The December 2013 issue of Women’s Health Magazine offers the headlines “3 Tricks to Look Slimmer ASAP” and “The 5-Minute Workout You NEED to Try”. Shape Magazine features “The Secret to Faster Fat Loss” and “The Fastest Way to Lose 10 Pounds”.
The editors at these magazines know that fitness and weight-loss goals are long-term projects requiring planning, commitment and perseverance. Click on “The Fastest Way to Lose 10 Pounds” and in the second paragraph you’ll be reminded that “Losing weight is a 24-hour-a-day lifestyle that consists of proper sleep, nutrition, hydration, and fitness.” Click on “The 5-Minute Workout,” and you’ll see that the author actually advocates repeating that 5-minute workout three to five times, resulting in something approaching a 25-minute workout. So why the misleading headlines?
Those headlines get more people to buy their magazines and click on their links.
Everyone’s a sucker for the promise of a quick fix.
The fitness manager at one of the gyms where I used to train admonished us to “Give your clients what they need, but package it in what they want.” On the face of it, this isn’t bad advice at all. Educating clients about what they really need is a big part of a trainer’s job, but understanding and caring about what they say they want is also very important. That said, what my manager really meant was that we should play along with the unrealistic pipe dreams clients often express long enough to make them utterly dependent on us.
In other words, promise them quick fixes.
I left that gym after less than a month.
Promising quick fixes is an effective sales strategy, especially considering how vulnerable, hopeful and uneducated most new gym members are. If, in addition to being a good salesman, the trainer is a skilled instructor and motivator, dangling the carrot of the quick fix can result in a lifelong commitment to fitness. More frequently, however, it leads to high-volume sales but poor client retention.
This is bad for everyone but the “SalesTrainers™”, who will replace the lost clients by promising quick fixes to new ones. It’s bad for their more scrupulous colleagues, who find it hard to compete with the promise of a quick fix. It’s bad for their frustrated former clients, who took a leap of faith but may now be discouraged enough to give up on exercise altogether. It’s bad for the industry when they rejoin the ranks of the 81% who fail to engage regularly in “high levels of physical activity”.
It is bad for all of us because it perpetuates the idea that the odds of permanently improving fitness or maintaining weight loss are very slim.
Sustainable fitness gains and weight loss may seem elusive and mysterious, and the statistics would seem to bear that out. To ethical fitness professionals, however, it’s essentially a matter of science. Barring any unusual health limitations, if you show up, put in the time on a regular basis, and stick to a reasonable and balanced caloric intake, we can help you get from where you are to where you want to be. We’ll also give you an honest and realistic idea of how long it will take.
We begin with a series of assessments to determine your current level of fitness. These assessments gather objective data about the state and functionality of your body. This data includes:
- Physiological measurements – height, weight, age, resting heart rate and blood pressure;
- Body composition – the percentage of body weight that is fat versus fat-free tissue;
- Cardiorespiratory assessments – maximal oxygen uptake;
- Posture and movement assessments – neuromuscular efficiency;
- Performance assessments – muscular stability, endurance, and overall strength.
We then use the results of these assessments to design a program to meet your goals. At regular intervals, we perform reassessments to track your progress and make adjustments to your program in accordance with your increasing skills and strength.
Gathering and tracking this data is crucial for meeting fitness and weight goals. This is what makes it possible for your trainer to translate “what you want” into “what you need”. You may want to lose 20 pounds, slim down to a 30” waist, or bench press your own weight, but the path to these goals will differ for each individual depending on the results of an integrated fitness assessment. Some people may need to emphasize neuromuscular efficiency and joint stabilization in order to become capable of engaging in a level of exercise that will allow them to achieve their goals. Others will need to focus more on improving body composition or cardiorespiratory function.
Without this data and a program informed by it, it will be hit-or-miss whether you actually achieve your goals. It may seem for a while like you’re making progress towards them, but in time you may find yourself on an endless plateau or halted by strain or injury. It will also take a lot longer, making you that much more likely to get frustrated and give up.
There are a number of factors that make it challenging to adopt lifestyle changes leading to long-term sustainable fitness gains and weight loss. In addition to a pervasive cultural longing for quick fixes, many people have to overcome body-image or other psychological issues, overhaul lifelong eating habits, and/or dispel assumptions about their own potential.
When you realize that these factors are all incredibly personal, it becomes clear how vital objective criteria is to your success. If you put your trust in the objective data and the science behind physical transformation, it will help you override doubts and fears that can undermine your perseverance. Seeing your fitness statistics improve provides much-needed assurance that you will, in time, achieve your goals.
While what you bring to your singing is deeply personal, your instrument is a physical body and your vocal technique comprises movements that can be distilled down to specific physical actions. We therefore owe it to ourselves to inquire whether there might be useful assessments yielding objective criteria similar to the technologies available to fitness trainers, so that we can quantify crucial skill sets of individual singers, effectively measure their current strengths and weaknesses, and track improvements in their technique.
In my next post, I’ll share my strategies for implementing such assessments in my voice studio.