I’ve been interviewed many times in the past several years, and a recurring question that I receive is, “What’s the biggest problem in the Strength & Conditioning industry?” I used to think that the biggest problem was the gurus. See HERE to learn how gurus typically operate.

These days I know better. Basic economic principles describe the laws of supply and demand. When a simple service is in great demand, good businessmen will rise to the occasion and supply that service.

Supply-and-Demand-Graph

Guruism, as the late, great Mel Siff used to call it, refers to the recent phenomenon whereby individuals accept anything that comes out of their guru’s mouth without question. I stumbled across an article last week by Wisconsin strength coach Steve Myrland titled Guru-ism And The Decline Of Coaching that hit the nail on the head. I highly encourage you to click HERE to download the pdf. Here are a few quotes from the article:

Coaches seem to be particularly vulnerable to ‘huckster-ism’. The pursuit of ever-higher levels of human performance is fertile ground for those who choose to take advantage of the phenomenon.

It is a sad truth that talking about coaching is often more lucrative and ego-sustaining than actually coaching.

What I find so unfortunate is not information with which I disagree getting into the coaching dialogue. It is that the promulgators of so much of this information have committed their ideas to the texts they use to bolster their ‘cult-of-personality’ status as ‘cutting-edge’ coaching gurus, making it that much harder to dispense with when it proves to be drivel.

I’ve now come to realize that the problem isn’t the gurus. They’re just fulfilling a niche. The problem is the people. The problem is YOU! (if you’re a free-thinker then congratulations! This doesn’t apply to you)

Admit it! You WANT a charismatic leader to tell you exactly what to do. You NEED a bold individual to do your thinking for you. You WANT this individual to like you. You SEEK approval so badly from the group.

If you are currently a victim of groupthink mentality, if you don’t currently think for yourself, if you currently accept an individual’s teachings without question, or if you’re currently operating in efforts to seek acceptance rather than engaging in critical thinking, I implore you to break away. Remove the shackles and free your mind.

breaking shackles

We are all susceptible to blindly following advice, abandoning common sense, and trying to fit in. But there is a science to strength & conditioning – it’s called Sports Science. Hitch your wagon to critical thinking and evidence-based coaching (EBC doesn’t not mean that everything you do needs to have support in the literature; it means that one should weigh the evidence and make decisions accordingly – see HERE for an article on EBC). Once you do, you’ll be able to easily spot charlatans and gurus who are more interesting in creating cults than teaching you how to think for yourself. You’ll also cut off the gurus’ demand, leaving them nobody to supply.

15 Comments

  • Lizzy says:

    Bret, things could be worse. You could have someone like me that questions EVERYTHING and argues EVERYTHING you try to teach me. 😀 Better yet, someone that might even try to coach the coach. I don’t know anybody like this though………………………..;-)

  • Trevor Judson says:

    More great wisdom, oh master!

    (Kidding)

    This whole thing reminds me of religion; particularly when the acolytes of one sect, like powerlifting for example, get a bee in their collective bonnet about the crossfit or bodybuilding heretics (and vice versa). We really should think for ourselves. As Brian of Nazareth teaches, “You are all individuals!”

  • Neal W. says:

    On a similar note, I’ve always said that the problem in politics is voters, not politicians.

  • Bob says:

    Very true, Bret. But this is hardly particular to S&C. It’s a problem with people, in whatever they do.

    And yet — how do you find a really good doctor, lawyer or car mechanic without knowing the field fairly well? Common sense is not enough, and just being critical in your thinking is not enough.

    From reading your blog and others, I think I can spot the really obvious BS. But that isn’t enough. How can I find a really good coach who can deal with my particular physical issues? Giving me advice about my rotator cuff isn’t the same as giving me the right advice, and at that level of detail, common sense is not enough.

    • Bret says:

      Good points Bob. It takes a very long time to educate yourself to the point where you can spot the good versus the bad, and even more time to figure out who the best folks are in terms of helping you with your particular situation. But the gist of this article is to focus on science and evidence rather than simply blindly following other’s advice. At first you have to rely on others for expertise, but as you gain experience and knowledge, you should develop your own thoughts and opinions.

  • Mark says:

    So who are all these “gurus” you talk about in this post? I think you should list some names instead of just making a blanket statement about people you might not agree with.

    • Bret says:

      Mark, this post isn’t about naming people, nor is it about disagreeing.

      In fact, disagreement is a good thing, as long as it’s done in a polite, civil, and scientific fashion.

      I’ve made mistakes in the past by disagreeing in an uncivil fashion and am trying to improve upon this.

      However, what I’d like to see from more S&C experts is better discussions (and not avoiding uncomfortable conversations with other experts), proposals as to what research could help figure things out rather than just assuming we know the answers to unresearched questions, and more polite disagreements rather than labeling people and making assumptions about their character.

      If everyone (myself included) cared mostly about science and not our images or our profitability, then we would work together and not against each other.

      • Bob says:

        Other way ’round. You would like to make image and profitability depend strongly on your grasp of science and ability to give good advice. Image and profitability can’t be ignored, almost by definition. Don’t disparage them, try to make them work for you and the community.

  • Phil says:

    Groupthink mentality seems to be quite a widespread problem these days, not just with S&C. People just don’t seem to think for themselves anymore and in a sense put themselves on autopilot, going along with what everyone else says.

  • Jessica Jane says:

    Excellent! I wrote a little about that the other day under my about section on my blog. SO many people trying to get quick money off people who are so desperate to latch onto any new “promise” of health, fitness, weight loss, whatever. It’s a shame and really puts fitness professionals in a bad light.

  • MINX says:

    Call them ‘gurus’ or just marketers who have found the niche to sell a ‘quick fix’ with confidence. It is however in my opinion the buyer’s fault. The market is there.
    If one is looking for long lasting results it takes a long term effort. But the truth is – ‘quick fixes’ and trends sell. Looking for names?! – take Crossfit – good idea, unfortunately also sold as a trend, big brands are behind it, good business… Lots of injuries, logical since very few bother to teach proper technique, sells nevertheless.
    Completely agree with Bret – just like any other industry. The sad part – Olympic sport was never an industry… once upon a time.

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