How to spot a fake strength or fitness guru

This article comes out of a couple pet peeves of mine, but they will make you smarter in your choices for where you get your strength and fitness info.  If you’ve been reading Strongerman or my Facebook feed, you know it is a pet peeve of mine for people who are not real in what they do in the strength and fitness world to put out information products.

It’s a free world and you can do what you want online, but to me it’s wrong to be, at the very best, mediocre at a thing, yet at the same time produce a slick website or cool marketing image and sell to people, telling them you know everything there is to know about strength and fitness.  It’s simply too easy.  The average person knows so little about strength or endurance or physical training of any kind that anyone who looks good and has good computer skills can sell products whether their information has any depth or reality.

What really bothers me even more is that it perpetuates a cycle of stupidity.  I realize, and you should too, that the average person doesn’t want to take the time or effort to learn everything about a particular subject that isn’t their special interest.  I don’t want to learn everything about how to fix a car, that’s why I take my car to a mechanic.  However, if you don’t have some basic knowledge, you get ripped off, same as if you don’t have a little basic knowledge about a car, you might take it in for an oil change and get a bill for $900 for replacing your, “flux capacitor.”

More so than that – it is disrespectful to what I consider my art, and to the very few people who actually lead the way in real physical culture.   Make no mistake – 99% of what’s out there is a copycat of just a few dudes, most of whom have spent their entire life learning and honing the craft.  They aren’t the slickest marketers, because generally they’re more concerned and busy with the art of the thing than how to sell it.  They don’t set themselves up as having “guru,” status by purposeful marketing, although some people do call them that because their knowledge is real.

So how do you know the difference?

Well first you have to get a little knowledge about fitness and strength itself.  That’s tough, because it’s a big world with millions of loud voices, saying many things and swearing that their way is the right way.  It’s at least as bad as religion and politics.  The truth is – it’s like a discussion in religion and politics in many ways, because much of the strength and fitness world comes down to your opinion and personal experience.  Some things in strength and fitness are black and white, right and wrong, but the truth of most of it is actually what is right or wrong for the particular individual at that particular time in that particular case.  Colored by the individuals past, along with the particular training’s success or failure.  There are multiple ways to get to the same top end goals of strength and fitness.  The same as there are different paths up the same mountain.  Which one you take is up to you, but the greater amount of information you have and the greater the understanding you have of the entire concepts and who or what is the most real, the better informed decisions you can make for yourself.

I’m going to give you some ways to spot what I believe are the fakes:

1 – They never actually achieved anything high-level. 

Now I want to qualify this for you as saying this; to know the difference here you have to know what high-level really is.  Just because they’re a little stronger than you, doesn’t make them high-level.  A 315lb squat isn’t high-level for anybody except a 105lb female.  Yet there are many fitness gurus out there selling strength info who aren’t even close to that.  This goes back to what I said about the average person has so little knowledge they don’t know the difference.  They can be sold something by someone who has pretty abs, who’s actually weak as dishwater.

 To be legit, I am not saying that you have to be a world champion or the strongest guy who ever walked, because that might not actually make you the best coach or communicator and some types of fitness are simply totally different than strength.  The world’s most legitimate yoga instructor might not squat 315, but every area has some significant bench mark that qualifies you as truly good at what you do and instructor quality .  You need to find that bench mark in whatever it is you’re looking for.  If whoever you’re learning from hasn’t been able to successfully apply their knowledge to themselves to get to that bench mark regardless of their genetic background, then they’re a fake or an amateur who’s just not ready to teach.

2 – There is no video or credible witnesses or contest proof of what they do. 

If this was 50 years ago, I wouldn’t add this point.  At that time it was difficult to do pics and video and maybe there was a bit more honor amongst lifters, but in the internet age it is 1,000 times easier to document things and also 1,000 times easier to lie about them.  They don’t have to be world champs, but even 5 year olds have camera phones today.  If they’re not backing up with at least some photographic and video evidence of something at least close to what they claim (I say that because you can’t be in 100% shape all the time, but if you claim something you ought to be fairly close), then chances are, once again they’re not real or not ready.

3 – They don’t use their real picture for anything. 

Again – this is an age where documentation is simply too easy.  If you haven’t seen a picture of the guy and he doesn’t look like he has at least touched a weight or done the exercise, he probably doesn’t exist or is completely lying about what he’s doing.  That doesn’t mean the picture has to be perfect, because pictures are simply too easy to fake.  Most modern fitness advertising is fake. Completely fake, retouched, Photoshopped pics, to make you buy something.  However I have seen whole books written by big name authors with exercise descriptions and pictures of people doing the exercise where the author is never even shown.  I realize it’s the smartest thing for sales to use pretty people and people in contest, bodybuilding shape to sell your book, but if you don’t show your face at all and look like you’ve never done the things you’re talking about then you’re just not real.

4 – They either glad-hand or hate everybody. 

This is one of two things in the fitness and strength world.  There’s an entire culture of authors, or really what I should say is, “sales people,” who cross market and give glowing sales reviews to anybody in the club, no matter what unoriginal drivel they produce.  It’s a; I’ll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine, kinda thing.  Everything anyone in the club comes out with will be the greatest new thing ever, but the truth is, most of this is just amateur knowledge at best.  Sales before integrity of information.  Pumping each other’s products regardless of its quality.

The flip side of this is the guy who constantly rips everybody. The controversy monger.  This is usually designed to tell you they have they only right system and they’re the smartest guy in the room and therefore you should buy from them.  Anybody who takes that approach is not the smartest guy in the room, because it is literally impossible to be truthful and tell people that your way is the only way.   When you hear that phrase, “My way is the right way and no one else’s,” or whatever phrasing they use to essentially say that meaning – Leave quickly.

5 – Everything they talk about is a “scientific study” and/or they have lots of letters behind their name, yet next to no real-world experience and look like they’ve never touched a weight. 

This again falls to the internet culture and the culture of mediocrity in strength and fitness.  I see authors regularly who have multiple degrees or certifications and look like it’s their first day in the gym and they’ve never touched a weight.  They write high-toned articles with many references of some study that is usually ridiculously obscure or performed on college freshmen almost always telling you how to get ripped and gain huge muscles by doing it their way when they have neither and have never achieved anything they told you how to do.  This is a lot like letting a first year medical student perform open heart surgery unassisted and unsupervised. 

Strength and fitness is an art.  As much and probably more than a science.  Human physiology is so varied in its response that it is almost impossible to completely predict scientific outcome except in cases of extreme stupidity, i.e., one aspirin may cure somebody’s headache, might do nothing for the next guy, but 50 of them will definitely kill you.  The real lab in strength and fitness is the gym.  Many science majors like to make fun of, “bro-science.”  However if I want to learn to get strong I’ll take the advice of a guy whose trained for 20 years and actually lifted incredibly heavy things and has no letters behind his name, over this year’s crop of new scientists with 13” arms who can’t carry that guy’s gym bag.  I don’t care what you think you know – if you haven’t done the thing – you don’t have all the knowledge.

6 – They try to teach people how to do things they haven’t actually done. 

This is related to all the points I’ve been making, but here’s what I mean:  I’ve done some things in strength and conditioning.  The things I’ve done – I can teach you about.  But I have the integrity not to teach you things or tell you I’ll teach you things that I have not actually done whether I have a decent idea of it or not.  I can and will teach you how to squat heavy if you want to learn.  I understand it.  From a real point, in the real world, as well as the science behind it.  However I will not teach you how to get six-pack abs, because I never had them.  I understand what it takes to get them, but I’m not willing to do it, because I’m not willing to do it, I have no point to teach from, if I’m being honest.  This is why you see lots of people write articles that are really nothing but recycled tips from great lifters, but it’s actually things that the author themself has never done or just discovered and doesn’t really have the experience to talk about, but needs to create copy.  If they haven’t participated in the thing they write about enough, to have some significant place to speak from, then they have no business telling you how to do it.

7 – They plagiarize actual material, but mostly ideas. 

You may not know this, but there are several, big name – well, big-name on the internet, muscle writers who have literally straight plagiarized other people’s articles.  Either word for word or with simple minor changes like an 8th grader would do in stealing a history report.  Most of them aren’t quite this stupid, there is however much of taking an article and plagiarizing the spirit of it, by simply rewriting a piece by changing the words of someone smarter.  Whole careers have been made copying the real innovators.  This is the biggest problem.  Complete lack of originality.  Now if you study the history of physical culture there is little to nothing new under the sun and most things revolve in cycles, that’s why you see training techniques revolve around every 10, 20 or 30 years as the new thing.  Almost no one actually invents something new in fitness and if they claim to, they’re generally lying.

There are a few people, however who add to things or create new ways to use things in legitimate ways, though they are few and far between.  The thing is it’s the Wild West.  Nobody owns anything and there isn’t any protecting anyone as far as exercise or intellectual property is concerned.  I can tell you all this from experience.  I hope that I qualify as an innovator, because I believe that’s an important point if you’re actually going to teach.  Why?

It isn’t until you have a thorough understanding of these matters that you can legitimately innovate.  That’s where the real knowledge is.  That’s when you are legitimately, really ready to teach, when you understand well enough to make a new mark and modify for yourself and others.  I don’t think anyone can say of themselves without being overly grandiose, that they are an innovator, but I can tell you this –   At least two recent and popular published books are straight copies with only minor changes of my earlier work.  It happens to anyone who does anything remotely cool.  It’s difficult to know if you don’t have enough general knowledge of strength and fitness to know who came up with what and when.  If the guy selling you his stuff is just repackaging some other guy’s material without any of his own original thoughts, or simply with minor changes, then he doesn’t deserve your business.

Hopefully this will give you some food for thought about how to cherry-pick the right information for you.  Info that will actually help you.  This is unfortunately just the tip of the ice burg.  Look for more in the next installment in this series.

2 Comments

  1. Great article, much needed I hope those that it offends will take a serious look at themselves and see that they can’t keep fooling people, and that humility should go hand in hand with greatness.

  2. Thanks for the informative article Bud. I can tell you have acquired a ton of knowledge in the strength and fitness area, and being a veteran yourself, I know I can take this information to the bank!

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