In my early days on Fitocracy, I thought the owners obsession with Lean Gains and their desire to argue it ad nauseum with all comers endearing, if misguided. It's something I was glad to see them grow out of. I was also irritated by the circle jerk with their friends trying to break into the business of "professional training but really overpaid accountability partners telling you what you already know charging money with no relevant qualifications". That was something I hoped would go away as the business grew.
Fast forward a year and here we are: getting people not even qualified to train customers at a 24hr Fitness direct mailed and blasted up and down the site. I'm going to keep beating this drum because all these wanna be "fitness professionals" circle jerking in Fitocracy land think they're a special breed. They may be, but not in a good way. What set this off? A week ago, spam about BlackoutTrainer. Today spam about SoheeLee. To be clear, I'm a paid member of Fito and have been fully unsubscribed from all mailing lists, yet I'm still bombarded with this nonsense.
Before I elaborate I want to define a couple of terms:
- expert. a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particularfield; specialist; authority:
- guru. any person who counsels or advises for compensation
An expert is Steve Pulcinella, Dave Tate, Louie Simmons, Glenn Pendlay - people who have paid their dues and demonstrated on every level why they are what they say they are (though rarely do these caliber of individuals go around selling themselves, because they don't have to). Success as a competitor, as a student, as a teacher, and a track record of working with people better than themselves in all of those roles, means a lot.
A guru is Kellie Davis, Sohee Lee, Chase Erwin (Blackout Trainer). No relevant peer based certifications, no experience training around or under any generally recognized experts, and no apparent relevant education. These people have hordes of Fito followers and are actively promoted often even via direct mail by Fitocracy. These are people who have some individual success story that I am, to be clear, in NO WAY attempting to marginalize. They're also people who I believe to be well meaning individuals who truly want to help others.
Let me explain a few things:
- Surviving a hardship in your life does not make you an expert. "Surviving" anorexia does not make you a qualified dietary consultant or nutrition planner.
- Achieving a fitness goal does not make you an expert. Starting out at 12% body fat with no muscle mass, following Lean Gains for 6 months and adding 10 pounds of muscle and an adonis belt in no way qualifies you to coach others.
- Becoming a professional model or bodybuilder does not make you an expert. You were a little chunky, dropped a few pounds and started doing fitness modelling or competing? That's awesome, good for you. It does not mean that you're qualified to charge people with promises of them getting the same results you did.
- Having a lot of internet friends does not make you an expert. Just because you have reach doesn't mean you're qualified. Fox News has incredible reach, and it's overloaded with lies and bullshit. Like most fitness gurus.
- Having a referral circle jerk amongst your friends doesn't make you an expert. Nuff said.
- Successfully reading and comprehending the Lean Gains (Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5x5, whatever) does not make you an expert. You're not an authority because you know all of coach Rip's form cues by heart and can regurgitate for days the reasons you should never bend your wrists while squatting.
I cannot fault a person for trying to make a living however they see fit. I absolutely cannot fault a person for pursuing what they love as a profession. Starting your own business, improving yourself, helping others improve themselves - fantastic. And I certainly can't fault you for being a beginner. Everyone is a beginner at one time or another.
What I can fault you for is this: thinking you get to start at the finish line. Falling victim to Dunning Kruger Effect the minute you acheive a bit of personal success with your fitness. Thinking that it's OK to drum up some internet fans, use your own personal success story to label yourself a specialist, and charge money for advice that people can easily get for free from far more qualified people. Not just can, DO: they get it every day from leangains.com, from elitefts.com, from t-nation.com, from 70sbig.com and liftbigeatbig.com and lift-run-bang.com and chaosandpain.com - get the idea?
Readers, let me start with a question: do you think every person you see performing any given act, or achieving any given goal, is by commission of that act or achievement qualified to coach you in achieving the same? Do you think every hot woman you see on TV can turn you into a just-as-hot-as-her-goddess? Because this is the premise of most of the gurus, including the ones I've called out.
Imagine if you could practice medicine after a few weeks of studying an anatomy text with no liability. The money you could make! Imagine if you could become a civil engineer by looking at a Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table book? Imagine if you could become an internet based strength and conditioning expert by gaining 10 pounds of muscle and reading a Mark Rippetoe book?
So gurus, here's a question: if your clients are too lazy to educate themselves enough to run StrongLifts 5x5 or Lean Gains, why do you think you can make them successful? Can you fill in that missing drive? What makes you capable of motivating someone by sheer internet-based remote long distance force of will? What could you possibly expect in terms of effort and committment from a person who can't even read a few articles and try it themselves?
Better yet, would you even put them on an existing well known and respected program or put your ego first and write a custom program for the rankest of beginner? Even further, if the service you're offering is nothing more than accountability (to whatever extent that can even be delivered on the fucking internet), shouldn't you be honest about it and call a spade a spade? I explicitly left FitJerk out of that guru list specifically because of this - he sells himself primarily as someone who will push you and hold you accounable, NOT as the end all be all of fitness knowledge.
Fitocracy, here's one for you: who do you want to be in business with? Is it in your best interest to partner up with every aesthetically pleasing wannabe fitness expert you can? Or should you hold out for the RogLaw and Pulcinella partnerships and say "no thanks" to your friends with no qualifications but big social networks? How much is your credibility as a business worth?
It all comes down to being honest with yourself, and reflecting that honesty in how you conduct your personal and professional lives.
Chew on this: If your expertise is purely theoretical, then your client's payments should be purely theoretical too.