The Broken Fitness Industry

*Note from Sarah: Jason Seib of Primitive Stimulus is back with a compelling and accurate article about our broken fitness industry and offers much needed insight regarding how to make sure you are working with a trainer who wakes up in the morning with a strong desire to help YOU.  This is a MUST read!!  Thank you Jason!

The Broken Fitness Industry

At the risk of making a few enemies, there is something that needs to be said:  The great majority of the fitness industry produces garbage results.  There, I said it.

Okay, so most of you already knew that, but maybe my insider’s perspective will aid you in deciding where to get fit and who to ask for help.  I’m sure I already sound like an arrogant ass who thinks everyone else is terrible and I’m amazing, but some of the following was gleaned from my own mistakes and you probably don’t live anywhere near my gym anyway.

First, let’s address the big corporate gyms, often referred to as “Globo Gyms” by those of us on the outside.  These big corporations are first and foremost… well, big corporations.  Their agenda is all about profits and that doesn’t necessarily coordinate with your agenda of getting fit.  I’ll break it down for you.  Their primary concern is EFT – or electronic funds transfer – which is the total amount of funds transferred automatically from your bank account to theirs each month.  They have a couple of tried and true methods of getting you to agree to this arrangement.  Filling their facilities with shiny expensive machines is where they start.  They are betting on you walking in with no knowledge and gasping at their amazing display of seemingly easy to use equipment that is certain to finally get you fit.  After your tour, the real dirty tricks start.

When I worked in management for one such place (oh the shame!), I was once told by a regional vice president that the fitness department (personal training) was a wash in most of their locations and didn’t really bring in much money.  He went on to explain that when a new member had a good experience with a trainer, regardless of whether or not they bought training, the length of time before they canceled their membership was greatly increased.  I made a mental note of his exact words, “the length of time before they canceled their membership…,” because it meant he was absolutely sure they would eventually quit and his only concern was about when it would finally happen.  The message was clear – nobody gets enough results to stick around so we just try to milk them for whatever we can before they leave.  At that particular (enormous) company, trainers receive 3 days of education before they are turned loose on the unsuspecting client who believes them to be experts.  Pumping gas on Thursday and teaching you to squat on Monday.

The one good thing these gyms offer the world is starting place for trainers who are exceptionally driven to do good work.  It can be hard to get started as a trainer and the corporate gym scene gives would-be good trainers a place to get their feet wet.  Such a trainer will have to take his/her education in his own hands (which is always the case anywhere in my opinion) but at least he/she can make some money while they learn and build a client base that will probably follow them when they leave.

Next, let’s talk about the trainers themselves.  I am of the opinion that if a person becomes a trainer solely because they love to workout, they will likely perpetuate the broken industry.  Trainers need real passion for the science behind the results their clients seek or they probably won’t help many people.  Unfortunately, they may still make a great living because almost anything they throw at a new client will work for a short while, and frustrated plateaued people will often hang on for a long time without making progress, clinging to the memory of those initial results.  The trainer might not even understand their disservice because they can easily blame the client when things don’t work out. “They must be cheating on their diets,” they may say, and of course they would be right.  Nobody will go hungry forever on a miserable starvation diet and hours of cardio.  Especially not when it’s handed down apathetically by a trainer completely disinterested in nutrition.

If a trainer is only motivated by wanting to be in a gym environment all day, they will tend to spit mainstream fitness and nutrition platitudes at every question on a subject that doesn’t interest them.  The answer probably isn’t more cardio, more starving, or more meal replacement shakes.  The extreme is the “go heavy or go home” type who think all problems can be solved with more intensity.  These trainers are all over the world at this exact moment beating the holy snot out of clients who are more likely plateaued due to bad nutrition, elevated cortisol, or even adrenal fatigue.  It’s sad, really.

Please understand that fitness and nutrition are subjects in which more formal education does not always result in a more qualified professional.  Nutrition especially tends to be badly broken at the academic level so more time in a classroom often means more brainwashing and bad science that must be overcome before a worthwhile service can be provided.  But I’m generalizing here.

Last but not least, I need to address high-intensity interval training (HIIT) movement led chiefly by CrossFit.  I own a CrossFit gym and use CrossFit methodology to some degree everyday, so please hear me out.  When CrossFit first hit the scene the fitness world began to change in remarkable ways.  Gathering clients in a group of like-minded individuals and putting them through workouts that are timed or scored is a brilliant way to get intensity out of people that wouldn’t otherwise perform as well if you begged, threatened, or offered them gold.  But call a spade a spade.  If you are more concerned with a time or score than the quality of your movements, you are competing in a sport, not working to advance your fitness and health.

It frustrates me every time I hear people debating over whether or not a repetition of a specific exercise “counted” or not.   Your goal should never be to perform a movement just adequately enough for it to “count” in some sort of sloppy competition apparently designed for rapid fire crap.  And please don’t make the mind-numbingly stupid claim that this is the only legitimate way to get fit.

So how are you suppose to find good training in a broken industry?  The most important thing you can do is look for a trainer with a deep passion for their work.  When someone loves what they do, it shows in ways they can’t hide.  You will likely find such a person by referral.  Ask everyone in your world if they know a good trainer, even the people who don’t exercise.  You never know who has a roommate or cousin who won’t shut-up about their amazing trainer.

Once you have a name and an appointment to meet the person who uses it, you will need to listen intently for signs of passion.  Does the trainer in question seem excited about the opportunity to train you?  Do they appear to know what they are talking about and deliver the information in a way that says “I love this stuff”, or are they just trying to get into your wallet?  Do they want to know about your goals?  Do they thoroughly understand and recommend paleo nutrition?

When you are satisfied that you have found a passionate trainer, you will need to ask some tough questions.  Begin with something like, “How will you get me back on track if I hit a plateau?”  His/her answer should be about how they intend to determine the cause of your plateau, and not how they would immediately turn up the intensity of your workouts without a second thought. Next, you might want to ask how they feel about cardio and endurance training.  If you aren’t specifically looking for help with a marathon (for some strange reason), you will want to find a trainer that won’t impose such harmful methods upon you.

If everything appears to be in order, you will need to test out this rare find without a massive commitment.  A good trainer will put their money where their mouth is for a month and prove themselves to you.  If they are adamant that you buy into a long term commitment without showing you what they can do, walk away.  In my gym, people begin with a month of education in which the first workout and the last workout are exactly the same.  We time them in both workouts to put the quality of our product on the line.  In every assessment I say, “If you don’t improve, you would be crazy to give me any more of your money.”

As usual, I could rant for hours, but I think you have what you need.  Just promise me you won’t settle for mediocre training.  You deserve better and so does my industry.  Please don’t reward bad trainers with your hard earned money.

Comments

  1. Nadia says

    I’m pretty sure I’ve found a good one, thanks Jason! I feel really lucky to get to train under you!

  2. says

    You are spot-on in your assessment of many personal trainers and big corporate gyms. But I’m happy to report great trainers with education, passion and nutritional smarts are making their livings, and helping others, in globo-gymns. Yes, check out the trainer, ask for a free session before you spend your money. I have made my living for five years in a giant Gold’s Gymn, as a personal trainer. We have a dozen trainers, all college-educated, all certified. But more important than PT certification is that we constantly teach our staff. We have a competitive strongman, triathlete, ex-bodybuilder, football players, and an old hybrid like myself on staff. And it’s all about nutrition! I tell people that the food side of their life is 90% of whether they will make any progress. We stress food, we teach everything from grocery shopping on up, and hold people accountable for making change. I have been a bodybuilder, strongman, powerlifter, competitive road cyclist, with vastly different bodies over the years. Teaching regular folks lessons learned and how to incorporate food and exercise into their lives is my passion. I am the only trainer on staff who also works out at a Crossfit gym, and lives a Paleo life. So we are out there, in the world of big shiny gymns – just ask lots of questions until you uncover passion coupled with smarts.

  3. says

    You’re spot-on regarding the EFT. You see this in the online world as well on “weight loss websites” and blogs. These sites are trying to sell you the latest miracle product for the sole purpose of getting your credit card number so they can get you into a recurring payment that may take you a few months to get cancelled once you realize it’s a scam.

  4. Gina says

    I thank you so much for writing this article as I will be a newbie in this industry. il ove helping people and seeing theeir lives change for the best. This is my passion and I will do whatever is needed to be a great trainer and nutritionist for my clients as they deserve the best. Again thanks for pouring truth and heart into this article.

  5. cTo says

    Ha, your comment about how customers will eventually quit globo-gyms remind me of that Friends episode where Ross keeps trying to quit and they keep bringing in hot women to get him to stay.

    The “More Reps = More Better, Period” mode of workout thinking has always upset me. In college I took weights and pilates classes that basically encouraged me to force myself to finish the minimum number of movements within a set time, and the idea of proper form was secondary. It did double damage of not getting the results from doing the workout properly (and possibly risking injury) and lowering my self esteem when I couldn’t clear the bar. After college I got into iyengar yoga, and I loved it because all you had to do was concentrate on being in the poses and movements. This was when I really started to understand how my muscles worked, and areas that needed improvement. Also for the record, I recently took *good* pilates classes that also focus more on the proper form and targetting specific muscle groups, and less on thrusting yourself into ten situps in 30 seconds.

  6. Gwen says

    I am much like John K from above in the respect that I work in a Golds Gym and follow a crossfit/paleo lifestyle. It is very frustrating working under such a “money hungry” corporation but my clients know that, to me, their results are way more important than my paycheck. I would rather fill my day with only 4 clients who I can truly give 100% to b/c they themselves are giving 100% than 8 clients who are just there to chat. I like to have time to self-educate and that can’t be done if you are working round the clock with clients.
    Great post!

  7. Jeremy says

    I agree with you 110% with everything you said. In addition to that. Another thing to keep in mind regarding “globo gyms” is that the trainers will only increase their pay based on the amount of certifications they have. Sounds good right? Not really. There are only a hand full of certiificationing bodies that are “nationally accreditted” and accepted by most globo gyms. These governing bodies are for profit and pay a large sum to be accredited. It’s not really because of the quality of education, it’s the amount Of payment that gets them accredited. Then they have the nerve to offer specialty certifications that are tested online with no way to prevent cheating. The amount of certs a trainer has doesn’t mean that’s how good they really are. Ask around for a referral then ask that trainer for references or testimonials. There’s a lot of garbage out there so be careful. You only have one body so take care of it!

    • JasonS says

      Good point, Jeremy! I have 4 such certifications that I never even mention because they are garbage.

      • julie says

        Agree…certifications are about the money. I had one for years, and I’m not even a trainer! I passed the test and paid the renewals for years and years, but I never trained a single soul.

  8. says

    YES YES YES!!! This is sadly so true, the number of trainers I see at the gym who are looking around to check people out WHILE they are ‘training’ someone is just offensive! Needless to say those trainers do not get great results with their clients. The ones who run from one area of the gym to the other in excitement to get you on to the next exercise are the only ones I would go for. I cant afford a trainer in London at the moment, but thankfully I have had some incredible training in the past. I would love to train at a crossfit gym, please start them in London!!! :)

    • lisa says

      hi elisa,

      there are a good few crossfit gyms in the uk now including at least 2 in london. i train at one up in glasgow and it has been amazing. Such a better way to train and get results especially combined with paleo.

      Love this site – so many good recipes, especially as it is aimed at busy family life.

  9. Jennifer says

    I am extremely lucky to have found the personal trainers I work with. I go to Fitness Together, a 1:1 gym, so it is all about personal training and personal attention. All of the trainers are not only certified but have degrees in exercise physiology and one is also an ISSA Certified Specialist in Performance Nutrition (who practices and teaches the paleo lifestyle and how I found Everyday Paleo). They are always explaining to me what muscles each exercise works, the science behind it, and how it will help me reach my goals. I have also seen consistent progress, including an 8% fat loss since joining in March.

    • JP says

      You’re one of the lucky ones, Jennifer. I currently work at a Fitness Together and, luckily, my last day is Tuesday. Your story is unfamiliar territory with most. I have a bachelor’s, but I am only certified in Crossfit and have educated myself on Paleo on my own with the guidance of the author of this post. Most Fitness Together facilities push Nutrition Together which is operated by Dr. Janet Brill. She’s a vegan who occasionally eats fish and pushes whole grains (counts popcorn as a way to get your 6-11!), wants clients to obtain their protein from legumes whenever possible, and refers to saturated fat as “artery-clogging saturated fat.” And the motto is “No fad diets. No Gimmicks.” Take away the fact that she’s just pushing government recommendations and it’s very similar to Weight Watchers, the majority of our clients rarely see results with body composition. And I know that is all related to the BS nutrition guidance she recommends. If you found a paleo follower, that’s great, but I don’t want it to seem like they ALL do it. You just got lucky. I always felt like I couldn’t say anything and very few people knew how I ate, except that I didn’t eat gluten; which isn’t even the half of it. To the rest of the readers: just remember, if you want to sign up at a Fitness Together, be warned that most of you will have the food pyramid shoved down your throat because the diet is provided by a Ph.D. of conventional wisdom and an agenda. And when your body composition doesn’t change, it must be “because you cheated on your diet.” Or “aren’t tracking calories and forgetting to weigh in once a week.” Or “you must be leaving out of your accountability journal the junk food you eat.” Yeah, I’ve heard it all, but never spoke up because I didn’t want to play 1000 questions to justify Paleo. And the muscle isolation movements are whole other topic, so I will stop here and reiterate: not all Fitness Together facilities are alike, especially when it comes to nutrition, so be careful and ask many, many questions.

      JP

  10. Farah says

    I have checked on our local Crossfit training and found it to be extremely expensive as opposed to the local gym my family belongs to. Is that normal? Or is it because I live in such a small rural town that they may be charging what they want? One 1-hour session of Crossfit is $55.00. And if that falls in line with other costs – how often would you recommend doing Crossfit? Is it an every day workout? Just curious as I’m new to the Paleo World!

    • JasonS says

      Either that price is really high or you misunderstood. $55 sounds like a personal training session price to me. Most CrossFits that I know of charge around $150 – $200 per month.

      Please don’t assume that CrossFit is the only option. There are great trainers everywhere outside the CrossFit community. We are actually in the process of leaving CrossFit and don’t really use the name anymore. In fact, nearly every coach that has made me who I am today has left CrossFit or been kicked out.

    • Sam says

      Log onto the website: crossfit.com. Everthing there is explained; also, a workout calendar is posted everyday.

      • JasonS says

        Please don’t do this. The main site programming is not suitable for anyone, in my opinion. The top CrossFit games competitors don’t even use that programming.

        • Sarah says

          Agreed 100%. One of our coaches at our gym, Jenny Labaw, qualified for the CrossFit games this year by guess what, not following the main site AT ALL!!

        • Oscar says

          I respectfully disagree.

          A fellow officer introduced me to Crossfit when we were in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, and a group of us followed the main site for the majority of our 15-month tour. We found it extremely challenging, but doable, as long as we checked our egos, didn’t get cocky and scaled the workouts to our individual fitness levels. One can get help scaling workouts by visiting the Crossfit Brand X site: http://www.crossfitbrandx.com/index.php/forums

          Now back home, I train at Crossfit Manhattan, KS. They follow their own programming and are excellent trainers. I also do Crossfit Endurance (http://www.crossfitendurance.com) workouts for morning PT.

          I absolutely agree that athletes must focus on technique before maximizing weight, reps or speed, but the main site states clearly that… “If many or most of the exercises are relatively or completely unknown to you, then we recommend that you begin learning the movements for a month or two until you can either perform our common exercises or have substitutions worked out for those movements under development.”

          Finally, at least some of the individuals and teams interviewed on the regional updates who will compete in the games mentioned that they followed the main site’s programming.

          • JasonS says

            Only two of the ten or so coaches that made me who I am today are still with CrossFit, having either been thrown out or left on their own (From Robb Wolf and Gregg Everett to most recently OPT). To my knowledge, all of these coaches are in agreement that athletes must be trained, not constantly tested, if they are to reach peak capacity.

          • Oscar says

            Life is a constant test. Training should reflect life. Both coaches and athletes must always keep in mind that technique comes first. Intensity, weight and volume are secondary. In other words, technique is the most important part of the test, and the main site stresses that concept explicitly and repeatedly.

            They must also keep in mind that it’s impossible to be at ones 100% every day. One can’t expect to set a PR with every workout. No big deal. Do your individual best at that moment.

            I agree that Crossfit isn’t the only option. There are other good training programs out there. But I’ve yet to find one that does a better job of preparing an ordinary person for the unknown and unknowable. Therefore, considering the myriad of unknown variables in life, I’ll stick with the program that best trains me for them.

          • JasonS says

            We’re going to have to agree to disagree here, Oscar. Life is not a constant test for me or any of my clients, that I know of. I agree that training should reflect life, and by that I mean my 2.6 million year old genome’s understanding of life. At no point in human history have humans had to endure the intensity of training that is promoted on the CrossFit main site on a 3 day on – 1 day off schedule, outside of military and sport, which most of us aren’t concerned with. No coach worth their salt would ever train this way and expect their athletes to continue to improve. You train at that level for sport, which is exactly what CrossFit has become on the main site, but such intensity levels should be cycled through proper periodization. If the SPORT of CrossFit is your thing, so be it, but it is sport.

            “One can’t expect to set a PR with every workout.” Nobody should be trying for a PR with every workout. Nobody.

          • Oscar says

            No sweat, Jason. Agree to disagree and a gentlemen’s handshake. It’s unfortunate that more people who are obviously passionate about fitness and optimum human performance can’t seem to do that, as opposed to getting into counter-productive pissing matches. Unfortunately, that’s human nature.

  11. Harmony says

    Thanks for the great post Jason. I’ve recently been researching CrossFit gyms in my area to change up my workout and add to what I already do (yoga, Bar Method, some weight training on my own), as there are at least 3 or 4 that would potentially work for me (I’m in San Francisco). What recommendations would you have for specific questions to ask the owners, or information to compare, when trying to find one that is more focused on growth, good form and building strength safely, versus getting good numbers? I’ve taken intro classes at those that offer free ones, and have read the Yelp reviews and their blogs, but think some targeted questions to the main trainers would help me make the right choice. Since it is expensive, and most require at least a 3-month commitment, I want to make the right choice. Thanks so much!

    • JasonS says

      Again, CrossFit is not your only option and I would recommend researching trainers, not facilities. Remember, Sarah is not a CrossFit Trainer, and Robb Wolf was thrown out of CrossFit so long ago that he has changed the whole world since then. In any facility, try to get in front of the trainer you will be working with and ask the questions in my post.

  12. Wenchypoo says

    I, too, used to work for a “health club”, only there wasn’t much health going on–because it was privately owned, the owner would regularly raid the safe of cash payments to go out and buy cocaine. Yep, your membership payments and towel rental fees were going to feed his habit!

    He used to say that the best kind of member was the one who paid (via EFT) but didn’t use the club. He was right, and this still goes on today, whether it be outside gym memberships, or that bulky exercise equipment that adorns your spare bedroom or basement–you paid for it, so use it, or it’s just money down the drain…a guilt payment. A spandex meat market where you pay to play.

    Needless to say, this “health club” eventually closed, and the pool/hot tub company did some really nasty stuff to the building trying to repossess their property. Years later, it all got mowed down and turned into a retail store.

  13. Gwen says

    Hi Jason,

    Is there anything in particular we should watch out for when attending a crossfit gym? I took your advice from a previous blog post/comment and am going to see a trainer for the first time at crossfitseattle. It’s not Dave particularly, but its the same gym. I’m hoping that is a plus.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • JasonS says

      You are probably pretty safe at CrossFit Seattle. I would watch out for excessively long high intensity interval training, the portion of the workout that CrossFit calls “metcon”. I try to keep all our metcons to less than 15 minutes except on very rare occasions, and even then the movements performed are always taken into consideration. If the timed portion of their workouts is consistently longer than 20 minutes, run away.

      Also, any trainer you work with should be a stickler for form. If you are being pressured to perform a movement quickly before you are pressured to perform it well, again you should run away. This is fitness first, competition later, if ever.

  14. Aaron Brooks says

    I agree with your points on the industry but lets be real, this is captalism and in order for a business to survive money needs to be made. In accordance to that the fitness industry is behaving like car salesman, get as much as we can up front because I know I suck ass at training and your gonna be gone in 3 months. I’d also recommend a prospective clients to ask about there potential trainers sucess rate and how he/she derived that conclusion.

    I have personally encountered many individuals that dont understand basic Human Physiology or Human Anatomy, so how in the hell can you advise an individual on aspects that address physiological and anantomical change? Basic human biology and evolution state that unless the individual can find an anatomical tranfer of motion (taught by trainer/instructor) to there daily lives the effects of that motion are not fully relaized and often times overuse injuries result.

    I see that you made a reference to cross fit as an acceptable model of fitness. I do agree with that notion but I also point out crossfit along with all other acceptable models of exercise relvove around the same scientific classifications derived by the American College of Sport Medicine. These are not to be confused with the watered down version of F.I.T.T taught in most health clubs it goes more indepth.

    Intensity (Progressive Overload)-how hard the individual works and how gradual that stress increases or decreses.

    Specificity-The adapatiton is specific to the stimulus applied

    Variation-need for alterations to program varibles over time to allow development of the training stimulus. not all people progress the same. so there is no “end all be all” in exercise prescription.

    Duration-how long the individual exercises

    Mode-method of training the individual employees

    Periodization-How often the idividual changes the program

    Any program or meal instruction can prove effective if applied the correct way to that individuals metabolism. Problem is most people dont undertand metabolism but that’s a whole other argument.

  15. says

    Totally agree. But there are good trainers out there – I’m one of them. I think you just have to do some good research and then see if you can do some sort of trial period. You have to make sure the personalities mesh and that the trainer is up to date on his research. Stuff in our industry changes a lot – in that conventional wisdom was never accurate. So we are slowly figuring that out and the good one’s challenge CW and go against the grain to spread their message!

  16. Jennifer says

    … I train at Grapevine Crossfit, in Grapevine, TX (Jason – you’ve checked out their programming a little about a month ago), and it appears that they are great! we usually stick with 10-12 minute metcons, after a warmup and some skill work. They (Brandon and Bevin Head) pay VERY close attention to our form (though sometimes folks don’t seem to want to listen to their advice). I feel like I’m getting stronger and smarter every time I go workout (3 times a week).

    Great post, as usual, Jason. I’m sure I’m not alone with wishing I lived in Clackamas!

  17. Ely says

    I train at home using Body by Science and Moment Arm concepts and its has worked well for me, especially my joints. I train every 5th day – 20 minutes/workout

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