Wacking through the fitness marketing weeds


I think the internet is a really amazing tool. It’s helped propel a fitness movement into a full-scale revolution. In fact, I first started working out years ago only because I watched a YouTube video of Annie Thorisdottir working out and thought, “I want to do that!” Millions of people around the world have a similar story, and their lives have changed forever for it.

That is so cool and inspiring. And yet, the flip side is that companies trying to make a quick buck were also taking notice of this sea change. With so much information out there, and with everyone claiming to be a fitness expert, how do we filter what information to take in?

I’m not going to call out specific exercise programs or name shady companies claiming to be beacons of health. I will leave that to someone else more credible than myself. But I will share with you what yardsticks I use to measure whether the information I’m receiving is worth me trusting and absorbing. Sifting through all this information can be exasperating.

First, I wouldn’t trust an exercise program that capitalizes on your insecurities. For example, claims that home workout videos are superior because gyms are uncomfortable are seizing on your insecurities to use as incentive to buy their product. This reasoning is also typically targeted at women: “you see those free weights in the corner that all the guys hog and make you feel really uncomfortable if you try to use? Yeah you don’t need those. In fact…don’t bother going to the gym at all…buy this workout DVD and stay at home instead” only perpetuates this systemic cultural problem. If a woman wants to use those free weights, SHE SHOULD GO USE THEM. We as women need to be assertive and unapologetic about that. I’ve had my share of negative gym experiences. Whether the experience involves someone who isn’t very good at sharing equipment or whether you’re on the receiving end of unwanted stares, I can relate to feeling uncomfortable at the gym. But, there are also plenty of gyms built around a sense of community, inclusion, and egality, and I would encourage everyone I know and love to find one of those gyms before giving your money to someone all too eager to capitalize on those very real and valid insecurities.

I also wouldn’t trust a product that makes outsize claims. The biggest example of this I see are detox “fit” teas or “skinny” teas marketed on social media. These are money-making scams. Always stick to the basics first: sleep well. And if you can do that, make most of your meals balanced and containing whole foods. If you can do that, work out. But if a marketer (and yes, “marketer” includes reality TV personalities all the way on down the line to your neighbor who bought bulk cases of fit teas that they’re now desperately trying to get off their hands!) is claiming that this one magic elixir will solve everything, it’s okay to be skeptical and save your money.

As a general rule, any fitness or diet protocol that advertises you put in less effort and still lose weight/get fitter/get stronger might also be worth scrutinizing. Gyms that are $10 a month rely on the assumption you’ll barely show up, otherwise, their square footage alone wouldn’t be able to sustain such a massive membership base (imagine 10,000 people descending on your local gym all at once!). Think about it: they’re banking on you not showing up. Know that progress always comes with a sacrifice or priority shift of some kind; sometimes it’s time, sometimes it’s money, but, as the old economist adage goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Lastly, I find products and workout programs geared specifically for women and/or men to be suspect. I wouldn’t rule them all out entirely, but any supplement labeled “for women” often boasts that the product will “shape” and “tone” your body as opposed to building muscle mass. On the other side, products labeled “for men” will brag about the product’s powers of getting you “ripped” and “shredded” in no time at all. The difference isn’t in the ingredient list, but in the marketing. It turns out, this is a very effective marketing tactic for all types of products. Similarly, workout programs marketed to females that eliminate strength training because it isn’t feminine or because it will cause you to become too “bulky” are also making a dubious claim. Lifting heavy weights does not make you bulky. And the females on Instagram or YouTube that you do find to be “bulky” spend hours in the gym every single day, and they are likely consuming enough calories to feed a family of four. 😉 It didn’t happen by accident! So no, you won’t get bulky by lifting heavy. You will, however, get stronger. So, be wary of exercise protocols that recommend you not do something merely on account of being a woman.

So there you have it! I hope you find some of these tricks helpful in sorting through all the noise. I’ll close by saying most of what’s out there is inherently good and well-intended. I definitely didn’t write this to stoke fear and doubt, especially in an industry I care so much about. But, as with anything from pet supplies to ballot boxes, being a savvy consumer of information can go a long way and save a lot of time and frustration.



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