Changing Perceptions About The “Fitness Professional”

Marco Sanchez recently posted a video on his Instagram asking: 

“What can we do to change the negative perception that the public has about Fitness Professionals?” 

He was drawing attention to the fact that many people do not look at personal training or strength and conditioning as a “real profession” and that they look at it as something that we do before getting a “real job” like  becoming a mortgage broker or an insurance salesman. He spoke about the moment at a party when someone asks you “What do you do for a living?” and many coaches respond sheepishly “Personal Trainer” only to see an expression of surprise or even disappointment on the face of the person they are speaking to.

My answer to this is two-fold.

1). Stop caring about what other people think about what you do for a living. Are you providing the best service possible? Are you generally happy with your work? Can you support your basic needs?

2). The negative perception of the fitness profession is our own fault. (Warning: Rant to follow)

The industry as a whole is responsible for the negative stereotypes surrounding fitness professionals. Fitness is a funny profession because it lies at the crossroads of recreation and medical practice. We exist in a grey area between fun and health and the muddying of the waters leaves many on the outside looking in seeing us more as fitness cheerleaders and entertainers than they do medical professionals and health resources. The daily barrage of “fitness” that you see in pop culture and social media is doing nothing to help this….

What society sees…
How many of the 17,000 viewers do you think can do this without injuring themselves?
Great, we’re punching each other to get in shape now…
This looks, umm…effective.
I’m not even sure what’s going on…

Why are doctors highly compensated and well respected for what they do?

1). Their job is high risk.

2). Their job requires high levels of training and precision.

I would argue that the fitness profession carries a moderate risk and those that take their profession seriously have undergone high levels of education and provide a high-quality service. It is the professionals that don’t do those things that are dragging us down.

If we hope to change how people perceive our profession and coincidently how we are compensated for our work we have to carry ourselves in a way that demands that.

It’s the burpees, the silly fitness challenges and the use of sex to sell fitness products and services that make a mockery of our profession.

Imagine if your doctor had a pill challenge? 

“How many Statins can you take in one day?” Post your pill count and tag us on IG for a chance to win a free prescription!!” #StatinFAM #StatinChallenge

What if your doctor just provided you random treatments that they just thought up or saw on Instagram right before your appointment with no real long term plan for your health?

Would you be more persuaded to take medical advice from an “Online IG Doc” without formal training because they’re hot and have 1.5 million followers as opposed to someone with formal training that was fully dressed and posted thoughtful educational pieces on how to manage your health?

All of this sounds ridiculous but this is the reality in the fitness world.

As preventative health professionals hold much more leverage to impact our client’s long term health outcomes than do traditional doctors. However, as long as we are posting videos of us doing box jumps on to plates that are stacked onto other peoples laps (this is a real thing) and doing moronic burpee challenges then people will continue to see us more as a sideshow circus act than they do a real health resource. If we instead carry ourselves as a part of the medical community, which I truly believe we are the first line of defense, then society will view us differently and compensate us as such.

Don’t pick exercises based on likes and entertainment. Pick them based on effectiveness and safety.

Don’t post videos because your followers will think it’s cool or sexy. Post something because you think it has the potential to change someone’s life.

Change how YOU practice and how people perceive YOUR business. Go out of your way to educate others in the fitness industry and help them to become better professionals. It’s our responsibility to hold everyone in our industry to a higher standard.

Listen, I know that to some people I probably sound like a killjoy but it is possible to be a safe, responsible and medical minded fitness professional while also providing a fun and entertaining training experience. The trick is not sacrificing the former for the latter.