Truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, and ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” — Sir Winston Churchill

As time goes on, the staggering amount and abundance of self-proclaimed training and nutrition "experts" within the industry becomes more and more obvious, specifically individuals who recommend things and have pint-sized knowledge, experience, or education. I still shake my head at how so many still promote their specialization in some type of “strength training” or, my favorite, “weight loss.” That’s got to be exciting, right? Not really! The most troubling part is that most don’t even train. Sorry folks, having descent arms or being “lean” doesn’t cut it. Can you get somebody else strong? Hell, can you squat, pull, press, or even “hip hinge?”

The problem for many is distinguishing who’s authentic, who isn't, and who’s a pseudo ”expert.” We all know that there’s so much ridiculous garbage on the internet. However, there are certainly many legitimate people out there (i.e. all of us here at elitefts™). Unfortunately, the people who are listening the most to the gurus and pseudo “experts” don’t have enough experience and based knowledge to be able to filter out the horseshit. Conversely, the many people who don't listen to these so-called “experts” are the ones who don’t need to because they have the experience under the bar and with the never ending battle of the knife and fork.

If you're going to listen to somebody, you want somebody who has a solid foundation in strength, competition, and years of training and/or knows how to get results. You have a plethora of individuals who migrate into the industry for pure financial motivation and incentives, but they don’t really have a solid foundation in strength athletics (i.e. weight training, competing). So here are some helpful clues that you can use to help identify a pseudo “expert:”

1. An element of bias:

This is a big red flag to look for. Be wary of the slick messages and the gift of gab and those likely to have a conflict of interest with any profit motive. So many individuals within the industry and within science make decisions based on little amounts of information. Oftentimes, many use confirmation bias or the selective hearing process. Sometimes we have a strong desire for the program, method, or nutrition we’re using to be the “best way,” the “right way,” or the “only way” that we blatantly disregard everything else, even evidence supporting or not supporting the claims. How often do we see this as it relates to training and nutrition? All the time! Here’s a tip—don’t believe everything you read, but don’t read everything you believe either. It helps to have consensus!

2. A lack of education:

I find this to be a common theme for many, including a lack of competitive credibility; a lack of experience, hours, and years under the bar and picking heavy objects off the floor; and a lack of the utilization of various training methods and equipment. In addition, there are also those who think that because they’ve prepared for a couple competitions or fitness shows and have had some success, they know what they're doing. This can also be problematic. This is one aspect that has been infiltrating modern gym and training culture in the last several years. This topic has become more and more pertinent and ramped as more “trainers” and “nutritionists” out there consider themselves “contest-prep coaches.”

3. Applying everything to all people:

This is the“I do it this way, so you do it like this, too, therefore it will work” mentality. I simply don't understand this behavior and outlook. If we think about performance genomics, nutrigenetics, and nutrogenomics, we simply can't apply this thinking to an 18-year-old kid who is 180 after he jumps out of the pool. Whoever starts to converse in this manner probably really knows nothing and shows a serious lack of character and concern. It's always best to obtain ideas from others and from advanced lifters and competitors not solely looking for solutions.

4. Consensus:

Consensus in the literature helps drive training choices, not a single study. Those training methods may in fact work (many do), but a single training study won't ever be enough to change your own methods. However, a single study is more than what most “experts” will use. Oftentimes, they only use opinion. Simply, consensus is what drives responsible practice. At the same time, not all training methods, equipment, and variations have been studied and, quite frankly, may never be.

5. The pursuit of why:

One of the major goals of the strength coach is to not only make people better and increase performance but to consistently educate athletes and clients in how to do that. You should always question the ones who don't take the time to tell the person why they're doing something and explain the purpose. If the “why” knowledge isn't communicated thoroughly, they don't need to be telling you the “how.” This is a critical component and should be utilized within your coaching philosophy.

Always question the person with the slick image and message. In today’s world and in our industry, this phenomenon is ubiquitous in nature. Before the explosion of gurus and pseudo-experts, there were probably a few dozen books on the bookshelf in bookstores. Nowadays, all these “experts” who think they’ve completed five deadlifts sessions, got really lean from a specific “diet approach,” or wrote a “book” are somehow created overnight. This creates another problem and a huge disconnect that should be a red flag to others.

It’s likely many people haven't heard of some of the best trainers and coaches out there because they're doing it all day long and doing their job. If someone is out there pushing himself that hard and has that many hours to do so, do yourself a favor and question things. On the other hand, if you're hearing their reputation from others, be inquisitive as well. Of course, this is the curse of the information age of the internet. One can develop a free website and make quantum leaps in social networking, but the never ending hyperbole is what makes me cringe. We're constantly bombarded with getting our “wow” buttons pressed. For example:

  • The new detox diet
  • Three thousand times better than creatine
  • The new rules for abs
  • Matrix revolutions
  • Extreme rules of training
  • Ripped in 30
  • Add two inches to your guns in six weeks
  • Increase your bench press by 70 pounds by next Monday

Truthfully speaking, very few things are truly new in today’s industry. At best, one is only slightly modifying an idea that someone else came up with years ago or creating a glorified well-marketed version of circuit training (i.e. CrossFit and P90X). Essentially, this new era in technology and in our industry has given birth to many who are very good at “acting the part” instead of “living” the part. Many of those people put forth this image online. I often wonder if you could possibly follow them throughout the course of the day, week, or month. I think many of the people who are “wowed” would be struck with a massive dose of sobering reality when they find out that the person isn't who they thought they were. Simply, they become famous in an abstract way and have created their own fame. It isn't necessarily deserved due to the lack of time spent under the bar, in the trenches coaching and training clients, and teaching in the classroom.

What to look for and who to listen to

Here are some simple rules inspired by Dave Tate to evaluate whether or not a trainer is worth hiring. You can also use these rules to evaluate whether or not your current coach or trainer is worth it.

  1. What is the trainer's level of education? Does he have a degree or certification? If so, what is his degree/certification in and where is it from? Can he apply and translate his education into actual client scenarios or is he just an educated idiot? Is he self-taught? Who were his mentors and what’s their work history?
  2. What has the trainer done? Does he lift? Does he play sports? At what level and for how long? How long did it take for him to get to the top level? How long did he stay at the top level? What adversity did he face? If he is so good at coaching, he should've been able to at least get results with himself.
  3. Who has the trainer coached or trained? Does he have any clients or athletes? If so, what kind of results did they see? Does he have any clients at all? What practical experience does he have? Has he worked with beginners? Intermediate? Advanced?
  4. Who coached the trainer and who has he trained with? Does he know how to listen? Follow directions? Was he coached by the best or nobody at all? Has he trained with champions (it rubs off)? Does he know when to drive and push hard and when to back down? Does he know how a squat should look, feel, and sound? Does he know basic gym manners?

I’ve always had the attitude and philosophy that if you want to be where another competitor or coach is, you should maximize and use the numerous training tools in his tool box because, in some form of fashion, there are usually several commonalities. Oftentimes, those who make little progress month after month or year after year are the ones who listen to the “the experts” or constantly jump from program to program. I’ve also found that many believe just because they're “males” or somebody is “big” they automatically know how to lift and train. Honestly, I can say that the real experts are the ones in the gym, out on the field, and in the trenches coaching and kicking ass. These are the ones you should listen to. Look for top powerlifters and strongman competitors, strength coaches, and applied sport nutritionists and exercise physiologists in the business. Seek out those who regularly attend conferences and are always displaying this quest for knowledge and strength and discussing newly published research and how it may apply to one’s training and nutrition.