In 1998, at a much different point in my career, I wrote a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Ethics entitled Disclosure of Operating Practices by Managed-Care Organizations to Consumers of Healthcare: Obligations of Informed Consent.
My coauthors and I argued that because of healthcare’s complexity, health plans were obligated to tell consumers about their major operating practices before enrollment. Only with accurate a priori knowledge could healthcare consumers make informed decisions about which plan to join and what to expect. Empowerment through information, we concluded, was the best way to enhance quality of care systemically.
Now, almost twenty years later, I am thankfully, blessedly out of health policy and wellness consulting, but busy building my retirement gig—my kettlebell coaching practice—relying on my SFG Certification and this remarkable group called StrongFirst.
StrongFirst-trained professionals should be as unique and transparent in presenting students with their major operating practices (i.e., their core philosophies as professional who are in the business of physical training) as they as they are in their evidence-based and disciplined approaches to training.
Given the lack of transparency and false claims that abound elsewhere in the fitness industry, taking this approach is an irreplaceable and inimitable way to build trust with a potential student.
The Fitness Industry Is an Abject Failure
Interestingly, as I have shifted from a conventional strength-training model to one built around kettlebells, I see a corollary between the arguments I made to policymakers almost two decades ago and the ones I make today to athletes and coaches in other sports, as well as everyday people looking for a sustainable, evidence-based path to better health.
The relationship between the two environments? Quality matters.
To wit: if you pursue quality above all other characteristics, you are far less likely to be disappointed than if you chase speedy, inexpensive, or gaudy outcomes that are more likely than not unrealistic, unachievable, or useless.
I can make a strong argument (and have) that the fitness industry is an abject failure. The reasons for that claim are complex and multifaceted, but the evidence to support is, as the lawyers say, res ipso loquitor. We are the fattest, softest culture in the history of Western civilization, and we are more addicted to medical care (which is marketed to us incessantly in all its unctuous forms) than we are to the unique forms of self-respect and self-reliance that derive from the planning and performance of physical work.
If there is one element more than any other responsible for the desultory impact of the fitness industry on health, it is the industry’s commitment to the fallacious rather than the factual, and the dominance of egotism over evidence. Far from the pursuit of quality, the fitness industry is drowning in its own claims of excess (lose thirty pounds in thirty days), conflicts of interest (have I shown you around our in-house supplements store?), and narcissism (you don’t have abs—what a loser you are).
Even many sports coaches—who, quite frankly, should know much better—fail miserably at getting themselves out of their own echo chambers. In the past couple of years, my son and I have heard the following from coaches who, shockingly, didn’t know better, and, worse, didn’t care about their ignorance:
- “Strength training is bad/dangerous for kids.”
- “To improve flexibility, you should do long-hold static stretching. Twenty minutes daily. In fact, you can stretch while you read a book or watch TV.”
- “Muscles in the front of the body pull, while muscles in the back of the body push.”
- “Because of all the striking they do, boxers develop a spiral muscle in their forearm that wraps around their wrist.”
- “To move forward with power, you should envision that your legs are contracting in a circular fashion.”
- “This is abduction,” as the speaker brings his legs together in what is clearly adduction.
- “Strength has nothing to do with power. To be powerful, you just need to be fast.”
And these statements just touch the surface of what people believe and say about fitness and training.
If these kinds of canards slide by without challenge or correction, we’re no better than the people who made the statements in the first place. Part of the burden of leadership is a willingness to bear loads that others avoid, including transparency and, when necessary, controversy, to ensure that the truth will out.
If you’re afraid of this challenge, then it’s hard to see how you differ from any 2:00am infomercial host selling a fitness miracle in a box. Talking about leadership is not the same as leading.
My Commitment to Quality
As I build my coaching practice, I have made a point of letting potential students know that if they want quick fixes, platitudes, and technically sloppy instruction, they’ve come to the wrong place.
The kettlebell is the ultimate no-nonsense training tool (c’mon, it’s a black cannonball with a handle—how much more menacing and no-nonsense can you get?). In a like vein, I let people know (in a friendly way) that I am equally no-nonsense.
The following is my personal and professional commitment to quality for everyone I coach, including my family and friends who I guide as a labor of love:
- I will be unmistakably clear with you about why hard style training is important and the challenges that it will present to you. This is not sit-on-machines and read-a-magazine training. That cannonball with a handle, like a U.S. Marine, can be your best friend or your greatest adversary. It’s up you which one it ends up being.
- I will teach you how to do the Big Six kettlebell techniques the right way, adjusting as necessary based on your specific needs or limitations. This matters not just for results, but for safety. If you breach fundamental principles of safety, you can put your desire for results on hold, perhaps indefinitely. If you cannot do something well enough to benefit from it because I was inattentive in my teaching, that’s my fault, not yours. If you refuse to practice, well, you can guess where I stand on that.
- I will ensure that when it comes to facts, I know what I am talking about. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Any coach who willfully misinforms a student about facts (particularly those not in dispute, such as whether strength improves health and athletic performance or the difference between adduction and abduction) is committing educational malpractice. Today, indifference to facts results from one of only two things: arrogance or ineptitude.
- I promise you no other result than my best teaching so that you feel competent about building a safe and sustainable kettlebell practice for yourself. Your long-term results will depend on your long-term commitment.
- To that long-term end, I will help you, support you (even after your contract ends) and answer your questions to the best of my ability, but ultimately you are the make-or-break piece in this puzzle. The kettlebell cannot do your work for you, make you go to bed at a decent hour, resolve your toxic relationships, or stop you from over-indulging your favorite overindulgences. Your choices will define you and form the boundaries of the progress you make.
That’s it. Five critical quality-related elements that every student of mine hears.
Not everyone is comfortable with this. There are plenty of people who want the quick fix or embrace the mythology of great results from little or no work, and far too many people who will sell this package to them. After all, the entire government-sponsored myth of improved health and reduced mortality through casual walking is based on a fiction—take 10,000 steps daily. It is a claim that is wholly unsupported by evidence.
StrongFirst Defines Quality
As strength coaches who strive for quality above all else, we are uniquely positioned to have a singular impact on the fitness-consuming public. We are nonconformists who are dedicated to the principle that the pursuit of quality in training is its own best reward.
No matter whether or not you ever do cleans with a pair of 28kg kettlebells, you will do all you can for yourself by setting a goal, developing a plan, and working safely and correctly through that plan in pursuit of your targets. That is very nearly all you can ask of any person. And it is the only sensible path to improved risk factors, a better quality of life, and perhaps a longer life.
The dictionary defines “quality” as a degree of excellence; a standard of something as measured against other similar things. To that, I add this: a quality coach is a person who never lets ego supplant evidence, is unafraid of facts and the truth, and pursues those things relentlessly so as to empower his or her students to engage in the right thinking that leads to right action.
In the physical training world, that person more often than not has a StrongFirst credential after his or her name. Quality matters.