Fitness articles

Get off the human hamster wheel

We could see her from the window of the second-floor training studio as she finished up the mile-long walk from her house.

Every trainer knows that look, when the adrenaline spins the eyes around, and in between short breaths, she speaks gibberish that can only translate to “I’m ready.”

Her trainer greeted her with just one word. “Treadmill.”
“But I just walked here. I don’t need to warm up.”
“Ha ha ha ha … Treadmill.”

Yes, this is a true story.

Why didn’t the client want to use the treadmill? For the same reason that the trainer wanted her to use it. Cardio machines require no thought. They offer a low-risk, low-reward health club experience. Novice gym members who care more about calorie count than a new challenge will default to the easiest modalities they can find. The same goes for trainers who care more about their next modeling gig than their clients’ development.

Meanwhile, motivated clients who walk to the gym and their enlightened trainers take chances. They get their cardio training on the open floor.

The cardio machine section is the tourist trap of the gym floor.

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It’s Times Square while the real New Yorkers are eating pizza in Brooklyn, riding the Cyclone, and reeling in striped bass in Sheepshead Bay. It’s the bus tour straight to Machu Picchu for a quick selfie and a long ride home, while adventure-seekers take their time and trek the Sacred Valley. It’s the Alaskan cruise that stops in Anchorage for 45 minutes before whisking you away to a flat, windswept oil field on the north slope while a much happier family camps out by a river on the Kenai Peninsula under the midnight sun on the vacation of a lifetime.

We join the gym to break the monotony in our lives, not to add to it. Get off the human hamster wheel and get yourself a real workout!

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Are you questioning your fitness identity yet?

If you’re reading this article in the gym coffee shop while waiting for your 30-minute turn on the treadmill or the elliptical trainer, perhaps you are ready to take a chance.

Iron sharpens iron, diamonds cut diamonds

In the same studio where the tattooed fake muscle guy sent his client to a conveyor-belt-driven purgatory while he updated his Facebook status, another trainer had an interesting take on aerobic exercise. As this industry grows from the inside out, trainers learn more from each other than from a textbook. The normally quiet trainer said "there is no such thing as cardio. You are either in the aerobic pathway or you aren’t." Mind. Blown. He was right. For the unlearned, “doing cardio” and “doing aerobics” are two completely different exercises. The fact is, they both mean the same thing. The heart doesn’t know the difference. You either call upon your cardiovascular system to provide energy to move, or you don’t. 

"There is no such thing as cardio. You are either in the aerobic pathway or you aren’t."

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Design your own routine

Here are a few pointers to get your cardiovascular routine on your own terms:

Keep your feet on the floor. A lot of videos online present abdominal workouts as cardiovascular exercise. If your body is stationary, you’ll never get your heart rate where you want it, and will only get dizzy when you finally stand up.

Move in all directions. If you’re thinking about jumping jacks, that’s fine for a start. Now you need to include exercises that move you forward and backward, and in rotation.

Play with the toys. There are kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, tubes, bands, and other goodies that haven’t been invented yet just waiting for you. Remember, this should be fun. Try everything.

Keep a notebook. You will come up with exercises as you improvise your way across the floor, especially when your adrenaline starts flowing. Write the exercises down, with a short description. You can incorporate them into a routine next time you come back to the gym.

Put away the phone. Because I said so.

Call in the professionals

This is also a great opportunity to look for a personal trainer to help you develop a routine. Find a floor trainer and ask a simple question. “Is there a way to get a cardio workout without using machines?” The answer determines if you have found a good trainer.

If they respond with a long-winded scientific explanation about the glycolytic pathway vs. the oxidative pathway of muscular energetics, thank the trainer for the explanation and move on. The trainer either recycles the textbook out of a lack of confidence to get started (in counseling, we call that intellectualization), or they just like to grandstand.

Another red flag is if the trainer turns his or her back and expects you to follow behind as they walk away from you. If they do that to you the first time, they will do it to you every time. Again, respond with a polite thank you and walk away.

Now, if the trainer gets excited over the question, you may have a winner. Fitness trainers love to work with a client looking to collaborate on a new routine. From a business standpoint, it’s better to take on a steady long-term client. From a passion for what we do for a living standpoint, a good trainer will jump at the opportunity to help you.

In the year 2525

The fitness industry has to change with the times, meaning you can expect to see more technology in the gym. Don’t let it create digital dependency! These days, people can’t find the bathroom without a GPS. They gather food by linking their smart fridge to the personal assistant app that orders the grocery delivery. Now they want to digitize our industry with more machines and digital gadgets. This trainer is not impressed. The greatest technology in the gym is and will always be the human body.

Learn how the body works, and you’ll have no use for any high-priced, high-tech exercise gimmicks that come your way.

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Fitness articles

Navigate the Stormy Capes

Would you be surprised to know that Greenland is not green?

In fact, Iceland is greener than Greenland. Apparently Erik the Red wanted his fellow Norsemen to settle the frozen Arctic land mass, so he gave it a more attractive name to stimulate exploration. The same goes for the Cape of Good Hope. Portuguese sailors first named Africa’s southern tip “Capa das Tempestades,” or Cape of Storms, about 600 years ago.  Apparently Vikings and far eastern traders alike knew the value of good marketing, albeit dangerous in its deception. Centuries before the tourists arrived to surf alongside penguins near Cape Town, hundreds of seagoing vessels were torn apart in the tides along that very same coastline.

What about our industry?

Do we have any stormy capes packaged as products of good hope in the fitness game? Oh, maybe just a few.


In the fitness industry, you can tell the truth and make a decent living, or you can lie through your teeth and make a fortune.

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Unlike the misconceptions that we create in our own mind, stormy capes are designed to deceive. The marketers succeed only when the product fails to deliver. They lure their customers with good hope and leave them shipwrecked.

We know that our audience, just like our clients, have pinned their hopes on mythology. For the uninformed, watching infomercials and reading internet pop-up ads count as research. They want to be told that it’s easy to reverse 30 years of inactivity with 30 days of meager effort. They embrace the lie.

As fitness industry professionals, we take on the role of fixing the clients’ hardwiring that believes the gimmicks and the infomercials, and doing it tactfully.

You can’t confront their fantasy with harsh reality. To tell them outright that they are wrong is to say that they have never learned anything. We are not in this business to win arguments. We are here to win customers and clients. Our job is to show them that the hard way is easier than they think.

Now comes the fun part. What do we do about it?

How do we win people over to rational thinking? The first rule is that you can’t save everyone.  I began selling retail exercise equipment when the top fat-burning craze was to pop a fistful of ephedrine and hook up an ab zapper while you watch the Osbornes. People came into the store looking for said-named ab zap technology and we had to kindly turn them away. Did I ever try to lead them toward a multi-stack home gym in lieu of a battery operated gizmo? I suppose. It never worked. What’s the lesson? Let a slug be a slug. If they want the easy fix, let them keep looking.

Now let’s bring in an audience. Imagine that you have invited a group to the gym for a workshop on training for the fitness beginner.

How far down the “there is no Easter bunny” rabbit hole do you want to take them? Start with any misconceptions that interfere with your presentation. If you showcase your cardio circuit and someone confuses the high-quality commercial grade elliptical trainer for a Gazelle, then you have to intervene and defend your reputation. If they want a recommendation for a good diet pill, you have to tell them that there’s no such thing. Pills are not part of anybody’s diet.

What about the dedicated athletes and fitness enthusiasts?

It is easy to dupe a newcomer, but what about the people who supposedly know better?  Can they be lured by good hopes into their own personal shipwreck? Let me answer that question with another question.

What are three ways that the Paleo diet is consistent with the paleolithic era? (Cue the Jeopardy music)

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If you think that prehistoric beings gathered their foodstuffs by following the GPS on their Range Rovers to the Whole Foods parking lot, perhaps you can use a crash course in anthropology. The Paleo app on your smartphone that helps you find the right radishes and free range chicken breasts hardly pays tribute to the homo sapiens who first discovered fire. Aside from the less primitive ways that we find nutrition these days, it turns out that the original paleolithic diet was high in carbohydrates (and protein sources that you won’t find in a high-end supermarket).

Did fitness novices who order gadgets online in the middle of the night buy into the paleo diet? No!

The so-called leadership of this industry endorsed it. When the craze first hit, we were treated to countless social media pics of refrigerators stocked with raw meat, and slogans like “Train like a madman, eat like a caveman.”

Before we had identity politics, we had identity nutrition.

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Let me raise a frosty Dr. Pepper and pound a sleeve of extra-gluten fig newtons before I continue.

Now let’s go back to the audience, this time a more informed public. Are you going to stand in front of a group of musclemen in shrink-wrapped T-shirts alongside loveless hard-bodied women with canvas shoes and purple bandanas and simply say, “I’m right and you’re wrong?” Write me into your will before you try that.

Step number one in the FIT System is to Filter their background knowledge from their misconceptions.

If you want to talk about fitness industry gimmicks, start with their favorite infomercials, then move on to stormy capes that their clients have believed in. Let them prove your point for you. Then they can re-evaluate the crazes that they have previously bought into. During the presentation, the same rule applies as above. The only misconceptions worth addressing are anything that interferes with your presentation.

There seems to be a demolition derby in the fitness industry to find the most gimmicks to present to our clients.

In some cases, the more wrong you are, the more unique you appear to the average consumer. We have to contend with distorted definitions of functional training, phony diet plans like Paleo and Ketogenic, gadgets that promote spot reduction, and celebrities and pro athletes who endorse liquid battery acid and call it an energy drink. We can only rant so long about the truth before our clients stop listening and start fitting us for a tinfoil hat.

This is the life we have chosen.

If you can accept that your clients wake up the day after a workout and curse the day you were born, you can accept that they will also fight you to defend their misconceptions. They fight twice as hard when they have invested money into their cleverly marketed false beliefs. However, if you can help them navigate the rough waters of the stormy capes of the fitness industry, it will be smooth sailing on calm waters as you continue.

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