Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Small Differences, Big Problem

Sigmund Freud was a smart bloke, I'm sure you'd all agree.

In 1917 he was intelligent enough to coin a new phrase, and one that is so relevant in the fitness industry that it hurts...

The Narcissism of Small Differences

This beautifully succinct phrase describes the phenomenon whereby people who belong to the same group or community and who possess shared interests, are more likely to engage in ridicule, petty squabbling and disagreements over minor differences in opinion and small details.

With social media providing an increasingly easy and instant platform for sharing information and interacting online, along with the now booming fitness industry, my beloved field of interest is more susceptible to this than ever.

If we also consider the accelerating advancements in sports and exercise science and with it the inevitable massive volume of debunked/outdated theories, the mutual goal of assisting people in their pursuit of fitness appears, at least to me, to be getting overlooked.

Nowadays, instead of collaboration and open-minded scepticism, a select breed of pedants and trolls disguised as leading thinkers in the realms of exercise and nutrition are intent on massaging their own egos and trying to look smarter online than they are in reality.

Surely we all got into this industry for broadly the same reasons.

Some love to train and teaching others how to do so felt like a natural progression and a way out from their boring 9 to 5.

Some are natural teachers who saw a gap in the market and a cool opportunity to work for themselves.

Others, like me, are fascinated with how the human body works and can't help but be drawn to explore its potential.

I genuinely don't think anyone enters the industry intent on 'selling snake oil' and tricking the public into following a specific approach which they know won't serve them.

Yes, of course there are instances where business opportunities with attractive financial incentives arise which then lead the odd one or two astray, but I do honestly think that the vast majority of us still share the same values and strive for the same goal: to help our clients and the public to become more physically able and generally healthier.

As the old saying goes, 'there's more than one way to skin a cat'. I think it would be wise for fitness professionals to remind themselves of this every now and again. I understand how tempting it might be to look from a distance at the advice and teachings other trainers provide to their clients with disdain. I personally remember one instance early in my career when I was guilty of such petty judgement.

I was watching a Personal Trainer instructing their client in performing repetitions on a calf press machine. I instantly, and in hindsight regrettably, sneered at this exercise selection, deciding in my mind that calf presses were almost certainly unnecessary with this particular middle aged woman who was, based on my observation, clearly very overweight. My reasoning was that someone like this was in need of moving her whole body instead of isolating single muscles through working one joint at a time.

These judgements were potentially accurate but completely ill-informed. By making assumptions based on absolutely no information aside from a 10 second observation I had overlooked that this person could well have a legitimate need for doing this exercise.

Perhaps they had been advised by their physiotherapist that their gastrocnemius was overly weak and required attention.

Maybe this was part of some sort of dropset or 'finisher' at the end of their workout to isolate a series of smaller muscles that had already been worked in larger movement patterns earlier in the session.

The woman could also have simply asked the instructor to show her how to use this equipment because she'd never tried it before and fancied seeing how it felt.

I could have even been wrong about this woman's fitness goals. Maybe she didn't care about losing weight at all and was just using exercise as a hobby that exposed her to new experiences which would include utilising all of the equipment available to her.

My point is this, unless we're furnished with all of the information necessary to confidently prescribe a certain approach to someone then we should probably try not to judge the hell out of our peers. Every coach will have their own views on what's optimal and many will be able to provide reasonably educated and legitimate arguments in favour of their methodologies. Some of their reasoning will be misplaced based on a lack of knowledge, a lack of experience, outdated science and miscommunication of facts. However, I'm more than confident that they have the best interests of their clients at heart. Obviously, if something is clearly unsafe then this needs to be dealt with appropriately but on the whole I think that we can let people crack on with their businesses, generally allowing the client, as a consumer of the service, to make their own decisions around how much benefit they're receiving.

We as fitness professionals need to work together to educate each other with respect and without fear of judgment and ridicule. We should be receptive of new ideas and be open enough to change with the times. And most of all we need to acknowledge that often the small differences that we argue about are unsubstantial in the grand scheme of things for most of our clients.

We generally all agree on the big things so let's allow other coaches to experiment and be creative with the smaller things.


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