The Fitness Bias of Fitness Professionals

It was one of the best bike rides of my life, let me tell you.  I cleaned two lines that I was really excited about, and rode a drop that I’ve been eying for a while.  I got home and told Katie that only she has given me butterflies like that.  I then said, “And it was so easy, it was only a two hour ride.”

In that sentence, I came crashing back down to earth.  Fortunately I didn’t do any crashing on this section of trail at Sprain Ridge.

The reason I came crashing back down is because I heard myself saying that a two hour bike ride is easy.  In the last few weeks I’ve been extending my rides in duration to 3-4 hours, and as a contrast, two hours in Sprain Ridge felt like a piece of cake.  It wasn’t until I heard what I said that I realized I had unchecked fitness privilege.

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I chatted with Katie about this, and noted that I also had unchecked fitness privilege when I got to MFF, but at the time it was powerlifting privilege.  Far before we were dating, I got mad at her for referring to a 315lb deadlift as heavy.  I referenced comments from Eric Cressey, found on his blog:

Sorry, folks, but I’m here to burst your bubble. A 315 deadlift is not inspirational ? At least not unless you’re a 110-pound female. 315 is speed weight – Or something you do for 87 reps on a whim after a dare (not that I’d know anything about stupid challenges like that).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any healthy male under the age of 50 can deadlift 400 within two years of proper training ? And most can do it even faster than that.”

At the time, I was all about this.  To a certain degree, I still am.  However, in the last three years I’ve learned that some of the statements we make as fitness professionals may not come across as optimistic.  Rather, they may come across as arrogant.  I’m all for the former, but would hate to seem emotionally insensitive while doing my good-faith best to get someone jazzed up to exercise.

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Part of our role as fitness professionals, as coaches and trainers, is to instill the traditions and customs of exercise into our clients.  It’s why I often find myself sharing the custom of loading a barbell with the metal plates facing inwards. Lyle McDonald calls it keeping the power inside the bar, and it’s something that Mark Fisher is pretty religious about teaching to every Ninja he trains.

In the same vain, it’s important that we normalize certain fitness behaviors.  Where are you more likely to see someone do a pull-up for the first time: In a room where everyone is doing pull-ups, or in a room where nobody is doing pull-ups?

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In many ways, I feel like we have an obligation to teach the wisdom of the weight room; plates face inward and pull-ups are normal. One of those is easy to do for everyone in any workout, the other may prove to be a life-long challenge.  I believe we can still teach both, provided we do so with this awareness:

It’s important to meet people where you’re at.

It’s more important to meet people where they’re at.

If someone hasn’t ridden a bike since childhood, I’d likely come across as an asshole remarking on the ease of a two hour trail ride, the same way our roadie friends chide the 50 mile ride once they get used to a century ride every weekend.  The 600lb deadlifter has no issues deadlifting 315lbs as many times as they want, but 600lb deadlifters are few and far between, and 315lbs is still intimidating to a whole lot of people.

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This mornings two-hour bike ride felt short for me, and 315lbs may be light for someone else, and I hope that as fitness professionals we can see outside of the bubbles we live in.  For each person inspired by the stretch goal of working towards something big, someone else is turned off by their fear of sure failure.  We can’t rewrite that story if it never starts.  Let’s share our knowledge and passion, while meeting people with the challenges best suited for them.

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