Gym fails don’t just come in the form of what you see in those internet videos. The gym fails that don’t seem to get nearly the attention they should are those that come from the epidemic of contradictions that are as common to the training and conditioning world as gym selfies. It’s no secret that when people contradict themselves, it makes the flaws in their actions or statements seem glaringly obvious.
From personal training to powerlifting to Crossfit, these contradictions exist throughout the industry. Here is a broad-spectrum list of 21 of these contradictions that are most prevalent (in no particular order).
1. If you’re a fit-looking dude at the gym who pretty much only does arms, chest and shoulders, you might get mocked, and you certainly won’t be looked at as a reliable training resource. However, if you’re a fit-looking female at the gym who pretty much only does legs, glutes and abs, you get a lot of Instagram followers and many will look to you as a fitness “expert.”
2. Rack pulls are just partial ROM deadlifts. Two- and three-board presses are just partial ROM bench presses. Incorporate these exercises into your training and you’re all good with the “serious lifters.”
The squat equivalent of rack pulls and board presses are partial ROM squats. Do these and you get made fun of and some lifters think you’re wasting your time.
Note: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research compared the results from a group that trained with only full range of motion squats (for six sets) to a combined group that trained with a combination of full range of motion squats and partial range of motion squats (for three sets each). Both groups trained twice per week. At the conclusion of the seven-week study, although both groups improved in their squat strength, the group that did the combination of full and partial range of motion reps got superior results. (1)
3. Some coaches and trainers, usually those with a powerlifting bias, often recommend against using exercises designed to replicate the force-generation and neuromuscular patterns of specific athletic movements, for example, doing standing one-arm cable presses to improve in standing horizontal pressing performance. They often recommend you stick to getting strong in the basic compound lifts if you seek to become more athletic.
Yet, what these same coaches would have you do to improve your strength in, for example, the bench press is, in addition to improving your bench press technique, they’d have you do bench-press variations (e.g., close-grip, wide-grip, two- or three-board) and perform the bench press using chains or bands at various speeds, with various loads, and in various rep ranges. These exercises are all commonly referred to as “assistance exercises,” which are exercises that all replicate the specific force-generation and neuromuscular coordination patterns of the movement they’re supposed to be assisting.
4. As a continuation of contradiction as #3, many trainers and coaches who preach to athletes that they should “just get strong in the basic lifts”—and not worry about replicating force-generation and neuromuscular coordination patterns of specific, target movements of athletics— are often the same people who tell athletes to avoid using machines because they don’t resemble the movement patterns involved in athletics.
In other words, on one hand they recommend against using an exercise because it resembles how you move in a target life or sport activity. Then, on the other hand, many of these very same coaches will recommend against using machines because they do not resemble how you move in a target life or sport activity.
5. “Weightlifting coaches who love to warn their students that the Olympic lifts are highly technical, requiring years to attain proficiency, let alone mastery are often the same ones who will promote the O-lifts as the centerpiece of strength and conditioning programs for athletes participating in sports ranging from soccer to water polo.” – Charles Staley
6. Many trainers and coaches who claim that isolation exercises are non-functional (i.e., non-beneficial) often are the same ones who promote the use of “muscle activation” exercises, which are used to specifically target (i.e., isolate) muscles like the glutes and middle traps. An example of a middle trapezius “activation” exercise is shoulder T’s.
7. Many coaches and trainers like to say that the word functional is a meaningless fitness buzzword because it means different things to different people. Yet, the word strength also means different things to different people, but no one says it’s a meaningless term.
Note: The concept of functional training has long been an area of great confusion, at times even heated debate. As hot button a topic as it is, functional training is a subject worthy of intelligent discussion. And, that’s exactly what I provide in the first chapter of my book, Building Muscle and Performance. I define what functional training truly is, and especially what it isn’t. From there, in my book, you’ll learn about the sources of the confusion and separate the sense from the nonsense.
8. When a health or fitness practitioner is confronted with scientific evidence that collides with their beliefs about the practices they use and promote, they’re quick to cite their “in practice” experience (i.e., anecdotal experience) in an attempt to 1) discredit the science and 2) to convince others their beliefs about their practices are true.
Yet, these very same practitioners recognize how weak these anecdotal arguments are because they reject them from other practitioners who follow a different, mutually contradictory school of thought. This is despite the fact that those schools of thought have no more or less evidence than their own.
Using anecdotes to justify the validity of a given health practice has little to nothing to do with objective evidence or reason, therefore it can be directed with equal force towards belief in any practice. Yet, for some reason, practitioners place little or no value in the beliefs of conflicting schools of thought.
Related Article – Corrective Exercise: Science vs. Experience: What Anecdotal Evidence Does and Doesn’t Prove
9. Trainers will say clients should pay an expert to help improve their knowledge of training, but many of these trainers won’t pay for continuing education to help them improve their own knowledge of training.
Note: The difference between purchasing full educational courses or attending live continuing education events and only getting your continued education through free articles and videos online is the difference between having a phone conversation and having a text conversation. In that, we all know that with a text message, it’s harder to understand context, it’s easier to misunderstand, and the overall conversation is fractured instead of fluid like a phone conversation instead of fluid.
Sure, there’s an additional cost to buying courses and attending live events, but the value you get from those resources far exceeds the cost.
10. When clients want quick results, trainers tell them that Rome wasn’t built in a day. But many of these same trainers want an immediate financial return on their education investment.
Note: The results from continuing education are just like the results you get from working out. The more you invest, the more you’ll likely get back. You don’t do the biceps curls today thinking you’ll get bigger biceps tomorrow. You do them now to get bigger biceps down the road. Long-term gratification is the name of the game!
11. Trainers say they want to help their clients achieve their goals, but they spend most, if not all of their educational time and money learning about the training concepts and techniques they think are cool or aligned with their own training goals.
Note: Not every personal trainer is truly a fitness *professional because many don’t treat their job as a true profession when it comes to learning the technical aspects of the trade.
You see, when it comes to personal trainers, there are fitness professionals and fitness hobbyists. One common identifying trait of the fitness *hobbyist who also happens to work as a “personal trainer” is, although they’re well-intentioned and passionate about helping people, they spend most, if not all their continuing education money and time on learning about their own pet fitness hobby; about learning how to better train for their own personal goals and interests. Whereas, the fitness *professional spends most, if not all their resources on learning how to better design programs/workouts and individualize exercise prescription for their clients.
Currently, the personal training field has an epidemic of fitness hobbyists. The cure for this epidemic is for trainers to make it about their clients, not about themselves. That starts by making sure the fitness education you’re pursuing is actually something that will benefit your clients and help them achieve their goals. Then, you can spend the money and time remaining to pursue the educational ventures in which you are personally interested.
12. Write an article discussing basic concepts and people will criticize it for being nothing new. Those same people will criticize ideas from a more outside of the box article by saying “just stick with the basics.”
13. Lifters seem to care if you’re doing something other than squats in the squat rack because you can’t do barbell squats elsewhere. However, even though you can’t do barbell bench press elsewhere (at least with any sort of heavy weight relative to your strength level), these same lifters don’t seem to care if someone is using the bench press bench for something other than doing bench press. In other words, lifters love to say, “No curls in the squat rack,” but no one is saying, “No abs on the bench press bench.”
14. Many trainers love to say they base their programming on the foundational principles of training. But many of these same trainers and coaches will look at a training program and say it’s “good” or “bad” simply because it does or doesn’t use a given training method or certain types of exercises (barbell exercises, kettlebell exercises, stability ball exercises, etc.) they fanaticize about. This is putting methods before principles.
Put simply, a good training program isn’t determined by the exercises it incorporates, but how training principles are utilized.
15. Many people will complain Crossfit instructors only need to take a weekend certification to teach when most all personal training certifications, even those from the most established and respected certifying organizations, require no more than a weekend.
Further, when someone gets hurts at a Crossfit gym, people will blame the organization itself. But when a client gets hurt training with a trainer at a non-Crossfit facility, they’ll blame the trainer for being negligent – they don’t blame the organization that certified them.
I’m not at all involved with Crossfit and disagree with many of their methodologies. That doesn’t change the fact that, like any other type of training, it’s instructor-dependent. Cases of injury or negligence in cases of supervised training must be treated with logical consistency, just like every other subject address above.
16. Trainers and strength coaches often complain about the problems due to undereducated and unqualified individuals in the field. Yet, when some of their colleagues do their part in trying to provide a solution to this problem by producing educational resources such as articles and videos, these same trainers and coaches ridicule them for spending time producing content instead of spending all their time training clients.
17. It seems to make intuitive sense that the people who are most qualified to teach you about strength and conditioning are people who have achieved success in physique or strength sports. However, as with many instances in life, often things that seem to make intuitive sense don’t line up with reality. For example, time and again, athletics have demonstrated that, many of the best athletes often don’t make the best coaches in their respective sports. Although people embrace this reality in the field, court, and combat sports they follow, many of these same people are often the same ones who judge the competency and credibility of a strength and conditioning coach based solely on their physique or lifting numbers.
18. Experts will charge their supporters who want to hear what they have to say for their time and information; but many of these same experts will give their time and information away for free during social media debates with their detractors who repeatedly show they will not be convinced.
19. As myself, Jason Silvernail and Ben Cormack pointed out in our article, The Corrective Exercise Trap:
“Since providing constant guidance and feedback (i.e., client tailoring) on exercise execution is “corrective” in nature (e.g., telling a client to avoid allowing their knees to cave in when squatting or having someone perform squats while pushing against a mini-band loop that is around their knees) some may wish to argue that one has to be “corrective” in order to be an effective fitness professional. Therefore, corrective exercise and good personal trainer practices are essentially the same thing. However, this is a self-defeating argument, in that, if good personal practices are by nature already “corrective,” there is no need to use the term “corrective exercise” to begin with. To put it another way, it defeats the purpose of using the specialized term of corrective exercise to describe practices that are already inherent to using good personal training practices that are foundational to the fitness professional.”
20. As we also pointed out in The Corrective Exercise Trap:
“On that same token (as #19), although arguing that corrective exercise practices are just good personal training practices may sound good to say, logically it also eliminates the need to give oneself the different professional designation of “corrective exercise specialist.” Also, if one wishes to argue that one cannot draw the line between what is good personal training practices and what is corrective exercise practices because it is an impossible gray area, it is important to note that this argument is also logically flawed because it is internally contradictory. In that, one is using the distinct delineation of “corrective exercise” to describe and promote certain practices one specialize in, one cannot then turn around and argue that these same practices exist in a gray area; therefore, they cannot be distinctly delineated. One cannot have it both ways and remain logically consistent, because as soon as one uses a different and distinct delineation of corrective exercise, one is utilizing practices that are different and distinct from good personal practices universal to the fitness professional.
With the above realities in mind, corrective exercise practices cannot be the same as, or exist in a gray area with, good personal training practices, and therefore are indeed fundamentally different than general exercise practices because they each utilize a different decision-making process for exercise prescription.”
Related Article – The Corrective Exercise Trap: Responses to the Top 3 Questions About the Research
21. One of the most common complaints about continuing education is not that fitness professionals have trouble finding information on this or that training topic; the complaint is that “there is so much conflicting information out there, I don’t know what to believe.”
Now, I’m all about sharing cool exercise concepts and techniques, but that’s just me adding to the already existing mess of (conflicting) information. And that, in a way, makes me part of the problem. That’s why I’m also very dedicated to helping fitness professionals avoid confusion created by conflicting information by showing them how to separate the valid information from the less valid or downright B.S. information. The ONLY way to do this is through critical analysis.
Put simply, the stuff that holds up to critical rigor can be focused on and built upon, and the stuff that doesn’t hold up to the standards of evidence and argument must be pointed-out so the fitness community knows not to invest much value in it.
With that said, in the process of trying to help fitness professionals avoid confusion, and find the most reliable information to best help their clients and colleagues, I often hear questions/complaints like, “Why are you being so critical?”
This brings me to the last, and what I feel is the most important and concerning of all the fitness contradictions listed above.
You can’t complain about confusion from all this conflicting information, and then complain about critical analysis of that information. Without critically looking at things, you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones. In other words, if you’re not willing to be critical of all information, you’re ensuring you remain frustrated and confused and increasing your chances of buying-in to invalid training beliefs and practices. Not to mention, failing to critically analyze and point-out the training beliefs and practices that show signs of invalidity to your fellow colleagues, does them a disservice and creates an environment where flawed concepts and nonsense can flourish.
The point here is this: Being critical of claims and training methods is not negative at all – it’s quite the opposite! It’s very positive, as it helps avoid confusion and makes it tougher for bad ideas to flourish. Being critical highlights the good ideas and concepts, which gives you a reliable direction on how to invest your training time and education to better serve your clients and colleagues. Until we realize this fact, and mature past this childish notion that challenging ideas is being “negative” or “hating,” we’re contributing to the problem.
Remember: Without critical analysis, as Carl Sagan said, “then you are lost, because if all ideas have equal validity, then no ideas have any validity at all.”
Improving as fitness and conditioning professionals isn’t just about gaining more education and experience. It’s also about becoming more intellectually consistent in the perspectives and practices we gain from our continued education and experience.
As I said it in the introduction, when we contradict ourselves, it makes the flaws in our actions or statements much more obvious. In other words, identifying logical inconsistency in our beliefs about our practices and opinions highlights that our thinking has gone wrong somewhere. And, if we wish to be less wrong, we all must make a constant effort to be more self reflective and evaluate our perspectives and practices for any logical inconsistencies. The main purpose of this article is to hopefully inspire you to do just that.
Nick’s Upcoming Live Events
In Aston, PA teaching at the NSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference on December 1-2, 2017
In Orlando, FL teaching at The Brolando Experience (with Alan Aragon) on Feb 10-11, 2018
In Norfolk, Virginia teaching at the NSCA Tactical Strength and Conditioning (TSAC) Conference on April 2-5, 2018.
In Brokane, Wa teaching at the Inland Empire Fitness Conference on April 6-7, 2018
In Sydney, AUS teaching at the FILEX Fitness Convention on April 20-22, 2018.
- Bazyler, Caleb D., et al. The Efficacy of Incorporating Partial Squats in Maximal Strength Training. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 11 – p 3024–3032