October 8, 2020
What the Fitness Industry Keeps Getting Wrong
WRITTEN BY Shayna Dunitz

The fitness industry has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry over the last decade, primarily due to an increase in technology through wearables and products, as well as an increase in the diversity of fitness programs offered (CrossFit, Orange Theory, SoulCycle, etc.) In the last year alone, at-home and digital offerings have been accelerated due to COVID. While many industries are struggling, equipment manufacturers like Rogue Fitness, online workout programs, and at-home options like Peloton have seen exponential growth. All of this is generally a good thing, but the gap that has persisted for years is still there— nutrition.

A study from the University of Texas confirms that only using exercise as an intervention creates minimal benefit to body composition changes. Nearly 100 initially sedentary participants either stayed sedentary (about half of them) OR began exercising (the other half). The exercisers were given a program to follow that added up to about 5 1/2 to 6 hours of activity per week and that lasted for a total of 12 weeks. The non-exercisers did nothing for the 12 weeks except show up for measurement sessions.

These individuals, as stated above, did no exercise before the study began. As a result of this sedentary lifestyle, they averaged between 35% and 40% body fat (according to DEXA scans).

Once the study began, the training group gathered together for 3 weight training sessions per week and 2 group exercise/interval sessions per week. All the training was designed by Dr. John Berardi (Precision Nutrition) and overseen by a weightlifting coach and group exercise coach.

Now, it’s important to note that they didn’t alter the participant’s diet. And they did this on purpose. They wanted to test the effects of exercise alone – without diet. In other words, the question became:

Without a dietary intervention, can exercise alone reshape a person’s body?

At the end of the 12-week study, they got their answer:

“Not so much…”

When analyzing the data, the people conducting the study were shocked to find that even with 3+ hours of training per week with a weightlifting coach and 2+ hours of training per week with a body-weight circuit instructor didn’t really work. The formerly sedentary participants didn’t do much better than their couch-sitting counterparts.

Without dietary control, 12 weeks of high-intensity training produced a fairly disappointing 1% loss of body fat. In terms of raw data, the participants lost only 1 pound of fat and gained 2 pounds of lean mass vs. the placebo group. Frankly, that sucks.

If it’s clear that nutrition plays a significantly more important role in weight loss and body composition goals, why do so many programs focus only on workouts?

First, society is very focused on instant gratification. It’s hard to ignore the number of ads, articles, and social media posts claiming to offer a quick fix. 30-day workout challenges and promises to provide weight loss without stepping foot in a gym can be seen everywhere, catering to, and further increasing the demand for, quick and “easy” results. However, time and time again these programs do more harm than good; without promoting sustainable, long-term lifestyle changes, people end up cycling through various programs and never seeing the lasting results they’re looking for.

It’s relatively easy to follow a workout program for 45 minutes a day, 3x/week. It’s significantly harder to change eating and lifestyle habits, so most trainers and consumers go for the low-hanging fruit of fitness over nutrition. This is a lower order of coaching and all clients will experience a plateau and lack of progress eventually.

Additionally, there is a pretty low barrier to entry to becoming a trainer. For a few hundred dollars and a couple of months of studying, just about anyone can call themselves a trainer and begin working in a gym (or selling programs on Instagram.) This makes it difficult for consumers to determine who is qualified to help them reach their goals, leading to frustration along with wasted time and money.

Finally, oftentimes when nutrition is offered through gyms or online programs, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. Individuals pick a goal and then are grouped together and given a templated meal plan or macronutrient breakdown. Again, this is a lazy approach to coaching. Every individual is different and while a plan might work for a little while, eventually they will need a personalized approach in order to see long-term results.

COVID-19 has shone a light on many issues around the world, including the United States’ poor health and healthcare system. The U.S. has a higher rate of comorbidities such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity leading to more severe cases of COVID. These are all issues that can be alleviated with better nutrition. (It’s important to recognize, however, that there are larger systemic challenges leading to poor nutrition and health, especially for people of color and those in lower socioeconomic statuses.) When COVID is no longer a serious threat, it’s time for a reckoning on our country’s health.

As such, there has never been a better time to be in the health and fitness industry. The opportunity to truly change lives and move our country forward is massive. But the industry is crowded with gimmicks and bullshit. So what kind of coach will you be? The kind who throws up a templated workout on Zoom every day and calls that good? Or the kind who really works to make a difference in their clients’ lives?

If you’re a coach who is ready to level up and become part of the solution instead of the problem, we’d highly recommend the OPEX CCP.

If you’re an individual who is tired of boilerplate workouts and little to no real nutrition advice, schedule a free strategy session below. Our professional coaches will put together a holistic plan specifically for YOU that includes training, nutrition, and lifestyle habits to help you reach your goals once and for all, wherever you’re starting from.

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