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8 February 2019

STOP LISTENING TO ME…

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We all love the idea of being heard, having our opinions valued and getting a pat on the back for being a wise crack. The truth of the matter is, very few people online are in a position to give advice, comment and teach the masses when it comes to diet, training, lifestyle and everything…

We all love the idea of being heard, having our opinions valued and getting a pat on the back for being a wise crack. The truth of the matter is, very few people online are in a position to give advice, comment and teach the masses when it comes to diet, training, lifestyle and everything else that relates to ‘fitness’. But today, I want you to think twice about taking my advice online…

Before I begin to discuss the reasons why you should stop listening to me, I’ll digress for a minute and give you an insight as to what inspired me to write this post.

You see, on a professional level I am extremely agitated, which was something that surfaced in a discussion during our mentorship program when we covered ‘who to listen to in the fitness industry’.

We were talking about where personal trainers should look to obtain information and knowledge, and to my dismay, a number of the students listed me as their source along with other ‘online gurus’.

Whilst some of the names listed were indeed credible sources of information online, such as Alan Aragon, Eric Cressey, Brett Contreras, Brad Schoendfeld and Mike Isratael, many were not.

This realisation really made me reflect and evaluate my position as an online resource for those wanting to improve body composition, make gains and get healthy.…

I have always prided myself on giving evidence based, informative and useful content.

However, over the years, the more I reflect on the information I give online, the more I realise I am far less credible than I think, as are many fitness ‘professionals’.

I mean, how can I, or any coach for that matter, possibly give advice online via facebook, Instagram, blogs or electronic emails that takes into consideration a specific context, discuss the entire parameters of which they are discussing and account for the array of inter individual differences when it comes to training, nutrition, lifestyle, psychology and everything else in between.

In many ways, I’m a perfectionist.

I hate mistakes.

I detest uncertainty.

I cannot tolerate ignorance, especially on my behalf.

Here is what I see happening in our industry…

Personal trainers, strength coaches and the likes have two things:

1. Access To Information.

2. A Voice.

Information is everywhere and a medium to present information is a plenty.

Due to technological advancements i.e. the internet, e-books, online access to research articles, and the likes, we coaches are able to access information pertaining to any topic with a quick google search.

Soundbites of information are at the touch of our finger tips, and we must use this information to guide our practice and the advice we give –  whether its online or face-to-face.

Here is the kicker…

When this access to information is coupled with a medium by which a coach can express or ‘regurgitate’ this ‘knowledge’ and pass it off as their own, we have a recipe for disaster.

I’ll explain why…

Firstly, as you are all aware, it takes years to master a field.

I’m 9 years deep in the fitness industry and I still have more questions than answer.

So how does the PT who just graduated have the audacity to claim to be an ‘expert’.

So, here is my views on the process of information gathering and dissemination by coaches and online experts:

  • Information / Knowledge Acquisition: Information is of interest, relevance and/or ‘trending’. This results in the individual seeking an understanding of the topic/idea/concept at some level (basic/intermediate/advanced).
  • Presentation of misinformation: Typically, the information is regurgitated without a true theoretical basis for understanding the idea, topic, concept or the intricacies to which relate to the information they believe to understand.
  • Lack of Understanding: A failure to recognise their own lack of skill, competence or extent of their inadequacy as it relates to the area they are discussing.
  • Interpretation: Failure to recognise how the information is being interpreted by listeners, and the different contexts to which that information may apply.
  • Poor Awareness: Failure to take into consideration context, the array of variables, factors, contrasting views and interpretations of the topic.

Personal Trainers & The Dunning Kruger Effect

When personal trainers take information and think they are an expert, they are demonstrating what is called the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect‘.

The Dunning Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Oh, and then they have social media available to show off this ‘illusory knowledge’.

Most coaches and online ‘experts’ don’t know their arse from their head.

They will give one size fits all, blanket advice via social media and often view things as right or wrong.

They read a book, blog, article or hear something that sounds logical, practical and ‘makes sense’ to them, and copy and paste that information on their own platform in a bid to gain an audience, and become the expert or go-to coach.

This is fine in only a few circumstances:

  • When the information is thoroughly understood.
  • When context is given; and
  • When the information is indeed evidence based.

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, and calls me a cynical bastard who bashes the industry, hold up one second…

I get it…

Coaches must provide content.

We need to establish ourselves as knowledgeable.

We need to build our business.

However, there the vast majority of trainers and gurus presenting information online are doing so without any understanding of what they are actually saying, or the implications it may have on their audience.

Knowledge is one thing.

Experience is a completely different animal.

Knowledge:

First, I don’t think that all coaches lack the requisite knowledge to give advice.

In saying that, I do believe that many lack the foundational knowledge necessary to give informed, constructive and credible guidance, especially on powerful mediums such as social media.

Due to the plethora of information that is available online, and the abundance of resources available to coaches, acquiring ‘information’ isn’t hard.

The difference between knowing and understanding, is the ability to fully comprehend both the theoretical and practical application of a topic

Most trainers have information.

Not knowledge.

Experience:

Giving advice must also be based on experience in dealing with the practical application of information.

The issue is that in order to gain experience, you need an audience aka clients to ‘practice’ applying your knowledge to, and this is where a lot of coaches come undone.

They have barely spent any time in dealing with the individuals and the array of circumstances and contexts to which information applies.

Experience has shown me that the answer to almost every single question related to nutrition, training, psychology and lifestyle is – it depends.

Coaches who lack experience will often give dichotomous advice – yes or no, good or bad, right and wrong, without understanding that the answer to will always depend on the person who is asking for the advice.

How much protein should I have?

How many meals should I eat?

Should I low bar or high bar squat?

How many sets and reps do I need to build muscle?

What is the best way to lose fat?

Should I perform static stretches?

How long should I foam roll?

There is no single answer that I can give to any of the above, and 9 years in the trenches has taught me that.

A rookie or someone who hasn’t had the experience working with people will give black and white advice, typically attempting to be deemed the ‘expert’ or create mystery to build an online following.

An example would be a coach who says:

“You should never perform static stretching before resistance training as not to decrease power output.”

Using the above as an example, despite the fact that the research dictates that static stretching may indeed have negative implications for force and power output, I guarantee you, there are instances where power output is not the focus and stretching before training is a great idea.

For example, someone who sits at a desk all day, has poor mobility and cannot meet the orthopaedic demands of a movement, will in one way, shape or another need to perform some form of stretching to be able to move with ‘function’.

This is experience, and demonstrates an understanding of context, that information must be applied to context and there is no black and white. This allows a coach or guru to troubleshoot and solve problems for individuals, and thus give great advice.

The combination of information, knowledge and experience is what can make a coach credible.

What makes someone credible:

Finding ‘credible’ sources of information online isn’t too hard these days, you just need to know where to look and have an understanding that there are good and bad sources of information online.

In my opinion, there are five factors that makes someone credible:

  1. Knowledge – they know their shit back to front, inside and out and understand at a fundamental level the topic they are discussing.
  2. Experience – they have spent years learning, practicing, refining and applying their knowledge.
  3. Successful application personally – They have applied their knowledge and experience to improve their own body composition, strength, performance, lifestyle etc.
  4. Successful application with others – They have applied their knowledge and experience to improve other individuals body composition, strength, performance, lifestyle etc.
  5. They are aware of their own bias – Most importantly, they have the self awareness to understand that their views will be biased by their own interests, opinions and prejudice.

The primary reason I don’t write a lot of content these days is that I am too busy practicing my craft and gaining experience.

When I was reflecting on whether or not I am indeed a credible source of information I wanted to gauge ‘my experience’, and counted every session I have conducted since starting out as a PT.

In 6 years, I’ve conducted over 25,000 sessions…

Some far worse than others, especially when I look back to my first year or two working with people.

As time has progressed, my prioritise have changed, and frankly, working with my clients, educating our coaching staff and teaching mentorship students takes precedent to spending hours upon hours constructing blog articles that I am comfortable publishing.

So, should you listen to me?

Well, it depends on whether or not you think that I meet the above criteria, and I am inclined to suggest that unless you are working with me one-on-one, or ask me a specific question about your nutrition, training, lifestyle or so forth, I am no more credible than anyone else.

Coach Jacob

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