Stop Picking On Jillian Michaels: Blame it on Hollywood

Do we really want to get fitness advice from TV producers?

The Los Angeles Times came out with a scathing article on Jillian Michaels this week.  I've been writing about "The Biggest Loser" and the show's fitness tactics for well over a year, really hoping to get them to change their ways.  I've gone after Jillian because her lack of credentials hasn't stopped her from endorsing diet pills or putting out yoga videos.  She seems to be an opportunist who is striking while the iron is hot and running with a quite tidy sum all the way to the bank.  Can you really blame her for that? The Times article was written by a friend of mine, James Fell, and we were actually talking about the piece while he was researching it.  I referred him to a couple of my posts on the topic.  I couldn't be happier that he has finally gotten some traction with the public on what I consider to be a very serious issue.  He has rattled some cages and I hope this finally brings about real change to "reality" television. But you know what?  Jillian isn't the problem.  It's the producers who chose her in the first place and the marketers who handed her wads of cash and exploited her perky personality for their own financial gain. Why They Chose Jillian I was asking on Twitter why the television industry doesn't pick true fitness professionals to work on these weight loss shows.  Why is it always a bunch of people with online certifications like Jillian and Bob Harper from "The Biggest Loser" and Jackie Warner of "Thintervention"?  Why aren't professionals with master's in Exercise Physiology or Kinesiology and top level certs from places like the ACSM on my TV screen? I got an astonishingly simple answer:  because they aren't members of SAG, the Screen Actors Guild.  Producers and casting agents always go there first to look for talent. Why hadn't that occurred to me before? Jillian Could Have Prevented the Backlash Jillian Michaels could have headed off this backlash.  I know at least two professional fitness organizations that offered her free certifications (a kettle bell organization and Spinning) if she would do their program.  She never bothered to give them a response. She could have seen the burble on the blogs last year and said, maybe I should get that ACSM cert and then people will back off.  She didn't bother.  She could have increased her level of professionalism and everyone would have supported her.  I, for one, would have been ecstatic. So to some extent she really did this to herself. A Proposal to You Please question where your fitness advice is coming from.  If you go to a fitness expert's website and look at their "About" page if it lists zero certifications it's probably because they don't have any.  Please keep in mind that these shows are really just marketing vehicles for sales of product.  Always keep that in mind. A Proposal to the Fitness Pros If you are a fitness professional, the barrier to becoming a SAG member is high.  It's a bit of a "chicken-egg" situation in that to shoot these shows, you need to be a SAG member, but in order to become a member of the Guild, you need to have worked on one of these shows.  And, the initiation fee is more than $2200 (even gyms can't charge that much). So what can you do? Get content out there, be it through blogs like this one, or YouTube videos or podcasts or any other number of channels that exist in today's wired world. The challenge becomes working to get your message heard, but if you're passionate about the topic like I am, then it's worth the time, effort, and energy.  And who knows? Maybe a casting agent will see your content and contact you for a future project that is looking to focus on proper fitness. A Proposal to the Entertainment Industry Please seek us fitness professionals out.  Please ask for our help.  Please go to universities to look for your experts, not to your filing cabinets for headshots.  We give great advice, and some of us are cute enough to meet your needs and great on camera too.  Please let us help you produce quality shows that will actually have a real impact on the obesity epidemic that the US is facing. What do you think?  I would love your feedback here. Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

, , , ,

12 Responses to Stop Picking On Jillian Michaels: Blame it on Hollywood

  1. Kris O'Connor October 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    SAG – there is some irony in that. Funny, it never occurred to me either! Great proposals – I wonder if SAG is going to get some new members… I hope so!

    Thanks again!


  2. Tori @ October 14, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    GREAT article and input. I’m working hard to get my certs and would have gone to school for this had I discovered this passion earlier in life!

    Great info re SAG!!!

  3. Lisa Johnson October 14, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    Tori, I know what you mean, my first fitness cert was AFAA a little 16 hour course and I was amazed at how little information I got! I still wish I had done a physical therapy track in school instead of a general Bachelor’s of Science degree. Sigh. But, getting information from the right people is so important and always, always keep learning. :-)

  4. NYCEsthy Karen October 22, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

    Lisa, I would love to blame SAG, but producers can pay for membership for whomever needs a SAG card if they really want to hire the talent. And I believe there is a right to work policy in there, so to join you just need to be hired to a union job. The barrier to entry is not as high as you think.

    The casting agents and producers are looking for a “type.” They want someone who looks “hot” on camera (not necessarily in real life, and there is a difference!) and, for a reality show, has a very strong, distinct personality (think Jersey Shore’s Snookie).

    And I also would wager that the trainers who keep an eye on the casting call notices (or have agents/managers who do it for them) are more interested in booking a reality show than in training.

    Unfortunately, it’s entertainment parading as reality. I actually find the magazines/tv shows/newspapers who hold these people up as experts almost worse. Women’s Health did a cover story on Jillian several months ago. As a journalistic enterprise, they should call bullshit. But she probably sells a lot of magazines. It’s problematic when the “objective” media buys what they are selling and reinforces their expert status.

    Which is why the entire world should read your rocking blog!

  5. Lisa Johnson October 22, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Karen the one for me was when Oprah had Jillian on her show. Her trainer, Bob Greene, has a master’s in exercise physiology so always chose great talent to be around her. How can she put Bob’s education on par with Jillian’s? That was the one that killed me … L–

  6. sweatymama October 22, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Lisa, love your brutally honest REAL blog. I just found the ‘exercise’ part of fitness a little over two years ago.. on my own lost 35 pounds. I kept getting more intrigued into it and wanted the real information.. not the shuffled through the opinionated trainers views on diets, lifestyle, eating habits, cleanses. I wanted to find my own truth, my own real information from professionals. When I went to find a personal training certification course it was impossible to find anything other than a weekend course, which is how I ended up at a studio becoming a pilates instructor (way over my head knowledge wise..) and I am still working on finishing the entire program going over and beyond the hours I need to take the test. I believe that learning never ends, dies. I got ‘weekend course trained’ in johnny g. spin in which they raved about how they’re the best in two days, come on. The personal training course I took is not really known (wits) but, at least it was at a local community college and I had to attend 6 sundays for 8 hours half class lecture/half practical work take a written/practical test and cpr certification, 30 hour internship. I think wits may not be knowsn but, it requires more than a weekend course and practical experience is so important. I still wish to finish school someday.. maybe a kinesiology degree. In the meantime I am still finishing pilates, attending the pma conference and going to as many courses that interest me in fitness/wellness. I really hope to never stop learning or tweaking my own workouts to fit my needs, that alone inspires my friends which I hope will inspire clients someday. Thank you so much for your inspiring blog with useful real information.

  7. Lisa Johnson October 22, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    Sweatymama, thank you! And I had a similar experience to you. I too could only find a weekend certification course (AFAA) and I took it and was horrified and how little I learned and yet was “certified” I began taking tons of other weekend courses to build up a base of knowledge, discovered Pilates about a year later and the rest is history. I have actually heard of WITS and I thought it was a decent program. Glad you found it and it’s useful to you. ACSM is kinda the gold standard in the industry … I love them. I too am Johnny G. certified from waaaaay back when, 1998 I think … lol.

    Good luck and keep chugging and thanks for finding my blog. :-)

  8. Gules October 23, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    I think I’m a little on both sides on this one. I agree, that anyone promoting or handing out fitness knowledge, should have the credentials to back it up. I think if people are serious about their goals, they usually go to someone who is accredited, like a nutritionist, personal trainer, etc…where you can ask them one on one about their background. That being said, I like Jillian Michaels. I’ve got her workout DVD’s and for me, I’ve still not mastered them so the challenge is still intriguing to me. I like her method of working out, circuit training, but I know she’s not the only one out there doing it. When I first heard of her various supplements and pills, I was not happy. To me, that was going against what she tries to teach on the show. I also enjoy watching Biggest loser, but more for the entertainment value and to see people exceed. I’m smart enough to know that those conditions are extreme, not ideal and mostly unrealistic. Nobody has 4hrs a day to workout. Producers know what will give them ratings and it’s sad that they don’t do a better job of seeking out professionals. Great post, first time reader. Will be back again :)

  9. Lisa Johnson October 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Gules, thanks for your comment. I appreciate the honesty and the balanced point of view. The body has pretty much moved the same way since we started standing upright so yeah, there’s not a whole lot of “new” ways to train. I’m glad you realize that it’s a bubble and I think most viewers do, but I think it can still skew perception. You know you won’t lose 10 pounds in a week, but people start to think 4 to 5 pounds is reasonable when really it’s only 1 or 2.

    Thanks and I hope you come back soon! :-)


  10. Di October 25, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Hi Lisa
    Whilst I agree with part of what you said I do think it depends on the individual trainer in question. I’ve seen both trainers on TBL do questionable exercises with bad form, but I’ve also seen the same from PT at the gym who has a degree in science and PT cert. Just because someone has a sports science degree doesn’t necessarily make them more knowledgeable than someone else with no degree but with a passion and commitment to continued learning. I’ve seen too many people with degrees rely on it to be all they need, not striving to continue to learn, to continue to broaden their scope, as such they get stuck and left behind as research progresses. So I think painting all instructors or PTs with the same brush is a little harsh.

    I think what also needs to be considered is that what makes good TV is personality. I’ve been on courses, expo’s, conventions, and attended classes/sessions to evaluate instructors/PT and some people are just NOT MEANT to do this as a career. It takes great personal skills and confidence to do this job and not every can pull it off! I’ve seen PTs with all the personality of a limp lettuce :( who gets inspired and motivated by that?

    Its also worth remembering that our industry isn’t governed, you don;t NEED qualifications to do it. Just look at JM story! She hung out at the gym, got asked if she was a trainer and said yes, even though she wasn’t! So nope initially she had zero qualifications to do this, other than her own personal experience.

    I guess what I’m saying is that this profession takes MORE than certifications, or pieces of paper (degree) it takes passion and commitment. Anyone can study to become a PT or instructor and sure they make be good at it, but it takes the “X” factor to make a GREAT instructor. I could have stopped at my AFAA group ex cert (just like you I guess) but instead I make sure to continue my education, do research and strive to become the best instructor and personal I can. I love my job and I think that shows.

  11. Lisa Johnson October 25, 2010 at 12:30 am #


    I know what you’re saying, it takes an inspired personal trainer to be a truly great trainer and someone can overcome a lack of degree or a so-so certification to rise to the top. BUT (a really big but) it’s not that expensive and it doesn’t take that much time to get the top level certifications so why wouldn’t someone who is good and passionate do that?

    I think a lot of people with lower or mid-level certifications “don’t know what they don’t know.” I do agree with you that some people rely on their degrees too much and teach “from the book” not really looking for new ideas to bring to their clients. But at the very least those same people have hundreds of exercises they can draw from to safely and effectively workout their clients.

    As for me, you seemed to imply that I stopped at a Group Ex cert. I didn’t. I have a 500 hour certification through Stott Pilates in Toronto and am now running my own Pilates training school through Modern Pilates. I have over 15,000 hours of instruction time with clients (real people with lots of different bodies that all need a unique approach to fitness). I hope that clarifies it for you.

    Thanks for stopping by and giving a measured answer. I really appreciate your thought and time. :-)


  12. diniwid beach aklan May 22, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Mark Twain~ Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

Leave a Reply