Re-imagining the Fitness Industry

Why do you work out?  Why do you eat the way you do?  What is your end-goal?  While these questions may seem simple on the surface, I think it’s time we took a good, hard look at what truly motivates us and why.

You see, the fitness industry is ill.  It’s been infected by negative images, misinformation, and too many people trying to sell you on why you aren’t good enough, and how to fix it.  I can’t stand it any more.  Nothing drives me up the wall like listening to good, caring, hard-working people talk about how they hate their bodies, about how they’ll starve themselves to lose 5 more pounds, about how they just wish they looked like this, or could get rid of that fat under their arm.  And don’t think I’m only talking about women:  men are in the same boat, though the overall pressure on them to fit into a certain body-type is arguably different.

Let’s take a look at different messages we are fed by the media, our peers, and ourselves, why they suck, and how things could be so much better.

(Courtesy of photoshop.)

Misconception #1:  It’s all about calories in, calories out.  If you want to be tiny, eat less, exercise more.  It’s on you, and if you can’t motivate yourself to NOT EAT, then it’s YOUR FAULT.  Just stop eating carbs, stop eating fat, only eat 100 calorie snack-packs, never eat late at night, drink plenty of slim fast, and take these 20 supplements.  All will be well.

Truth Slap:  Food supports our lives, makes us vital, and keeps us healthy.  It is a critical part of community building.  We would not be alive without it!  So yeah, I’m pretty freaking thankful for food.  However, it’s NOT about calories.  It’s about REAL FOOD.  There is too much evidence and research about how hormones and the brain regulate body fat.  Guess what, your body WANTS TO BE HEALTHY!  Being overweight and in pain, unable to sleep, moody, etc – your body HATES THAT STUFF.  

The problem started when we stopped eating real food.  Take a look at the two images below.  Intuitively, you know which one is more nutritious.  Even after being so far removed from the process of how we get our food, you can recognize this.  Even after being spoon-fed images of “healthy chicken nuggets” and all that other nonsense, something deep inside of you still KNOWS what it wants.  Your body craves nutrition.  It craves energy to keep up the biological processes that keep you healthy and alive, and able to procreate (score!).

chicken_300 Smart-Ones-Chic-Fett

Also well-researched are the crippling, addictive effects of processed foods, and how they create psychological dependence.  So what’s the solution?  Clean out your food environment.  Go into the cupboards and throw out all the so-called “food” that you know IS NOT FOOD.  Then go to the grocery store and load up on meat, eggs, fish, veggies, fruit, sweet potatoes, and get some healthy oils to cook in like coconut, olive, and maybe some Kerry Gold butter.  Make a stir-fry with the above ingredients.  Eat until full.  Pay attention to how your body responds, how you feel.  Are your moods more even?  Do you have more energy?  Does your weight start to even out to a healthy range?  Awesome.

It still is going to be f*cking hard.  Don’t let me give you that misconception.  But if you have that community around you to support you, YOU WILL MAKE IT!  That is why I love the idea of gyms, and why I hate how most of them operate.  There is no support.  There is no love.  There is only an exchange of money.  It’s total B.S.

To review:  Food supports our lives, and is the first step towards good-health.  It is not punishment.  It is not guilt.  And no, if you slip up YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON.  Just keep swimming.  You’ll make it to the other side eventually.


Misconception #2:  You should look like those people in the fitness magazines.  Incredibly lean, muscular, toned, etc. etc.  If you do a lot of long-distance running, or follow this 90-day high intensity interval program, or push yourself so hard that you puke and feel like shit for the rest of the day, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get there.  But only if you have good genes.

Truth Slap:  Body image in today’s society is warped.  We are never good enough, never appreciative of the AMAZING MIRACLE THAT OUR BODY IS.  We could always lose a little bit more fat, always tone up a little more there, always be a little bit better.  Now, I applaude the desire for self-improvement.  In fact, the personal journey of strength and perseverance are, in my book, the best part about training.  Being healthy as a result is just a bonus.  It’s time to get your mind right.  Why do you train, really?  I train to be healthy.  To be vital.  To be strong so that I might serve others and enrich their lives.  I train to play, to be joyful, to express my humanity and personality through movement.  So I ask again, why do you train?  And will it keep you motivated day-after-day, year-after-year, for the rest of your life?  Will it help you EXPAND your horizons in all directions?

It took me a long time to realize this.  Listen, I’ve been there.  I’ve looked in the mirror and only seen what’s NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  That’s why I’m hesitant to post pictures of myself, because I’m worried I will perpetuate that misconception.  That people will think that my authority comes from how I look.  Instead, shouldn’t it come from content of character?  From intelligence, compassion, and inner strength?  And yes, physical activity is an amazing way to relate with your body, to challenge your boundaries, and to EXPRESS THE JOY OF MOVEMENT AND OF HUMANITY!  And it’s probably going to take something more than me ranting at you to help you actualize this in your own life.  But even if I just plant a seed, then that’s something.

To review:  Why do you workout?  Once you find the answer to this, you’ll have a much better understanding of what you need to do going forward.  But please, PLEASE, be thankful for your body and all that it does for you.  Test your limits, but don’t arrogantly push past them.  And if you need help, find a coach who is willing to meet you where you are and who shares the same values you have for yourself.  It is worth whatever you will spend on it if it helps you enrich your life.  Which brings me to my next point.


Misconception #3:  Gyms are places where people go to run on a treadmill, zone out, and get their miles in.  Maybe you’ll talk to a couple of people you know from church, and maybe one of the staff will know your name.  Maybe you’ll even hire a personal trainer who will put you through your paces and hold you somewhat accountable.  Anyway, it should be cheap because this is just an extra expense.

Truth Slap:  Gyms, as they are today, are worthless.  Have you ever seen Dodgeball?  I love that movie for how it pokes the entire industry full of holes that are absolutely accurate.  Where did the idea of gyms even come from?  I like to think it came out of our community-building enterprises in an effort to support interpersonal growth, camaraderie, and health.

When you walk into a gym, every single staff person should know your name.  They should greet you within the first 5 seconds, and genuinely be happy to see you.  They should be dedicated to helping you reach your goals through proper movement screening to make sure you get an individualized program that WILL MAKE SURE YOU SUCCEED AND DONT’ GET HURT.  They should engage you in an ongoing dialogue about your fitness journey and listen to what the eff you have to say.  Your opinion should be #1, but they can help guide you through their knowledge and expertise.  And guess what, it probably won’t be cheap because as I’ve already said there is a ton of ingrained misinformation in this industry, and the people who dedicate their lives to coaching also dedicate themselves to wading through that stinky river of poop every day to navigate you safely to the other side.  They should create an environment that encourages healthy body image and a community in which everyone is there to support each other. (Because as I said before, change is HARD.)

There is always more to learn and ways to grow as a coach.  It is why I find the work so fulfilling and exhausting and reinvigorating all at the same time.  That being said, just because someone charges $100/hour doesn’t mean they are worth it.  Make sure they are delivering and what you need or GET OUT!

To review:  Think of the community building aspects of fitness.  About coming together over a table of healthy food to share with friends.  About running a race together.  About supporting each other through tough times.  These are things that we do at Force Fitness, and they are also the things of which I am most proud.  Gyms should be a hub for a community of like-minded individuals who are dedicated to their health and fitness not only to enrich their own lives, but the lives of others.  The coaches should actually care about what they do and who you are, and if they don’t, then get out of there as quickly as possible.  Even if you had to pay a cancellation fee, it would be worth it to avoid the B.S.

So, in total, I guess my point is this.  Language is powerful.  Images are powerful.  Our own self talk is powerful.  Our fitness community can be powerful.  We need to harness it – to learn to talk about choices and consequences without assigning personal worth to our food choices.  We need to take stock of why it is we work out, and what we’re really getting out of it.  We need to build vibrant communities based around the pursuit of personal and societal health.  We need to cut the crap about how we aren’t good enough.  We need to look out for each other.  We need to beat down the misconceptions about health and fitness and turn the industry around.

The revolution is here.  The time is now.  Let’s change why we come together at the gym.  Let’s learn to appreciate ourselves, our community, and our lives.  Let’s get swept up in how we can help others through our own journey of self-improvement.  Let’s turn this whole industry on its head and become a unified force for positivity and good.


3 thoughts on “Re-imagining the Fitness Industry

  1. paleoflash

    Great article Matt. Our editors put in in our “PRIMAL BUZZ” section today. Thanks for tackling these common misconceptions that hold people back. Awesome.

  2. Pingback: Sunday February 10, 2013 | 2by30

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