Why the Fitness Industry Isn’t in Love with the Biggest Loser

I was at my Pilates studio today, which is located inside a great health club, and six of the staff members were standing around the front desk discussing “The Biggest Loser.”  When I said I have a love/hate relationship with the show, everyone else started nodding.  We started coming up with a list of differences between the “reality” of the TV show and the reality of what actually happens in a personal training session.

  • Real trainers don’t get in a client’s face and scream obscenities at them.  The fastest way I know to lose a client is to tell them to “shut the f— up and get back on the treadmill.”
  • Real trainers maintain high level certifications.  The IDEA Health & Fitness Association recently checked the certifications of the show’s trainers and found them to be on the very low end.  Bob Harper has taken a weekend-long course and a home study course that looked somewhat questionable.  Jillian Michaels has the same weekend course certification and has also taken a home study course but with a more substantial curriculum than Bob’s.  Most health clubs require more.  Both Jillian and Bob wouldn’t be hired at the health club where my studio is located; their certifications aren’t up to the club’s standards.  For comparison’s sake, the top certification courses require at least a week of in-depth study with professionals in a health club setting.  My certification took over 500 hours to obtain.
  • Real trainers don’t have 24/7 access to their clients.  Generally speaking, trainers work with a client one to two hours per week; the other 166 hours we don’t know what you’re doing and we can’t remind you to do more cardio.
  • Real trainers spot their clients properly.  I’ve frequently seen Jillian and Bob have the contestants perform exercises that require an element of balance and not spot them properly.  Or they’ll have six people doing the same questionable exercise simultaneously so that if something bad did happen the trainer wouldn’t be able to get to the person in time to prevent them from hurting themselves.
  • Real trainers build their clients slowly and methodically.  Personal trainers don’t give you more than your current fitness level can handle.  We make sure you’re working hard, and we keep nudging you along, but we won’t take a couch potato and drop them into the equivalent of a Division 1 college football training camp.
  • Real trainers respect personal space.  There has been footage of the show’s trainers standing between a contestant’s legs or standing on or straddling someone’s back.  This is really inappropriate and potentially dangerous.  Good trainers are taught to stand at appropriate places near or next to a client, to touch only in appropriate areas, and never to put the client at risk which standing on someone’s back or going for a piggyback ride would certainly do.

It’s not just the trainers on the show that aren’t living in a “real” training environment; it’s also the “clients,” i.e., the show’s contestants. Real clients don’t live in a bubble.  Our clients don’t live in a cutely decorated dorm room with an upbeat roommate who can’t wait to hit the gym.  They have busy careers, demanding family responsibilities, and have to juggle multiple schedules just to get to the gym.

  • Real clients don’t have fantastic support groups.  If I was on a ranch cut off from the outside world with 15 other people who wanted to lose weight, I’d be shedding pounds too.  While almost everyone trying to losing weight can find supportive people to turn to, it’s rare that there will always – and I mean always – be someone to talk to about that donut craving you’re having. Access like that is a luxury.
  • Real clients don’t work out four to six hours a day.  Yup, that’s what they do on the ranch.  Do you have time for that?  Trust me, outside of the show’s bubble, no one does. Why do you think contestants are so fearful of being voted off and returning to their routines back home?

All this being said, there are many things that I love about the show and it’s why I keep watching.

  • The contestants are so hopeful.  They’ve had an awful struggle with their weight and are finally in a place where they can focus solely on getting healthy.  It’s a wonderful life-changing opportunity and it’s great to watch contestants embrace this chance.
  • The contestants are inspiring.  Each is an average Joe or Jane just like us and the pounds fly off. It really does give viewers the sense that if they can do it, anyone can.  It’s a thrill to root for their success and celebrate their triumphs.  Every season, towards the end, I’m always in tears as each contestant realizes what they’ve overcome.  It’s amazing to me.

So what are your thoughts?  Please share here.