Finding Fitness Advice Online: Part Two
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
So, in part one, we started figuring out how to find reliable fitness information online.
Maybe you're like MIA! Why is this taking multiple blogs?! Could you PLEASE just tell me how to find the info! Gimme a website! Name an influencer!
Sorry, beloved readers, it doesn't work that way. But if you don't feel like reading all of this, scroll down to where the text turns green and read the end.
When you're hunting for fitness advice online, you have to know what you're looking for. You're not looking for exercises for your sister's body, or for your spouse's body, or for some super hot supermodel's body. I can't stand when magazines interview someone like Karli Kloss and say "What's your workout routine?!" Asking a supermodel for her workout routine is like asking Stephen Hawking to write up a few equations so you can learn physics.
Listen, I'm a Karli Kloss fan. But according to what I've read, her workout routine is: not eating; genetics; and probably not what you need (this horrifying article deeply suggests that anyone can have Karli's body with just a few slow banded presses but trust me. You probably can't have her body, definitely don't need to have her body, and while we're here, there is absolutely NO "sneaky cardio" on this planet.)
You gotta find exercises for YOUR body and YOUR deficiencies! (I know you don't have glaring deficiencies, you beautiful snow leopard, but let's pretend.)
In order to find what can actually benefit your plantar fasciitis or shitty hip extension, you need to be able to recognize sirens-blaring fitness bullshit so you don't fall prey to it on your way to fitness excellence. That's what part one of this blog was for. If you missed it, just know that Dr. Oz sucks.
Asking a supermodel for her workout routine is like asking Stephen Hawking to write up a few equations.
Part two is recognizing the sirens-whimpering, accidental fitness bullshit. These are the professionals who are trying to give quality, useful content, but only do it in bite size pieces. The whimpering grievance sirens are not so much about them, but about their preferred method of delivery and lack of follow-through.
Online fitness advisors have a tough job. We know that our suggestions can help a whole lot of people. We know that any given exercise *could* be infinitely valuable to someone. So we like to share it to the entire universe.
But as a consumer, it's important to understand the limitations of the One Person Behind A Computer To Another Person Behind A Computer dynamic. By nature of blowing exercise darts randomly into the forest, we're bound to miss a few targets, and even to hit some poor woodpecker in the face every once in a while.
So here are some more of the realities of finding fitness advice online. Why do these realities even matter? Couple reasons, but the bottom line is that even though the internet is a massive universe, it is INCOMPLETE.
So, I hope first that this blog reminds you not to give up if the first thing doesn't work. This is super common: "I've tried doing a shoulder exercise and it didn't work. I'm a worthless human made of sadness and crumbs."
If a promising post or exercise doesn't work, it doesn't mean it was useless. And it doesn't mean that you're trash and your body is trash and everything is trash and you're doomed to have plantar fasciitis and a sprained ankle every five seconds til you die alone and get eaten by your cats.
It probably just means that it was a piece of a puzzle and it's worth searching for more pieces. Like any subject on Earth, one single article or video cannot handle all the complexities of ANYTHING in fitness. So be prepared to do a little hunting, even after you think you're on the right track.
Here are the three ways that we enthusiastic online teachers inevitably fall short. Sometimes deliberately for views (we all do it), and sometimes because we're just wicked excited to try and help you out. But along the way, I'll give you some ways to fill in the gaps that we leave.
Well-Meaning Pitfall #1):
Oversimplifying complicated concepts and presenting them as complete.
Simplifying is necessary, especially when faced with a newspaper space limit or caption length. And we all know that the quickest way to capture a short-attention-span Instagram scroller is to say something decisively right off the bat, no matter how nuanced it actually is. This of course is how advertising works.
I started this blog soon after joining Instagram, because I felt disingenuous writing posts when I knew there was so much left to say. (Or maybe I just simply cannot stop talking.)
I'll use my own post as an example of what this looks like.
Here's the scoop: I don't want people to scroll past my posts, and I have a nanosecond to catch them. So in my opening video caption, I say that this is a handstand drill but can also help neck, shoulders, and low back. This is absolutely true, but also absurdly generic. I say it to catch any scrollers who might be interested in helping their neck, shoulders and/or low back. It sounds great, right? Renovate your entire torso with this one Instagram exercise!!!
But alas. I hope all my readers understand that just like there isn't any one exercise that will change your weight, there isn't any one exercise that can change the entire upper 2/3rds of your body.
Necks, shoulders, and backs can hurt for a thousand reasons and the drill that I posted may help, hinder, or do nothing at all. But I have no time on Instagram to elaborate on the myriad complexities of torso pain. My intentions are good—handstands can definitely improve neck, shoulder, and back problems—but the oversimplification is still a problem if it doesn't contain a place to find further reading.
How To Correct For It!
I can't stress this enough: Social media cannot, and will never be able to, provide a suitable amount of detail about ANYTHING. Its entire purpose is to snag you long enough to click "like" or "share" before moving to the next post. Instagram can be a fantastic starting point for shoulder pain, or learning about social justice, or studying ballet technique. But that's all it is: a starting point.
So when you see a post that intrigues you, it's on you to take some deeper dives and find out the details and particulars. Don't just put that one rotator cuff exercise in the car and give Jesus the wheel. Go find forty more of them and take the wheel yourself. If you don't want to do that, that's cool. But then hire an expert who will do the research for you. At the very least, quit complaining to your family about it. They're tired of hearing about it, I promise.
Well-Meaning Pitfall #2):
Assigning the Holy Shit Miracle Cure! to a sample of one.
Everyone has one thing that they did that cured a chronic pain entirely. I had a client with knee pain that we worked on for months to no avail. She came in one day, said she foam rolled her IT band, and that all of her knee pain went away. Okee dokee!! I'm gonna remember that! But it doesn't mean that foam rolling is now the cure for all knee pain. It just means that it Holy Shit Miracle Cure!ed one person.
For another example, I once met a guy lifting who was obviously struggling through some overhead lifts. I asked him if I could help and he said it was because he had previously dislocated his shoulder. We tried some quick hip mobility work (hips and shoulders are connected) and his shoulder instantly improved so much on the next rep that even I was surprised—and I knew what was gonna happen! It's not that I cured his shoulder. Hip voodoo is not going to solve every shoulder dislocation. I just got lucky in picking the right exercise for the right body in the right situation.
We all get excited about the Holy Shit Miracle Cure! because it's so rare to pinpoint what actually made us feel better, and rarer still when it happens instantly. So we want to tell everyone we've ever met. You had an amazing acupuncture appointment? Send everyone there. Fascia work changed your elbow pain? Holy Shit Miracle Cure!!!!! It's the best!
But it can also be trouble, mostly for dashed expectations. A dear client of mine had ongoing back pain for ages. His brother-in-law said, "OH! I went to a woman who cured my back pain completely. I call her the Magic Back Lady."
Magic Back Lady is a synonym for Holy Shit Miracle Cure!. And, not surprisingly, my client didn't have the same experience with her. My biggest concern about the HSMC! type of posts and videos is that it can be intensely disappointing to get your hopes up for a quick, complete relief, and then experience nothing.
If it happens enough times (I see this with back pain especially), that huge buildup-letdown can lead to giving up entirely. "Nothing is gonna fix this shitty back. I'm old. I've tried everything. I'm just gonna be in pain forever." Injury/pain depression is real and it can be crippling in more ways than one.
Trainers aren't immune to prescribing the HSMC!. If anything, we're worse at it than the average person, because we all really, really want our clients to feel great. So anything that we see working, we're gonna post about it, and we're gonna be ultra excited to share it with you in case it helps you too. After I helped that guy with his shoulder, I assigned hip mobility work to approximately one thousand clients. You know how many had the same response? Just that one guy that one time.
How To Correct For It!
Every once in a while, it'll work.
Every once in a while, an Instagram post is gonna be the exact thing you needed, and that's awesome. By all means, if you see an intriguing post or video, absolutely definitely give it a try.
Just remember that a stopped clock is right twice a day, and you'll want better odds than just randomness at discerning which exercises are gonna be awesome for you every time. Otherwise, you're just gonna keep trying HSMC!s over and over hoping for a great outcome. There is a better way!
Part three is going to run some practice scenarios so you can see exactly how to progress from wishing fervently that an exercise will work for you, and instead identifying the kind of exercises that have a higher chance of being what you need. If you can't wait that long, scroll to the bottom of this post for a preview.
Well-Meaning Pitfall #3:
Trainers and PTs tend to over-assign what we know and love.
This is why it's smart to follow more than one trainer or to follow more than one fitness website. As my dear friend Ali says, every individual and every profession has its own Brilliances, Biases, and Blindspots. And, although many of us Hammers work hard not to do this, there will always be occasions where everything looks like a Nail to us. I strongly believe that exercise can benefit nearly any bodily condition but that doesn't mean it's the first thing to try, or the third thing to try, and plenty of times it can be counterproductive.
The combination of what makes my own body feel amazing—plus knowing what often makes other people's bodies feel amazing—means that I tend to assign the same exercises and patterns over time. It's not laziness, it's that we like to use tactics that have been proven effective. But there will always be more possible solutions, especially with an entity as enigmatic as the human body.
How to correct for it!
I am good at my job. I'm grateful that people benefit from what I have to say, and I'm super extra grateful that my clients remain loyal to me. I hope that I can always provide them with more than enough of what they need to keep going.
But when I go out of town? When my schedule is slammed? When people want a different perspective or to study from someone who is an expert in something I'm not? I LOVE when my clients train with other people. There are a lot of really good trainers, and what any of them see in you is going to be different from what I see in you.
There are tons of great voices out there, so don't get too stuck in any one of them, including mine. The idea behind fitness (and really, all advice) is that you listen carefully to your most trusted sources, seek some extra info if you need it, and then pick and choose what suits you the best.
Well-Meaning Pitfall #4: Being Pretty Sure We Know Absolutely Everything
I'm an Aries. We HAVE to be right all the time. If we were wrong all the time, we'd have been born Taurus.
But I acknowledge that every once in a while, I cannot solve a client's problem. So I turn to friends, acquaintances, and the internet. And this is related to #3 above.
There are so many modalities of exercise that any one of us can't possibly know it all, although I'm trying real hard to be the first. The egos get large in the fitness world (just like in PT and in medicine), because there is a strange kind of power in health work. You have the ability to make someone feel better. That's huge. But it's easy to turn that into You have the ability to make everyone feel better. (Spoiler alert, you don't.)
We should never assume that we know best, or that just because someone is new doesn't mean they won't have good ideas. I'm big on conviction and trusting in your experience, but not at the expense of any other opinion. I wouldn't use any provider who was not consistently seeking out further education and regularly citing other sources and thoughts.
How To Correct For It!
Avoid anyone who says My Way Or The Highway. They're all over the internet and all over the planet. If somebody doesn't give sources for their claims, or mention something they learned from someone else, or credit another professional for changing their thinking on something, leave them to stare into their own mirror forever. Real health care is collaborative. You can be sure that the exercises they offer are just as rigid as they are.
Never forget the physical therapist who told my client to stop seeing me professionally. When I called to speak with him and try to collaborate on her care, he got angrier and angrier until he screamed, "YOU'RE THE ENTIRE REASON SHE HAS TO COME SEE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WITHOUT YOU SHE WOULD BE JUST FINE!!!!!!!!!! I'M SAVING HER FROM YOU!!!!!!"
You know what makes these kinds of situations with men way more fun? When you laugh at him over the phone while he is trying to belittle you. Give it a try, you'll like it, I promise.
Point being, someone who thinks like this doesn't have any interest in your care, they only have an interest in making their voice the loudest. Look for professionals who know what they're talking about but also admit when they don't know something. People who say, "My friend Ali is gonna know the exact answer you need for that. I'll ask her."
So, Mia, what do I do next? Please tell me how to find fitness advice online!
I will. I promise. The next installment of this blog is going to be a step-by-step course in unearthing what you need.
But to get you started, let's do an introduction to specificity.
Better than searching for...
"Upper body exercises" which is not as good as...
"Arm exercises" which could be better as...
"Shoulder exercises" which would be more specific as...
"Lateral shoulder exercises" which is actually nothing like...
"Rotator cuff exercises for anterior shoulder pain" which is utterly different from...
"Isometric exercises for rhomboids" which couldn't be further from...
"Self-release techniques for pec minor."
Remember, the world of fitness is huge. It's not just "exercise," and it's not just "arm and leg exercises." Specificity matters. And it's totally OK if your knowledge base doesn't even create the thought "rotator cuff exercises for anterior shoulder pain." Just get as specific as you can.
If you were trying to look up something about Dory's childhood from Finding Nemo and you started by typing "fish," you wouldn't get far. The odds that you'll stumble across anything about Dory, let alone her childhood, are very low. But if you typed "blue fish with memory problems childhood," well... just see what happens:
So use as much specificity as you can when you search. Don't worry about getting it exactly right, just use as many search terms as you can. If you have some bands at home but not weights, don't search "arm exercises." Try searching "arm exercises with bands" or "full body workout with bands."
The more information you give your search, the better your results will be. So start practicing that, and I'll finish this off for you next time. Happy exercising!