Fitness Education: 4 Questions for Choosing Who To Follow and Who To Ignore

The following is a guest post by Brandon Nurnberger.

If you’re anything like me (a relatively young Strength Coach) you have a giant list of popular fitness professionals that you follow, from “experts” in training to nutrition to business to psychology. You’ve liked their pages on Facebook, subscribed to their newsletter, bought their products, attended their presentations and if you’re really adventurous, you’ve reached out to them and visited them in person. This is, and should be, common practice for any new fitness professional (really any fitness professional, honestly).

A few years ago, during my undergrad, I began to develop this list in the same way that many of you started. Someone I looked up to pointed me in the direction of T-nation…the rest is history. I read every new article that was published as well as past articles in hopes of catching up on all the information I was previously unaware was out there. If you are smart, you will not only read articles, but also research deeper into the author, bringing you to their websites where they cite other professionals as well as various resources (I suggest looking into the authors background before reading their piece anyway).

Day in and day out I followed this process until I was following 40+ fitness professionals in a constant cascade of information. Again, if you are anything like I was, you know how frustrating this can be. In regards to learning, specifically in the beginning, everything works…much like training. Every bit of information is fair game as you mold your knowledge base and develop your critical thinking skills. Once you have some coaching under your belt and begin to develop your system, it’s time to graduate. Any ol’ information just won’t due. There is just too much out there and I can tell you from experience how difficult it is to decipher what information is valid and what is not. How, then, do you choose who to follow and who to ignore? Here’s are four questions I ask myself when deciding who I will let influence my career.

1. Are they doing what I hope to be doing? (Or what I happened to be doing now)

This is arguably the most important question I ask myself and should be the most obvious. As a former collegiate football player, I gravitated toward strength and conditioning early on in my career. The reality is that the majority of my clients are housewives looking to improve body comp, middle aged men trying to get out of pain while gaining strength, with just a few young athletes sprinkled in during their off season. If you’re coaching in a big box facility, this will be your clientele as well. Regardless, focus your efforts on those who coach similar clientele, who own a similar business, or who research topics that will directly correlate to performance in your field.

2. Are they evidence based?

This is quite possibly the most popular question of late. It seems everywhere you turn that one fitness professional is calling out another for not keeping abreast of the most recent research. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard someone accuse another of being the infamous “G” word…Guru (gasp!). There are those who regard empirical research as the end all be all, as well as those who work solely based on anecdote. I, myself, find validity in both. Anecdotal experience often gives way to empirical research in that hypotheses are often developed by one, tested by many and subsequently confirmed or rejected by their peers. Of course, an objective view on all information is key, but I would argue that the subjective application of facts (as derived from research) is just as, if not more, important. Knowledge is much more than just the possession of information. True understanding is the ultimate goal. The research tells you how best to squat for a clients’ goals, the critical mind determines how to convey this information effectively to others when variables you can’t control for are present, for example.

Furthermore, a true evidence based professional is not only open to constructive criticism of their ideals but is willing to accept that things change, especially in such a young field. They will be willing to tweak their previous ideals or even change them completely when faced with sufficient evidence. (They won’t hide and create their own private Facebook groups for their followers, for example).

Seek out those whose views more or less align with what we currently know to be true but be wary of those who ONLY present research, or those who ONLY present anecdotal experience. Obviously, if someone’s claims are completely opposite the research there is a problem but not citing everything that comes out of ones mouth is no reason to deem all ones information unhelpful or invalid. Also, be critical of those who work in “definites” as there are few in this field. The magic to understanding this balance brings me to my next point.

3. Do they actually walk the walk?

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve read resources by and had conversations with coaches, PTs and the like regarding claims they have made, all to have it completely washed away by reality. If you really want to get to know a coach or PT, watch them coach or treat! We spend so much time talking (more like arguing) via social media and reading what others put out all while forgetting where the real work happens…in the gym, on the field or what have you. Too many times I have had wonderful conversations with “big name” individuals about coaching, technique and various concepts only to see their clients exhibit none of his/her teachings, first hand. Too many times do individuals write quality articles or have intelligent conversations via social media yet post videos of themselves or clients exhibiting the exact flaws they post about fixing. I am a firm believer that it takes quality to identify quality. If you are blind to quality, then this is the wrong field for you anyway. If someone gives advice on deadlifting technique, watch his or her clients’ deadlift. If someone claims to be a nutrition expert, look at his or her clients body composition. Put simply, if these don’t match, don’t bother. 

4. Are they readily accessible and willing to communicate?

This is has been the deciding factor multiple times in my decision to advocate for, follow and purchase materials from certain fitness professionals. I have met some amazing people during my relatively short tenure as a coach but I have also met some who, unfortunately, think themselves higher than the cause. No matter how “big” you happen to be, we are all teachers, teaching the same thing to the same people. I love Dave Tate’s m.o. for “live, learn, pass on”.

After every seminar I attend, or product I buy, I email or message the creator or presenter thanking them for their time and information. I cannot tell you how many times I have received no response. Even a “thank you so much for your support” written by an intern would suffice. I have introduced myself to people I look up to only to get the feeling that they are thinking “who is this guy and why is he speaking to me?” On one occasion, I purchased a product and emailed the creator with a question and got no response. This will instantly cause you to fall out of favor with me. I will no longer advocate for, or give money to, a professional who feels they don’t have the time to help those who try to support them.

This, of course, is not the overwhelming majority. I have spoken at length with some wonderful individuals, like Jonathan Goodman, via Facebook. I have traveled to gyms and been shown amazing hospitality. After a conversation in the bathroom at Cressey Performance that he most definitely will not remember, Pat Rigsby once invited myself and another coach to stay for one of his seminars even though we could not afford to register for it. It was a sentiment that will keep me forever in his debt.

If you reach out to someone you look up to (and you should!) they should be willing to help or at the very least be civil. After all, this is a service industry. If one isn’t looking to provide help, they shouldn’t be asking for your support.

Everyday, I widdle my list down to the individuals who are the most reliable, most personable and who disseminate the highest quality information. Ask, yourself, “would I enjoy, grabbing a beer with this person, discussing theory and fact, and would I walk away better at what I do because of it?” Now, if an employer were to ask you “who are the top 5 fitness professionals who most influence your career?” what, or who, would be your answer? I hope this post helps you find that answer.

Author Bio:

head shotBrandon Nurnberger is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach (USAW) as well as a Functional Range Conditioning mobility specialist (FRCms). Brandon earned a B.S. in Kinesiology, with a concentration in Fitness Development, from SUNY Cortland. During his undergrad, Brandon started two years at Longsnapper for the Cortland football team while contributing on Defense at Linebacker and Defensive Line. Following his senior season, Brandon was invited to and participated in one of ten NFL Regional Combines for proficiency as a Longsnapper. Brandon currently trains and competes in Strongman as well as Powerlifting out of Gaglione Strength in Farmingdale, New York. Brandon currently coaches at Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness in Garden City, New York as well as independently around the Nassau County area.

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