Jargon, Language, and Learning from Dr. Oz

Posterior Pelvic Tilt.  Mechanical Disadvantage.  Acetabular Femoral Impingement.  Pelvic Obliquity.

These are all things that trainers should know about.  We encounter these conditions each and every day with our clients, and should be able to address them while we train.

But stop talking about them.  Stop it right now.

The problem with talking about these things, about explaining the asymmetrical nature of the diaphragm and how it drives the L AIC pattern, is that nobody cares about it.  Sure, maybe someone will ask you to explain the Left Anterior Interior Chain because your acronyms confused them, but that’s success.

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As funny as it sounds, there are plenty of us that do this, and do it every day.  Unfortunately we’re not always aware of this when it happens, and it’s only when it gets extreme that we get called out on it.  Let’s look at Dr. Oz as our prime example.

“America’s Doctor” has long caught flak from the fitness industry for the claims and statements that he makes on his show, The Dr. Oz Show.  A cardiothoracic surgeon, Oz’s show focuses primarily on health issues that are popular in culture.  Considering the massive culture issues of obesity, there’s a ton of talk on physical and nutritional strategies.

It leads to Oz asking questions like this:

Well intentioned and happy to help, Dr. Oz hasn’t been getting the answers that he wants.  There are responses from all corners of the internet, from the trolls poking fun, to other medical professionals providing their thoughts.

For example, this nutritional science PhD candidate was wondering how many of these diets can be combined:

While this biology and pharmacology PhD candidate is curious about the verbiage that we use:

My inner jokester loves Colby’s response, but as a coach I’m far more excited about Pauli’s tweet.  It’s a damn good question, and one that the fitness industry struggles with while being unaware of it ourselves.  That’s right Mr/Mrs Brand-New-Really-Serious-Trainer.  I think you’re missing this one.  Let’s ask the question again:

How do I tell the difference between “Flowery Language” and “Bullsh*t”?

I’m in a corner of the fitness world where my peers are passionate, serious, and educated.  Many of the friends I’ve made in the industry hold degrees related to exercise science, advanced certifications, and make a point of reading, watching, and attending every continuing education event that they can.  Why is that we often don’t have the bigger social impact that’s desired?

Because we’re concerned that flowery language leads to bullshit.

Let me provide context to this statement by looking at every strength coach’s favorite word, “Toning.”  Have you ever met someone who calls themselves a “strength coach” and also talks about how to “tone” muscles?  Nope, it doesn’t happen.

Instead, we talk about body recomposition, we remind everyone that toning isn’t the right word, and imply, albeit unintentionally, that everything the “toning” user knows about their body is wrong.  Here’s how it often plays out:

  • Clients:  Hey, I’m not feeling good about [fill-in-the-blank-body-part]. I want to tone it.
  • Trainer: ‘Toning’ isn’t actually a thing.  It’s losing body fat while building muscle.  And it happens throughout your body.  Before we talk about your goals, let me just reiterate that your verbiage is entirely inaccurate.
  • Client:  I’m less concerned about the flowery language, and more concerned about how you just made me feel.  I’m too fat and don’t have any muscle, right?  I’m going to go talk to the person who has less-effective training, but makes me feel understood.
  • Trainer:  Man, some people just don’t get it!

Bad-Personal-Trainer

HAHA!  Jokes on you, suckers!  See, it’s not about what you know, or about what people think you know.  If you’re looking for a pat on the back for reading a new book, or intellectual masturbation, just go to more conferences.  Don’t do it with the person who’s willing to pay for your expertise.

(Aside:  This is how some folks have built their business.  Be so overwhelmingly complicated that people just keep asking for more.  I’m not sure how it works to convince people to come back to feel less stupid.  Enlighten me.)

Instead, I encourage the educated, well-read, practical trainers to embrace the flowery language.  Be MORE like Dr. Oz.  Use the terms that you reflexively redefine for people.  Use the exercise that you loathe but they ask for.  Use not 100% effective physiology, but 100% effective psychology.

You see, we don’t make the biggest difference by writing the absolute best training system out there, and we don’t reinforce that difference with the need to teach anyone who will listen why what they’re doing matters.  The exercise isn’t as important as the result that it gives you, and the words that you use are even more fluid.  The person who is deadlifting to tone their tush like a cover model is going to see better results than the person wiggling their leg in space because they saw the cover model doing that in the featured workout.

It’s not your responsibility to share every ounce of information that you know.  It’s your responsibility to enact as much of that information as is appropriate.  We too often rely on jargon and technical verbiage because we’re concerned about our esteem and reputation.

Guess what:  You’re not one use of “tone” from being the next Tracy Anderson.  You’re not one “clean food” away from Skinny Girl margaritas.  You might be one “sit ups will destroy your back here’s lets get a ZOA*” away from obscurity, as you remind someone else that they don’t know what to do.  Remember:

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I don’t believe that the talented and passionate among us are so reliant on a specific word that we use that it’s become part of our identity.  I believe that we’re smart enough to understand that some synonyms we can use with integrity while better bonding with our clients.  We CAN use less jargon and sterile verbiage so that we’re better in touch with the needs of our clients and team members.

This isn’t to say that we don’t ever need to discuss things with this language, but consider it an entirely different tongue.  We should be speaking two languages, that are respectful and appropriate for situation.  Become bilingual.

That brings me back to Dr. Oz.  He began to learn “Pop-culture as a Second Language” and then went too far.  He missed his roots.  He lost report with the medical community, and continues to lose credibility with his audience.  Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt; consider it an overzealous, ill-fated effort to connect with a greater audience.

We can learn from this.  Let him be the trailblazer, and learn from where his journey has gone awry.  Next time you’re teaching, or training, be it your oldest client or a brand new one, I empower you to reflect the words that they use, to echo their thoughts and concerns, and use that as the dialect for the discussion.  That’s how we can learn from Dr. Oz’s inbox.

*Zone of Apposition.  If you’re a trainer, seriously learn about this from PRI.

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2 Replies to “Jargon, Language, and Learning from Dr. Oz”

  1. Excellent post Harold! I have been guilty of using too many technical terms with clients. Fortunately after having many clients ask me wtf I was talking about I’ve been able to break it down in lamest terms. Good points of PRI as well!

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