Fitness Is Not Religion

When a fitness professional tries to explain stuff to regular folk, you’re always at risk of being thwarted by “The Curse of Knowledge” (see Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book, Made to Stick): you start to take it for granted that everyone knows at least the basics.

But sometimes even the things that are considered non-controversial and conventional wisdom in the fitness industry are not necessarily common knowledge to the world at large.  By making assumptions about the base of knowledge of any given client, sometimes fitness pros unwittingly confuse folks.

Happily, when helping people go after their health and hotness goals, they sometimes say something offhand or ask a question that blows my mind.  I’m beyond grateful for these moments, because they help keep me in check and prevent me from making too many assumptions about what “everybody knows.”

Not long ago, I was having a chat with my friend (and Snatched in 6 Weeks Ninja alumni) Vanessa Ray.  While discussing the difficulty in figuring out who to listen to for fitness advice, Vanessa commented that it was hard to know what to do because fitness is like religion – the implication being that everyone has THEIR way of doing things, they tend to be deeply passionate about their beliefs, and no one is objectively right or wrong.

As a random aside,

Muscular Christianity was a movement in the Victorian era

that sought to combine Christian ideals

with fitness badassery.

I have many thoughts about this.

This blew my mind because I realized Vanessa’s concern was totally valid, understandable, and common.  To the layman, with the incredible variety of advice out there, it must seem like choosing a health and hotness strategy IS kind of like choosing a religion.

Knowing this is probably the case for many of you who read this, let me lovingly assure you: fitness is NOT religion.  I can’t stress enough that I totally understand why it would seem that way.  But fitness is not an opinion.   We’re not discussing completely unquantifiable concepts that by definition cannot be proven or disproven.

Fitness is measurable.  And while there is absolutely room for a lot of debate as to the optimal means of doing anything fitness related, the fact remains… you can try shit and see if it works.  Now this isn’t necessarily easy, because any experiment must control for factors that may effect the results.  If you’re not able to try a particular training or nutrition strategy with consistency for at least a few weeks, you will never know how your body responds.

And while there are some things that we know work for most people most of the time, intellectual honesty demands admitting that everyone is different.  I can tell you what I’ve discovered works for me.  I can tell you what seems to work for most people most of the time when I’m guiding someone on their journey.  I can tell you what the top professionals believe, and I can even point out research to support why I do what I do.  But ultimately… everyone is different.

However, even when accounting for these differences, there are certain things we DO know.  If you workout with weights in a sensible program you will get stronger.  If you eat less calories than your body needs to maintain its current body weight, you will lose weight.  If you tell me I’m very handsome and funny and a good writer, I’m going to like you and possibly buy you a drink.

You may think Buddha should lose a few lbs.

Joke’s on you sucka.

Buddha is a powerlifer and he squats 850 lbs.

In your face.

I spend a lot of my professional education sussing out the 10% of disagreement among folks much smarter than me.  But the reality is, for people who just want to be healthy and hot, there’s really not much disagreement.  That’s why people like Tracey Anderson make me NUTS.  Because they confuse you.  And I love you.  And I don’t want you to be confused.  Or get hurt. Or be unsuccessful in your pursuits.

So I encourage you to educate yourself, keep an open mind, and always be willing to hear out differing points of view.  But at the end of the day, please know that some methods DO work better and more safely than others.  And some methods are complete and utter bullshit made up by cynical douchebags who want to take your money by promising you quick results.  As a rule, if someone has a “super secret” method, or if it involves a magical supplement, or if it’s absurdly expensive or absurdly cheap, or if it requires “just a few minutes a day,” or if it’s on an infommerical… run away!!

I said it once and I’ll say it again: trust those who seek truth, be wary of those who’ve found it.  Methinks the world would be better off if we applied that dictum to all realms of human discourse.


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