Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Online coaches: I'm not doing your job for you.

Has Instagram killed coaching?

We live in a post truth world. Donald Trump is President- elect, Brexit happened, and anyone with an instagram account is a fitness expert.

Now let me say straight off, there are some good online coaches. Ones who take time to skype their client, build rapport and construct an individual programme and nutrition plan.

And you could say if its not harming you or interfering with your work, why comment?

But online programming and 'coaching' has encroached on my work, I offer three examples below. It gives an insight into what the public are buying...

Example 1: £300 for a programme, and the instructors at the gym have to show you the exercises.

A young girl came into the gym with a programme she had bought from an online trainer. This girl was not very experienced in the gym and didn't really know any of the exercises on her programme. The person she had bought the programme from had provided some video links, but not for all the exercises.

She asked us for some help and we showed her a few of the exercises, and said she should contact the trainer again for more advice. The trainer was relatively local, and her answer was, the young girl could pay for a session with her to show her the exercises and that the "instructors in the gym have to show you all the exercises, its their job."

Hang on, its my job to show someone all the exercises in a programme that you got paid £300 for? Even if I think the programme is no good and the exercise choices are sub par? Bear in mind this would take hours of coaching to get her where she could do the programme with competence.

The young girl was quite upset by the whole thing and asked me what she could do. I suggested going back to the trainer, trying to get her money back, maybe contact REPs (if this trainer was a member of REPs), look at distance selling law, if she paid by credit card or paypal may be try to recoup the money.

In the end she wrote a thank you note for all our help, I don't know if she got her money back. The online trainer is probably still selling online programmes to beginners who can't do them.

Example 2: 90% 1RM of a rear delt flye.

A guy approached me in the gym to check out his rear delt flye technique. I had a look and said he probably needed to reduce the weight and focus on technique as he was only getting partial range with a lot of momentum.

He then told me his programme told him that this week was strength week and he had to do 90% 1RM of a rear delt flye for 3 reps. He then showed me on his phone the actual programme and there it was.

I explained in my opinion the rear delt flye was an accessory exercise, it should always be in a higher rep range and you would never try to workout the 1RM on a rear delt flye. The programme looked professional, nicely presented, but looking good and actually being good are two different things.

Now there are a few possible explanations. First, the person writing the programme committed a copy and paste error and never intended that exercise to be a 90% 1RM. Second, they have never actually trained anyone and don't realise this will not work. Thirdly, they train people all the time and use this method effectively. I'll let you decide which it is.

Example 3: 1100kcals a day and white potatoes only.

A young girl who comes to the gym showed me a nutrition plan that her sister had purchased off of an instagram coach and she was following it as well.

The calories per day were worked out on based on their weight in kilos. With a bodyweight of just over 60kg the plan had worked out that several days per week her caories were down in the 1100 to 1200 range and on the higher calories days it went to 1600-1700kcals.

Now will you lose weight on this? Probably. Will you feel miserable? Probably. Is it sustainable? Probably not. Does it give young girls an unhealthy relationship with food?

I've seen women getting contest ready and going on stage eating more than this.

It also looked highly scientific as the guy who wrote it had used a spreadsheet, and the calories had been worked out to the decimal point, yep he knew you could eat 100.4kcals of egg white.

There were also some other restrictive 'bro' elements. White potatoes only, that's right no sweet potato allowed. Egg whites only. Very low fat. And of course, a recommendation that you supplement with a special fat burner made by a company you've never heard of.

As it turned out, I did a few quick calculations and the calories the plan said was lower than what I was coming out with.

It was basically an old school bodybuilding diet designed for a man.

I explained that I thought the calories were too low, and there was nothing magical about white potatoes, yes, she could eat sweet potatoes with no adverse effects. I also suggested eating an avocado might help bump up the fat levels from its current very low levels.

So what does all this tell us about online coaching?

Are the public being mis-sold?

The world of instagram coaching is the wild west,  how does someone differentiate? Yes, you can say market forces will out, but with an increasingly crowded market place image becomes everything.

The entry level is low, you need some social media accounts, a website and if you want to really look professional an off the shelf fitness app. You can even be legit and get a level 2 fitness qualification. This is not the fault of the people doing it, they got the qualification they needed. Its not their fault there is no quality control. There are very few instagram lawyers or medical consultants for a reason, the barrier to entry is high.

Could it be the Dunning Kruger* effect in action?

This theory states that some low ability individuals overestimate their ability. They think they are great, and 100% right. In fact, they are terrible but just don't know it. These coaches could all believe they are brilliant offering a superb product. Whereas real experts in a field can doubt their ability, don't always have black and white answers, know how complex something can be and say 'it depends' a lot.

Unskilled people can have nearly 100% confidence even though they are incompetent. See Donald Trump for further evidence. Picture source:digitialintelligencetoday.com

Here are my easy steps to becoming an instagram coach.

one for women and one for men.

For men

1) Selfie up, you will need a baseball cap, Beats headphones and a vest made of 2cm square of material.
2) Superset bicep curls and D-bol.
3) Enter a fitness competition, any competition, or get some professional photos done.
4) Get a sponsorship deal with a supplement company no one has heard of.
5) Create a logo, something cool like a skull chewing a barbell.
6) You are now ready to sell programmes and nutrition plans.

For women

1) Take selfies with minimal clothing on.
2) Shoot videos of you training in the gym with minimal clothing on.
3) Booty shoots and training are in the zeitgeist, focus on them.
4) Get a deal with a weightloss tea, make sure your selfies include a shot of you with the tea.
5) You are now ready to sell nutrition plans and programmes.
6) Don't tell anyone that your glutes and abs look like that because of your Brazilian genetics and surgical enhancements and not due to the random selection of exercises you post up or the weightloss tea. (Full disclosure I click on pictures of Brazilian fitness models as much as the next guy).

I get it, it seems like a good career. You like training, and got good results, so why not make a living from it. Write some programmes and sell them to people. No need to go to an actual gym to train people, all that effort of having to tweak things, change things, focus on technique.

But here's the rub, as my colleague Paul has said about instagram coaches posting up selfies and competition pictures "all you've demonstrated is the ability to follow a programme and nutrition plan, probably written by someone else" it does not mean you have the ability to coach other people or that the concepts that worked for you will work for someone else.

The problem with online coaching is it focuses on the programme.

As I've stated before for most people, the programme could be the least important thing. As my colleague Nick has said "I could give you George St Pierres programme, it doesn't mean it will work for you or you will become George St Pierre."

The key ingredients missing are:

1) Consistency.
Yes good online coaches might make you accountable, and the fact you are buying a programme means you are probably motivated. But for many instagram coaches the relationship ends with the paypal transaction.

2) Intensity.
A lack lustre effort, no results, however good the programme.

3) Technique.
This is a big one. The programme might have some really good exercises on it like deadlifts, or squats or even something like a dumbbell row. But if you're technique is off the chance of injury is high, plus you will not be activating the muscles you should be.

See my three pillars of training that I wrote about a hundred years ago.

Even a press up or a plank in a basic bodyweight programme can be done horribly.

I could write 10 effective programmes right now** (while sipping a cappuccino in a coffee shop) ranging from fat loss to hypertrophy to marathon running. I know they work, I have tested them on people. It doesn't mean that everyone should do them.

The same goes for nutrition plans.

For example, I have purchased programmes online that have power cleans  at 85% 1RM in them. Is it a good exercise, yes. Would I expect someone to be able to do a power clean just because it was in a programme and they had watched a 30 second video of it? No.

The online market is not for beginners.

As I stated last week, we can become insular as an industry.

Instagram and social media posts of half naked, ripped fitness models does not  appeal to most of the public who just want to get fit and lost a bit of fat.

We have to keep upping the ante, posting more and more exercises, thousands of variations, something no one has even seen before, feats of strength and endurance to garner more likes  and clicks from our fitness friends.

Posting the basics is no longer enough. Everyone knows how to do these right? Wrong.

No one is going to post up a video of someone going for a steady state walk or doing a wall press up.

Many online coach doesn't really want to bother with beginners. They want to train people like them. People who already know how to deadlift or squat, who want to get ripped for stage. Fellow bodybuilders and powerlifters.

It becomes a cult of fitness. Training beginners is hard, you can't do all the sexy exercises. The public switch off.

The genie is out of the bottle.

As I've stated before the digital disruption of the fitness industry is here.

I'm no King Cunute here holding back the sea.

There are some very good coaches online, but there is also a sea of bad ones. And I've seen first hand how some members of the public have bought into these programmes and promises.

The traditional part of the industry was too slow to adopt the online platforms and methods and got out maneuvered by some social media savvy millennials.

Sure the free market reigns online.

But in a post-truth world the loudest and simplest voice is heard and believed.

All the good coaches, the ones with years of experience training people 'one on one' need to step up and take it back from the charlatans, hawkers and digital carpetbaggers. That means coaches like me (and you) need to get to work.


* How do I know that I'm not actually incompetent and a fitness dolt? The original Dunning-Kruger theory was inspired by the news story of a guy who tried to rob a bank with his face covered in lemon juice, thinking as this was used as invisible ink it would make his face invisible to the security cameras. As I have never tried this, I think I'm safe.

** Send a stamped addressed envelope to 'Lost in Fitness, No.1 Fitness Towers' and I will send you out a free programme of your choice.

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