My Feelings About Non-Credentialed Fitness Information

As a certified personal trainer, my feelings about non-credentialed fitness information as a result of seeing more and more workout and nutrition plans being offered.

I want to write this post as nicely as I can.

While scrolling through Instagram yesterday, I came across an image of a movement being performed in completely the wrong way. I stopped because the form made me cringe, and then underneath I saw a link to a blog post with more exercises.

Whenever I see posts about workout or nutrition plans, I tend to investigate the credentials behind the author. I don’t do it all the time, but if I see a large number of workouts being prescribed and ESPECIALLY if I see a picture with a form that will get you nothing but back pain, I check it out.

In this case, the blogger has no training in either exercise or nutrition, just a passion for it from what I can gather from her site. I’m not knocking passionate fitness enthusiasts who want to design workouts for themselves or have someone else come workout with them, but when you are prescribing these things to a mass of people with no proper training, I get a little annoyed.

I investigated a little further and found a number of workout plans as well as a free nutrition plan that you could download. A holiday challenge was also an option with further workouts and meal plans sent every week.

I thought about it most of the day to make sure I wasn’t overreacting. Maybe I was just having a cranky and angry day? I went back to the picture and it made me angry again (ha).

I know there are plenty of people who are self-educated about exercise and nutrition. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be a certified trainer to develop a workout. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be a registered dietitian to develop their own meal plans. What I AM saying is that prescribing workout regimens and nutritional plans to earn money (whether through sponsored posts or selling packages) and pass on to the entire internet is not only irresponsible, it’s doing a disservice to your readers.

http://www.runningwithspoons.com/thinking-out-loud/

When I got my personal training certification, I wasn’t working and we didn’t really have the extra money to spend on it. It was right after we moved to Chicago and close to Christmas. I set up a GoFund Me page and sent it to family and friends asking them to donate in lieu of other Christmas gifts since that’s really what I wanted as my gift. Bear with me, I’ll connect the two stories.

When I mentioned in a FB group about how I used the site to raise the money, I received a comment that scolded me for doing it in that manner because “some people had to work hard to earn the money.” I assumed that that person felt I had taken a shortcut to get to where I was, although I don’t necessarily agree. Also, not nice bro.

So I did some introspection and asked myself if I felt the same way. Did I feel like she had taken a shortcut and I was angry that I took a longer, more costly road? Was I jealous that she felt comfortable posting workouts while I only felt it was appropriate after I received my certification? In the end, my feelings didn’t have anything to do with her. My concern lay with the recipients of possibly inaccurate information.

Providing regimens without the proper background on biomechanics and movement systems can lead to ineffective workouts or even injury in a worst-case scenario. Movements explained incorrectly or halfway (“place hands and move into plank position”) lead to confusion and improper form.

I have listened to many of my RD friends talk about their frustration with random nutrition information being passed around by people without credentials, and I’m starting to see it more and more in the fitness community as well. Prior to becoming certified, I was pretty educated on the subject simply because I was interested in it. I also had my science and pharmacy school experience which gave me more than enough biology and anatomy. Even then, there were things I learned through getting certified that I didn’t know and that have helped me in designing workouts and working with a variety of clients.

I love the excitement and passion that I see in the health and wellness community, but I think we need to be careful who we listen to. Since these types of posts aren’t likely to go anywhere, I simply want to caution readers to take responsibility for their own well being. Don’t blindly follow workout plans, especially if they seem incomplete or questionable. Ask questions. Do your research. What is that person’s background? Are they offering information that they can back up?

Ultimately, be smart about your health.

Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.

I know this post isn’t very holiday-specific, so if you’re looking for one, check out last year’s post on managing your expectations this holiday season!

Questions:

  • How often do you follow online fitness plans?
  • Would you take advice from someone without a background in that field?
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41 Comments

  1. December 22, 2016 / 5:07 am

    That’s why I wrote that post a few weeks ago about how to get answers to your health. Too many of my clients look for shortcuts I’ve found or they want information free so they look for it on the internet instead of finding someone who is schooled and has the right information for them. Unfortunately, people want instant answers to everything and the result is people who are not credentialed taking advantage of that.
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…15 Healthy Christmas Breakfast RecipesMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 23, 2016 / 5:47 pm

      Absolutely. Loved that post. It’s so important for people to take responsibility for their own health!

  2. December 22, 2016 / 6:28 am

    Wow this post could not have come at a better time, I need to send you an email about this! I’ve been following workout programs from the Beachbody company for over a year now, but the nutrition plans that come with the programs are very restrictive. Also, technically anyone can become a Beachbody “health and fitness coach”, so who are they to say that their “clients” have to eat X amount of calories per day just because the meal plan says so?? I’m so fired up and I’m so done with those meal plans. Thank you for sharing this!!
    Marina @ A Dancer’s Live-It recently posted…2017 ADL Reader SurveyMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 23, 2016 / 5:49 pm

      Oh yeah I’m always wary of those “one size fits all” meal plans when everyone is so different!

  3. December 22, 2016 / 8:07 am

    Yes, yes, yes. I always look into peoples credentials when I see workout or nutrition advice being doled out. It’s annoying that those without credentials seem to be the loudest on the internet too. Ultimately it’s up to the public to do their own research into individuals I just wish people wouldn’t misrepresent themselves as something they’re not.
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Thinking Out Loud #93 – Current Books, Netflix shows and Running UpdateMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 23, 2016 / 6:37 pm

      I can only imagine how frustrating it is for you. I’m not sure which I see more of – food or exercise tips. Either way, it’s important to check the source!

  4. December 22, 2016 / 8:12 am

    This is spot on! I think sometimes the people that are best at making “Pinnable” fancy graphics for workouts/meal plans have really no idea that the content should be from a certified dietician or personal trainer.
    Kris @ Canadian Girl Runs recently posted…Thinking Out Loud Thursday #92!My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 23, 2016 / 6:37 pm

      Totally. I’ve seen some questionable pins as well!

  5. December 22, 2016 / 8:24 am

    I’ve thought a lot of about this recently too! This is the reason I share workouts I’m doing but don’t create workouts! In the same way you see a dentist for mouth pain and a Dietitian for dietary help, you go to a trained professional for workout advice! It’s so easy to do something wrong. I think many people have great intentions and passions but it ends up being a disservice to others…leading to injuries or leading to a lifetime of improper form!
    Heather @ Polyglot Jot recently posted…TOL: Christmas TraditionsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 23, 2016 / 6:39 pm

      Yeah I think it’s cool to share about workouts you’ve done and things like that but developing plans for others should be left to those w training!

  6. December 22, 2016 / 8:58 am

    Hi Erin, I read this on my phone then had to get to my computer to comment (I hate commenting on my phone, don’t you?) — and I TOTALLY agree that I hate seeing people sharing bad form on their posts. While I totally get it that people are inspired and want to share their love of fitness, it’s unfortunate that others could get hurt from what they see. The plank and hover are the worst for bad form on IG especially!
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…Seven sure-fire ways to look and feel vital during the holiday weekMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:46 pm

      Yup – it was a plank in the picture. It’s frustrating!!

      • Katie D.
        December 30, 2016 / 9:43 pm

        Same! Read on my phone but had to comment. Great post, Erin!!

        • erinsinsidejob
          January 3, 2017 / 6:55 pm

          Thanks Katie!!

  7. Eileen
    December 22, 2016 / 9:39 am

    This is a problem in any industry that relies on expertise as a means of service delivery. For example I have credentials in HR areas and I get fired up when I see those horrible, dangerous and downright stupid “great” interview questions or team building ideas..with hundreds of likes and shares! On the one hand it makes me feel better about my own qualifications but on the other it is frustrating to see that sham of a post get visibility while I am trying to get my own attention…I think your reaction is only human as well as professional.

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:49 pm

      Oh absolutely I can imagine how frustrating that must be!

  8. December 22, 2016 / 10:09 am

    I am not a credentialed pro. This is a big reason why I:
    –Try not to dole out specific workout advice, but simply relate my experiences and tie them into general advice.
    –Repeatedly make clear that you should check with a pro and/or doctor with questions.
    –Don’t do this for money.

    I’ll add that the more sales-pitchy someone is online, the more likely I am to ignore that person.
    Andrew recently posted…My 5 Favorite Track WorkoutsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:52 pm

      Totally. I think it’s fine if you share what you did and talk about things on a personal level but when people start telling others what to do it’s another story!

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:52 pm

      Agreed!

  9. December 22, 2016 / 10:30 am

    OMG yes!
    There’s a reason I don’t offer nutrition advice, or even barre advice on my blog. Once I’m barre certified that’ll change, but until then? Nope.
    While I agree you can learn by experience, I think when it’s presented as fact or knowledge it NEED to be backed up
    Ange // Cowgirl Runs recently posted…Thinking Out Loud Christmas StyleMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:54 pm

      Totally!!

  10. December 22, 2016 / 11:01 am

    I think it’s one of those things that has become so common in all fields of expertise when it comes to the Internet… people think they can just make easy money like that online. I am not saying that people who run a fitness blog and share workouts/meal plans are not passionate or even somewhat knowledgeable, but I completely agree: if you sell this information, you need to be able to back it up.

    I myself have a background in physical education, but I have never actively worked in the field and I would never ever feel comfortable enough to share my own fitness or meal plans online for money.

    I think you’re totally right calling this out. Who knows, maybe this person ‘knows’ more than you could tell from her website, but if she does, she definitely needs to make this information available. Also, it should be ok to call her out on “sloppy” instructions and/or missing information. I mean, if she’s serious about physical health, she should embrace this criticism with open arms.
    San recently posted…Currently | December My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:57 pm

      Agreed – I should probably say something nicely 🙂

  11. December 22, 2016 / 2:41 pm

    love this! I think about it a lot in terms of nutrition (since I’m studying to be a registered dietitian) and this is a good reminder to be aware in the fitness world too – especially because I love a pre planned workout I snag online

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 7:58 pm

      Totally. Just double check where they’re coming from!

  12. December 22, 2016 / 9:05 pm

    This is really rampant among kettlebell enthusiasts, too. SO much injury can happen with incorrectly used weights… I guess, though, like fake news, the onus is on the reader to vet their source? I don’t think poorly written workouts are going to go away. :/

  13. December 23, 2016 / 7:16 am

    This is the main reason that beachbody drives me batty, I’ve taught kickboxing with certifications for YEARS, in the past 3 months my instagram stream has been FILLED nonstop with people incorrectly jabbing? (maybe?) and punching (I think?) ( it looks like they are trying to swim, there is NO form, no hip movement, hyperextended elbows and madness, it makes me ragey. I have chosen to not look at it but when they contact ME and ask me to join them I can’t help but freak out….certifications are IMPORTANT. They aren’t cheap and they show you at least have been taught what you are doing.
    Renee recently posted…What is a Super Set in Weightlifting?My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 8:01 pm

      Yeah kickboxing is a tough one! Form is definitely important for sure!

  14. December 23, 2016 / 12:36 pm

    I literally just rolled my eyes at an Instagram post advertising a nutritional guide (oh, but it’s FREE!) written by somebody with no nutrition education…ugh!
    I think you raise valid points in this post – many of which are reasons I rarely post a workout because I’m just not an expert. It’s ok to share ideas and encouragement, but prescriptive fitness/nutritional advice needs to be left to those with training.
    Catherine @ A Cup of Catherine recently posted…Christmas ConfessionsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 8:04 pm

      Totally agree!

  15. December 23, 2016 / 3:16 pm

    I really never follow online fitness plans because they drive me nuts in this same way. When I was pregnant, I would get all these targeted pins on Pinterest, and some of the shit was downright dangerous, not something that I, as a group fitness director, would EVER recommend to a woman. I’m part of this mom fitness group on Facebook now, and I have to step in now and again and remind folks to switch the order of certain exercises in some of the challenges that are posted, or to be careful if you’ve given birth, etc etc. That stuff really drives me nuts. Great post!
    Cheri @ Overactive Blogger recently posted…Cheri’s Most Fascinating People of 2016My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 8:09 pm

      Yeah it gets especially tricky with pregnancy! That’s definitely an area I wouldn’t touch without proper training.

  16. December 23, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    i really agree with you on this. the people that have their certification worked their butts off and should be the ones educating others!

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2016 / 8:10 pm

      Agreed!

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