Lip Service: Superficial Terms in the Fitness Industry

Posted on 19 Mar 2009 00:20

By Eric Troy

Words can be very powerful. But words themselves aren’t everything; it’s how you string them together. Their context.

Brian Grasso said in an article, “We are a term crazy industry”. Yes, and I’d go so far as to say we are a term OBSESSED industry. Terms sometimes become more important than the message, or lack thereof.

I remember saying to someone, during a frustrating discussion, “Just because you use words that are similar to mine doesn’t mean we are talking about the same thing.” Words lacking context have no meaning. And for context you have to be able to relate to other human beings. As I read the rants and ravings of many members of the fitness industry, I hear a lot of words, delivered with a lot of attitude, but I don’t see a lot of relating. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, what someone says to you…the advice they give…can say more about them than it does for you.

Ask a question. Should I start with overhead squats or back squats?

Listen to the answer: They’re essentially the same. Just “bar position” is different. Start with back squats to learn the movement.

Ask another question: Do you do overhead squats?

Answer: No.

Notice I put bar position in quotation marks. That is because it is just fancy enough sounding to lend some status to the answer.

Just because something seems the same superficially doesn’t mean it’s the same. I have gotten many people on to OH squats after exclusively doing back squat for a long period. The back squats did NOT help them learn OH squats. But the OH squat helped their back squats. It’s a LITTLE bit more than bar-position. But to a novice that is a new term and it seems knowledgeable. Most people, if they really think about it, will realize just how easy it is to seem knowledgeable. But when you are entering a new experience, and overwhelmed by choices, it’s hard to be objective.

So one can fall victim to terms. The mindset is something like this: “I’m using all the right words. The same words the gurus use, therefore I am a guru.” On the internet forums, throwing around terms like “ATG” (ass-to-the-grass) can give you instant credibility and earn you some pats on the back from your fellow ‘bros’, most of whom are as ignorant as you. The essential ‘bro-logic’ of internet life.

These terms are often like nothing more than a piece of ice, broken from the glacier, and floating on an empty ocean. There is nothing underneath except more terms, themselves disconnected to any central philosophy.

So over-training becomes the same thing as over-training syndrome. Recovery becomes synonymous with aerobic capacity. Dual-factor becomes a training method rather than a model. Stability becomes equilibrium. Frequency, volume and density…become their own goal.

I don’t know what to call this effect. Let’s call it the isolation effect since that seems to be an overlying trend in the industry as well, to isolate aspects of fitness searching for the Holy Grail. The belief is that we’re re-inventing the wheel but what we’re really doing is simply yanking a few spokes off it at random.

Let’s examine a typical scenario. You can see this at your local gym or on your bodybuilding forum. The words may differ but the effect is the same:

Novice Lifter asks for a critique and advice on his squat form.

Guy who squats 400: You’re not going low enough.
Guy who squats 350: Yeah, you need to go ATG.

And then follows a little back and forth about how full squats are better for the knees, but half squats work the quads better, or vice-versa. And then maybe someone asks what a half squat is and another person says he can’t squat because he’s tall…

And then I get a headache.

Novice Lifter asked for form advice. In the example above the only thing anyone could think of that was remotely related to form was depth. There was never an answer to the question: “how is my form”. Because there was nobody available who could evaluate his form. But Novice Lifter doesn’t know that. Novice lifter will probably just take the advice of the biggest or strongest guy in that discussion and go “ATG” (at least that is what he will call it) while squatting on top of his knees, folding in half like an accordion, his spine drifting under his hips, and, in the end, looking like a pile of crap with a barbell on top.

And this scenario is actually a better scenario than many. But it is not limited to some guys at the gym or on a forum. This same scenario will be replayed by self-proclaimed experts who, by being loud enough, exposed enough, or through clever marketing are actually considered experts by people other than themselves. And hey, this person might just have some letters after his name. He may be a person is are actually looked to for answers by not only his peers, but also the media at large. Let’s be clear, I don’t blame the guys in the gym. I blame those they are parroting. So-called professionals who should know better.

Novice lifter may actually manage to pile weight onto his squat. When he’s not side-railed by injuries which, oddly enough (but not odd at all) show up in his shoulder, resulting in another round of bad advice.

Terms likes ATG will slowly lose favor while other well-intentioned terms or phrases will be seized upon with little regard as to their true meaning. Usually because when things are isolated, as I described above, the resultant over-reaction is a sure-fire way to get a backlash so that they quickly fall from favor.

But it’s some of the most tried and true concepts that tend to be sprinkled around like flecks of pepper. While something like ass-to-the-grass, man, is shouted with a bullhorn, other more important terms are just spread about like seasoning.

How many times have you heard something like this? “Intensity is the most important thing.” How many times has anyone MEANT it? There is a habit in this industry to give lip-service to things we don’t actually believe. I cringe when I hear things like “intensity is most important but you need a certain amount of volume to stimulate the muscles”.

So, in other words, intensity is NOT the most important. It is just an important sounding word. Then you find out that this person has their own custom definition of intensity, muddying the waters even further. In the strength training world, I can count on my fingers the number of people I know who actually mean it when they say intensity is most important. Saying what you mean; meaning what you say…seems like a good thing.

To do that you need to go beyond terms and understand the individuals you are training, whether just yourself or others. You have to relate. If you cannot relate, you cannot grasp context. And without context, words are useless. Associate, experiment and synthesize. Learn and react. Don’t just give lip service. And if you don’t want to do that, then listen to those who do. You may just find your little piece of ice growing into a big old iceberg.

This page created 19 Mar 2009 00:20
Last updated 21 Jul 2016 23:16

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