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The Unspoken Truth About Online Fitness

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The fitness industry is getting its ass kicked, and not in the way you might think. 

It’s not an industry where profit is an issue, for example; with an estimated $9 billion in yearly profit1, we’re doing just fine when it comes to money.  

And we’re not hurting when it comes to attention or consumption: over the past 5 years, the number of fitness blogs and websites have increased dramatically; major magazines like Men’s Health still reach over 1.8 million people a year

Gary Vaynerchuk has been quoted as saying, “no matter what business you’re in, we’re all in the eyeballs business.” His point being that if you want to make an impact, you’ve got to grab people’s attention.

Okay, we’ve done that. 

Now we’re making money. We’re making noise. We’ve got people reading fitness, talking fitness, buying fitness. 

So, what do I mean when I say the fitness industry is getting its ass kicked? If we’re pulling in money and are an established part of the zeitgeist, where is the hole in the boat?

It’s in the one place it matters most: results.

Simply put, as an industry, we’re doing a terrible job at serving the people who need the product.

Since 1960, obesity rates have more than doubled. Over the past five years they have normalized at a ridiculously high rate of 35%. It’s only expected to get much worse; some estimates put the obesity rate at a minimum of 44% by 2030.

During this same time, the fitness industry has grown exponentially. There’s been a 44% increase in Personal Trainers during a 10 year period from 2001 – 2011. Industry revenues were $21.8 billion in 2012, a $1.5 billion dollar increase in just two years. The fitness industry grew more than fantasy gaming/gambling site DraftKings is worth in just a two year period.

Yet despite our best efforts, a quarter of the people out there don’t get any physical activity at all. Superficially, it seems that we’re winning at business, but failing at our mission. If we were front line troops defending our mother country, our mother country would be royally fucked.

A deeper look, however, shows that the troops aren’t doing so well, either. The fitness industry itself is worth billions, and yet the average personal trainer is pulling in a modest 37k per year (that, of course, is a basic stat for your run-of-the-mill in-person trainer).

What about in the online world? Well, there, things seem even worse, because that’s where the problems loom larger and more overtly. 

Your average trainer in a gym is busting his/her ass working 60+ hour weeks working with actual clients. They may not be changing the world, but they’re hopefully changing a few lives. 

Online, things are a bit muddier. 

There are a lot of folks who make money by teaching people how to make money online. And if you read their sales pages, you might guess that becoming an internet millionaire is as easy as starting a blog and putting out some content. 

While it might be true that the internet gives you massive reach, and with that reach comes high potential for profit, it’s also true that building a business requires a ton of time and work. You can sign up for Roman’s business coaching, but even having the Bro King of the Roman Empire hand you a turn-key system isn’t going to do anything unless you actually do some work. 

From what I’ve seen, despite the billions up for grabs, most trainers who are trying to establish an online presence cannot and will not capitalize on this because they’re too busy trying to impress one another. 

This is the real issue. 

A big part of the reason we’re not helping people is because a huge contingent of the industry is too concerned with creating content specifically for other fitness professionals that they’re not moving the needle on either helping their clients. 

I can personally attest to this. Coming up in this industry I looked up to people like Roman, Adam Bornstein, Dean Somerset, and Bret Contreras. I knew that’s exactly what I wanted: a buzzing online presence, writing kick-ass content, and changing thousands of lives.

And for more than two years I made sure that dream would never become reality.

Why? I spent all my damn time looking through Facebook threads where fit pros argued with one another over nutritional science. I read other trainers work, and dug deeper into the rabbit hole of fitness knowledge. 

Part of this was out of necessity. As a young trainer, I was thirsty for knowledge and had copious amounts of unbridled optimism. The more people I read, the more people I found to read.

In turn though, this process fucked my own business growth. I regurgitated everything, and didn’t develop my own personal voice. I couldn’t separate myself, and worst of all, I couldn’t relate to people.

If we can’t relate to our clients, we can’t help them. Using all of my time and resources keeping up with and impress other fit pros made it impossible for me to relate to anyone else.

I know I’m not alone in this regard; I’ve got plenty of friends in this industry who are dealing with the same thing. This is the very reason I’ve quit reading Facebook threads or finding all the new “cool kids” online.

When we’re not busy sucking each other’s dicks, we’re busy hating on each other. We’ve divided ourselves into circles and cliques. We’re like the movie Mean Girls. Instead of wearing pink on Wednesday, we do chest on Monday.

Fitness industry, we suck. We suck so bad it’s laughable. We’re an industry full of douches who post shirtless photos, and promote the fact that if you’re a female who succeeds you need to get half naked and post ass shots on Instagram.

More than 1/3 of adults in the U.S. are obese, and the estimated annual costs of obesity total more than $147 billion dollars, a number which is expected to reach $300 billion by 2020. Our failings are extremely expensive, morally reprehensible failings.

Why do we suck so badly at actually helping people?

It’s unfair to say all of the fitness industry sucks ass, because it doesn’t. I’ve met some awesome people in this industry, and it’s truly been a life changing experience.

I could also be naïve, but I believe that many trainers and Fit Pros got into this industry because they’re altruistic people. I believe that most of us are good-hearted people who want to see our clients get results, become happier, and start crushing life.

However, no matter what you do, there are bound to be some great people and some shit heads, and unfortunately, the fitness industry happens to be full of real shit heads. 

We spend most of our time putting out pictures online that amount to nothing more than soft-core porn. When was the last time you got on Instagram and didn’t see a picture of a girl in a thong who was showing off her “glute progress” with a caption talking about “hard work 24/7”?

As a red-blooded male who appreciates a great female physique, I fully admit I don’t hate scrolling through Instagram and seeing these shots. But does this actually do anything to inspire people? Or does it just drive people away?

If anything, these soft-core porno X Pro II filtered photos just make fitness seem less accessible.

The actual trainers in the fitness industry aren’t helping matters, either.

We know a few things to be universal truths when it comes to being healthy, dropping fat, and building muscle.

  • Eat lots of colorful vegetables.
  • Don’t eat too much salt, sugar, or fat.
  • Eat plenty of lean proteins.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy the foods you love sometimes.

Instead of continually selling this sort of message to the masses what do we do? We spend all of our time on the Internet bitching at each other over whether or not the latest meal timing study really shows that we should be eating 30 minutes after a training session.

That sort of fitness circle jerking does zero good to the average person, the type of person who is most likely our client, the very person we’re looking to help.

Instead what it does is serve as a way for us to prove how smart we are to our peers and seek their approval. This is almost all the fitness industry is: trainers seeking one another’s approval.

We write in a manner that is damn near impossible for the layperson to understand, and instead, we work to impress our colleagues. Which is well and good, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to actually help people.

It’s all too common for a Fit Pro to publish an article, and the response comes almost entirely from other Fit Pros. No regular people, no people who actually need help, just other Fit Pros who are coming by and giving a quick little hand job of approval.

This doesn’t help our clients. Somewhere along the way we started applying shit that mattered to .05% of the population to 95% of the population when they haven’t even gotten their bases covered.

Or in a way the Fit Pros can understand it – we took someone who had never learned to squat, threw 315lbs on their back, and told them to get ass to grass.

Of course I wasn’t sure if I should use that example because I know a number of Fit Pros would suddenly launch into an argument about squat depth, and if you don’t go ass to grass does it even count?

We’re not doing a damn thing to help our clients, and it sucks.

The fitness industry is becoming increasingly elitist and the divide is continually growing between the haves and the have nots. 

Those who have are the trainers, and the minority of clients who are actually advanced enough to know what they hell we’re talking about when we anterior pelvic tilt, and why we need to worry about it.

The have nots are everyone else. They are our moms, dads, and family members. The people who just want to lose a little bit of weight, get to feeling better, and start eating healthier.

These have nots are underserved, and that’s why programs like Weight Watchers, and the Beach Body Company are kicking our ass. They kick our ass because we make fitness inaccessible. The average client doesn’t give a flying fuck about carb cycling while going through a wave loading squat program.

The average client just wants a program that will get them results, in the simplest way possible. That’s where Weight Watchers and other programs have succeeded. They market to this segment perfectly, while we Fit Pros are too busy jerking each other off with our latest article.

Getting jerked off feels good, I’m not going to debate that. But we didn’t get into this to get jerked off by each other. We got into this to help our clients get kick-ass results.

Even if it means that we give up all the under the table handies our online friends give us, the truth of the matter is that we won’t get any better at getting our clients results until we decide we truly care about helping as many people as possible, and we commit to that. 

Resources 

  1. Weight Watchers alone brought in $1.2 billion in 2012, for instance
About the Author

Tanner Baze is a former Texan who now lives in Hotlanta. He is a lover of all things Star Wars, Gangster Rap, and Taking Back Sunday. When he's not reading Vonnegut or Hunter S. Thompson he's probably deadlifting, hanging out with his dog Bowser, or watching a romcom. www.tannerbaze.com.

  • Ahladita ActiveLife

    Interesting post, thanks

    Have a look at my healthy lifestyle site

  • Krystal Woo

    Well put

  • Hammer… meet nail… Great write up Tanner.

  • I think that many people just aren’t ready to change physically. You can have all the personal trainers, all the information about losing weight you want, but if you don’t really want it bad enough you’re not gonna do anything about it. People are complacent and many people just don’t care enough to get in shape.

  • scott

    We don’t address the customer’s mindset, it’s that simple. We do have all the right info, but if our client’s mindset is fixed, it won’t allow the information to get in. We need to address what is stopping them from being successful and quit barking at them with positive affirmations, programs, and motivational techniques. Teach them to “release the brakes” and you will find success for them. Mindset matters most!

  • darren

    You make some great points about how trainers can better direct their focus. Although even if we all did that, it still wouldn’t solve the obesity issue because our industry for the most part doesn’t really understand the root cause of it, and doesn’t do much to address it. We address the symptoms of it with diet and exercise advice, but rarely address the root cause. Obesity is partly a mental health issue, and partly a cultural/societal/economic influenced issue. Most fitness professionals are ill equipped from our industry’s abysmal education standards to address the underlying psychological/neurological reasons people continue to make poor life style choices even when they logically know better. The reality is that the majority of the population that needs the help the most won’t even be able to afford to work directly with a well qualified fitness professional. How do we fix that?

  • Mauricio Cardenal

    Great post. What I’ve found working with trainers is that they are just terrible marketers. They focus on the wrong things in their business instead of focusing on creating a message that attracts clients.

    A lot of trainers are driven to be a fit but not driven to succeed in business. The fitness industry is wide open and even though there is a lot of competition, anybody driven enough can have massive success in a very short time frame.

  • Tanner The Terminator

    I couldn’t agree with you more. If you haven’t, check out habitry.com. I think you’ll enjoy the stuff they put out.

  • RE

    Indeed

  • Dude….awesome article. I read it twice. You summed up the fitness industry pretty well. I don’t work in the health and fitness industry but in another life I did loose 100lbs. I started my health and fitness blog as a hobby to show other dad’s you don’t need the latest diet, pre-workout supplement or equipment to get in shape. It was born out of frustration. I hated reading all the horse shit on Instagram and Facebook. Most fitness ‘pro’s’ on the internet are douche bags.

    How can a single 23 year old on Trombolone, posting ab selfies, possibly “coach” or advise a 45 year old working dad with 3 kids? Really?

    Keep the blue side up.
    Joe

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Thanks a ton Joe. I appreciate it. You and I are on the same page here my man.

  • Great job Tanner, you nailed what needed to be said. P.S. Are we still making that Bach and Baze band?!

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Yes. We absolutely are. Practice starting soon.

  • kairafit

    Great read Tanner!

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Thank you!

  • Great post Tanner. As someone new to the online fitness biz, I am amazed at the echo chamber and lack of client focus.

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Thanks Jeff! It’s something we all struggle with. Myself included.

  • Brad Gorlicki

    This was great :-)

    Definitely a good reminder to check my content (stop jerking off) and ask myself… is this too complicated?

    • Tanner The Terminator

      You and I both, Brad. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Best thing I’ve read this week. *golf clap*

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Thanks a ton Daniel!

  • We need more people like you. *virtual high five*

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Thank you so much Courtney! I appreciate it.

  • Melissa Bell

    Yes. A thousand times yes.

    • Tanner The Terminator

      YASSSSS.

  • Inspiring post and definitely helps me refocus. It goes back to that saying, if you want to make a million dollars, help a million people.

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Couldn’t agree more. I’m so glad you liked it.

  • Jonathan_Goodman1

    Yep

    • Tanner The Terminator

      Thanks, Jon!