Ranting About Hucksters

I was in a ranting mood recently and posted the following after hearing yet another ridiculous claim about how some new gadget is going to revolutionize the fitness industry, forever change the way people exercise, and give you rock hard, six pack abs, and is totally different from anything that has come before it, because it’s called something else and is sold using totally new pseudoscientific jargon and marketing buzzwords.

The majority of the fitness industry are idiots and hucksters who are more concerned with their ability to sell you programs and products than whether those programs or products have any merit. These people are not looking at the science, thinking critically about existing methods and exploring or experimenting with better ways of doing things and asking, “How can we come up with a way to help people get better results, more quickly, more efficiently, and more safely?” Instead, what they are asking is, “How can we come up with something new to sell?”

I have nothing against anyone wanting to make a profit, but it must be by offering people something of equal value for the price, not convincing people to give you money for bullshit with fancy marketing.

Most of the claims of innovation and breakthroughs are nothing but hyperbole. While progress is being made, it is generally being made in very small steps by numerous number of people communicating and sharing information, and usually not the people who are making lots of noise and claiming to be doing so. Very rarely does any one individual or small group make a huge discovery or revolutionize a field, and we haven’t seen anything in exercise that compares to what Arthur Jones did with the invention of the Nautilus machines four decades ago since then, no matter what anybody tells you.

I would love to say I am an innovator, that I’ve come up with some breakthrough method or program, or that I’m revolutionizing the field somehow, but that would be bullshit. I am simply trying to organize what I know and continue to learn into practical systems and present it in a way people find useful.

More often than not, I’m not teaching anything new so much as I am debunking the constant output of bullshit from the rest of the industry.

Considering just how much of what passes for expertise in this industry is bullshit, it is prudent to assume everything you hear about exercise and nutrition is bullshit until proven otherwise. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone is claiming to have come up with a breakthrough program or device, demand proof.

My son has the following excerpt from the book Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide For Young Skeptics, by Dan Barker framed and hung on the wall of his room, and I think everybody would benefit from keeping these in mind when confronted with claims about exercise:

“Whenever you are trying to decide if something is true or false, remember these Rules of Science

Check It Out: Don’t just believe what you hear or read. If something is true, you should be able to check it out for yourself.

Do It Again: If you check it out once, you should be able to check it out again. If you do a test or experiment, you should be able to repeat it.

Try To Prove It Wrong: Don’t just try to prove that something is true. A good scientist also tries to prove that it is false.

Keep It Simple: Sometimes there is more than one way to try to explain something. If one way is complicated and another way is simple, scientists usually choose the simple way.

It Must Make Sense: If something is true, then it should not be confusing. It should be logical. That means you should think about it very carefully to see if it makes sense.

Be Honest: Everybody makes mistakes, and good scientists will admit their mistakes right away.”

Rules of Science

Be Sociable, Share!

22 Responses to Ranting About Hucksters

  1. Chad G August 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Nice Post, very reminiscent of Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit.

    • Drew Baye August 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

      Chad,

      If everybody read and understood Sagan’s essay The Fine Art of Baloney Detection almost the entire fitness industry would go broke, and all but a small handful of personal trainers would be looking for other work within weeks.

  2. Fernando Sharp August 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Hello, Drew.
    I want to know about the differences of improving my time under load (TUL) or improving the weight itself. Which one is more desirable for muscle mass gains?
    It has to do with the predominant type of fibers my muscle has?
    I bought your book, HIT Workouts, but didnt see anything about it.
    I really want to know more about interpreting my results. Where can I find it?
    Thank you

    • Drew Baye August 27, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Fernando,

      I recommend reading Focus On Your Muscles, Not The Numbers Time under load and resistance used are just ways of tracking improvement. You should focus on getting stronger, not on increasing your time under load or weight. If you get stronger those will increase as a result.

  3. Ian Wilson August 8, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    Alright Drew. I’ll give up my ab rocker, ab king pro, ab swing, ab chair, boflex, and total gym, But It will be a cold day in hell before I give up my Tae Bo, and prancercise.Why for just $100 dollars a month, you to can have a body exactly like Billy Blanks! ( warning steroids not included).

  4. Bradley Warlow August 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Drew, if these marketers were to decide to actually take the time to explore with different methods and compare them using the current science, they’d end up having more work on their plate than they bargained for. So rather than investing the time into it, they just use hyperbole! it’s amazing how powerful speech and language can be; most people will take advice off a person who speaks with conviction over actual science any day!

    • Trace August 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

      Bradely, excellent point! Unforturnately it works both ways – I often conclude that certain clients go along with what I tell them just because they like the manner and passion in which I deliver the message. Inspite of referencing every thing I say to material that they can read, few do so. “Not all people are idiots, but they follow the advice of idiots, usually in the form of self-proclaimed experts.” – Arthur Jones

  5. Steven Turner August 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Great article, I think they used to call huckster by another name, “snake oilsalesman”. But sometimes you can’t blame the salesman it is that people are just gullible to all this fitness industry bullshit.

    Here in Australia there is a major drug investigations going on in our major sporting codes a drug investigator from American who was invvloved in the Lance Armstrong case said (words to effect) that most of these so-called sports scientist pedalling their miracle drug supplements are just snake oilsalesman. There are no accreditations required of sports scientist I think that they should be more correctly called biochemist.

    It is the bombardment of advertising by these hucksters that amazes me every TVchannel day or night seems to have some type of huckster pedalling their fitness industry bullshit.

  6. Pete Collins August 13, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    I like Drew’s approach, we cannot control the actions of the marketing departments of companies, we do however have the power to control our own time, mind & responsibility to yourself. This means educate yourself before you purchase. People will test & question for hours the salesman before purchasing a car or a house, even a new PC and yet walk blindly into parting money with a stranger after a 5 min bullshit pitch on health & fitness (both words are yet to be properly defined by anyone, Dr Doug McGuff & Ken Hutchins gave it a good shot} and I doubt they can be in a quantum physics world.

    I have little sympathy for those that get duped, in the age of ‘Google’ there is no excuse for ignorance.

    Pete

    • Drew Baye August 13, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      Pete,

      Well put. If people put half as much time and effort into educating themselves about exercise programs before buying into one the situation would be much better. Unfortunately, most people don’t put much time or effort into educating themselves or thinking about anything they do.

      • Ondrej August 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

        Yes, but there is the other extreme which in my opinion is much more prevalent in people who gravitate towards HIT, which is trying to think their way to superior physique. If anything, we have a lot of info today, more than we need. We still need to work out, experiment, make a lot of mistakes, adjust, and do it better next time. You wouldn’t expect to learn how to drive a car purely from a manual, but people sometimes expect this in fitness. Basically it’s all about persistence, hard work, experimentation, and time.

        • Drew Baye August 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

          Ondrej,

          Thinking alone won’t do it, but it is the first step to doing it right. A lack of thinking, or, more specifically, a lack of rational, critical thinking, is the reason so many people waste so much time on relatively ineffective and inefficient and unnecessarily high risk training methods and programs.

  7. Mark Lloyd August 15, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Ken Hutchins wrote that the most people aren’t ready, willing, and/or able to regularly exercise properly. When such people exercise, they choose novelty.

    • Drew Baye August 15, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Mark,

      Ken is right. Unfortunately, this only encourages the development and marketing of “exercise” methods and programs based on novelty rather than science.

  8. Angst August 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Drew,
    Quite a mild rant, actually, as far as rants go. :)

    The situation, imo, is much worse and more obscene than you describe.
    I believe it is deliberate, well-orchestrated, calculated fraud, tantamount to an ongoing criminal enterprise. Mis-infotainment. The proverbial MindFuck.

    True, it takes two to tango, and the consumer is certainly not being a responsible consumer, but then you have to ask if that is really their fault as well.
    One can argue pretty well that we are in fact strongly conditioned NOT to think, to abandon virtually all critical thinking, cuz, well, for a price, someone out there will think for us…. supposedly. Or we click for The Answer.

    And if that person giving answers has ripped abs, well, then, that apparently clinches the argument, eh?

    Ergo, Crossfit roolz. A fat gimpy Glassman notwithstanding….. Which harks back to a fat abless Tony Little selling Ab Isolators by the imported boatload.

    Think about the consumer implications of THAT! I believe Tony Little in fact altered The Theory of Marketing, almost like what Copernicus did to Ptolemy, or Einstein to Newton.

    Holy shit…. Tony Little = Einstein?? LOL

    On a more positive note, your commentary, insights are among the best on the web. I wouldn’t be nearly so polite or civilized in my commentary.
    Your insights have significantly changed — and improved — my own workouts.
    Props.

    • Drew Baye August 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      Angst,

      Thanks. I suspect the problem is equal parts dishonesty and ignorance or incompetence. A lot of the people and companies in this industry know they’re doing something wrong but don’t care as long as it is profitable, but a lot of them also sincerely want to help people, but just have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. The lack of critical thinking skills and gullibility of consumers certainly doesn’t help.

  9. Angst August 16, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Regarding the Dan Barker quote:

    Good, noble advice, but tough to do, without some kind of “formal” education, either thru traditional study or disciplined self-study.

    On the surface, “muscle confusion” sounds moderately plausible. How would the layman really sleuth that out? How do you critically think about issues of physiology or physics, without some “hard science” under your belt?

    Gets to be a long discussion, but I think I can shorten it to this:
    We, as a CULTURE, have long lost the notion of aesthetics — of art, design, thought, or anything else.
    We have become a culture of narcissistic oblivious philsitines.

    Mark Lloyd (above) is partially correct: As long as the novelty GLITTERS, and is being hawked by people who glitter — the Glitterati, coined some time ago.

    I look at sports stadiums, rock concerts, filled with near-100,000 screaming assholes, and my only reaction is, Have we gone out of our fucking minds???
    Ditto Judge Judy and The Price is Right and Jerry Springer, and all the “Reality” rest.

    And the answer is, Yes. Our culture is out of its mind, but High-Tech Bullshit allows us to function nevertheless. So far…..

    Let them eat cake, let them get Liked on Facebook, and let them have Abs…..

    • Drew Baye August 18, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Angst,

      True. If someone really wants to get this stuff they have to start with philosophy and the natural sciences. When I write I assume the reader has a certain amount of basic knowledge and understanding of these, and, if not, I hope they have the sense and initiative to read up on the things they don’t know or understand.

      I don’t believe most of us have gone out of our minds, but rather most people have never been “in” them to begin with, and that throughout all of our history and continuing throughout most of the world today the majority of humans are barely a step above chimpanzees. All of our progress, all of our achievements, in philosophy, technology, art, etc. since the very first tools over two million years ago, have resulted from an extremely tiny number of thinkers who dragged the rest forward, kicking and screaming, out of their caves. Sadly, most of the best of our species were probably killed by the rest simply for being different. Equally sadly, this represents a monumental waste of potential because even the average person can accomplish wonders if they learn to think and do so consistently and productively.

      Ironically, despite our culture’s obsession with high-tech devices, most of the fitness industry still promotes and clings to beliefs and methods that are the technological equivalent of banging rocks together (and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, teaches this as some kind of “paleo” or “neanderthal” workout).

  10. Glenn Magee August 16, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    For those interested in honing their BS detection try reading James Randi’s “Flim Flam”, or Michael Schermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things”.

    Cheers.

    • Drew Baye August 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      Glenn,

      Both excellent books, and I would add Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World to that list. Someone also recently mentioned Carl Sagan’s essay The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, which I highly recommend.

  11. Trace August 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I like this quote too: “Quite frankly, most of the people involved in exercise disgusted me, and i clearly understood that a very large percentage of them were either fools or frauds, or both. A situation that has changed primarily in the direction of becoming more widespread.” – Arthur Jones.

    And from Carl Sagan: “One of the saddest lessons in history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge – even to ourselves – that we’ve been so credulous. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.”

    But on this note: “I am arrogant enough to believe that my lifetime of interest in the field of exercise has produced developments that can provide great benefits to millions of other people if my discoveries and developments are not flushed down the toilet of history.”

    It’s our job to not allow that to happen.

  12. Glenn Magee August 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Carl Sagan – “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion no matter how satisfying or reassuring”.

    I wish we could bring him back, the world needs him more than ever.

Leave a Reply

WP-SpamFree by Pole Position Marketing