I want you to think about how hard it is to become a lawyer or a doctor.
You’re probably thinking about all the schooling, late nights of studying, exams, volunteering, rotations at different practices, and the enormous amount of hours you need to put in in order to legally practice being a lawyer or doctor.
Now, I want you to think about what it takes to become a personal trainer or a nutritionist.
At best, you’re probably thinking about some PT certification you need to pay for along with passing a test to receive it.
Many of you may be struggling to think of anything.
I’ll let you in on a little secret about what you need in order to become an online personal trainer, nutritionist, health coach, or anything else similar.
Open up one of your social media accounts and type this in your bio:
“Online Personal Trainer
Customized workouts and meal plans made for YOU
Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started today!”
You’re now a personal trainer.
You may laugh at this, but it’s completely true. You don’t need any qualifications at all to become a “fitness coach”.
To be honest, the main “qualifications” you need are a great body, a semi-likable personality, and a decent-sized following (any big-name Instagram names come to mind?).
Let’s think about this logically: a personal trainer/nutritionist handles two of the most important parts of your life – your body and your food intake.
Two MAJORLY vital things to your survival.
And you don’t actually need any credentials to handle these for people. As long as you get someone to sign a waiver or PAR-Q form, you’re good to go!
It may be a little clearer now on why there is SO much conflicting information available when it comes to diet and exercise.
When these people with tons of followers, followers who trust everything that comes out of that person’s mouth and are borderline cults, it is very easy for inaccurate information to spread like wildfire. Luckily, this also means good information from experts can easily spread too, but there are much fewer experts so they often get drowned out by the shear mass of bullshit artists.
I wanted to write this article not to bash social media or the people who are making a living via using social media, to each their own, but instead to help you filter through all the misinformation by understanding what red flags you should be aware of when trying to find out who you should consider trusting in the fitness industry (I will include a full list of people to follow in Part 2).
While this may not seem like an important topic to some, you have to understand the terrible stories I’ve heard from clients and through other coaches in the industry about people having serious health/psychological issues after working with certain “coaches” who have no idea what the hell they’re doing.
I’m very passionate about this because these “coaches” and “teams” give other good coaches a bad name and most importantly, they don’t care about you and your health, they just want more money.
That’s fucked up and they deserve to lose.
To preface this list, I want to address the fact there are so many red flags and misconceptions I won’t be mentioning, but these, in my opinion, are the ones that are most important when seeking the truth and identifying a fitness bullshit artist.
I show some "tough love" in some of these points, but it's because sometimes that harsh reality is what you may need to actually facilitate a positive change.
I am more than guilty to falling for every single one of these.
I made this list so you don't have to.
Red Flag #1: Lack of “credentials”
You’ll notice I put quotes around credentials; I did this because when people think of “credentials” they automatically think I’m assuming I mean degrees and letters behind someone’s name.
Yes and no.
I know many coaches who don’t have a degree in exercise science or nutrition, but are some of the greatest coaches in the industry.
I also know many coaches and people in the industry who have PhD’s and Master’s degrees in exercise science and nutrition (or MD’s who try to give advice in fields unrelated to their own), but they use these as leverage for why people should automatically believe what they say is true. I’ll get more into this later in Part 2.
What “credentials” to look for in a good coach:
Are they a good person?
Genuine, integrity, kind, respectful, open-minded, client-oriented, etc.
Have they had schooling or have certifications in their field of expertise?
If yes, that’s great because it means they at least have some base knowledge and have made an effort to learn more, but stay skeptical if they have any of the other red flags I mention.
If no, do they have anecdotal evidence with a large base of clientele that speak highly of them, have adequate personal experience (multiple years) in the field, have lived the experiences they coach people on (a contest prep coach should probably have competed before) and do they meet the other criteria?
Have they produced results with a large amount of people on a consistent basis and have reasonable client testimonials that not only speak on their coaching abilities, but on their characteristics as person (integrity, respectful, etc.)?
Red Flag #2: They are more concerned with being right instead of wanting to know the truth
This one is HUGE and I could write a whole article on this red flag alone.
These are the coaches I referred to above who immediately get defensive when someone questions their beliefs. These coaches will have their methods challenged by someone and will instantly respond with a logical fallacy such as calling that person stupid or dumb and not actually give a logical response explaining why they believe what they do.
These people usually have big ego’s and are worried people will think they’re stupid if they ever say they don’t know something. They have certain beliefs about topics and refuse to consider any other alternatives, even in the presence of scientific evidence, which reminds me of a great quote:
How to identify a quality coach:
They want what is best for their clients.
This means they are comfortable when people question their beliefs and actually encourage questions because they aren’t emotionally attached to any one way to do something, they simply want to know what works best for getting their clients results.
They are comfortable saying the words “I don’t know”.
If they say they don’t know something, they’ll usually refer you to someone else who does know, or they’ll look up the information themselves and get back to you.
- They’re willing to change their minds about previous methods they believed in.
- Again, this egoless way of coaching puts the truth first instead being romantic about something they’ve done in the past if they’re presented with new and valid information.
Red Flag #3: Thinking a large following = credible and valid information
This is a combination of an authority bias and the bandwagon effect. Meaning, just because the person is very famous and has a large influence over a lot of people, who blindly believe in what this person says, does NOT mean their advice is credible (Hitler, anyone?).
One person (out of tons of other examples) that sticks out in my mind as of recently is Dan Bilzerian. I am a fan of Dan’s, to be honest, until recently when he’s started to give out nutritional advice to his 22 million loyal Instagram followers. Dan is a professional poker player and has zero credibility giving out diet and exercise advice besides the fact that he is in good shape himself (which also means essentially nothing when it comes to credibility. More on that later).
If Dan started giving out advice on what prescription medications to take, the response to this would be laughable, but since it’s on food and diet it makes it okay? Not at all.
When you take a step back and really think about this, it makes sense, but when you idolize someone and really look up to them for advice, it's very easy to rationalize with yourself that that person knows what they're talking about even when it's not in their field of expertise.
Many of you will likely disagree with Donald Trump being our president because he has no political background whatsoever, but yet, you buy some bikini model's "individualized" diet and exercise plan because she has a great ass (or shredded abs for dudes), is charismatic/nice, and has over 500,000 followers?
Ah, the irony.
Which brings me to my next point.
Red Flag #4: Thinking someone with a desirable physique = credible and valid information
This one is so massively important because it is so damn common. I may rustle some jimmies with this, so please bare with me and hear me out.
Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger (or The Rock) got a great physique from doing “X” workout/diet plan, does not mean their way works the best for most people.
Just because your favorite YouTuber/IG fitness model got a great physique from doing “X” workout/diet plan, does not mean their way works the best for most people.
Just because Adrian Peterson or Lebron James or Tom Brady got a great physique from doing “X” workout/diet plan, does not mean their way works the best for most people.
Just because your favorite fashion model, movie star, or blogger got great results from doing “X” workout/diet plan, does not mean their way works the best for most people.
See the trend here?
I hope I don’t come off as being condescending here, but it’s so important for you to understand that saying, “Well it worked for them/me” does not actually mean anything for other people.
If you found it to work for you, that’s awesome! Pumped you got results. But please don’t go around telling people it’s the best way to do something and yet, this is exactly what so many coaches try to use as an excuse for validating their methods.
This point brings up what might be one of the biggest paradoxes in fitness:
The biggest guys at the gym are 90% of the time not the smartest/best person to go to for advice.
Your favorite IG fitness model or YouTube sensation who is attractive and charismatic is likely spewing out bullshit, but it sounds good because they’re ripped or have a great body.
That huge jacked bodybuilder or bikini model you see in a magazine giving out their “exact” diet and workout program probably doesn't have much rationale behind WHY he/she is doing what they're doing and will get results doing anything because of the large dosages of drugs they’re on (yes, girls too).
The issue with listening to the biggest guy at the gym or listening to the girl who has a body you want is that YOU are different than THEM.
2 main reasons to be careful listening to these celebrities and social media fitness "gurus" and "coaches":
Their parents could be freaks of nature athletes with awesome genetics and they put on muscle and very little fat REGARDLESS of how smart and advanced their diet or training is. These people can look at weights and get jacked and shredded. Many of these girls were born with naturally muscular legs, big butts, and small waists.
Genetics matter WAY more than people want to give credit for. Most elite athletes would be elite athletes in whatever sport they pursued, not because they worked the hardest and/or the smartest. Think about how many NBA players there are under 6ft. Not too many.
2.] Drugs and/or Photoshop
Most of these social media fitness models use their bodies and appearance as their business. Same with A-list celebrities, models, and actors/actresses.
It’s their full-time job to look good.
It's how they feed themselves and their families.
You don't think they may have some incentive to do drugs or tweak a photo or 20 in order to make some more cash, all while spewing you BS about how their magic "Teatox" or supplement got them to look that way? Yes, even girls will use drugs and implants to deceive you into thinking their exercise programs and diet plans got them to look like that.
Let's use our head here, guys. Looking like these people are not realistic for 85% of the population and I can promise you, you won't look like them just by doing exactly what they do, just like you won’t look the same as me by doing exactly the same diet and exercise regimen as me. It doesn't work that way because we're all made up differently.
This is such a huge point I want to make and it’s why I’m spending more time on this red flag, because people are comparing themselves to these celebrities and are using that as the standard or what is defined as “normal” when in actuality it is so far from the truth.
I want you to make a promise to me that you will stop comparing yourself to these people you look up to because it is only setting you up for failure and self-confidence issues by having these drastically unrealistic expectations. Inspiration from them is great, but they should not be your norm.
See below for some real truth insight on how some of this stuff works. This young model went back and edited the captions to some of her most popular pictures. [Source]
Red Flag #5: Blindly using “old school” methods and refusing to change
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper had an awesome quote for this:
You typically hear this from older coaches who have tons of “experience” and they use their “experience” as an excuse to keep doing something that is outdated, even in the presence of new information disproving their old beliefs.
“I’ve been doing this for 17 years son, I think I know what I’m doing.”
Sorry, old-timer, but innovation doesn’t give a fuck about you and just because you’ve been doing something for a really long time doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do something.
If Henry Ford listened to this advice, we’d all still be riding horses right now instead of driving cars.
You’ll also hear this from all the “hardcore” lifters who are all about doing stuff the “old-school” way.
You know exactly who I’m talking about, the ones who say science is stupid, and all you need to do is “EAT CLEAN AND TRAIN DIRTY”.
To a certain degree, their masochist, “no pain, no gain” attitude is correct. Eating mostly “clean” (whatever that actually means) whole food sources and training with a high intensity is absolutely necessary to get the results you want, but it is a very generalized and overly-simplified way of doing things.
This method will work for beginners because you can do practically anything as a beginner and make progress. But as you get more experienced in the weight room, the smarter you have to lift because progress will begin to slow down if you don't have an optimized training plan.
Luckily, we now have technology and science to rationalize certain training and nutrition strategies that will allow us to get as close to “optimal” as possible. Many things work, but not all methods are optimal and that’s what these dogmatic coaches are missing due to their unwillingness to be open-minded.
End of Part 1
Unfortunately, since there is so much to cover, Red Flags #6-8 will be addressed in part 2 and I'm going to include a full list of people you SHOULD follow, so stay tuned for that and to find out 3 more ways to spot a fitness bullshit artist. ;)
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