Weight Loss: “Toning” versus “Strengthening”

When someone asks me about losing weight, there are usually two main approaches I discuss with them. I refer to the first as “Toning” and the second as “Strengthening.” Many things factor into deciding which method to use, and sometimes they overlap. I am going to describe how they are similar and how they are different, and what type of client is suited to each approach.

Toning

When people talk about “toning,” they usually mean losing fat and gaining visible muscle tone in a relatively short amount of time; say, three to six months. This is a perfectly reasonable goal to have, but it requires something special on the part of the client. It cannot be achieved haphazardly, passively, or by accident.

This is because toning requires a higher level of caloric burn than strengthening does. The process of losing fat in a rapid way is only achievable if the client follows a strict regimen of exercise and diet. If one of these elements falls behind, the results can be unsatisfactory.

Put differently, more changes in the person’s life are required to successfully “tone.”

Toning is also harder because it is harder to maintain. Once the goal has been approached or even reached, the diet and exercise regimen does not stop. It must continue in some form or the results will go away completely. There is no way around this.

Let’s say your goal is having visible abdominal muscles. You’ve been sticking to your meal plan and watching every calorie for three straight months, and doing your cardio homework three to five days per week. On top of that, you’ve eliminated alcohol from your diet (yes, this is necessary for toning), respected your cheat meal parameters, abstained from the donuts and cakes that show up in your office on a regular basis, et cetera. And one day, you notice something in the mirror that could be referred to as the beginnings of a “sixpack.” You smile big, and feel amazing.

Now that you’ve reached your goal, that doesn’t mean you’re “done.” You can’t stop watching what you eat. You can’t stop exercising. You can’t start going to the bar every night after work and drinking nine Miller Lights. I mean, you could, but everything you’d worked so hard for would disappear in a much shorter time than it took to achieve. I’m sorry but this is the truth.

Despite what “fitspo” memes would have you believe, dieting and toning is not like climbing a mountain, where you reach the top and then go back down. Instead, you must stay either stay at the top or go higher. This is why many people have so much trouble with “weight loss.” Doing it this way—the “toning” way—literally requires you to change almost your entire life. Understandably, it is too much for some people.

But I’ll tell you one thing: it works. Cutting calories, improving food quality, getting better sleep, reducing life stress, increasing daily exercise, keeping bad and self-destructive habits at a minimum or gone altogether…in other words, reorienting the majority of your life around fitness and nutrition totally works. How could it not?!

The truth is that you don’t have the body composition you have now because of one or even two or three bad decisions. You have it because of an entire lifestyle. This doesn’t make you a bad person. Our lives are unbelievably complex and full of obligations, stress, and uncertainty. But if changing your body composition is important to you, you must change your lifestyle, no matter what approach you use. That, again, is the honest truth.

Toning is one way to do this. It is best for people who are already active and comfortable with exercise (therefore requiring less overall life alteration), and who are disciplined in that they more or less stick to a course of action once they have committed to it. Toning is a hard way, an effective way, but not the only way.

Strengthening

Now I’ll discuss strengthening. By “strengthening,” of course I’m referring to strengthening the muscles themselves, but in addition to that, I’m using the word to mean strengthening the mind of the exerciser.

Why strengthen the mind? The amount of people who are willing to do everything I describe above is very small. That’s partly because “toning” requires a level of effort and focus that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. If you’ve a) never exercised before, b) haven’t exercised in a long time, c) are uncomfortable with strenuous activity, d) deal with chronic pain, including psychological pain, or e) would describe yourself as lacking self-control or discipline, you’re in no position to vastly alter your way of being, not because you couldn’t handle it (it’s amazing what the human body can handle) but because you couldn’t stick to it.

One main challenge that some people have with accepting this reality is the moral judgment they attach to it. They feel that because they can’t or won’t completely alter their daily lives and live like the beautiful, fit people on Instagram ostensibly do, that means they’re “bad,” “weak,” “worthless,” or worse.

Unfortunately, this is the standard to which many people hold themselves: comparing themselves to fitness models who are often 10 to 20 years younger, who were probably engaged in exercise from a younger age, who may very well have fewer external obligations like jobs, houses, families, car payments, et cetera, and who essentially work in the (often harshly critical) fitness industry, which can be, needless to say, a strong motivator.

This is why strengthening the mind is so important. Many people lack what I call a “physical identity.” There is no context involving physical activity in which such people feel “like themselves.” Exercise is always a foreign activity, unwelcome, odd, an imposition. And by definition, uncomfortable. Dieting often comes to be viewed the same way. Hence, they have virtually no chance of ever becoming “toned” as I describe above, meaningfully, safely, and sustainably. They have no “way in.”

This is where strengthening the muscles comes in. The term “strength training” refers to the organized and structured process of increasing the amount of weight you can lift in a given exercise.

“But Coach Mark,” you might ask, “how do I lose weight by increasing strength?” Well, I should come clean. You may not lose a ton of weight through strengthening alone. But you will lose fat.

Increasing the size of a muscle by exercising it increases what’s called your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR. This term refers to the number of calories your body burns simply by existing. In burning the calories, your body is maintaining its tissues.

Muscle burns many, many more calories in this way than fat. Therefore, if you increase your body’s “lean mass,” which is a fancy term for muscle, it will burn more calories, which will in turn lead to the loss of body fat.

In addition to this, you will have better, safer movements, healthier joints, a stronger back, better posture, more useful strength for daily activities, higher bone density, and greater self-reliance as you age. And if that wasn’t enough, any fat loss you do accomplish will be more evident because of the presence of toned muscle underneath it. These are some of the many benefits of regular strength training.

So, if you engage in this organized and structured process, and each week, you increase the amount of weight you lift even a just a little bit, over time, your muscles will grow bigger and stronger, your BMR will increase, and you will have a healthier, more “toned” body composition. Simple, right?

Well, you can’t outrun a bad diet. If your diet stays the same, there’s a good chance that, although you will feel stronger, more “solid,” and more robust, you will look more or less the same, at least most of the time.

But one of the beauties of strength training is that it helps people develop a positive relationship to exercise. It does this by teaching them useful skills, specifically the squat, the deadlift, the overhead press, and the bench press, among others. It motivates them through the prospect of OBJECTIVE weekly progress: if you lifted more weight, you improved. Simple.

These skills and motivation start to form a competency that can produce a level of comfort with physical exertion that was never there before. In other words, strength training helps them develop a physical identity.

Based on this newly developed physical identity, it can become easier to implement dietary changes. You have seen the results of your exercise in the form of strength gains and you want to maintain them, so this motivates you to change your behavior, even just a little bit: drink more water, go to sleep a little earlier, eat a little less junk food and a little more lean protein or leafy greens, drink a little less alcohol, take your multivitamin, et cetera.

From there, you might want to add some extra cardio work during the week to keep your “work capacity” (which governs your energy levels during a workout) a little higher, or a designated stretch interval during the day to keep your knees and back and hips and shoulders healthy so that you can keep lifting each week without any obstacles.

You might never quite make the jump towards an “active lifestyle,” but you will be objectively healthier, stronger, more aware, more empowered, and more capable of making that decision with an informed mind, specifically regarding whether it’s something YOU actually want or need, and not that person on Instagram with two million followers.

So who is suited to “strengthening” in this way? Everybody! Whether you’re the “get up and go, can’t sit still” type, or you like to chill on the couch with a book to unwind, whether you’re young or old, tall or short, happy or unhappy, injured or sound, strength training is achievable by virtually anyone.

There are so many wonderful lessons that are learned from strengthening your muscles in this way that I will save them for another article. Suffice it to say that even if squatting your bodyweight is not your goal, you will begin to see your body and yourself as the amazing and powerful things that they really are, capable of doing whatever you put your mind to, and the goals that you do have will become that much more achievable.

A Final Note on Female Strength Training

A lot of female exercisers worry about becoming too muscular. I’m going to put your minds at ease in two ways. The first is biological: with very, very few exceptions, women simply do not naturally possess adequate testosterone to ever become “bulky” with muscle.

The second point is a general rule: no one ever got bulky by accident. Doing three sets of five repetitions of squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and bench presses two times per week (or some variation of that) is not going to change you into a She-Hulk overnight, overmonth, or even overyear. Getting big, blocky-looking muscles is achieved using many more exercises than just squats and deadlifts and with a much higher amount of sets and reps, often utilizing fairly extreme dieting methods on top of that.

If a woman, including you, wants to look “jacked,” that is totally fine. In fact, it’s awesome. But strength training alone generally won’t accomplish it. So rest easy. You can have stronger, more toned legs, better hip and back health, higher metabolism, and more useful upper body strength without having to look like a “bodybuilder.” At least, not until you want to. :)))

And if you don’t believe me, check out this 19-year-old world-class female powerlifter. Strong, solid, but not exactly a she-hulk is she?

Diaphragmatic Breathing for Lifting: The Basics

This article discusses the topic of diaphragmatic breathing as it relates to lifting heavy loads. For a more basic overview of diaphragmatic breathing as an everyday practice, check out this video. 

Diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing “into your belly.” This is one of those phrases, similar to “sit up straight” or “lift with your legs,” that we hear sometimes but are never really told what they mean or how to do them.

Breathing into your belly does not mean filling your stomach with air. It means breathing into your diaphragm, which is a large, dome-shaped muscle located between the lower part of the sternum (breastbone) and the ends of the lower ribs. As far as muscles go, it is kind of important: it allows us to breathe by expanding the ribcage.

Most of the time when we breathe, our breaths are somewhat short and the chest rises and falls with each breath. This is what’s called “chest breathing.”

In order to breathe into your diaphragm, however, breathing must involve movement at the area of the belly rather than at the chest. As you breathe in, the belly moves outward. This indicates that the diaphragm is expanding the lower ribs, creating a sort of air chamber.

By creating this air chamber while contracting the abdominal muscles, we create a state of “abdominal pressurization” that is extremely tight, stable, and sturdy. When lifting heavy weights that put direct or indirect load onto the spine, having this type of abdominal pressurization is vital for two reasons:

1) to protect the lower back,

and 2) to produce maximum force.

Studies by Dr. Stuart McGill and others have shown that when the core is tightened in this way, it produces greater muscular responsiveness throughout the body. Dr. McGill compares this mechanism to a “guy wire system,” similar to the rigging across a large sailboat. By maintaining tightness in the core, it helps produces greater tightness and responsiveness throughout the body, resulting in greater force. And if you can’t produce adequate force, your lifts will be limited.

So, how is this done? There are, as I indicated, two parts to the type of diaphragmatic breathing we are doing. One is taking the breath itself. The second is engaging the core muscles.

First, the breathing. This involves taking a breath, either into your diaphragm or into your chest and then “pushing” it down into your diaphragm, and actually holding the breath for a certain duration to achieve maximal tightness,

Then comes engaging the core muscles. Once the breath is in the diaphragm, the lifter forcefully engages his or her core musculature: the abdominals, obliques, glutes, and spinal erectors. Then, the lift is executed. The breath is held during the first phase of the lift and slowly exhaled during the second phase in order to avoid losing abdominal pressure all at once.

For example, during a squat, the breath would be held on the way down and slowly exhaled on the way up.

The exhalation step is critical for making sure the breath is not held too long, which would cause dizziness, headache, or loss of consciousness.

The principle is to maintain the breath and the abdominal tightness at its peak when the spine is under the greatest amount of stress, and to exhale the air during the moment of greatest effort. As per our squat example, the lower back is most tempted to round forward on the way down. Having a pressurized core during this period is vital for that reason, to prevent that from happening.

Some more examples of how this method of breathing would be integrated into various lifts include: during an overhead press, the breath is taken right before raising the bar overhead, and slowly exhaled as the bar is lowered. During a bench press, the breath is taken right before the bar is lowered toward the chest and slowly exhaled as the bar is raised again. During a barbell row, the breath is taken while the bar is hanging below the lifter, who then forcefully (but under control) pulls the bar forward, before slowly exhaling and lowering the bar at the same time.

So what is the best means of achieving all of these interesting but odd little steps? The answer is practice and mindfulness, along with something called the Valsalva Maneuver.

You’ve done the maneuver countless times in your life, because it (or some variant of it) is involved in coughing, laughing, sneezing, and numerous other bodily functions. It involves forcing air out of the lungs through a closed airway. That is, the air is forcefully breathed out but it can’t leave the body. This causes the abdominal muscles to tighten involuntarily.

Try this: put your hand on your belly and cough. You might feel your abdominal muscle suddenly tighten. This is a version of the valsalva maneuver: your body is trying to create forceful bursts of air to remove whatever is irritating or obstructing the airway.

When it comes to lifting, the trick is to be able to implement the valsalva maneuver voluntarily in order to create maximal core stabilization, or as much stabilization as we need. It produces what Dr. McGill calls that familiar “Hoik!” sound when you go to lift something heavy.

So, how to do it: take a breath—either into your belly or into your chest and press it down into your belly (so that your belly presses outward)—and attempt to breathe out while closing your airway in the back of the throat. This is the basic maneuver. Now your core is tight.

Further, mindfully engage (meaning flex, contract, tighten, harden, whatever) your abdominal muscles so that they are even tighter. Do this without “crunching” the abs.

The final step, to go even farther, is to do what’s called “bearing down,” and this is exactly what is sounds like. Apply pressure to the muscles of your pelvic floor as though you are trying to initiate a bowel movement. Take the necessary precautions to avoid any unplanned incidents.

While holding all of this together—the breath, the valsalva maneuver, the contraction, and the bearing down—execute your lift as described above, by holding the breath when the spine is most under duress and slowly exhaling as the weight is returned to the starting position. It should all take no more than about two seconds.

Introducing this technique is an odd transition to make and should be done slowly, with light weight, until the various steps are integrated into a repeatable pattern. Do not rush the process; the amount of core tightness should be proportional to the amount of weight you are lifting.

A common question is, can I hold one breath throughout two or three reps? When it comes to squats and deadlifts, the answer is no, don’t do that. Take a new breath for each repetition. Reset your breath and your core pressure between each rep. With presses like the bench press and the overhead press, you could maybe get away with it, but be mindful not to hold it too long or you’ll get dizzy. Trust me.

There are a few caveats when utilizing diaphragmatic breathing with the valsalva maneuver. At the moment the maneuver is activated, an increase in blood pressure can result. This is because the flow of blood returning to the heart (known as venous blood) is slowed. What this means is that the valsalva maneuver is generally considered contraindicated in anyone with a personal or family history of heart disease or hypertension. If you have such personal or family history, you will want to talk to your doctor and make sure heavy lifting using the valsalva maneuver is safe for you.

Additionally, a not-uncommon side effect of performing the valsalva maneuver regularly is hemorrhoids or hemorrhoid-like symptoms, due to the downward pressure placed on the lower trunk of the body. So that’s something to be aware of. If this happens, it usually means you moved too fast. Move a little more slowly and don’t bear down quite so hard. Build up to higher weights, when that level of bearing down is necessary, and you may be able to minimize these symptoms.

Another concern worth mentioning is that using this technique may make the belly look bigger. This is due to two things: the stretching of the abdominal muscle while the breath is held, and the thickening of the muscle itself as it grows stronger. Therefore, athletes who are oriented towards aesthetics—bodybuilders, physique or figure competitors, fitness models, any field where having a “tight waist” is an asset—may want to think twice about using it, or use it sparingly. (To my knowledge, it is possible to reverse this effect to an extent by performing an exercise called a “vacuum.”)

This technique of diaphragmatic breathing is common among powerlifters and weightlifters both competitive and recreational. But, as a somewhat more casual lifter or worker-outer (or at least viewing yourself as one), you might be wondering why the average person would feel it necessary to utilize a technique that seems so complicated and potentially hazardous. Admittedly, it is not for everyone. But the answer is simple:

maximum safety + maximum force = maximum potential progress

This is what diaphragmatic breathing delivers. It can take you to the next level, plain and simple.

Prior to utilizing it, you may reach a point in your lifts at which progress will start to slow or stop altogether. Let’s say you’ve perfected your form, worked out all of the muscular kinks, pains, and mobility issues, and worked backed up to your highest weights, but you still can’t exceed them. This may be because your are unable to generate the necessary core stiffness and resulting force to move heavier loads that exceed your current limits while keeping your lower back safe.

The answer is diaphragmatic breathing. If it is done patiently and carefully, with a mind for the end-goal, and with a doctor’s OK if you have a personal or family history of heart disease or hypertension, it is the best way to lift more weight, build functional core strength, and protect your lower back for the long term. Period.

Should Personal Trainers Require Government Licenses?

It’s been awhile since my last post and you’re about to find out why. I first heard about D.C. licensure law for fitness professionals over two weeks ago and it has taken me this long to look into it and form a semi-cohesive viewpoint on it. As you can see, it’s a somewhat complex issue. So here goes….

Currently, a new law in Washington D.C. seeks to mandate licenses for “personal fitness trainers.” The law was drafted in part by a group called the Board of Physical Therapy.

Within my industry, there is a controversy brewing, and with good reason. For instance, why is an unelected “Board of Physical Therapy” drafting legislation that applies to personal trainers?

Also, why is much of the opposition to the law coming from practitioners of CrossFit and owners of CrossFit facilities?

Why should such a law require personal trainers to hold four-year degrees in exercise science when many of us have been in the industry for decades and helped build it into the multibillion-dollar industry it is today?

Who really benefits from this licensure law? Is it the consumer, because the trainer will be undoubtedly held to a higher standard of training? Is it the government, because they will be able to lay claim to a groundswell of greater public health and safety (and the trainers will have to pay for their licenses, so there’s some money in it)? Is it government workers’ unions, because this mandate will create government jobs? Is it the fitness industry, because this law will start to address the less-than-ideal image of personal trainers as a bunch of meathead young’uns, usually working on commission in big-box gyms, who think that because THEY THEMSELVES are jacked (or because they’ve read about how to “pump, YOU UP” in a book), that means they know how to get SOMEONE ELSE jacked as well? “And you need me, bro, you need me.”

Based on my reading of the law, all of these concerns have validity. Trainers should be held to a high standard. The government should be concerned with improving people’s health and safety (even in America’s fittest city). Government workers’ unions should rejoice at the creation of more jobs. The fitness industry, like all industries, should embrace a swift kick in the rear every once in a while.

As it is, I don’t trust the government we have now to do much of anything for the best interests of almost anyone. It is not because the government in D.C. is Democrat and I’m a Republican. Nor is it because there are some Republicans in office, and I’m a Democrat. The reason is that I have observed what both parties have done in the past to address “the public good,” and in almost every instance, the main benefactor is one bunch of lobbyists, one massive corporation, one billionaire or another.

Now, let me say clearly that I support single-payer healthcare. I think we should kick the insurance companies in the crotch; government-run healthcare, equal and accessible and free for all, is the answer. Obviously, I don’t mean to contradict my earlier statement. Until there is a massive new influx of outside-of-the-box thinkers in government (so therefore neither Democrats nor Republicans, because both of those parties are owned by corporations, and, I’ll admit, misguided unions), the possibility of single-payer happening, let alone being well-run, is practically nil.

So my suspicion towards our government continues when it comes to effectively regulating personal training. I don’t kid myself; the fitness industry has its problems. But let’s talk about where those problems come from, and whether licensure can address them. Unfortunately, such problems are not unique to the fitness industry; they are reflections of our popular culture in general.

As an industry trying to grow, fitness professionals (and not-so-professionals) have repeatedly embraced problematic cultural mandates. Instead of encouraging positive lifestyle changes and the transition to a healthy lifestyle, some fitness professionals actually encourage and play on ideas like “GET SKINNY! GET BIG! GET SEXY! GET JACKED! GET A BIG BUTT! GET ABS! LOSE THAT FAT! FAT IS EVIL!” in order to propel their careers, playing on the emotions and insecurities of the client concerning weight and body image in general.

On top of that, we’re often “correcting your form,” telling you what you’re doing wrong and why you need us. These tendencies contribute to the poor image of personal trainers as elitist, judgment-oriented, snobby, and manipulative at best.

At worst, personal trainers are seen as incompetent and dangerous. Appealing to such cultural sensibilities as I describe above often leads to irresponsible fitness practices: inappropriate exercise programming, unlicensed nutrition advice, supplement-pushing, starvation diets, too-heavy weights or lifts for which the client has not been properly progressed, an underemphasis on corrective exercise and flexibility, et cetera. The trainer should be working to empower and inform the client for her overall long-term improvement. As it says in the ACE Personal Trainer Manual, the American Council on Exercise’s textbook to become a certified personal trainer,

Many personal trainers are afraid to teach their clients to be independent because they fear that their services will no longer be needed. In reality, failing to build client independence is related to less-motivated clients who will ultimately be more likely to drop out. On the other hand, people who enjoy the experience are likely to continue working a personal trainer and remain involved in an exercise program (ACE 30).

But the mindset of the fitness industry opportunist instead aims to establish a dependency of the client on the trainer, whereby as soon as their working relationship ends, the client’s bad habits all reappear.

Rather than saying, “oh wow; all of my weight came back. My trainer didn’t really help me at all,” the client will say, “Gee, I really messed up. I guess I need my trainer back.”

What I’m leading to is this: can licensure address any of these problems, practices, or prejudices? Not really.

When making any argument about licensure, the obvious examples of its success or failure are medical doctors and lawyers. Now, on a personal basis, I have had great doctors who did their best to help me, and I have had doctors who performed unnecessary surgeries, prescribed useless drugs, and tried to convince me that I needed them even though nothing they had done so far had actually addressed the problem.

Similarly, there are plenty of examples of lawyers who perform great services to society, and also those who are the reason, plain as day, for an entire category of “lawyer jokes.”

Therefore, it’s not a matter of whether licensure will solve problems of character on the part of the practitioner. It’s a matter of whether the culture that shapes that practitioner’s value system is being challenged and improved upon.

So, getting back to the licensing of personal trainers, it doesn’t seem quite cricket to me that a Board of Physical Therapists—who are indeed required to receive more schooling, and, incidentally, earn more on average yearly than us lowly personal trainers—should have anything to do with writing bills that affect us and not them.

The good side of effective personal training is maintained by those benevolent individuals who are well-trained and well-adjusted, and whose morals have not been compromised for the promise of higher income. In addition to strengthening muscle, increasing muscle size, improving performance, and reducing bodyfat, these wonderful men and women possess the ability to correct muscle imbalances, reverse the effect of harmful movement patterns, and encourage the type of positive lifestyle changes that prevent injury, illness, and unhappiness, many of the exact same maladies which cause people to seek the care of chiropractors, medical doctors, psychiatrists, and physical therapists.

In other words, personal training’s lower-cost options (albeit not covered by health insurance, which I think personal training should be, but that’s another article), are theoretically “taking money out of the pockets” of physical therapists.

Now let me be perfectly clear: physical therapists, like the other specialists I mention above, are an important part of the overall healthcare team in America. I refer my clients to a physical therapist on a regular basis when it is warranted. But all of the defects I ascribe above to personal trainers could apply to physical therapists.

Instead of advocating for a more healthy or active lifestyle, or taking any root-cause-analysis approach at all, it’s very possible for a physical therapist to recommend courses of action that result in a dependency of client on therapist. Same goes for chiropractors and licensed massage therapists. Does licensing prevent or address this questionable practice? No.

So would physical therapists want us to get licensed so that we CAN charge more for services? So that we CAN be covered by healthcare? So that we CAN take more of their business away, theoretically? That doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. More likely, they want to hobble our ability to work freely and openly, wherever we want, and charge whatever we want, while they are subject to certain regulations in terms of such things.

The government, meanwhile, in the good intentions of its public health-conscious mayor, Muriel Bowser, would probably have joined hands with a Board of Personal Trainers if one were to present itself to them. But personal trainers are not being financially threatened, theoretically. Physical therapists are. Right? So the physical therapists organized into a “Board” and started lobbying the government to protect their interests. This is America. That’s just what you do.

Oh, but wait one moment. There are some organizations who support licensure, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), who are themselves in the business of certifying personal trainers. I will agree with this author on her point that perhaps it is because such certifiers feel threatened at the rise of Crossfit, whose certifications are only available from Crossfit, the company, whether out of a belief that the substandardness of Crossfit certification creates concerns for the client’s safety, or merely for reasons of decreased profits. I think we can assume it does indeed relate to profits.

So personal trainers ARE being threatened. Oh wait, not trainers; certifying organizations. Maybe that’s why there was no Board of Personal Trainers. Huh.

[Full disclosure: I am certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). I reached out NASM to inquire about their position on DCFit. A representative informed me they had no position on it at this time.]

Meanwhile, owners of Crossfit facilities and supporters of the self-styled “sport of fitness” seem to stand pretty firmly against any licensure legislation and “big government” in general when it comes to regulating fitness professionals, while Crossfit’s reputation for injury (keyword: reputation) grows almost as quickly as the number of Crossfit gyms and the coaches who operate them. Is this because they don’t want more stringent laws dictating who can identify as a “fitness professional”? I personally have met many current or former Crossfitters who were injured doing Crossfit, at least as many of them who weren’t.

Of course, I have barely met a trainer or athlete who has never been injured either. But if you watch the CrossFit games, you see extremely problematic exercise form; injuries occur left and right, right in the middle of the games themselves. Injuries and pushing yourself too far seem to be almost a part of CrossFit culture. I don’t know. Seeing these things raises eyebrows and red flags.

Could it be that CrossFitters are indeed a vehement opponent of licensure because they want to keep it the way it is now so they can keep their gyms open and keep making money, regardless of how many injured people they leave behind? Or it is because they feel like CrossFit is being targeted for a perhaps-unwarranted bad reputation (see link above)?

Despite Crossfit’s proclivity, real or reputed, to produce injuries, I personally don’t want to see hundreds of fitness facilities—where plenty of people do see positive results and cultivate fitter versions of themselves, to say nothing of the workers at these facilities—shut down indefinitely.

Here’s a thought: how about government actually “working with small businesses” to address this “problem”? Oh, and if the government cares that much about protecting people’s health, how about it fund some actual scientific studies to support its position instead of taking detractors at their word? (Note: to you anti-CrossFit folk out there: Let me know if there are any studies that I have missed).

Additionally, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous and arrogant as to besmirch, in broad strokes and without evidence, the integrity of ALL CrossFit coaches when so many of them, and the “boxes” they run, have contributed positively to the health and fitness identity of so many people. There are plenty of CrossFit coaches who put in the time to learn the gravity of fitness in society and in people’s everyday lives (if they didn’t know it already), who emphasize form and safety, who aren’t just cashing in on a hot trend, and who deserve to be protected from having their business potentially gutted.

So I guess I am at least somewhat suspicious of all sides.

I do an excellent job training people. I can’t afford more schooling right now and it would disrupt my career and my career plans of eventual gym ownership if I was required to stop training and go back to school. And if I did go back, I have a feeling the government wouldn’t foot the bill. It would just be taking my job away.

As someone whose degree is in English, the Board of Physical Therapists would perceive my lack of a four-year exercise science degree as a limit to my viability as a fitness professional. But I’ve always felt that my strong communication skills, which I cultivated writing papers about Junot Diaz and Jane Austen, are part of what make me a great trainer.

If there’s one thing a trainer needs to be able to do, it’s express himself or herself in a way that the client will understand. If the client doesn’t understand why she’s doing a certain thing, she’ll stop doing it. Or she’ll do it wrong and hurt herself. Pretty simple really. So I don’t think it’s at all fair to place the barrier of a four-year degree between becoming a “personal fitness trainer” and people who truly want to help people, especially for those who have been in the business a lot longer than I have.

In conclusion, (Yay!!), I don’t think this government—which refuses to label GMO food, which doesn’t mandate health class, which sneaks cuts to food-stamp programs into its farm bills, which invites insurance companies to write its healthcare legislation, which hastens the privatization of education and allowed student debt to exceed $1 trillion, which illegalizes poverty instead of combating it, and which bailed out the banks—has the time, the energy, the inclination, or the know-how to do virtually anything of great efficacy related to “fitness,” not because it’s stupid but because giving people access to quality fitness resources is not related to its interests.

I’ll admit, drug addiction prevention, increased mental healthcare coverage, veteran care….government can do SOME of these things FAIRLY well. But the vast majority of politicians are not unlike the majority of medical doctors: while they may know a lot about some things, they know very little about fitness and nutrition, and they use their positions of authority to advance agendas that actually hurt people and small businesses.

I think if you want to pass laws that help keep fitness professionals accountable, then do it. But you don’t keep us accountable by handing us over to lobbyists, by forcing us to add to our still-extant student debt, or by allowing a lot of unnecessary red tape and poorly conceived, poorly rolled out regulation to dissuade people who genuinely want to help others from entering this industry which needs them.

Thank you for reading.