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What You can Learn From Your Doctor (And Gerard Butler!) About Fitness Marketing

I thought I’d write a quick post about the nature of marketing, and how it often works against the interests of those who are being marketed to

A few years ago, a very successful marketing expert asked me “OK so when you’re in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, what’s the ONE thing you want to find out from your doctor when you get in to see him/her?”

Think about that for a moment…

The answer is, you want to find out what’s wrong with you. Only when you know this, will you be able to determine what type of solution you’ll need to fix your problem. Put a different way, in order to know what you need to consume, you need to know what type of problem you have.

With me so far?

OK good — so this being the case, if I, as a marketer, want you to buy my solution, I first need to convince you that you have a problem in need of that solution. Obvious, right?

In my own case, much of my perceived value as a coach hinges upon my claim that one of your problems is that your training and nutritional methods aren’t as efficient as they could be. Therefore, you’re working longer and harder than necessary to reach your training goals. As a coach, my solution to that problem is more efficient methods in the form of training programs, nutritional protocols, daily habits, and a more productive mindset.

So far I’m sure this doesn’t sound particularly nefarious, and it’s not. And I should also add that I tend to have an optimistic view of human nature, so I don’t think most people have ill-will when they try to sell you their wares. That being said however, quite often, in the act of consuming marketing messages, potential consumers end up with the mistaken notion that they have problems that they don’t actually have.

Imagine for example, that you’ve developed an interest in mobility development, and you’ve been spending a fair amount of time watching videos of various mobility experts on You Tube. Inevitably, you eventually become convinced that you have a “problem:” compared to the examples and standards suggested in these videos, your mobility outright sucks. Of course, you weren’t even aware of this problem before investigating this subject, so it seems worth asking — how much of a problem is it really?

Or, perhaps you become interested in a certain strength expert who claims that in order to call yourself “strong,” you need to be able to parallel squat at least double your bodyweight. Since you “only” squat 365 at a bodyweight of 205, you’re suddenly aware of a new problem that you’re determined to “fix.”

As a final example, you’ve always considered yourself to be “in shape” at about 15 percent bodyfat, but as of late you’re becoming more and more aware of a seemingly endless number of guys who are absolutely shredded, and you’ve gotta admit, these guys all seem pretty damn happy and successful. Suddenly, you’ve got a problem.

But Consider This: Maybe You Don’t Have A Problem (OR: Perhaps The Solution Is Another Problem You Didn’t Expect)

It’s impossible to not be influenced by the millions of marketing messages we’re all bombarded with each and every week. But it is certainly possible to limit and exert control over that influence. There are incredibly rational arguments, after all, against the notion that sub-optimal mobility, inefficient training methods, and 15% bodyfat are “problems.” Think about it this way: whatever you perceive your problems to be, what is your hoped-for outcome upon solving them?

I’d argue that you assume that once we manage to solve our problems, we assume we’ll finally be “happy.” And while at least in the case of some problems, it’s very likely that you’ll be happier (having that cancerous lesion removed from your back might be one example), but in many cases, the solution to a problem is more problematic than the original problem itself — in other words, we often fail to anticipate the downside of that solution.

If you remember the 2006 hit movie 300, you likely recall the amazing physiques of the lead cast members, and that movie lead many of us to hit the gym with newfound resolve (why: because we assumed that once we had similar physiques ourselves, we’d be happier). In fact, 300 also lead to the creation of several ”300” exercise routines promoted by fitness marketers hoping to capitalize on the film. But here’s the hidden side of solving your problematic physique: about a year after the release of 300, I recall reading an interview of Gerard Butler, the breakout star of the film. When asked if he still trained like he did when preparing for 300, Butler responded (and I paraphrase) “HELL no! I’ve been wracked with tendonitis ever since!”

Was Butler happier once he attained his newfound shredded abs? I can’t say for sure, but if he was, I’d certainly assume he’d still be doing the training that created that physique.

My advice — and it’s really just a gentle reminder — is to take stock in what you already have. Cultivate gratitude. Sure, seek further improvement, but don’t have unrealistic expectations about how your life will change once you’ve achieved it. If you can’t squat “ass to grass,” that’s OK — really. If you can’t do a full split (something I worked on daily for over 15 years, to no avail!), that’s fine too. Or, if you’re a guy who “only” weighs 165 pounds, well, Bruce Lee only weighed 135 and still today, even 40 years after his death, he is almost universally cited as the paragon of fitness development.

You may (and likely do) have legitimate problems of course — we all do. Just don’t allow yourself to become way prey to the thousands of marketers who’d like to add to that list. It’s YOUR life after all…


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