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The fitness industry is extremely tough to navigate as a beginner because of the sheer amount of “gurus” proclaiming they have the “secrets” to getting ripped.
If you hit the popular fitness sites, you’ll find contradictory advice at every turn.
- Some people say you have to eat bland “clean” foods to get ripped, while others will say you can do it eating junk food.
- Some say you should focus on higher rep “pump” training, while others say you have to focus on heavy lifting.
- Some say you have to eat meals every few hours, while others say meal frequency is irrelevant.
- Some say high-protein diets are key, while others say it’s not that important.
- Some say genetics play a huge role, while others say they’re barely a factor.
How can you know who’s right and who’s wrong? How can you know who to listen to?
Well, I used to wrestle with all these issues and have not only escaped the maze but, ironically, have become something of a fitness guru myself. In this article, I want to share with you 5 criteria you can use to judge if someone is worth listening to or not.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
If a fitness guru claims to have a revolutionary dietary or exercise routine, they’re probably full of shit.
Anyone that claims to have found special “shortcuts” to getting muscular, lean, and strong, is probably lying. And the more special they claim their methods, the more likely they’re lying. If they say their “discovery” is going to revolutionize the industry–or is–they’re definitely lying.
You see, contrarian marketing works really well. When someone speaks out against things “everyone knows,” it grabs people’s attention and makes them suggestible to influence. It’s just how we humans are wired.
The more contrarian the pitch (the more it goes against what we all know about getting fit–you have to control food intake and exercise regularly), the more likely it’s bullshit.
Fortunately, these types of fraudsters are usually pretty easy to spot.
- They often tell you that “traditional” methods of building muscle and getting lean don’t work, or don’t work well. They’ll say things like bulking and cutting doesn’t work, calorie counting doesn’t work, traditional strength and hypertrophy training doesn’t work, etc.
- They often talk about “weird” tips and tricks that help you build muscle and get lean.
- They often promise fast, easy results.
- They often share their “transformation stories” and physiques to sell their methods. These stories almost always follow the same formula: Starting Situation, Tried and Failed, Breakthrough, Consistent Results, Others Did It Too, You Can Learn Too.
- They often refer to scientific research without citing sources for your review.
- They often coin (and trademark) pseudoscientific names for their pet training and dietary theories.
The truth is while many people do train and eat incorrectly and thus make poor progress, there are no magic bullets or “inside secrets” beyond steroids, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
When it comes to diet, it all boils down to energy balance and macronutrient balancing. Manipulating carbohydrate intake, meal timing and sizes, and food choices are all relatively unimportant in the bigger scheme of things.
When it comes to weightlifting, it all boils down to intensity and frequency, exercise selection, and progressive overload. Proper training is much simpler than most fitness gurus want you to believe: lift heavy weights, train every muscle group once every 5 to 7 days, focus on compound exercises, and make sure you’re adding weight to the bar over time.
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If a fitness guru doesn’t demonstrate a good scientific understanding of the subject, they will probably lead you astray.
The fitness space is riddled with gymlore and broscience, and all kinds of myths and fallacies are kept alive by word of mouth. For example, do any of these claims sound familiar?
- “Bad carbs” make you fat
- Losing weight requires “clean eating,” which means restricting all kinds of foods
- You have to eat absurd amounts of protein every day to build muscle
- You will lose muscle if you don’t eat protein every few hours
- Eating too few meals per day slows down your metabolism, and could even cause your body to go into “starvation mode”
- Eating at night causes fat storage
Chances are you’ve heard these things repeated ad nauseam by magazines, bloggers, gym buddies, trainers, and just about anyone else that cares enough about fitness to discuss it.
Well, they’re all false. How do I know that? Because I’ve got the inside scoop on revolutionary fat-burning and muscle-building secrets? Hardly.
First and foremost, I know they’re false because I’ve reviewed the scientific research that categorically disproves them–research that I cite for others to review as well.Furthermore, I’ve found my own experiences–both with my body and with the thousands of people I’ve helped–in line with the research.
I used to believe those myths though (and many others). And I learned my lesson. When I want to know more about some aspect of health or fitness, I always turn to the scientific literature first, and in my opinion, you should only listen to people that do the same.
Yes, it’s time consuming and sometimes frustrating to find what I need, but it’s the only way to be truly objective about this game and know what we do and don’t understand, and what we can and can’t be certain about.
- If a fitness guru makes no reference whatsoever to scientific studies, watch out. Chances are he or she is going to be wrong about quite a bit.
- If casual references are made without citations, this is slightly better, but I’m still wary. I want to see the studies for myself because sometimes they’re misunderstood or misattributed.
- If regular scientific citations are included, that’s a very good sign. Again, I want to see the studies myself, but the fact that the person has taken the time to (ostensibly) do the research bodes well.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, millions of studies from all around the world can be found on PubMed, and those that aren’t freely available can be accessed using a service like DeepDyve.
If a fitness guru doesn’t have good client success stories, there’s probably a reason.
Just because someone is in shape themselves doesn’t necessarily mean they can get you into shape too.
I don’t know how many times people have come to me ready to give up after some online fitness coach prescribed them a ridiculous regimen of a very low-calorie diet consisting of a handful of bland “approved” foods; long, grueling weight sessions; and hours of weekly cardio. If that’s what it takes to get fit, people say, it’s just not for them…and I totally understand!
Well, fortunately it doesn’t have to be like that. A good coach can get you into great shape eating foods you like, never feeling starved, and exercising no more than 4 to 6 hours per week.
There are plenty of good coaches out there, and they will all have good client success stories. The people will have made clear progress and usually there will be a write-up from them explaining how the experience was (there won’t just be a couple of images). The last point is important because before and after shots get ripped off left and right. You can’t always accept them at face value.
A good habit is to do a reverse image search on the images and see if they come up elsewhere. If the pictures are just ripped off, you’ll often find them on sales pages, message boards, and social media profiles.
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If a fitness guru doesn’t walk the walk and look the part, you probably shouldn’t listen to them.
There are exceptions to this rule of thumb, but it’s pretty workable. If the guy or gal you’re considering isn’t in great shape, you should probably ignore them.
If they themselves aren’t strong, lean, and muscular, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to help you do it either.
It’s possible that they actually know what’s what and are just too lazy to do it themselves or don’t care enough, but there’s probably only a handful of people in this space that fit that description.
In most cases, the skinny-fat guys and gals billing themselves as fitness gurus have no place advising you or anyone else on how to get fit.
This includes the scientifically oriented guys and gals that can cite studies for days but couldn’t deadlift their body weight to save their lives. These are the people that will argue that 30-rep sets work great for building muscle, the only way to build muscle is to train every muscle group 2 to 3 times per week, you never need more protein than .8 grams per pound of body weight, and many other claims that can be supported by cherry-picked studies, but that don’t pan out in long-term real-world application.
If a fitness guru looks too good, they’re probably on steroids, and that changes everything.
Everyone knows that the freakish bodybuilders featured in magazines and such are on ridiculous amounts of drugs, but many people don’t know just how prevalent steroids are in this world.
This might sound cynical but a large percentage of people making a living off their physiques are on steroids. That includes fitness models and competitors, YouTube and social media stars, and yes, bloggers and authors too.
They all claim natural, of course, and this leads many people to believe that the only ones using steroids are the hulking monsters. That’s far from the truth though.
The massive, shredded professional bodybuilders have gotten there through years of intense and myriad drug use (abuse, really) specifically engineered to build freakish amount of muscle. The average person would be shocked how many grams of drugs some of these guys shoot and swallow every week.
On the other hand, the smaller guys with incredibly impressive physiques claiming natural are also often on quite a bit of drugs as well, but just different combinations and amounts. When done right, this gives them the look most guys would kill for:
- Big, grainy, full muscles that almost look like “3-dimensional” chunks of stone with skin stretched over them
- Deep cuts everywhere you look, especially in the smaller muscles like the serratus and intercostals
- Extremely low levels of body fat (4 to 5%)
Let me put a visual to this:
While I really wish this look could be achieved without drugs, it just can’t be. End of story.
Here’s a simple checklist for spotting drug use:
- If someone is freakishly huge, they’re on drugs. Obvious, but should be on the list.
- If someone has an incredible physique and is constantly talking about how they’re natural, they’re probably on drugs. This is like the politician that constantly tells us how honest he is.
- If someone has an incredible physique and their workouts consist of 2-hour sessions of high-rep work, they’re on drugs. This style of training simply doesn’t work for naturals once the “newbie gains” are exhausted.
- If someone has an incredible physique and never seems to go above 10% body fat, even when bulking, no matter how much they eat, they’re on drugs. This is because you just can’t out-eat the anabolic power of certain drugs.
- If someone has an incredible physique and competes professionally (has a pro card), even in a natural league, they’re on drugs. Let’s stop pretending that the drug testing in most natural leagues isn’t an absolute joke.
Now, you might be wondering why all this matters. Who cares what people do with their bodies? I’m 100% with you on that–I don’t personally care who uses steroids and who doesn’t.
BUT…there’s a problem when these guys and gals start advising you, who isn’t on drugs. What they do probably won’t work for you.
If they’re using their drugs properly, they will be training and eating a lot more than you can. If you follow their routines, you’ll simply wind up fat and overtrained.
This isn’t to say that all drug users give bad advice–far from it. There are many that know exactly what naturals should be doing and advise accordingly. But you should be careful when taking training or dietary advice from someone clearly on drugs as it may or may not actually work for you.
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How much do certifications matter?
Being certified as a personal trainer means essentially nothing. If you can memorize some basic facts to pass a test, you can get your trainer’s license. Thus, the foolish stuff we see trainers having clients do every day.
A formal education in a field related to health or fitness is definitely a good sign, but don’t let a degree take precedence over all else discussed in this article. There are plenty of fitness gurus with impressive academic resumes that aren’t in great shape themselves, that don’t have good client successes, and that are all about hawking their “revolutionary” diet and exercise methodologies.