Fitness Flim Flams, Part 1: A NY Personal Trainer’s Tirade

If you’ve ever stayed up late watching TV you’ve been bombarded by the fitness infomercial. There are the home workout programs and fancy gadgets that jiggle, shake and shock you into that coveted leanness.  I’m not going to grant these products any free publicity but we all know what I’m talking about.

Well they all make some amazing claims about how much weight you can lose and how quickly you can lose those pounds.  They also promise to pack your body with muscle and give you a metabolism that will allow you to eat what you want and incinerate body fat.  They promise a body that could be proudly displayed in the Greek/Roman sculpture exhibit of any museum.  They offer money back guarantees and convincing before and after pictures–what is called social proof in the advertising industry.

But notice that although they all offer an exercise program that seems unique in it’s efficiency, intensity or effectiveness, nearly all of these home programs and fitness products come with a diet plan.  Most of the infomercial is spent on seeing individuals working out and smiling a lot.  Another large chunk of time is taken up by the testimonials from the success stories.  And the meal plan is usually mentioned in passing, as if it were something thrown in to sweeten the deal.

But ask yourself, why are these diets/meal plans almost universally included in these fitness infomercials?  I suggest that it’s because the creators of these products know that you can’t get lean from exercise alone, no matter how intensely you jump around for twenty minutes or an hour.  And yet that is the impression one might take away from watching these commercials.  The exercise program is presented as the sizzle, backed up by all these testimonials that speak of their lives being forever changed.  And the fact that you have to stick to a diet is slipped in, under the radar.

When was the last time you saw an exercise product infomercial spend considerable time explaining that exercise without caloric control is pointless?  When was the last time you saw any of the success stories go on an on about how great the food was, how delighted they were to manage their caloric consumption day in and day out for the length of the program and how great it was to eat many of the same things again and again?  I’ve never seen this.

The reality is that you cannot consume however many calories you want just because you work out intensely.  What about Michael Phelps you may ask?  Athletes like Michael Phelps are the exception, not the rule.  Most athletes have to control their caloric consumption in order to maintain a level of leanness that is ideal for their sport.  And even if you had the genetics and youth of Michael Phelps, would you be willing to work out for hours each day?  The vast majority of us don’t have the time to spend hours training intensely in a pool.  That’s Michael Phelp’s job.  Most of us work in a cubicle in front of a screen.

So given the reality that controlling consumption is necessary, the creators of these infomercials wisely include diets in their fitness products.  But the infomercials don’t stress that it’s the diet that is essential for your results, not the flashy exercises.  Sure, the exercise can help burn some calories, although not as much as many of these infomercials claim.  Nevertheless, it’s your willingness to consistently control how much food you consume that deserves the bulk of the credit for your leaner body.

Don’t believe me?  Order one of these programs and ignore the exercise program.  Just perform some basic strength training movements to preserve your muscle mass: squats/leg press, chin-up/pulldown, and a chest/shoulder press.  Perform these movements in a slow, controlled fashion so you don’t hurt yourself.  And follow the diet to the letter.  I bet that you will be quite favorably impressed with your results after the program period, whether it’s thirty days, sixty days or whatever.  The reason, to paraphrase former President Clinton, is that it’s the diet stupid!

So if you want to lose some fat, exercise by all means.  An effective strength training program is all you need to preserve or augment your muscle mass and metabolism.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that exercise, of whatever form, will burn hundreds upon hundreds of calories in mere minutes.  If we were that energy inefficient we would not have survived as a species.  For effective, time-efficient fat loss, focus on how much you consume over a twenty-four hour period.  It’s that simple and that difficult.

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