A Few Health and Fitness Advice Red Flags

Photo by Pixabay

This article will be more aggressive than my other works, so be warned. It is easy to see a ton of information swimming around as a fitness professional. So much information flows from person to person. As anyone who played the game Telephone, the original message no longer represents its original form as it moves down the pipeline. Other information comes from individual experiences, which is fine, but it is more important to understand just because something works for someone, that does not mean it will work for you. In this article, I will be discussing a few common issues I notice in the fitness industry.

If someone acts as they know it all, they probably do not know much:

The Dunning Kruger Effect refers to the confidence level to how much knowledge a person has on a topic. Individuals who know very little about a given topic tend to think they know a great deal and cannot help themselves from advising everyone they come across. When people know a good deal about a topic, they also understand that there is so much more they do not understand and may feel like they know very little. Experts usually have a good understanding of what they know and do not know. I find myself somewhere between the last two. While my specialty is in training, nutrition is just something I am well versed in; however, no matter what stage you find yourself in, you should keep learning. Health professionals who are constantly trying to learn more are often the best people to listen to, not always because they have the best, up-to-date information, but because they keep looking to learn. There are resources for information on health and fitness that may not have ideas that align but follow the same underlying principles. Jeff Nippard and Alex Bromley disagree, but both give great advice and information.

The Dunning Kruger Effect is not the only way people act like a know-it-all. A big issue I find is when people never refer to others. It is a major red flag to me when someone refuses to refer to someone else when they are not as knowledgeable on a subject. Even the biggest names in the field like Eric Helms, Layne Norton, Mike Israetal, and others understand they do not know everything and refer to other work. When individuals act like they have every answer, it becomes a signal to take their information with a grain of salt. This same issue can take another form. When people act like their answer is the only answer. Many solutions in fitness are invalid until given without context. The health and fitness fields are complicated because everyone is different. Some people gain more fat than others, some gain muscle faster than others, and some have better anatomical structures for sport. One size fits all answers are just not adequate. Some people think intermittent fasting is the best diet method, while others consider keto is the best diet. In reality, both are situationally beneficial. Context is needed to give high-quality and accurate health advice. The answer will be lengthy to address different scenarios if the fitness question is not specific.

There are not many new things in fitness:

Health and fitness are an interesting beast when it comes to research. Some fitness professionals and influencers pretend they have brand new exercises and products, but they are not novel. Most fitness-related scientific literature that I have seen clarifies phenomenon we already know. Occasionally, new training techniques become prominent, but they all work on the same principles as everything else. Some people will present their work as, “Oh, I know something the rest of the industry does not know.” Often these people offer exercises and training methods using weird things such as a weighted squat on a Bosu ball. Fitness training is not complicated. There are thousands of supported training methods, but they all follow the same principles. New and creative exercises have their place, but proper new movements follow the same foundation as everything else. There is no holy grail of training.

Many fitness professionals like to market that they found the secret to avoiding counting calories, which is tedious at best. While this is a reason to find alternatives to counting calories or macros, at the end of the day, the only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit. Now, there is no NEED to count calories or macros to create a caloric deficit if you know what foods are high in calories or low in calories and which foods are not filling and which ones are very filling. And to gain weight, you would make the opposite decision. As far as I know, there is no secret food or supplement to enhance weight loss or gain. It should be a red flag when someone promotes any food or supplements as a secret to weight gain or loss.

Promotion of Silly Exercises:

As noted, some fitness professionals and gurus will promote silly exercises. These exercises include overly complex movements, extremely reduced range of motion movements, and overly gimmicky movements. Unfortunately, there is not a shortage of people like these, but if I am going to criticize one size, I have to admit, there is a difference between goals. Where some people push crap exercises, other people may have different goals. On YouTube, some individuals have exercise videos that are not designed for their audience to be active in a fun and engaging way, rather than hypertrophy or fat-loss. And that is awesome. I preach to my clients that being consistently active is more important than finishing every workout.

Back to these fitness gurus, first, overly complicated exercises: Exercises that include too many moving parts can often backfire and cause people to get hurt or attain the wrong benefit. Overcomplicated lifts are commonplace in the “functional athlete” field. These movements are geared towards athletes when in reality, these movements are only good for getting better at those movements. It is better to separate the strength and athletic components concerning improving athletic ability. Optimizing muscle growth, safety, and strength development requires a stable training environment. Then that new strength can be ingrained during skill training. Once you learn how to use your muscular strength in your chosen sport, then you can take it back to practice and competition. The issue is when strength training and skill training are combined, you may run the risk of just getting better at doing the exercise instead of improving strength, speed, etc. Usually, functional athletic training is a red flag to me.

Another thing I see some fitness professionals promote is extreme reductions in the range of motion for the “contraction” over anything else. I am unaware of any research supporting the notion that sacrificing range of motion for the contraction is beneficial for optimal size and strength growth. Not only this but some movements are focused more on the stretch than the contraction. The stretch and contraction components of exercises (stretch reflex) are highly beneficial so excluding it for a more intense contraction is suboptimal. In conjunction with the importance of the stretch reflex, the eccentric portion of a movement (lowering phase) often is more hypertrophic than the concentric. Isometric exercises create more force than concentric and less force than the eccentric component; however, these movements only increase strength within 30 degrees of the position. In reality, all the parts of a given exercise are vital to maximizing hypertrophy and strength gains. I would warn against advice that recommends a limited range of motion, but I would be amiss if I said they do not have their advantages. One such technique is to use a reduced range of motion after failure to continue adding stimulus. Using a reduced range of motion after muscle failure is just one of many techniques. The point is to be wary of advice to reduce the range of motion. I am not saying it is not valuable in certain situations, but it can be if not paired with caveats.

Finally, there are the gimmick exercises. There is no shortage of gimmick exercises. Lifts and movements that focus on the burning sensation will often fall into this category. One such example is placing your hands in a prayer position, squeezing them together, and acting like pressing them upwards will do anything. Contracting or holding the arm musculature in general yields the same result. Other situations like, “achieve this in 30 days” or “fat-burning workout in 25 minutes” is just as misleading. While both scenarios have benefits, such as getting people up and active, they also misdirect people. Will there be significant changes in body composition in 30 days? Probably not. Is a 25-minute workout going to burn fat? No. These workout products prey on the desire for quick and easy results, and as much as I would like to admit they will work, they do not. One of the most frustrating parts of misleading tactics is that many people promoting these things know better, but they have some internal motivation to push it. I will not say I am privy to the motives of supplement mongers, but I do not believe it is always to better the lives of others.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is:

Without naming names, there are plenty of products that promise to make your journey easier. Some products make your journey easier, of course, but many do not. Most supplements fall under this umbrella. People forget what supplement means. It is vital to have the foundation of your fitness journey implemented than to take any supplement. Training, sleep, nutrition, and recovery are far more important than any supplement. Even protein shakes are not nearly as vital as some people believe it is if you already get enough protein in your diet. The purpose of supplements is to fill in a missing element or enhance what you are already doing. Commonly recommended supplements, such as turkesterone, ecdysterone, and over-the-counter fat-burning products, lack evidence to support their effectiveness. The former two have made a recent resurgence in the fitness industry despite not having much to back up their potency. Fat-burning supplements are a well-known scam to health-conscious people but will still catch newcomers with their promise of faster results or less work.

Other products fall into this category as well. Again, not naming names, often when a marketed product says it hacks something, it does not explain the whole picture or how it is beneficial. Other products are redundant at best, providing something that already exists but at a much higher price tag. The marketing will focus on how one movement is deficient and how their product solves this. An example of this kind of marketing is a barbell for sale with sliding handles that helps with chest contraction, but the flaw is that dumbbell bench pressing exists. While innovations in fitness equipment allow for more accessibility is welcome, there is also equipment designed merely to make a dollar.

This issue does not just end with supplements and products. Some advice falls under this category as well. Many fitness influencers will advise without being transparent about their drug use to achieve their own goals. Many fitness influencers may give poor advice to their audience. Some influencers will neglect to disclose their PED use while pushing advice to their majority natural audience. Others may provide just misleading tailored advice that sounds like what people want rather than what people need. For example, some advice such as, “you only need 20 minutes of cardio a week.” Advice like this seems easy and will entice many people to follow it. However, the audience will be confused why they are not getting the results they want. Most advice that seems too good to be true is too good to be true.

Conclusion:

There is a fair bit of poor fitness advice floating in the ether, and while some form of poor advice will always exist, the best thing we can do is point it out or put out as much good information as possible. The unfortunate thing is that most good advice is not exciting nor new, but it will often lead to the best results. Further disappointing is that poor advice and misleading marketing only affects newcomers in the fitness world and may lead them down a path that will ultimately cause them to reject getting healthy altogether.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Quentin Washington

Quentin Washington

I am an exercise physiologist and online fitness/nutrition coach. If you like what I write here, check out my website: https://greathammerfitness.webflow.io/