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Fitness: Hard To Sell

We live in a culture that values weakness at some level.” - Mark Rippetoe

I’m a fitness trainer. I have mentioned that multiple times the past few months to many people asking, usually with a little shame attached. Every time a mortgage officer asks me what I do for a living this is what I say, and every time I can feel them judging me over the phone, probably saying to themselves, “Why don’t you go get a real job first before even thinking of financing a home?” I should be proud of what I do in theory; among other things I’ve helped people get off their diabetes meds, pass Army Physical Fitness Tests to be eligible for promotion or re-enlistment, dominate MMA matches, rehabilitate injuries, and achieve small physical victories in life which they never thought they would be able to achieve, like a full pull-up or push-up. But no. The title loses much of its meaning when anyone with good lighting and a camera can post almost-naked butt pictures all over Instagram, sell secret pseudo-programs and supplements, and be a successful “trainer” with no necessary qualifications required. (It makes the profession look bad. But I'm one to talk, being the one following their pages and liking their posts. Butts are awesome.) We resort to fancy gimmicks and misleading promises to “lose 10 pounds in 10 days” in an attempt to stand out from the crowd or get clicks on Pinterest. With the free flow of information over the internet we bash each other to try to assert the apparent superiority of our methods, while the masses look at the abundance of free knowledge and come to think that hiring a trainer might be a waste of money. Everyone who enjoys working out seems to believe at some level that s/he can be a trainer. Personally after a few years of experience and numerous certifications, I am starting to think that I personally may not be cut out for it. You’re a hypeman, a scientist, a salesman, a marketer, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a foodie, and a clown, all while being paid minimum wage. The profession, as far as I am concerned, feels as antediluvian as owning a vinyl record store--you’d have to know the right people in the right market of Hipsters to sell to. It’s not about the quality of the records that you sell, it’s about selling. I don’t have the brass balls to be a salesman. Fitness is hard to sell.

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross

It's a tough racket. *drink*

One thing about fitness trainers is that very few of us know how it feels like to be a normal person struggling to just make it to the gym. Most of us have actually been kicked out of gyms because it was closing time but gym is life. We loved working out, and nobody had to sell fitness to us; we willingly sought it out and enthusiastically bought it. I spent my afternoons doing chin-ups on the monkey bars when I was 10 (because I saw it in Cool Runnings, I think) and in college I financed my boxing training by selling cigarettes and dropping half a semester’s tuition in cash to buy a year’s worth of private sessions. So when I had to sell it to people I’d resort to that all-too-familiar cliché, “fitness is a lifestyle--you need a lifestyle change” which pretty much translates to “Your life choices suck. Stop being you and start being me.” My marketing involved pointing out everything that was wrong with what other people were doing, judging others based on dietary choices and squat depth, because it’s a lot easier to put others down than it is to face one’s own imperfections. It is very comforting to stay under the delusion that “if I do nothing else with my life, at least I know I’m not a half-repper, or someone who thinks weights make you 'bulky'”. It’s always about what someone else is doing wrong and how we know better. That’s probably why reality TV is so successful, along with “fail videos”, and memes about Ronda Rousey getting knocked out and Kobe Bryant getting divorced.

But the thing that makes it such a difficult sell for me is the fact that physical strength seems to be given such a low value in our society. Sure, due to some primal need we like to watch sports and admire the genetic specimens performing in front of us, but ultimately it’s not what society wants us to do. We have the term “dumb jock” for a reason, and there are negative connotations attached to that label. A degree in Exercise Science doesn’t get as much respect as a different science degree, and being a trainer doesn’t get as much professional respect (probably because of the lack of standards and the low barrier to entry) as being a teacher. Or even a tutor. (Except the PE Teacher.) If you fail at Math, no matter how genetically predisposed you were to fail, you have to repeat the grade; but for some reason failing Physical Education is nearly impossible. We had to do pull-ups in Physical Education in high school. There was a passing grade of 1, but usually if you made the effort it would count. I pulled 23, but I still had to go to summer remedial because I sucked at Math. So far I am yet to find myself in a situation where the ability to find the Cosine of x is more valuable than upper body pulling strength. It sure as hell never helped me change a flat tire. And not being able to calculate the area of a rhombus may come back to bite you in the future in the unlikely event that you need it in adulthood, but it never caused any ACL tears like bad running mechanics and squatting patterns do. In school we are forced for 16+ years to sit still, and allow our glutes to atrophy and our hip flexors to shorten. Doing otherwise, fidgeting, stretching-out, standing up for a bit, externally rotating your hips to put your spine in a stable position, gets one labeled a nuisance. Maybe they send you to the psychologist and have you medicated out of your mind to become another compliant zombie, later doomed to a white collar cubicle life of forward-hunched shoulders, arthritis, bad valgus knees, and herniated lumbar discs, so your classmates who did better than you at school and eventually became doctors can get paid the large salaries that they were promised for going through med school. And they probably don’t even lift.

Of course there’s the political correctness. Selling fitness is very tricky when you have to passive-aggressively tell people that they need it. Only a doctor can actually tell a person that they are fat and that they need to lose weight or die, and by then their fitness problem has probably gone way too far anyway. It’s like going to the mechanic for a new engine for your car because you never had anyone change the oil ever. Fitness is awesome, but you can't say it first. A few years ago a mother of 3 posted a picture of herself looking very lean, probably in an attempt to show others that yes it can be done, and was accused of “fat-shaming”. Maybe because it’s much easier to say that other people are mean than it is to admit that when the chips are down you don’t really want to lose weight. She stood by her decision, saying that this is just normalizing unhealthy behavior, which may actually turn out to be true since more than 68% of adults in America are overweight, and therefore it is officially normal to be overweight. We are even starting to feature overweight models in media, labeling them as “realistic”, and praising them for their courage and positive influence (despite being shown to promote unhealthy behavior), because fit and lean people obviously don’t exist in real life and we should never strive to improve ourselves. (This is sarcasm, of course.) Make Barbie fat instead of acknowledge the fact that some people have better genetics and we have to work harder than they do. And while we’re on the subject of political correctness, I wonder where all the social justice crusaders calling people out for fat-shaming are whenever someone calls me stupid. Wouldn’t stupid-shaming be the same as fat-shaming in the way that a person is treated negatively for displaying a trait that one has limited influence over? Why are people allowed to shame others based on IQ but not BMI (which one may actually have more control over)? You can lose weight by controlling your caloric intake, but you can’t really study for an IQ test. Being stupid isn’t a fault; we all saw this in Forrest Gump--he was a fast-running simpleton, and we all loved him. Also, Dwayne Johnson from Pain & Gain.

Dwayne Johnson, Pain & Gain

How can you not root for this guy?

Ultimately what the world wants is not Idiocracy, but Wall-E, and we are barely doing anything to stop it. I am not advocating that we start shaming fat people into fitness; that obviously doesn't work. (Though we might want to take it easy on stupid people. President Camacho is doing his best, and that is all we can ask of him.) But do take some responsibility for the choices you make, and stop blaming the universe for not accommodating all of your needs as Paolo Coelho and The Secret promised you it would. I wanted to learn to play the guitar because chicks dig it. I didn’t, because I wasn’t willing to put in my 10’000 hours of practice to do so; I never blamed my fat fingers or my lack of rhythm or “not having time/money”. When it came down to it, I didn’t want it that badly. There's nothing wrong with having different priorities.

President Camacho

A great man.

"I don't care if you eat Twinkies or eat at Taco Bell. You aren't a bad person if you eat junk food. You aren't a good person if you eat organic veggies and grass-fed beef." - Josh Hillis

I'm done complaining now. Happy New Year.

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