Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who do you rely on for quality information?

With the explosion of fitness and health magazines, it’s not surprising that many personal trainers and strength coaches get asked to write articles and provide their opinion on a range of current and relevant issues. This provides the opportunity for many professionals to gain great publicity and increase their profile and as a result increase their income. This was not available 20 years ago and has totally changed the way in which other professionals access and use information. The issue with this is that is some cases the person selected to contribute to the resource may not always be the ideal person to influence industry knowledge and standards.
With content driving sales, it’s not surprising to see headlines and content focusing more on controversial or outrageous aspects of the industry rather than really good and useful information.

Perhaps this concern of mine is based more on a philosophical issue than an opportunity based issue. Over the last 20 plus years I have seen the development of the personal trainer profession and sadly many trainers lack the foundation knowledge required to be good trainers and as a result seek training activities that will make them stand out. This has resulted in a range of ridiculous and unfounded training methods, ideas, gimmicks, and pieces of equipment, that PT's spend their hard earned dollars learning and purchasing to ensure they appear to stay ahead of the game. Very few of these concepts are based on science, and whilst science seems to lag behind practice, most training methods still have their foundation in proven scientific principles.

The other part to this issue is that many fitness professionals don't have the skills to review information and determine the true value of it. Hence the information that is most readily available tends to get the most readers and disciples who then support this approach to training. There is nothing better than a great debate over training methods when all parties can provide evidence to support both sides of the argument. Similarly, there is nothing more frustrating than having a discussion with someone who cannot support their opinion and either defies logic by saying ‘just because’ or start to attack the person rather than their opinion.

My philosophy on information that is readily available is quite simple. Who wrote it, what is their background, what success have they had? We all have our idols, people who we respect, and look up to, people who we have come to rely on for quality information and quality opinions that somehow fit with our own philosophy on training. Generally we develop this respect for these people because we can feel comfortable with them as a source of knowledge.

Who wrote it: This aspect of reviewing an information source means you either recognise the person as someone who has achieved a high profile across a broad range of magazines and journals and presents, writes, lectures, and educates people from a range of backgrounds. This person has earned the profile and gained respect from regular and quality contributions to the industry over many years suggesting they must be a worthwhile source of information.

What is their background: This can cover a range of aspects and typically I suggest you consider two key parts. Firstly what qualifications do they have, and secondly, how long have they been working as a professional. As a biased sport and exercise scientist, qualifications show me that someone has developed a solid foundation of knowledge and has learnt to read and review information more critically, thus basing their personal opinion on previously researched and proven information. Each level of qualification gained simply provides a further opportunity to develop this skill and build on the foundation knowledge. Higher qualifications suggest to me that the person has decided they want to know more and accept that one way to gain accelerated knowledge and skills can be achieved by further study. The second manner to gain knowledge is from practical time at the coal face. There is something to be said for those people who can sit down and discuss their experiences over 20 years as a trainer and have a knowledge base formed by regular practice and implementation of ideas which results in a very individual training philosophy. On many occasions I have seen these experienced individuals debate with more qualified people at a very high level with great success. Whether you seek a writer with lots of qualifications or years of experience, one thing you can be sure of that the level of knowledge would generally be of better quality and based on solid foundations.

Lastly, what success have they had? We all know as a trainer, we get opportunities to train someone who achieves notoriety either as an elite athlete, international figure competitor, or celebrity. Simply by doing our job these opportunities happen every so often. If you use these criteria to determine the quality of the information, I suggest you look for someone who has repeated success and not just occasional or incidental success. As a coach, the greatest achievements for me have often been helping those less genetically gifted achieve success. So look for people to follow that have reported success with clients over many years, as this shows continued learning and repeated effort to achieve success with their clients.

As many magazines are driven by sales, be careful in using information that was written to sensationalise a topic. Examples of this include, weird and wonderful exercises, fancy words developed to brand or trademark a concept, or even new training methods supposedly never before used. It’s understandable that as trainers, over time we become bored with our routines and programs and look for different ideas, but be sure to look further than just some new exercise and training tool, towards a more volume:intensity based approach which has been shown to achieve success and great results every time. In the end, the training tool, piece of equipment, or even exercise are just the vehicle used to get the result, as programming skills through progressive overload and proper manipulation of sets and reps really does get the desired response.

Your challenge is to find an author or expert who can help you gain this kind of knowledge rather than the sensationalised or promoted methods seen in many glossy mags and websites.

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