I try to keep my cool, but when 20-something certified “fitness trainers” start going on about how nobody wants to work hard, I start getting antsy. Sometimes I think that before you make such a statement you should have to list out your job history. Does it look something like this?
2012: Graduated High School
2013: Got a job at a gym as a trainer.
You know, I am unabashedly blue collar. Sure, I technically ride the fence, because I’ve been blue-collar, white-collar, and even like those people on Survivor, “no collar.” But I identify as blue-collar and most of my jobs have been of the “working your ass off in the hot sun all day” variety.
So when some glorious little health-savant starts shouting about all the lazy people who hate hard work, my blue-collar temperament gets a little heated. If you are that person whose job history I described above, and you like to complain about all the lazy people in the world, and about the lack of work ethic, while you have no other responsibility than what you’re going to wear to Buffalo Hot Wings tonight and keeping a tally on how many pushups your client just did, SHUT THE FUCK UP!
You don’t know shit about hard work. Hard work was done by the people who built the air-conditioned gym you “work” in all day. Speaking of air-conditioning…you want hard work, try HVAC. You like to shame people? Well, shame on you, you judgmental jerk.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’ll turn off my blue-collar attitude and get back to what I do. Your perception of hard work has everything to do with your values. When we expect other people’s values to mirror ours, we can be more prone to ill-considered knee-jerk reactions which take the form of “judgmental” statements, rather than a careful judgment of underlying values and how they drive our choices.
The fitness industry uses what I like to call voodoo or attack words to get its message across and erase the need for actual hard work on the part of fitness trainers. One of those voodoo words is excuse. You pull it out of a bag of tricks, and you have effectively shut down communication and any real need to understand the person you’re working with…which is hard work.
However, as I’ve said before, hard work is a very general and very subjective thing. What you call hard work, I may not. Let’s say you’ve been shouting about the lack of hard work and you fit the bill as I’ve described it above. So you’re a bit angry right now. Why? Because I’ve tried to shame you. Does it make you want to change? Probably not. You feel attacked and you feel like I am a know-it-all jerk. Shaming is not, perhaps, the most productive way to get a message across.
But there is something else. When we say people don’t like hard work and that they are lazy, we are getting into attitudes. The same thing goes for “living a healthy lifestyle.” When people don’t engage in the kinds of activities that we characterize as hard work and healthy, we attribute this attitude to them. However, what we fail to realize is that our personal likes and dislikes play into OUR attitudes concerning what constitutes hard work and healthy. And indeed, the fitness industry is so busy with checking off items in the “benefits” or “no benefits” columns that the term ‘active lifestyle’ has become meaningful only to those of us who can see through all the fitness industry’s demand creation and marketing.
There is so much more that goes into a person’s motivation than whether they “care about fitness and health,” and where they put their energy, or fail to put their energy, may not reflect their attitudes towards these general things but, indeed, may reflect some of the overwhelming messages the fitness industry is stuffing down their throats. When it comes to exercise psychology and motivation, the average fitness pro is woefully unqualified to understand the people they serve.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this question of attitudes, however, is that a person’s behaviors may not always reflect their attitudes. The knee-jerk reaction that someone hates exercise because they don’t exercise as much as we’d like is without merit. They may value exercise and still not engage in it. Their specific attitudes must also be considered. Specific attitudes drive behavior much more reliably than general attitudes.
Despite all these nuances, most people think that attitude is nothing more than a synonym for enthusiasm! I talked about this in The Tinker Bell Fallacy: Attitude and Positive Thinking In Strength Training.
What is Hard Work?
I began this article trying to get you to envision a hard working person, perhaps the person who installed the air-conditioning system you now enjoy at your place of work, who doesn’t exercise often and is being inundated with messages about the value of hard work and healthy living. I don’t think we have to guess that our hypothetical HVAC guy figures he already has a pretty good idea about what hard work is. It is what he does all day. And sure, I exaggerated the job history, or lack thereof, of my imaginary gym trainer. Hopefully, what I wrote hits home. See how easy it was for me to do?
But let’s say our guy, Mr. HVAC, does decide to start exercising, and that he goes to the gym and encounters a trainer whom he engages. Suppose that what he really wants to do is hit the weights? And the trainer insists he do a circuit routine with elliptical, ropes, and machines. What does his lack of enthusiasm tell the trainer? That the client is lazy? That he doesn’t value hard work? That he doesn’t really want to get fit and healthy?
If the trainer asked Mr. HVAC, he might get an earful. Turns out Mr. HVAC came in armed with a set of very specific attitudes! He looks at the elliptical, the rope, the machines, and he thinks, “time to ditch this guy.”
As I explained in Why Fitness, Diet, Bodybuilding, and Strength Training Programs Work, statements about the general public’s apathy toward exercise and a healthy lifestyle rely on a perception of general attitudes that may or may not be accurate, but also:
…such statements rely on ideas about general attitude and fail to consider the importance of specific attitude. A trainee may have a positive and enthusiastic attitude towards “strength training” and “hard work” but have a more negative attitude toward, for instance, low reps. A trainee who is convinced that anything under eight reps will fail to produce results will not be swayed by statements such as “you are unwilling to lift heavy enough”. And his underlying specific attitudes towards the parameters employed WILL affect his results. But since there is no one there or no one who is willing to explain these parameters in a way which will positively affect his attitude toward them he is left to his own responses.
As much information I see about this or that superior method of “fitness” what I don’t see is the hard-won knowledge that the most important part of being a trainer is constant communication and adaptation, and the ability to draw on a person’s values and strengths to bring out the best in them. Many people do not care what exercise consists of when they try it, but they will fail to continue without even knowing the reason. However, not many people identify themselves as lazy and they are not likely to jump up and shout “eureka” when a fitness pro writes an article about the value of hard work.