Shock and Degradation in Personal Training

Tune into your body

Over the last 28 years, I’ve watched many fitness trends come and go. Countless fitness gadgets and diet plans have found their way to the obsolete pile. One trend that I would like to see make a hasty path to the trash bin are TV shows with trainers who degrade their clients. Lights, camera, action! They put a group of people who are in terrible physical shape into fitness situations they’re not conditioned for, drain their energy by making them exercise for hours on end, and send in the trainers who can swear, manipulate, and humiliate them towards fitness glory by breaking their spirit. Why stop there? They mentally and physically exhaust them even further by putting them on a severely restricted diet plan, contain them like crabs in a bucket in one location and let the cameras roll.

These shows are not about health. They’re about ratings and shock value. Don’t you know? You’re fat because you are lazy and worthless. You haven’t learned to push the plate away, and your only way to redemption is physical punishment. That you can be overweight and exercise at a pace that’s manageable does not seem to have occurred to the powers that be in TV land. Gee, I wonder why so many overweight people shy away from the gym environment?

With an unending supply of heart-rending stories to choose from, many of these shows wind up having to provide on-set physicians to ensure that their contestants actually make it to the finish line. Why should such careful supervision be necessary?

Consider that Olympic athletes spend hours per day training for their sport. They’ve trained for years to mentally and physically attain that level of endurance and discipline. Someone who is getting off the couch for the first time should not be put into a five-hour exercise session. It is not only unhealthy, it’s negligent. Now you know why the doctors are on hand.

How about those huge weekly weight-loss results? One could be led to believe that these results are normal, desirable, and sustainable for all of us. They’re not. Most people see the recommended guideline to lose no more than two pounds per week as underwhelming. That rate of loss, however, ensures that we’re losing fat and not just water or muscle. Not all weight loss is equal. There’s fat loss (desired), water loss (not desired), and muscle loss (not a good idea). Rapid weight-loss diets look sexy because most people don’t realize that they’re losing water and valuable muscle tissue.

As benign as it sounds, rapid weight loss is not without risk. Losing large amounts of weight puts you in danger of electrolyte imbalances, which have traumatic implications for the heart, not to mention bone and muscle loss. In the long run, rapid weight loss will lower the metabolic rate, making it harder to keep the weight off.

Remember, the actor Clark Gable died of heart failure due to his rapid weight-loss diet. I guess this brings us back to why those doctors are on hand. Death has a way of hurting the ratings.

To get to the finish line, many participants literally starve themselves. What happens when the cameras are turned off? Many winners go back to their previous lifestyle and way of dealing with food. To no one’s surprise, they regain the weight.

Time magazine checked in with some of the former “Biggest Loser” winners. At the time, Ryan Benson had gained back 90 of his 122-pound weight loss. Shockingly, Mr. Benson claimed that he regained 32 pounds in five days from drinking water.

Folks, anyone can lose “ weight.” What we should ask is, why did the weight gain occur in the first place? What role was food playing in the lives of the competitors then and now? How can we learn from the experience so that we don’t repeat it?

As a seasoned personal trainer, I’ve come to learn that we cope with our issues in many different ways. Some of us shop, drink, do drugs, or work to the extreme.

Some people eat.

Perhaps it’s time to look past the hype and question the relevance of what we really are taking away from these shows.

– Sandra Bueckert

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