You know Cerberus? That massive 3-headed dog in Hercules, the “Hound of Hades”. That’s what the fitness industry is like.
On one hand (head) there is; boob-implants, teeth so white they could light a room and YouTube VLogs showing off fast cars, mansions, international travel and “a full day of eating”.
On the other hand, in the very same industry, you will find scientific conferences, academics discussing the importance of reactive oxygen species & hydrogen ions in adaptation processes and anything else that tickles your fancy, from the mTOR pathway to acetylcholine release at the neuromuscular junction.
Those are two very extreme “heads”.
One side that is comprised of Clenbuterol, abs and meal prep sponsorships, and another side that is lab coats, PubMed and statistical significance. Both ends of the spectrum have their issues, but I find that the middle ground is actually where a larger proportion of the issues arise.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of fantastic aspects to the fitness industry. It’s not completely toxic, regardless of whatever some disgruntled ex-employee says, but hear this; there are plenty of charlatans and business people disguising themselves as coaches.
In my eyes, the main issue stemming from this middle ground of the industry is that it’s probably the most unregulated aspect of the entirety.
On the highly commercial side, economics mostly appears to be the regulator. Sure, ethics and morality can at times go by the wayside, but almost inevitably, if you sell a shit supplement or piece of clothing, people stop buying them. Additionally, in the day and age of social media, secrets are hard to keep. So if you have been up to some pretty dodgy practises, then people are going to find out, your reputation will be tarnished and your business will very likely suffer. It’s not perfect, but there’s at least some kind of feedback mechanism to improve function over time.
On the scientific end, you have things such as the peer-review process, where your work must be of a certain quality and novelty in order to be published, and again, your professional reputation to protect. A bit like how an actor is only as good as their last movie (Ari Gold taught me that), a scientist is only as valuable as their reputation for upholding sound scientific practises and their ability to operate with integrity, among other things. Science is, at its core, a self-correcting process and there have been genuine examples of dodgy science being “called out” publicly (such as here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28301440). This has resulted in various researchers having their reputation permanently tarnished, leading to them being almost completely unemployable in the scientific community.
And rightly so I might add.
At these two ends of the extreme, there is some degree of professional moderation, whether it is a distinct review process, money, reputation, employability etc. Something holds you accountable, somewhere.
Unfortunately, I see this to be lacking in the more applied, hands-on area of the industry. Almost anything goes, provided you can put the right spin on it.
We have coaches teaching marketing courses, giving medical-grade nutrition advice, taking body-fat measurements and predicting hormonal health or claiming to understand the intricacies of the gut-brain axis (hint: people who have studied this for years still know very little). All this from a Cert 3 & 4 and maybe a skim read on some online resources or a weekend workshop? Unbelievable.
These examples of malpractice can be “gotten away with” because who is going to police it? Coaches can masquerade as anything they want to because most people don’t know any better and most governing bodies don’t care, provided you pay your fees of course. One coach might call out another coach for being a quack, but the general public can’t tell who is right or who is just being bitter.
I get it. It’s tough to know whom to trust. My suggestion? Trust no one. Trust evidence and trust results. But even then, be sceptical of who was involved or how they went about it.
It’s all far too easy for “Coaches” to dupe the general population, as the average person doesn’t have any formal scientific training and their ability to detect bullshit, even when it’s right under their noses, is almost completely non-existent.
So what do we do?
I have asked myself this question many times, and it will take a smarter man than I to completely work out the answer.
Obviously it’s unfeasible to educate the entire population on how to detect quackery, as well as the ins and outs of science and empirical validation. However, every single person can learn to be just be a little more sceptical, asking hard questions of those making bold claims and demanding a level of evidence that equates to or exceeds the claims that are being made.
This is known as the Sagan standard: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Charlatans survive because they feed on those who are defenceless against their persuasion and charm. While you may (or may not) be educated and experienced enough to be able to detect bullshit when you see it, not all others can.
Your hyper-scepticism and finely tuned bullshit radar is effectively useless, if you do not help to educate the gullible on how to avoid being misled. It is the removal of a gullible audience that will eventually starve the charlatans, not the one potential client they lost because you worked out what they were up to.
Empowering others around you with critical thinking skills is one of the most useful things you can do as a human in my opinion. Sure, it doesn’t always go down well, and sometimes people react poorly to having their rose coloured view of the world shattered.
Saying nice fluffy things, always being encouraging and positive is nice and all if you’re watching a feel good chick-flick. But you know what’s even cooler in my eyes? Revealing some hard truths to people, if you actually care about them, and helping them to avoid being f*cked over consistently for the rest of their life.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to swear but it frustrates me so much that 1) people prey on the ignorant and 2) the ignorant complain about how they keep being let down, when they’ve done nothing but hop from one hopeful dream to the next with nothing but good intentions as a means for achieving something. But I digress.
Now that I have discussed the prevalent issue (the lack of regulation in the industry) and the way in which the ignorant are preyed upon, I want to turn your attention to the general indication that someone is an “Enlightened” coach. Be wary of these people, it will potentially save you a lot of time, money and effort that quickly gets you nowhere.
THE ENLIGHTENED COACH
A well known “public figure” who is undoubtedly intelligent and has the ability to grabble with complex topics, however their main attribute is typically their eloquent and engaging manner of presentation.
These people are often perspicacious on a particular topic, while offering some novel and unique insights that claim to go against the grain of the field or the consensus of expert opinion. While this is occasionally useful for the purpose of generating new ideas, this type of individual is usually more concerned with setting themselves apart and posturing as an authority on a topic, rather than the dissemination of useful, practical information or the progression of intellectual concepts.
Furthermore, these individuals usually have methods that are not widely understood or shared and it requires signing up to one of their services for large financial expense before you can have any greater understanding about the secretive, and supposedly superior methodologies they use. Instagram stories are a perfect example of this.
These individuals will put a short clip from of their presentations or workshops on their story (with a bunch of incomprehensible scribble on the whiteboard behind them obviously), saying something like, “Most coaches teach their clients to tuck their elbows on a bench press, but that is WRONG!” or “I’m sure you’ve heard that calories are the most important thing for weight loss. Well I’m sorry to say, but you’ve been lied to!”
Then, all too conveniently, the clip is over and the next image is how to sign up for their next workshop.
It’s amazing how they can manage to crush an idea that may have decades of research behind it in a matter of 10 seconds or so, but then fail to explain or justify why. Apparently the price of that information is multiple hundreds of dollars….
Nothing encapsulates the actions of the Enlightened coach more than the following excerpt from Thomas Sowell’s classic book, The Vision of the Anointed;
“Expertise is never put to the crucial test of a record as to how often it has been wrong … As in so many other areas, the word “science” is often used as a substitute for logic and evidence. In short, the essence of science is ignored in favour of its appearance.”
Far too often, the Enlightened coach makes a staggering intellectual leap of faith. They generate extrapolations of biochemistry, physiology, anatomy or biomechanics that is well beyond the realm of plausible reality. All in an attempt to create the illusion of complexity and a beyond average understanding. Their goal is to establish themselves as superior. What must be understood however is that it is not the mere understanding of basic or even complex phenomena that make the coach, but an understanding of the implications of the phenomena and how that ties in with every single other system within the body.
To use an example of which is also Sowell’s: Isaac Newton was not the first man to observe an apple fall from a tree. He was however, the first man to comprehend the implications of the falling apple and generate the theory of gravity.
It is not about merely understanding the information in isolation, but understanding where it fits and what it is useful for.
This is the fundamental delusion of the Enlightened coach. Thinking that they are on the “cutting edge” by employing methods that are not currently standard practise. However, with a little more research or awareness on the topic, you will typically find that what they are preaching has been tried and tested by practitioners many times over already. And the reason it is not considered standard practise or common knowledge today, is because it comes at the cost of something more important and is detrimental on the net-balance. Everything is a trade-off.
I could choose from a plethora of examples, both training and diet related, but this one is fresh on my mind….
You think the “Carnivore diet” is new? Please! People have tried that approach time and time again; it’s just named something different each time. You don’t think some literal meathead tried that 30 years ago?
Do you want to know the outcome? Well, it turns out that sacrificing large amounts of vegetable and carbs is a dumb-ass idea for both health and performance reasons. You’re welcome.
Remember: What has been, there will be again, there is nothing new under the sun.
Not only do these coaches miss the forest for the trees, but they see themselves or their methods as beyond the level of the trees. There is an inherent belief that they are on a superior level, due to insight that is yet to become common knowledge amongst the majority of practitioners in the field.
Is it possible that these coaches have actually discovered something of value through either rigorous trial-and-error or sheer luck? It’s certainly possible.
Is it likely to be a game-changer, automatically resulting in traditional or already established practises becoming redundant or out-dated? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Common practise arises not just because people simply fall into the status-quo, merely copying those around them and becoming mindless sheep. Common practise is common, because on average, that is what the predominance of all the practitioners have found to be most beneficial, based on all their isolated individual experiences. It is the combined knowledge of the whole field.
You’d have to think of yourself as pretty damn special to think that every single person around you and before you got it wrong.
This is what can make the enlightened coach so dangerous. They probably have seen evidence for their method working and thus are convinced of it. But how many have failed? How many people forked over thousands of dollars only to be let down in the process? I know I’ve spoken to countless people who were burned by an apparent expert.
All I’m saying is; be careful. Humans in general are terrible at acknowledging evidence that supports the opposite of that they believe, so it’s very possible that an Enlightened coach genuinely believes they are right, even when they are wrong.
The final thing I want to say is, you may think that JPS falls into this category. If we apparently give out all our information for free, why would people attend our workshops and presentations?
Well, I’m glad you asked. The reason that people attend our workshops is because we can dedicate a lot more time to explaining the details of the subject, working through examples and answering questions on the varying applications of the information. Nothing we present behind closed doors is new or a secret. Our workshops are simply a better format for teaching and explaining the nuances and ensuring that our attendees leave with more than superficial knowledge. Our coaches are experienced and explanations can take time.
But you won’t see us keeping any answers from you. Our aim is be educated, experienced and transparent. Not enlightened.