The Absolute Worst Fitness Trend

13 T Nation Experts Unload

Our experts set fire to the dumbest, most annoying training and diet trends. Are you blindly following any of them?

The Question

What the single worst fitness trend you’ve noticed recently?

Tony Gentilcore – Strength Coach

People who think that everyone fits the same mold when it comes to training.

I had a friend whose wife posted a video of herself on Facebook hitting a new squat PR. She was so pumped and happy to share it. She’d been working hard preparing for her competitive season as a triathlete, not to mention battling through some long-time injuries. She completed a full training cycle with zero setbacks and was feeling great.

She was squatting. She hit a PR. All was right in the world. Until some asshat had to chime in and call her out on her depth and explain how her lift didn’t count as a PR because she wasn’t going low enough. Huh? 1. It was her PR, not yours. 2. She doesn’t squat past a certain depth due to a history of SI joint issues.

I’m so tired of people, coaches included, who think everyone fits into the same mold. No one has to squat ass-to-grass. No one has to squat low-bar, and no one has to deadlift from the floor (or with a straight bar for that matter).

Everyone is different: different goals, different injury histories, different ability levels, and more importantly, different anthropometry. I wish everyone would stop trying to squeeze people into ONE methodology or ONE way of doing anything as it relates to training. It’s narrow-minded and makes you look like a dick.

Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach

The trend that bothers me the most is what i call “instant experts.”

I see two specific cases:

1. Inexperienced Instagram Coaches

People with no experience as trainers or coaches building a huge social media following, then using that to sell online training programs.

It is possible to do a good job with online coaching using the modern tools we now have. However, it’s very hard and it requires a lot of experience and discipline.

Being truly effective as an online coach is much more difficult than being effective as a “live” coach. Why? Because coaches are problem solvers: You identify a problem and you solve it with the proper training decisions. It’s harder to identify the problem when you can’t see the client in person, and it’s made more complicated by not seeing how he applies your solutions.

So, to be a good online coach you need to already be a very good “live” coach and have lots of experience. You need to have seen all the possible problems and know how to fix them.

Listen, I get it. When you have a nice body you want to cash in. And selling programs can be easy money when you have tons of Instagram followers and the look that everybody wants. But getting results with yourself isn’t the same as getting results with others.

When I started out, I assumed that everybody was like me. I’d approach their training like I approached mine. As a result, some got great results, others didn’t. We’re all different and respond best to different applications of the methods. To understand that, and to be able to give people results, you need to have worked with tons of people from all different areas in the genetic pool.

2. Newbie Contest Prep Coaches

People with very little training background deciding to do a physique contest and then marketing themselves as contest prep experts (after doing one show).

This is probably even more disturbing than the first one. I’ve seen people do one physique contest and suddenly market themselves as contest prep experts. This is even more common now that we have the bikini class and men’s physique. In these two classes you can do fairly well in a local show without actually having paid your dues in the gym. You can know next to nothing about proper training and dieting and do well in lower level shows.

And these low experience, no-knowledge beauty pageant winners use their “success” to cash in by conning unsuspecting victims into believing that they are the experts that will get them ready for their first show.

Listen, under the best possible circumstances, under the supervision of someone with true experience as a contest trainer, contest prep is an extremely demanding and even dangerous thing. Can you imagine what could happen if you put this into the hands of a fake expert? It could very well destroy your health, along with your bank account.

Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro

The worst trend? Whoring oneself out on social media.

Ok, I’ll apologize right out of the gate. I’m going to sound like those older generation folks who nostalgically reminisce on days gone by while bemoaning the present day. But I wish this modern day fitness would die expeditiously.

Both guys and gals participate in this trend. It seems the insatiable need for affirmation via likes, retweets, and favorites propels both the absurd and salaciousness to whole new levels.

While my inclination is to point a condemning finger at the dudes with synthol-laden arms flaunting their rented exotic cars, and the women with endless booty-shot feeds, I’m given to pause. Maybe they’re not the problem. Maybe it’s the rest of us who follow them and like their narcissistic behavior. If likes, retweets and favorites are the drug, then who’s the one buying it?

Listen, social media is awesome in many ways. It’s a great way to interact with people and obtain information of personal interest. But maybe some of it could stand to be toned down from both the originators and the consumers.

TC Luoma – T Nation Editor

The worst fitness trend is something I call “Crosshitty” workouts.

A couple of years ago, CrossFit and HIIT went out on a date and drank a lot of fermented paleo drinks. One month later – because CrossFit and HIIT people do everything more fast and more sweaty – they gave birth to a bastard, sexually ambiguous offspring with webbed feet. It was so awful and terrible that no one even bothered to give it a name.

I describe their offspring, or more accurately, what their offspring do, as “Crosshitty” workouts because it’s neither CrossFit nor HIIT. You might not have ever used the term, but you’ve sure as hell seen it being done in your local gym.

Crosshitty-type workouts consist of short rest periods, randomly chosen exercises (but always including those stupid battling ropes, for some reason), indeterminate, pulled-out-of-their-ass rep ranges, breathing hard, lots of sweating, and an inexplicable air of smugness, as if profuse sweating and a pounding heart were the only determinants of a “good” workout.

They rarely use any significant weights and never really do anything seriously difficult. It’s sort of like CrossFit, but without the Olympic lifts or squats or deadlifts or any attempt at fulfilling the ten recognized “fitness domains.” And it’s sort of like HIIT, but there aren’t any active recovery periods. It’s just frenetic, neuroses-fueled, non-stop activity with a puzzlingly superior attitude.

Part of me understands them. It harkens back to the early days of fitness when millions of Mad Men type Americans in the 1960’s would get up and do their naked push-ups and jumping jacks to get that old blood percolating before they marched in and tackled the Peterson account.

Part of it was for health, and part of it was out of guilt because they were white-collar guys who didn’t have calluses on their hands and often made their money on the sweat of blue-collar guys.

Maybe it’s the same with these people today, but they bug me because the nutballs who do Crosshitty workouts take up multiple stations in non-CrossFit gyms, occupying vast swatches of territory like the Nazis in 1941. They blitzkrieg from one station to the next, getting in everybody’s way and strangling women and children with their flailing battling ropes.

Go away, Crosshitty people. Start your own gyms, or pick a discipline and run with it, be it CrossFit, legitimate HIIT, or science and technique-based powerlifting or bodybuilding.

Lee Boyce – Strength and Sports-Performance Coach

Social media fitness “challenges” that ask for both demanding and dangerous feats of athleticism.

People don’t take their own abilities into consideration, nor do they consider their unique leverages. Doing the splits between two chairs with a loaded barbell overhead may prove to be a much more realistic task for a guy with a compact build compared to someone with long extremities and huge lever arms.

I think previous trends like CrossFit have acted as vehicles to take people further away from the core concept of training – to better health and wellness over the long term – and have promoted the element of competition and constantly one-upping the rest of the field. Though some of this mentality is necessary to see gains, people who don’t compete and train for recreation are simply digging themselves a hole and setting the stage for injury.

A good question to ask when examining your tough workouts is whether or not any semblance of that structure is something you can see yourself following in 20 years. Keeping up with the latest fitness challenges may keep things entertaining, but it may come back to bite you.

Scott Abel – Physique Transformation Specialist

One of the worst fitness trends is the ridiculous “over-quantification” of everything.

The key word here is “over” – rep tempos, macros, calories-crunching, rest times by the clock, FitPal, Fitbit etc. I keep having to remind people of Einstein’s quote:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

The human body will always be far more than a bunch of pretentious outside-in mathematical equations. Things like recovery needs, maximum versus optimum work capacity, internal biochemical and hormonal environments, refeeds to replenish glycogen stores and to optimize metabolism – these qualitative elements can’t be number-crunched. They can only be assessed and observed.

On the training front, watch Pumping Iron from the 70’s. Pay attention to the training sequences. What do you see? What don’t you see?

Back before the days of GH and insulin and bloated bellies, these world-class physiques were created with crappy equipment and keen attention to biofeedback. What you won’t see in Pumping Iron is anyone practicing rep-tempo nonsense, or resting by the clock, or stopping between sets to write a bunch of numbers in a training log.

As for diet, the National Weight Control Registry monitors people who’ve lost a substantial amount of weight and have kept it off long-term. They look for common denominators of success. They find that calorie-counting is NOT a major contributor to taking weight off and keeping it off. More general lifestyle habits like regular meal times and eating breakfast matter more.

Recently, a study from the University of Pittsburgh showed that number-trackers like Fitbit did NOT help people lose weight compared to those who went on a diet and didn’t use such technology.

The fact is, wannabe gurus in the fitness industry love to dazzle consumers with fancy formulas and mathematic equations. They love to play doctor, and they take this way too far. The truth? Most of these quantifications don’t offer true control – they give an illusion of control, often without any relevant context.

The problem here is that the more effort you put toward outside-in dictations, the more you lose the ability to listen to the wisdom of your own body.

Over-quantification syndrome is the pretention of expertise. True expertise is far more sophisticated. You can never number-crunch your way to a satisfying relationship with your own body.

Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach

It’s the whole “functional patterns” or the resurgence of “functional strength” nonsense.

You know, where you stand on a wobbly surface (because that resembles 99.9% of real life) and curl with a dachshund in one hand and a Weed Eater in the other.

Years ago I wanted to redefine that whole term, but then I realized the internet is a big place and that the phrase “functional strength” had been cornered by a bunch of goofballs doing nonsensical “training” and using really big words to make it appear science-based. It’s only gotten worse with the whole “functional patterns” cult. I’ve never seen such nonsense in almost three decades of training.

When your whole paradigm of physique success is based on posture, then somewhere along the way, you went wrong. I’m not saying good posture isn’t important, but it can be “fixed” by using good old-fashioned weight training and making sure that you’re balanced between the front and back of your body. You don’t need to stand on a Swiss ball and throw a medicine ball at a trampoline in order to create functional strength or good posture.

What’s funny about the term is that it’s a paradox. The cult that promotes “functional strength” or “functional patterns” doesn’t actually train in a way that translates to real world environments. Building functional strength means it transfers from the weight room to the real world. So yeah, your basic compound movements will actually build functional strength.

Ditch the wobbly surfaces, plant your feet on the ground, and move some weights around. That’s functional.

Eric Cressey – Sports Performance Coach

If i had to pick one, I’d say high-rep Olympic lifting.

To be clear, I have absolutely no issue with Olympic lifts. I think they’re fantastic inclusions in a wide variety of programs for a wide variety of reasons.

However, it’s absolutely silly to even attempt these lifts in a state of fatigue, particularly when you understand people often don’t even have the requisite mobility necessary to perform these drills with solid technique. They require a high level of technical proficiency, and fatigue is the enemy of quality motor learning. If you want to train power with the Olympic lifts, do it while you’re fresh.

Conversely, if you want to add some metabolic resistance training, you have plenty of highly effective tools at your disposal. You can roll with kettlebell swings, push or drag the sled, or get creative with medicine balls. Moreover, barbell complexes can even be good as long as any Olympic lift derivatives are included at the beginning of the complex, rather than later on when fatigue has kicked in.

Bret Contreras, PhD – Strength Coach

The “muscle confusion” trend is sadly still around.

P90X heavily promoted the concept of muscle confusion and the infomercial was a huge success. While variety is definitely a good thing in your training, consistency is absolutely necessary for optimal results. Prioritize 1-3 exercises for 4-6 weeks at a time, hitting them first in the training session with a progressive loading plan.

For example, you could squat and/or bench three times per week for 4 weeks in a row in varying rep ranges, such as:

  • Monday: 4 sets of 6
  • Wednesday: 4 sets of 2
  • Friday: 4 sets of 4

After the 4 week cycle, you can test your 1RM, deload, and then repeat the process with new exercises like deadlifts and/or military presses.

After the hard stuff is done (squats and bench, in this case), then use variety and simply hit the other muscles of the body with whichever exercises seem ideal at the time. Aim for 2-3 sets of 6-20 reps. Make sure to include compound and single joint exercises that combine to work the entire body.

If you consistently set personal records while making sure to regularly activate all the muscles to high degrees, your muscles will grow over time. Gaining strength and setting PRs is much easier when adopting a periodized approach rather than just winging it and doing something different every time you enter the gym.

You definitely shouldn’t strive to always “confuse” the muscles. Certain lifts can and should be performed week-in and week-out for your entire training career.

Dan Blewett – Strength Coach

I’m seeing a trend in sloppy deadlift PRs.

I get frustrated within minutes of perusing my Instagram feed. Everyday I see the same thing:

“Johnny with a new deadlift PR! Ignore his extremely round back. It was his max, after all! We’re very proud!”

A Division 1 football program recently shared a horrendous 6-rep set of trap-bar deadlifts. I felt embarrassed for the coach. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what good form looks like. All six reps were terrible. Someone needed to take weight off that kid’s bar.

Everyone needs to STOP. Stop loading more weight when form is crappy. Stop prescribing exercises that aren’t even appropriate to begin with. And stop indulging and enabling people by sharing their terribly executed lifts. If you do a bad job, you don’t deserve praise for it.

The internet is overflowing with “coaches” yet bereft of qualified ones who will put their foot down for safety and long-term goals. Most don’t seem to understand the concept that exercises are simply tools to accomplish a goal, and that the deadlift isn’t necessarily the right tool for any one person or goal.

Most people have physique goals, not powerlifting goals. Yet more people than ever are lifting like powerlifters and Olympic lifters. Most people, beginners especially, will get better results more safely from 3 sets of 12 RDLs than 5 sets of 3 deadlifts. Tailor the exercise to the person and the goal, not the other way around.

A confluence of factors is causing this trend:

  1. CrossFit has helped popularize the deadlift as a staple exercise.
  2. Strength training and CrossFit newbies see big initial changes in their bodies; they think more weight equals more progress. Not necessarily true.
  3. The market is flooded with unqualified coaches who use their Instagram accounts as resumes.
  4. Most novices don’t know the difference between good and bad training.

Once people increase weight in an exercise, they don’t want to take weight back off the bar and go backward – that’s the opposite of progress. However, it’s our job as strength coaches to say no.

I say no to adding more weight when your form sucks. Why? Because if we work on technique, accessory strength, mobility, etc., then in a week or two we’ll be ready to safely add that weight. But too many people are jumping the gun and going for weight first.

On 999 ugly deadlifts you may be fine. But ask anyone with a herniated disk and they’ll tell you that ugly deadlift number 1000 wasn’t worth it. And for the novices who don’t know, it’s up to us strength coaches to keep them safe by saying no to more weight and no to bad form.

Charles Staley – Strength Coach

For lack of a better term, i’ll call it the “movement systems” trend.

While I’m generally very enthused about recent developments in the fitness arena (including the rapid growth of Olympic-style weightlifting, raw powerlifting, and the influence of science-based approaches), this recent trend baffles me.

I’m sure you’ve seen the videos on social media – dudes trying to mimic the movements of various animals, or doing all manner of contortionist circus tricks while standing on a physio ball attached to various bands, and so on.

Almost any type of movement training can have value in the proper context. But given the fact that most people simply need more strength and better body composition, I find these various movement philosophies to be excessively-hyped and over-applied.

I understand why these foo-foo ideas gain a wide audience of course – legitimate training falls under the category of what Cal Newport would call “deep work.” It requires consistent hard work on things you’re not good at and a willingness to temper the human urge for novel experiences. Put another way, everyone aspires to greatness, but few people truly appreciate the long-term grind that’s required to achieve it.

So while we all can benefit from variety and occasional doses of novelty to keep us in the game, it pays to tame our wandering eye. If you want more strength and more muscle, focus your efforts on practices that have been proven to improve those outcomes.

John Rusin – Doctor of Physical Therapy, Performance Expert

It’s the idea that everyone is broken and needs tons of bullshit rehab and prehab.

People need to stop being told by fluffy, non-lifting physical therapists, rehab pros, and functional training gurus that they need to do a bunch of rehab and prehab every day to somehow function once again as a human being.

Instead, we should be preaching that we as humans are strong beyond belief and capable of amazing feats of physical and mental strength. It’s about time that fit pros stop feeding into the disability that so many people naturally gravitate towards at the first sign of challenge.

Sure, staying healthy is important for any training goal, but majoring in the minors like foam rolling, corrective exercise, activation drills, and TheraBand work isn’t going to get you there.

I’m sick and tired of the dependency-based methods that are being spewed out from pseudo-experts. If you’re a coach, physical therapist, or personal trainer, you need to be preaching self-sufficiency in both training and health. If you aren’t, you’re doing your clients a huge disservice. You heard that right – the less people that need you, the better.

So here’s the deal. Don’t listen to some dweeb telling you that you’ll never again be able to lift, run, play, or even live pain-free. If someone tells you that you’ll no longer live the type of life you aspire to live, or do the activities that you love to do pain-free, tell them to screw off and find a way to regain your function.

This is especially important when dealing with the high and holy MD’s and DO’s with a scalpel-based agenda. Be your own best advocate. If you aren’t going to stand strong, who will?

Tim Henriques – Strength Coach, Powerlifter

The thing that pisses me off the most is “it-shaming.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the idea that anyone of any fitness level should be encouraged to start exercising. And I’m wholeheartedly against fat-shaming. But I’m equally opposed to the idea that in order to make those less fit somehow feel more comfortable, we need to start shaming those that are very fit.

Should we shame professional baseball players because they make some youth league players feel inadequate? Should we have slightly blurred the bodies of all of the Olympic athletes on TV because they showed us how lean we probably ought to be?

Fitness is inherently relative. We only decide what’s fit or not by comparing ourselves to others. If everyone benched 500 pounds then a 500 pound bench wouldn’t be a strong – a 1,000 pound bench would be. If no one had ever benched 135 before then we’d think that level of strength is super awesome.

Banning or shaming fit people doesn’t work, nor does disallowing certain exercises. Where does it end? Do we need dividers on the treadmill so I don’t realize that someone next to me is going faster and working harder? Should all dumbbells be the same size so you can’t tell which one is heavier?

Powerlifting competitions have done a great job of embracing both those new to exercise and those with decades of experience. When you attend a powerlifting competition you’ll see tremendous support given to the woman benching 75 for the first time, the teen who just deadlifted bodyweight, the master’s lifter who battled cancer showing us what real strength is, and the seasoned veteran with the bar bending on his back.

Powerlifting is welcoming and supportive of all. This is because most lifters realized they too started somewhere similar and because physical strength can be gone in the blink of an eye. One minute you’re squatting six bills, the next you’re happy to walk without a limp.

Fitness and strength can come and go, but strength training teaches you patience, perseverance, and respect. Respect for the iron and respect for all those who attempt to better themselves by it. That’s a model I can wholeheartedly support.