For those of you who aren’t ‘sciency’ minded, an abstract is essentially a very short summary of 2-3 paragraphs length, of a research paper which can sometimes be up to 20 pages long. Full papers usually include background information, methodological procedures, results & statistical analysis, final conclusions, study design floors and suggestions for future research directions. For a relevant example, see this abstract on protein consumption.

An intimidating figure?

An intimidating figure? Full research articles really can be this scary.  (Photo credit: andreasandrews)

It really is as intimidating as you imagine – particularly the ‘results’ section which, from my experience, most science-medical students don’t even pretend to have read when citing journal articles for their assignments. In fact it’s a bit of an in-joke amongst us, and I say that tongue-in-cheek knowing it’s a bad thing! It wouldn’t surprise me to find the same attitude amongst scientific and medically qualified professionals.

After some to-and-fro with Dr Chung (see the comments at the end of his blog post) I found myself agreeing with the essence of his post but in some ways not the method of delivery. Add to this the fact that some important issues ought to be addressed, such as the repercussions of a lack of critical thinking and skepticism in the fitness community and what our role, as fitness professionals, ought to be in all of this.

It’s taken me quite a while to separate out the issues in this topic and to arrive at what I think is essentially complete agreeance with this anti-abstract, “abstracts are entertainment only” viewpoint that is put forward.

Central Arguments

Do you even science? Do you? (Photo credit: Me! Parody of Pubmed.com home page).

Do you even science? Do you? (Image credit: Me! Satire of Pubmed.com home page).

The central argument is this: that people, fitness enthusiasts in particular, are linking to and discussing abstracts in isolation from the context of the full paper. While he doesn’t provide any links to give his audience context (I’m going to hazard a guess it’s at bodybuilding.com where broscience runs rampant), I still believe he makes several good points.

For the most part, if you don’t have access to anything more than the abstract for a piece of scientific research then you’re probably not able to frame the conclusion of a study in it’s proper context. In addition, enthusiasts who have no science background or science education probably don’t possess the cognitive tools to adequately assess the research papers, even if they do have full access to said papers. And by “cognitive tools” I’m not calling anybody stupid, simply referring to the critical thinking and the depth/breadth of knowledge acquired from studying at minimum 3-4 years in a medical or science degree.

That’s not to say that all tertiary science educated fitness professionals are well equipped to interpret the scientific literature – hell, even some pHD qualified Professors at my university probably don’t possess the cognitive capacity to assess the literature with any significant competency, but at the very least they meet minimum requirements.

It really is a matter of appreciating how little we know about topics in which we’re not qualified, experienced, practicing and professional specialists, and being humble about it, and deferring our opinions to those who quite obviously are better equipped and more knowledgable on the subject. I think this, in essence, is the crux of the issue – that many “bro’s”, personal trainers and even fitness enthusiasts in the fitness industry view themselves as experts, and that really is quite problematic.
Just because you can apply fitness protocols to yourself and others, and even see short term results, doesn’t mean that you’re doing it well, that chronic injuries won’t follow, nor does it mean that what you’re doing is methodologically sound. This harkens to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Repercussions

Are scientific abstracts comparable to movie previews? (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Are scientific abstracts comparable to movie previews? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I appreciate the metaphor of comparing an abstract to a movie preview, while the full research paper is comparable to seeing the actual movie. Let’s build on this by saying that instead of paying $20 for the movie you’re actually paying *$200, and instead of being in English the movie is in a foreign language. Additionally, your understanding of the movie is dependent on your abilities to interpret it, and each person who watches this foreign film has a slightly different interpretation.

Now ask yourself this: how many movies would you see if each of them cost $200, regardless how good the movie is supposed to be? If all your friends were talking about it as though they had seen it, wouldn’t you want to join in the conversation too? Might you pretend to have seen the movie, even though you hadn’t, and just extrapolate from the previews?

Yeah that would be bad, dishonest in fact, but that’s kinda what happens with the online fitness community.

In Summary

Perhaps it’s best to leave it to well qualified professionals to interpret the literature, with full access to scientific research being one of the minimum requirements for interpretation and education. Without making an appeal to authority, I think it’s also a safe bet to say that qualifications in science or medicine are also a minimum requirement, and if you’re listening to a **fitness enthusiast discuss the latest scientific research they found on Pubmed.bro you should probably not only take it with a grain of salt, but the entire salt shaker too.

How does this differ from something you read in the media? Well that’s the point, it kinda doesn’t, and arguably falls on the same rung of the hierarchy of evidence as does a well written, science media article. It’s entertainment, informative, perhaps even useful, but not for redistribution in an educational manner.

Where to Now?

(Image credit: Alan Aragon)

Subscribe. You won’t regret it. (Image credit: Alan Aragon)

So you consider yourself a science and fitness enthusiast? That’s not a bad thing, nor should it be discouraged, and I leave you with a final recommendation: Alan Aragon’s Research Review. He fits the bill as a well qualified, experienced, knowledgable (and well known) exercise physiologist who releases a monthly review/newsletter of the most interesting and relevant fitness, exercise and nutrition based research.
So forget Pubmed abstracts, delete your Pubmed bookmark, and subscribe instead to an exercise physiologist who’s predigested the food for you! It’s not free, but from my experience as a (former, now lapsed) paying member it’s well worth it.

What are Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts on the topic of abstracts as nothing more than a form of entertainment, similar to that of media articles? Have you experienced bro-science in fitness, or been frustrated by the lack of critical thinking and skepticism? Feel free to comment below and share your experiences!

*1 year subscriptions to scientific journals can cost anywhere between $100 and $600. This metaphor treats a single movie as a 1 year subscription, with the understanding that a ‘movie’ is actually a successive number of research trials and metareviews which require consumption together in order to get a complete picture. Actual individual articles can be acquired for around $35.

**Yes, “fitness enthusiast” includes those who deadlift 300lb’s, are members of their local barbell society, and hang out in well known fitness forums. In fact, it probably encompasses this demographic above and beyond most others – excluding those who are qualified.

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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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Who Needs a Personal Trainer?

”Who would pay somebody to torture them for an hour? I know how to jog and lift a weight, why would I pay somebody?!”

These are rhetorical questions I have heard people posit for years, both before I was a qualified personal trainer & fitness specialist (yes that latter is a qualification, not something I just made up) and after I had completed my Diploma. In order to answer these questions I’m going to take a half dozen steps backward…

Exercise. Everybody has goals and an ideal body type, even if they have no idea when or how to achieve it. On the one hand it seems intuitive: eat less, exercise more – do this for long enough, and with enough intensity, and you will achieve your goals. On the other hand there is chronic illness, acute exercise injuries, lack of motivation, lack of time, lack of skill and knowledge, lack of equipment access.

There is an over-abundance of information on the internet, but only a fraction of that information is reliable or what I like to call “reality based”. In other words, some people just like to make stuff up, to hell with all of that science stuff (after all, what does some middle aged, white-coated scientist know about what’s going on in the real world?).

I’m a science kinda guy, I think that the techniques and methodology which I use to train my clients should be solidly reality/science based, and I like to think that *most* of you out there are also reality (and science) based, whether you realise this or not. In short, we want what works, and what we know works. That is where science comes in. It gives us the most reliable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable, and best controlled technique for evaluating what works and what doesn’t. It’s by no means perfect, it by no means provides all of the answers (nor does it pretend to), it *is* however self-correcting, peer-reviewed, and more reliable than any other reality-testing methodology we know of.

All very well and good, but how does a *client* know that their PT is implementing training methodology that works or is evidence/reality/science based? How do we know the difference between a PT who even has a methodology vs one who is simply regurgitating the routines they learnt from a 4 week online course provided by a questionable means and questionable testing criteria? (and does that even matter if they are actually training clients and getting results?).

As a holiday project for my end of year break I decided to sign up with the local gym – (although it’s been contrary to my personal ethos for the past 7 years to step foot into a gym in the role of client/member). It’s obvious to me that a large majority of the clients at this gym who engage in resistance training, and I would wager at any gym, fall into three distinct categories:

  • Having no real idea what they’re doing, but knowing that they don’t know (the majority of the weight machine users)
  • Having no real idea what they’re doing, but thinking they do (the majority of the free weights users)
  • Knowing what they’re doing, and doing it quietly and methodically (an extreme minority)

You might argue that another PT has a different opinion from me, that I think (and write) one thing, they think another. So who’s right?

It comes back to the science – who is more up to date with the latest research? And how relevant and applicable is that to the field of exercise? Is the PT even *aware* of the scientific research, or at least somehow tapping into the results that the latest scientific research is discovering, perhaps through reputable online journals or other official channels (ie Fitness Australia newsletter and updates).

There are many biomechanical reasons why exercise technique exists, why the shoulders, knees and hips should not be placed in certain positions in high risk exercises which make them more vulnerable to injury. This is an important example where a PT is valuable, directing a client in the appropriate technique and execution of an exercise so as to avoid injury and gain maximum benefit from their exercise routine. Of course many other reasons exist, such as motivation, exercise programming, fitness testing and goal assessment.

Who needs a PT? Most people, if not for technique correction and injury prevention, then for motivational direction and goal achievement. A good PT will help you to discern truth from nonsense, after all – there’s a lot of information out there, and most of it’s worth the amount you’ve paid for it.

What are your experiences with personal trainers? If you’ve never hired one, would you consider doing so? Comment below!

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