Monday, March 16, 2009


So, in real life, I'm a big time ranter.  I've actually been quoted as saying "That purple dinosaur has no idea what he's talking about," in the middle of an anti-Barney rant.  I love the catharsis at the end of a good rant.  Having said that, I try to keep my professional and ranting lives distinct and separate.  Sure, I see trainers in the gym doing stuff that I disagree with all the time.  I try not to comment on it, because they are professionals, and I try to work under the assumption that they have the best interests of their clients at heart.

We all have our limits though.  I've reached and passed mine with the trainers on The Biggest Loser as of this past week.  If you poke around the world of fitness blogs for any amount of time, you are bound to find that most of us, as authors and professionals do not like the show.  You'll also find that many of us watch it religiously.  Why would we watch a show that we don't like, you ask?  Because we know that our clients are watching it.  Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper have an incredible platform to push the positive agenda of health and fitness to a largely sedentary America.

Here's a short list of the things I could talk about, but won't:

  • How I disagree with Bob when he talks about the need for carbohydrates in the diet.
  • The fact that they push jello pudding loaded with fake sugars and instant oatmeal loaded with processed grains.
  • How there is hardly a mention of the fact that these people are working out about 8 hours a day, when you include all of the walking and hiking they do.
  • How the fact that they don't talk about the above sets unrealistic expectations of every weight loss client I talk to.
  • That they have people who are morbidly obese sprinting on treadmills, regularly falling off and crashing to the ground.

These are things that drive most of us crazy, but we know that once we get hold of a new client, we can work to correct these misconceptions.

What drove me over the edge the other night (or more colorfully, in the words of Tony Gentilcore

, made me want to punch myself in the face with a pink dumbbell) was watching as Ms. Michaels had a client doing lateral step-ups resisted by a band on parallel benches.  As soon as the scene started, I cringed.  This was an accident waiting to happen, and sure enough, before the set ended he mis-stepped, landed on one of the bench's feet and sprained his ankle.

Now, to be realistic and fair to Ms. Michaels, it is expected that from time to time, when seeking high levels of intensity with out of shape clients, injury is inevitable.  However, it is the primary responsibility of every trainer to provide the safest possible environment for every client.  When designing workouts, we need to always be looking at the risk-benefit ratio.  Additionally, we must always be looking to reduce the risk, while maintaining the benefit.

I have no problem with a trainer who puts a client through a workout or exercise that could be viewed as "dangerous."  Some people say that the squat and deadlift are dangerous.  Yeah, well so is walking across the street.

The problem arises when the trainer does not think far enough down the road to see if there is a way to maintain the benefit while reducing the risk.  Clearly lateral step-ups onto parallel benches with feet that extend into the space needed for performing the movement for a 300 lb. client who is likely to lose his balance at some point in the process was a bad idea.  I saw this as soon as he started, Ms. Michaels should have too.

Now, before you call me a Monday morning quarterback, think back to what I said about the sprinting on treadmills.  Also, think about the fact that it took them 5 years of producing this show (with multiple seasons per year and production in multiple countries) to realize that having these people jump up onto benches instead of legitimate plyo boxes was an accident waiting to happen.  (Bernie from Season 5 anyone?)

The biggest problem here is not even that the people on the show get hurt.  One sprained ankle 9 weeks into the season?  Not a bad injury rate.  The real problem begins on Wednesday mornings in gyms across America, when untrained individuals, not under the supervision of a trainer, begin to perform the exercises they saw last night on t.v.

As I stated above, Michaels and Harper have a great opportunity to educate the American people on health and fitness.  Their words and actions hold great sway in the minds of overweight people every where.  I'll let my final words on the matter be the final words of Ben Parker in the movie Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Train Smart; Eat Right.

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