When it comes to fitness, there is no shortage of confusion. Every time you check Facebook or google a simple question about dieting, you’re bombarded by conflicting information. Where a simple answer should be, a pile of non answers and bad science is instead. It’s pretty daunting to try to separate fact from fiction, and not everyone is up to the task. That’s why most people take the advice of the first person with an impressive physique to offer them their 2 cents.
If this has been your experience, you’re not alone. We all go through a similar series of events when we start to go down the path of taking control of our fitness. The confusion we all feel when trying to navigate the fitness space may seem crazy and completely unruly, but it it possible to sort it all out. Most of this conflicting information can be sorted into 3 main categories:
- False Marketing Claims
The first two categories are simply origins of factually incorrect information, once you label something as either False Marketing Claims or Misinformation, you can ignore it. Irrelevance is a trickier category to deal with because the information isn’t clearly false. In this article, we’ll dive into why each of these categories exist and how you can navigate them to ensure you’re doing the right things to build muscle, burn fat, gain strength, and improve your health.
False Marketing Claims
We live in an age with greater access to information than ever before. If a friend says something at the bar we don’t believe, we no longer sit and debate it. Instead, we type a few entries into google and Ta-Dah! we have the answer.
Given this, you’d think it would be impossible to make bogus claims about a product you’re trying to sell people. Certainly, this must be the case if we are trying to market a worthless supplement to millions of people, however, we know that’s not the case. The fitness industry is completely bloated with the false claims and empty promises of a never-ending line of terrible products.
Why is that? Why can do many people get away with spreading fiction when the truth is at our fingertips?
Well, the truth is that we’re sort-of to blame for this. The end result of living a fit and healthy lifestyle is sexy – more energy, defined muscles, greater sex appeal – but being told that the way to achieve that goal is hard work sustained over a long amount of time is less appealing. So when someone comes around saying they can make achieving our goals easier and faster we want to believe them so badly that we buy into whatever they’re selling. This want is the basis for so many worthless supplements, diet brands, and exercise franchises. It’s the foundation that the good & bad parts of the fitness industry, and even fitness research, are built on. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something we need to be aware of.
One aspect of these marketing claims that we’re not to blame for is the way fitness companies tell stories without saying anything. Suggestive Imagery is an advertising method in which images are arranged in order to tell a story without ever explicitly telling a story. It’s the reason beer companies have commercials of regular looking guys with supermodels, and supplement ads with stock images of dudes with six-packs. All of these images are arranged to tell a story and propose an association: ”Attractive women want guys that like our beer” and ”This supplement gave this guy a six-pack!” are two phrases that you’ll never see on any of these ads, simply because it’d be idiotic for companies to outright state them. But simply tell the story with imagery you never have to make a claim about a products’ effectiveness, the customer will assume it.
The most egregious sign that suggestive imagery is being employed is the image of a drug-enhanced athlete coupled with the advertisement. In this case, it’s even possible that the athlete did use this supplement/equipment/program being advertised but that’s not what gave them the results; the drugs are. In cases that an enhanced athletes physique is being used to promote a product but steroid use is not disclosed, there is something fishy going on with that product.
Not all companies in the fitness industry are lying through their teeth to get your business. For instance, Legion Athletics promotes practices like full transparency when it comes to their supplement line. This means that the ingredients and doses in all Legion products are explained thoroughly on the website. There are no ambiguous pictures next to their products suggesting end results, results are clearly claimed. Lastly, their entire sales pitch is built around the notion that supplements on their own will not build a great physique, only proper training and nutrition will do that. However, when done on top of proper training and nutrition, supplements can provide a small boost in results.
The best protection against false marketing claims in the fitness industry is thinking critically about the information you’re presented with. Ask yourself if the claims that are being made sound too good to be true. Identify any associations the product may be promoting but not claiming outright. Lastly, try to learn more about the company making the claims. Many companies will try to have some sort of public persona online that they control, but they don’t control people’s comments and reviews of their products. Investigate on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc, and see what people are saying about them. The best companies not only keep a good image on these platforms, they have an active outreach to their customer base providing free training and nutrition advice, as well as community support.
Look, your friends cousin Karen selling those fitness “wraps” online doesn’t know what the hell shes talking about. The same goes for your gym bro friend that’s telling you need to eat chicken and broccoli to build muscle. In all likelihood, neither of these people are lying to you about these things but their advice reeks of the same stench as those BS Marketing Claims.
Your friends online aren’t likely to actually be small corporations trying to scam a buck from you. As far as they know, they’re being honest and genuine about what they’re selling. They’re not liars, they’re just misinformed.
Misinformation is often the trickle down effect of false marketing claims. Eventually those BS claims take root in consumers’ minds and they start to repeat the information to their friends and family. What makes this so much hard to deal with than bad marketing is that there’s no malice behind it.
The best way to deal with misinformation is to learn who are reliable sources of information. Personally, I assume most people are unreliable when it comes to understanding the science of nutrition and fitness until they prove otherwise. That way when someone makes a recommendation my default action is to question the credibility of the statement. If they have intelligible responses to my questions, I can look into it and see if they know what they’re talking about. However, most times people will respond with something like “oh, it’s what my trainer told me” or “it’s what this guy tweeted.” Even if the information has some merit, if someone doesn’t fully comprehend their recommendation then they’re probably not the greatest source of quality information.
Repeat after me: ”Should I even care about this?”
Once you get past all the bullshit in fitness, you get to the truth, and things aren’t actually much clearer. The hardest part with sifting through fitness information is that a lot of it is actually based on some nugget of truth. Even seemingly contradictory things can both be true. The way we can sort through this is by determining if it’s relevant to our goals at all.
For instance; the ketogenic diet has resurfaced in the fitness world as a viable diet for improving health, especially those with some level of insulin resistance and neurological impairments. However, if you normally eat carbs and feel fine, you probably have an extremely low level of insulin resistance and don’t have a neurologically based impairment. In this case you don’t need to worry/care about the ketogenic diet.
The most prevalent source of irrelevant information you will experience is going to be unsolicited training advice. The longer you’ve been in the gym, the more you’ll experience someone coming up to you and saying:
”That’s too much weight for you.”
”You need to lift heavier to build muscle.”
”Finishing with cardio is going to eat your muscle.”
And the list goes on and on…
This isn’t limited to the gym either. People online are going to spout whatever information they have at you whenever you post a picture or status update about your fitness journey. It’s harder to label the deluge of comments and recommendations as “irrelevant” since they are directly pointed at you.
The simple solution here is the general rule: Don’t take advice you didn’t ask for.
This method works simply because people in the fitness industry that know what they’re talking about will usually wait until they’re asked to give advice. Giving unsolicited advice is rarely intended to benefit you, it’s done to make the person giving the advice feel smart and superior, whether or not that intention is a conscious decision.
At the end of the day…
These are just a few of the ways that we in the fitness space have to deal with the bombardment of information that assaults us daily. While there are more ways that you can be inundated with information, I chose these three because the methods for dealing with them protect you against 99.9999999% of bad information! Those three methods are:
1. Think critically. Question any assumptions made in the advice given. Ask yourself if something is too good to be true. Investigate the claims being made and investigate the person making the claims.
2. Establish reliable sources of information. Find people with reputations of being transparent and providing consistent quality information. One source is this blog (tooting my own horn a bit), and others include:
3. Don’t feel obligated to take advice you didn’t ask for. Unsolicited advice is usually given to make the advisor feel better about themselves, helping you is not the goal. Take advice seriously when you seek it, but don’t stress about it if it’s just thrown at you.
One of the best and worst things about the fitness industry is that there is always something new to try out. The constant influx of novelty is both exciting and terrifying. Most of the time, new things are just rehashes of old things, don’t work, or both. However, when you do find something new that’s real the excitement you feel is palpable. By applying the three methods laid out here, you’ll be able to effectively navigate the wall of information in the fitness industry to find the few gems that will bring you your best results.