27 Observations from 27 Years in the Fitness Industry

1988…..leg warmers, thong leotards and the first real aerobics shoe, a Reebok high top “instructor” model. Those were the good ole days when aerobics was on top of the fitness world, nautilus machines were the way to get strong, and joining a big box gym was your only choice. 1988 was also the year I began to teach aerobics, the beginning of a long career in fitness. It’s hard to describe to young fitness enthusiasts what those days were like, but, needless to say, we thought we knew everything about fitness.

Does it look like ANYONE has any idea what they are doing here?
Does it look like ANYONE has any idea what they are doing here?

Fast forward 27 years, and I realize we knew nothing (or very little) about fitness. Exercise science was in its infancy. Core conditioning was an unknown. Rolling around on foam rollers and small balls? That would’ve been weird. Luckily, as the concept of exercise science and functional exercise blossomed, so did I. There’s a ton of things I’ve learned over the last 27 years, and although some of it I learned from workshops, classes and certifications, a lot of it I learned from my own experience working with thousands of men and women as a fitness instructor, yoga instructor, gym owner and personal trainer.

Here’s 27 of my personal observations from the last 27 years, in no specific order. (Although #1 is especially important to me and a problem I’m still seeking to solve!)

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#1- Most women have an unhealthy relationship with food. Hence, they eat…. or don’t eat….based on comfort, sadness, peer pressure, emotions or control, instead of eating for health and good nutrition. Until we change our relationship with food, no diet will work.
#2- The fitness industry continues to serve only a small percentage of the population- the fit and very fit. We have failed those who need us most, the obese and inactive. Fitness crazes like HIIT and Crossfit do not appeal to this population. When will we, as an industry, begin to shift towards making a real difference in our country’s health?
#3- Diets don’t work for permanent weight loss. See #1. They sometimes work for temporary weight loss. If you like losing 20 lbs, and then gaining 25 lbs, keep dieting.
#4- Supplement companies have been selling magic potions and snake oil for decades. This is not about helping people, it’s about making money. Whether it’s Shaklee, Herbalife, Amway, Beach Body or Isagenix, there seems to be very little change in mindset in this multi- billion dollar industry. Come up with false promises and before and after photos (even if they are fake) and you’ve got a supplement line.
#5- Hard strength training is essential for women. Maybe even more so than men. Better get to it now ladies!
#6- Running never was and never is the best way to get fit. It is convenient and a great way to get out in nature, but it’s also an easy way to get injured, if overdone. Better to get fit first, then run, than to run to get fit.
#7- Women of all ages, fitness levels, careers, cultures and mindsets have some body self-loathing. Can’t we all get together and support each other rather than fat shame and judge each other?
#8- Those people who did not grow up liking vegetables, fruits and healthy foods eventually will be very overweight. Many of my most overweight clients still do not like or eat vegetables and whole foods. Starting healthy eating at a young age is essential.
#9- Processed foods are killing us.
#10- A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Trainers who demean, threaten or yell at their clients are uneducated about human behavior and should not be working in this industry. Can you say Jillian Michaels?
#11- Being thin does not make you happy. Some of the thinnest people I know still hate their bodies and act accordingly.
#12- If you join a gym just to walk on their treadmills, you are not interested in getting truly fit.
#13- Most yoga devotees are often highly mobile to begin with. Why stretch so much when you are already flexible? We all like to do what we are good at. We need to do the opposite- challenge ourselves in areas that will balance our fitness, rather than push us towards imbalance and dysfunction.
#14- Sitting for work or leisure is a killer. Exercising may not undo the negative effects of sitting. We need to stop sitting so much.
#15- Good posture is extremely important. We should’ve listened to our mother’s rants to “Sit up straight!” I see terrible posture in today’s teens, a set up for the same chronic pain and dysfunction shown by my adult clients who never paid attention to posture.
#16- It’s more important to work your back muscles than your chest muscles.
#17- Self Myofascial Release (Foam/stick/ball rolling) is here to stay. Soft tissue work done on yourself, or by a massage therapist, is a big part of being healthy. Everyone should be working on their soft tissue.
#18- Arthritis- also known as part of AGING- is not an excuse not to move. The more you move, the better you feel. We need to stop using mild joint aches and pains as an excuse not to weight train.
#19- No one can lose significant amounts of weight without a dedicated, organized support team. Why do we think we can do it alone? It takes a village- a village of personal coaches, nutritionists, trainers and family support.
#20- Drinking excess alcohol- more than 7 drinks/week for women, and more than 14 /week for men, will sabotage all diets. If you want to lose weight, cut down on alcohol.
#21- Most runners run too much. This is why they get hurt. If you are running for fitness, not performance and competition, keep it in check. 3 miles, 3 times a week is fine. Plenty.
#22- Aging and menopause changes everything for women. Any trainer who tells you that your extra body fat is not related to this process is ignorant. Or maybe, just a man.
#23- Zumba is the exact same kind of exercise class I taught 20 years ago. So is cardio sculpt, Sean T’s hip hop abs and Tony Horton’s Beach Body classes. Back in the 1980’s, we actually thought you could “sculpt” muscles with cardio and light weights. Why are these claims still around 25 years later, when we know better?
#24- Most physicians know little or nothing about nutrition and exercise. Even orthopedists. I’ve had MD’s tell my clients they need to lose weight, when they don’t, or to take multi vitamins, even though their own professional organizations have concluded they don’t work. Don’t rely on your MD for this kind of advice- find a wellness professional to really learn what you need to do to get healthy.
#25- Team sports teach life lessons, comaradery and a directed goal, like few other educational experiences. I miss team sports and think it’s a great way to get adults moving again. Why not find a team sport you can participate in, even as you age?
#26- Walking in the outdoors is something most people don’t do enough of. We are genetically programmed to need fresh air and sunshine. Those exercise enthusiasts who spend their exercise time indoors need to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.
#27- Practicing mindfulness, through breath work and some kind of meditation practice, is essential for physical, spiritual and mental health. It is the secret to losing weight, sticking with exercise and being a kind and compassionate human.

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