Category Archives: Ethical Considerations

Ignorant and Incompetent People Aren’t Aware of Their Ignorance and Incompetence

If you are heavily immersed in the fitness industry like I am, then I bet you never cease to be amazed at some of the ignorance and incompetence displayed by various members of our community. It’s all over the place, and you simply cannot escape it. Scrolling through Facebook and reading the comments might make you want to do this:


Ignorance comes in many forms, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the ignorant person is serious. I’ve found myself on numerous occasions reading various comments on social media and saying to myself, “This guy has got to be trolling.” But it turns out that many times the ignorant commenters aren’t trolling; they’re just really dumb. But ignorance isn’t exclusive to your casual social media commenter; the experts are guilty of it too. We have a myriad of seemingly scientific writers engaging in cargo cult science – it might look and feel like science, but it’s not science. These types are unwilling to doubt their own theories, which is counter to the essence of a true scientist.

One would think that ignorant and incompetent people would know that they are ignorant and incompetent, and that they would therefore remain humble and willing to learn from others. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The Curious Case of McArthur Wheeler

In 1995, a man by the name of McArthur Wheeler decided to rob a bank. Don’t worry, he was sure to cover his bases. Knowing that lemon juice can be used as a type of “invisible ink” by applying it to paper, letting it dry, and heating it, Wheeler applied lemon juice to his face prior to robbing the bank to conceal his identity. When Wheeler was arrested later that night and shown a video tape of him committing the crime that clearly revealed his face, he was shocked. “But I wore the juice,” he remarked.


Prior to robbing the bank, Wheeler tested his hypothesis by applying lemon juice to his face and snapping a Polaroid picture of himself. Apparently, his face didn’t turn out in his trial pic. The detectives later speculated that this circumstance probably occurred on account of bad film, a poorly aimed photograph, or simply a case of lemon juice in the eyes, which partially blinded Wheeler and prevented him from properly seeing the photo.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect 

Here is a case where scientists made lemonade out of lemons. Wheeler’s case sparked Cornell University social psychologist researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning to explore the relationship between actual competence and self-assessment of competence. As it turns out, ignorant/incompetent people are really bad at knowing that they are ignorant/incompetent.


What they found through their research was that for any given task, an incompetent person will tend to:

  • overestimate their own level of skill,
  • fail to recognize genuine skill in others, and
  • fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy

Dunning and Kruger’s research has led to the dubbing of The Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is readily apparent in any field, especially fitness. 

Are We All in Various Stages of Denial?

Anosognosia is a condition whereby a disabled person suffering from a brain injury is unaware of or denies the existence of his or her own disability. These individuals have a serious self-awareness deficiency, which can be neurological or physchological in nature, and it occurs even in the presence of obvious impairments such as blindness or paralysis. What we now realize is that in a way, all humans suffer from anosognosia, since we’re not always equipped with the knowledge needed to identify ignorance/incompetence.


To quote David Dunning, “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.” Though their research is fairly modern, the phenomenon relating to self-confidence and competency has been discussed for quite some time. Confucius stated that, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Charles Darwin noted that, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” And William Shakespeare wrote, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wiseman knows himself to be a fool.”

Take-Home Message

As you can see, fools don’t know they’re fools. Coming from someone who sifts through up to a hundred journals per month and spends considerable time reading and conducting research, I can tell you that quite often there’s more to the story than meets the eye. To answer a particular question, we often need to conduct multiple studies and bring in expert researchers from different fields. The fool isn’t aware of this; he thinks his intuition is sufficient. This is why we have a multitude of individuals presenting themselves as experts on topics that they’re actually clueless about, and this includes exercises they’ve never performed, methods they’ve never experimented with, tools and instruments they’ve never used, and concepts they’ve never researched or reviewed.

Next time you’re on social media perusing comments, see if you can spot the overly-confident fools versus the true experts. It’s not always easy to spot, since the fool is typically guided by a more lax code of conduct. The fool will often go for the jugular and use logical fallacies to increase his chances of appearing right. Finally, always make sure to keep yourself in check and question your own beliefs – lest the fool be you! 


My more savvy readers will likely want to read up on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, so here are links to full papers that you can download: 

Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments

Mind-Reading and Metacognition: Narcissism, not Actual Competence, Predicts Self-Estimated Ability

Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent

Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence: Novice Physicians Who Are Unskilled and Unaware of It

Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence

A Discussion With Paul Carter on Anabolic Steroids

I recently asked Paul Carter if he’d be willing to jump on Skype and record a discussion on the topic of anabolic steroids with me. We ended up talking for nearly 2 hours. The information contained within won’t be anything ground-breaking for serious lifters who have been around the block. However, for those who are ignorant and naive on the topic of steroids, you’ll definitely learn a thing or two.

Paul and I are not experts on the topic of anabolic steroids; we’re not medical doctors/endocrinologists and we aren’t involved in research on anabolic steroids, so take our advice with a grain of salt. Personally, I would like to see more discussion on anabolic steroids emerge over time in our field as it tends to be a taboo in strength & conditioning media. Here’s the video (my apologies, I don’t have an MP3 file for you):

Here are the various questions we tackled:

  1. What are the ethical issues involving anabolic steroids?
  2. What are the different types of anabolic steroids?
  3. What are the effects of testosterone/anabolic steroids?
  4. What other drugs are typically used in powerlifting/bodybuilding?
  5. What are some limitations of the literature involving anabolic steroids?
  6. What are some of the biggest misconceptions out there involving anabolic steroid usage?
  7. What are some of the more extreme anecdotes that we’ve witnessed in terms of great responders and poor responders?
  8. Why are there non-responders – what’s happening?
  9. What are typical ranges of testosterone levels for natural men?
  10. What are typical dosages for men taking TRT?
  11. What are typical dosages taken by average powerlifters and bodybuilders?
  12. What are extreme dosages taken by elite powerlifters and bodybuilders?
  13. What are some of the more well-known side-effects of anabolic steroids for men?
  14. What are some of the lesser-known side-effects of anabolic steroids for men?
  15. What are some of the side-effects of anabolic steroids for women?
  16. Would the same powerlifters and bodybuilders be dominating their sports if anabolic steroids didn’t exist?
  17. Would sports performance be highly influenced if anabolic steroids didn’t exist?
  18. Do anabolic steroid users need to train differently than natural lifters?
  19. What is some advice for those considering taking anabolic steroids?
  20. Where can people find out information about anabolic steroids?


3 Ways to Be An Insufferable Fitness Snob

Make no mistake about it – I’m all over social media. You can find me on Twitter, on YouTube, on Instagram, and twice on Facebook. Though I’m not as active as I’d like to be, I try to interact consistently on social media. And even on extremely busy days, I make sure to spend at least 20 minutes scrolling through the various social media posts. As a popular blogger, I consider this to be part of my job – it allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry. However, to be honest, I’m growing increasingly apathetic with this aspect of my job.

I’ve come to realize that an alarming number of posts on social media pertaining to fitness are egotistically driven. I’m not singling out the experts here, I’m implicating everyone involved in disseminating fitness information. Most comments seem to be based not so much on logic, science, or a genuine desire to help others, but on a burning need to validate biases, commiserate, or stroke the ego.


3 Annoying Motivations in Fitness

In mid-2013, an article appeared on the internet titled, “7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook.” When I first read it, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I agreed with most of the article and found it to be quite humorous. On the other hand, I felt that some of the example status updates were acceptable, and that the author was a bit harsh. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to social media interaction, and my views have merged more close to the author’s. In the article, the author states that:

“Annoying statuses typically reek of one or more of these five motivations:

1) Image Crafting. The author wants to affect the way people think of her.

2) Narcissism. The author’s thoughts, opinions, and life philosophies matter. The author and the author’s life are interesting in and of themselves.

3) Attention Craving. The author wants attention.

4) Jealousy Inducing. The author wants to make people jealous of him or his life.

5) Loneliness. The author is feeling lonely and wants Facebook to make it better.”

In the fitness field, I’ve found the following 3 annoying motivations to be highly common:

1) Attention Craving Surrounding Strength. The author is stronger than others and finds subtle ways to assert his perceived dominance.

2) Insecurity Surrounding Science. The author makes bold comments in an attempt to mask his ignorance pertaining to science. 

3) Jealousy. The author is jealous over the attention that someone or something is receiving so he chimes in in an attempt to cast doubt despite having no expertise on the matter.

Cases in Point 

First, I’ll give some generic examples, and then I’ll follow it up with some specific scenarios. Here are some common annoying status updates:

“Pubmed didn’t help me get these 20″ guns bro!”

“Science is always five years behind what the top dogs in the field are doing bro!”

“You don’t need evidence when you squat 12 wheels brother.” 

“I keep seeing all these fools hip thrusting. What a worthless exercise. Just squat bro.” 

“That bodybuilder is all show and no go. I can out squat him despite being half his size bro.”

“Crossfit is for pansies. I can do 20 rep deadlifts with their 1RM’s bro!” 

“The Jefferson deadlift has to be the most idiotic exercise in existence bro.” 

“Swings are for sissies. Real men deadlift bro.” 

“Last time I checked, there wasn’t a leg press competition. Real men squat bro.” 

“The bench press is completely non-functional. When are we ever laying on our backs? Real men military press bro.” 

“You’re doing lunges? What are you, a chick? Grow a pair and squat bro.” 

I’m sure you get the point. However, below are some more specific examples of what I’m talking about.


Just the other day, an article titled, “Top-ranked NHL prospect Sam Bennett fails to do single pull-up at NHL combine” surfaced on the internet. Since then, I can’t tell you how many posts I saw in response to the article. In general, the responses revolved around the following themes:

  • How pathetic! This hockey player can’t do a single pull-up.
  • This is unacceptable! You know athletic preparation is broken when upcoming players can’t perform bodyweight pull-ups.
  • I can do 15 pull-ups and this joke of an athlete can’t even do one!

What in the hell is wrong with people? This guy is a rising star in hockey, and fitness-people are poking fun of his pull-up strength? Obviously it’s not negatively impacting his game to much of a degree, and hockey prowess is clearly not as highly correlated with chin up performance as some people think. Moreover, certain body types will always struggle with chin ups. Unfortunately, not all athletes can be like Shaquille O’Neal and bust out no-arm chin ups:

Kidding aside, not all pro athletes are weightroom warriors. We’ve seen NBA forward Kevin Durant get pinned by a 185-lb bench press (see HERE), NFL cornerback Fred Smoot manage just one-rep with the 225 lb bench press (see HERE), and NBA center Manute Bol bench press 45 lbs for 10 reps and squat 55 lbs for 10 reps (see HERE). If these feats were to have occurred today, the Facebook warriors would have been all over them.

If maximum strength was the end-all, be-all in sports performance, powerlifters around the world would be dominating the competition in various sports. But they’re not, and the best athletes in the world tend to fall in the middle of the spectrum in the strength department. Strength is just one aspect of athleticism; the ability to rapidly accelerate and decelerate in the horizontal, vertical, lateral, and rotational directions are also paramount, as are skill and technique. But I digress.


I shouldn’t be surprised by these antics. We saw the same response in August of last year when Hugh Jackman was busting out some heavy deadlifts (see my article on Hugh HERE). This incident provided thousands of meatheads around the globe a chance to feel superior to Hugh because they can out pull him (not to mention they didn’t know how many reps he performed, they underestimated the load, and oh yeah – they somehow lost site of the fact that Hugh is a ripped actor who makes millions of dollars and can also sing and dance and do most of his own stunts).


Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of debate, scrutiny, discussion, and criticism. However, there’s a constructive way of wording comments, and an annoying way of wording comments. Since reading the “insufferable” article I linked above, I now make sure to consider my intentions before hitting the “post” button and commenting. This has definitely helped make me a better professional.

How to Be the Worst Personal Trainer Ever!

Last week,  I witnessed a personal trainer at a commercial gym berating his client for utilizing poor form. It was clearly evident to me that the exercise was too difficult for the client’s current fitness abilities, and that the fault was on the trainer, not the client. However, the trainer was too ignorant to know any better. I’ve seen this same personal trainer try to “impress” his clients by using fancy terminology and informing them of all of their “dysfunction.”

jillian michaels

Enough With the Negative Labels!

As I’ve gained experience as a personal trainer, I’ve moved far away from labeling clients and informing them of their “weaknesses.” Instead, I focus entirely on their strengths and assure them that they’re healthy and able. The way I see it, clients are already insecure and lacking in confidence; they definitely don’t need some “know-it-all” trainer honing in on all of their flaws and poor movement patterns. With proper exercise prescription, proper instruction, and praise, clients will gain confidence and excitement for exercise and look forward to their next session in the gym.

Here’s a quote from Dan John, strength coach legend.

On the butt wink and all the rest: I don’t coach ANY of that stuff for a while. Let the person get a lot of reps in before I strive for perfection. Think about what goes through most people’s minds:

“I was told squats hurt your knees” (They don’t)
“Now, this guy is telling me to squat…okay.”
“Now, everything I do is wrong.”

So, I hold my mouth shut and encourage the exploration. Doing it this way and letting the person watch and learn from me and the others seems to work as well as over-coaching. Sorry to jump back in, but I can’t help it when I see people overcorrecting too early.

Thank you Dan for being the voice of reason.

The Nocebo Effect

It’s important for personal trainers (and physical therapists and strength coaches for that matter) to be aware of the nocebo effect. It’s basically the opposite of the placebo effect. If you tell a client that they have something wrong with them, even if  you’re wrong with your diagnosis (which you probably are – their TVA/multifidus/gluteus maximus/insert muscle of the year is probably firing just fine, they’re just weak and uncoordinated), you might end up being right in time.

The last thing that a new personal training client needs is a shallow personal trainer who would rather show off his diagnostic skills than keep the negative findings of the screen to himself and instead focus on the positive findings of the screen and compliment the clients.

Screen, dig, test, examine, and find all the information you can. The more information you can learn about your clients, the better. But when you report your findings to the client, butter it up and find ways to raise the clients’ self-esteem so they keep coming back to visit you.

It’s quite easy to show clients results as long as they’re consistent and they keep showing up. But if a client quits training because their trainer makes them feel bad about themselves, or because they suddenly develop fear, anxiety, humiliation, altered motor patterns, and/or pain associated with all the dysfunction they’ve just been made aware of, then progression is no longer possible.


You Get More With Honey than Vinegar

I honestly can’t remember the last time I uttered the following words to a client:

Your glutes aren’t firing properly

Your TVA/multifidus/psoas/glute max/glute med/diaphragm/pelvic floor/VMO (or whatever other muscle is popular at the moment) isn’t firing

You need serious work on your breathing

You have crappy posture

 Your ankle/hip/t-spine/shoulder mobility is horrendous

You have poor core stability

Instead, I always find a way to compliment the client and tell them what they’re good at or what their strengths are. I focus on their effort and progress rather than their current fitness level. I prescribe them appropriate exercises and progress gradually.

If they have some sort of dysfunction, I’ll prescribe corrective exercises to them without making a big deal about it or making them feel inferior. Moreover, a good trainer can figure out the proper exercises to allow even the weakest and most poorly conditioned clients to express their competency and demonstrate proper form and function.

Usually, my clients end up telling me things like, “my glutes are firing better,” “my posture is improving,” “my hamstrings aren’t as tight,” or “my core is getting stronger,” without me telling them that it was weak/deficient/dysfunctional in the first place. If you’re a good trainer, your clients will notice improvements in movement and function and be pleasantly surprised. And if you’re always positive as a trainer, clients will appreciate it and keep coming back for more (and they’ll achieve better results).

Like Dan John, I wait until the client has been training with me for quite some time and I’ve established a great rapport with them and demonstrated success before I start nit-picking their form to death and informing them of their weak points.

How to Be the Worst Personal Trainer Ever!

To further demonstrate the points in this article, my assistants and I made a video showing both what not to do as a trainer and what to do as a trainer. It ain’t rocket science!

As you can see, we had a lot of fun with this video!