James Fell has been in the fitness game for many years. Here’s his take on how the industry has changed.
Twenty years ago, I was fat.
And flabby. I didn’t workout, and I had a crap diet. I was 25. It was almost exactly 20 years ago. Give or take a week. The impetus for me to get in shape was getting our summer vacation photos back from the developers. What’s that, you say? It’s this thing we had before digital cameras. This is a history lesson, and historically, I looked like this.
I also had terrible fashion sense.
And my history prior to this date had been one of complete inactivity and lots o’ eatin’ and drinkin’. For 25 years I loathed exercise and loved beer and fast food. Just FYI, I still love beer, although we have a healthier relationship now.
It was a rough start, my transformation. For a few months I struggled and wondered if the pain, sweat and dietary deprivation was worth it. I considered the odd short cut, and was almost tempted to buy a product called “Dexatrim” once. But eventually I found lifting, and later running and cycling, and eating healthier became easier. I persevered where many others fail.
Let’s take a look back.
In 1993, if you wanted to listen to this new thing called “grunge” while working out, you either had to bribe the Stereo King at the gym to put the radio on a station that didn’t suck, or haul around a cassette player the size of dachshund. If you were high-tech and upgraded to a portable CD player to Smell Like Teen Spirit so you could achieve workout Nirvana it was easier to skip past songs, but that sucker also skipped like an epileptic spider monkey if you dared slow jog with it.
Some things in fitness – like listening to music and cool toys like GPS watches – have changed for the better in the past 20 years. Other things, not so much …
These have mostly got better, partly because of fitness fashions.
In 1993 we fortunately left behind the age of buying lifetime memberships followed by finding padlocks and bankruptcy notices on health club doors. The gym gained real traction and nicer and more ethical people came to town. Hours got longer, equipment got better, trainers (at least in some cases) became better qualified, and hygiene started to be taken seriously. We went from old-school Schwarzenegger contraptions for lifting to high-tech devices. People stopped leaving their ectoplasmic residue reminiscent of Ghostbusters all over the equipment and started wiping things off. Patrons even stopped smelling (mostly) like they could knock a buzzard off a gut pile and just having normal-level B.O. Classes went from Jane Fonda to Spinning to Zumba to yogalates, whatever that is. I assume it’s yoga served with a latte.
And acceptance grew as well. We gym goers transformed from “the Few, the Proud, the Vain,” into just normal folks who like to be healthy.
The Soloflex was heavily marketed as a soon-to-be coat rack, but then was replaced by the Bowflex, which was heavily marketed as a soon-to-be coat rack. Stairmasters slowly got replaced with ellipticals, treadmills became ever more high-tech, with television screens and fat-blasting programs, and infomercials ran wild with outlandish claims of weight loss and ass-toning.
Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley hit the airwaves in 1997 with the Total Gym, and people bought them and probably lost fingers, and then many years later we got the Ab-Circle Pro which looks like it enabled people to blow out lumbar discs faster than ever. The Bodyblade made users appear as though they were having a seizure, and Tony Little was a Gazelle who made people want to punch him in the mullet every time he opened his mouth.
And then, most recently, everything was topped by the Shake Weight: The masturbation mimicker which has sold 4.5 million units, mostly for bridal showers as a gag gift.
The fitness industry lost its guru two years ago – Jack LaLanne. LaLanne didn’t flog gadgets, he invented real fitness machines, the basic designs of which are still used today. LaLanne even invented the modern health club.
And then there are pretenders. It’s amazing what you can get away with as long as you’ve got a six-pack and a smile.
Oprah brought us our share of these. Bob Greene is well-educated in exercise physiology, which apparently also made him qualified to launch a brand of butter substitutes. Jorge Cruise told us we could lose a lot of weight by exercising just “Eight minutes in the morning,” regardless of the first law of thermodynamics, and Dr. Phil’s diet book sold millions of copies despite looking like he’s entering his third trimester.
In 1999, Bill Phillips showed amazing before-and-after pictures of people getting their “Body for Life” in only 12 weeks, and more recently Tim Ferriss upped the ante when he proclaimed he gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days via a sum total of four hours of weightlifting. Coincidentally, sightings of male bovine droppings have skyrocketed.
And then there is Jillian Michaels. She committed her hate crimes against the obese for many years on the train wreck spectacle known as The Biggest Loser. Screaming, swearing and bullying her way into reality TV stardom; selling book after book and DVD after DVD. And don’t forget the diet pills and detox cleanses.
And now here I am in 2013. I watched things change, and I learned about things that never change. Here are just a few:
- Calories matter. When it comes to weight loss, a consistently negative energy balance is all that matters. Eating healthy, unprocessed calories makes cutting them to an intelligently restricted level much easier, plus makes your body perform better and helps maximize muscular development, but it’s not about carbs or blood type or praying to friggin’ Xenu. Weight loss is about calories
- Motivation matters. It doesn’t matter if some exercise is the greatest calorie burner or muscle builder if you hate it. You can’t see fitness as a means to an end, but must instead focus on loving the journey. Pick an exercise you don’t hate, and endeavor to get good at it. With competence comes passion.
- Cardio is a better fat loss tool than weightlifting (and both are trumped by diet, of course). Don’t get me wrong, I love lifting and recommend it for everyone, but adding muscle mass is not some mega calorie-burner like many others have said. Cardio burns more calories and is a better all-around tool for appetite control. If you’re like me and still crave lots of high-calorie food, aerobic training like running, cycling, swimming etc. are powerful weight loss tools that should not be dismissed using cherry picked research.
- Tortoise trumps hare. This will be harder, and take longer, than you imagine. Impatience one of the biggest killers of motivation, so realize you’re in this for the long haul and focus on losing weight – and gaining muscle – slowly. Anyone promising a quick and easy fix is full of crap.
There’s a lot more to it than that, but you’d be surprised how many people ignore or don’t comprehend that simple advice. I know it’s not sexy, magical or “one weird trick.” It’s reality, and it’s not always easy to swallow.
Take a big bite out of the reality sandwich when it comes to fitness, health and weight loss and you’ll keep at it for decades as well.
Article originally published on sixpackabs.com.