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Let’s Keep Bureaucracy Out of Fitness

CrossFit is fighting the good fight. I’ve been critical of some of their practices in the past but one has to admire their dedication to maintaining freedom in the weightroom. It’s a freedom of practice and information that we both enjoy despite disagreement over certain methods.

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One of the goals of information hubs like SST and others is to improve our field by promoting the best possible information based on up-to-date scientific and anecdotal evidence. Good coaches ingest quality information and implement it in their programs. Truthfully, the fitness industry is already slow to react to new evidence and trends due to a large privatized bureaucracy. Disciplines like CrossFit are more agile with information and implementation because they ignore the governing bodies and do their own thing. These traditional governing bodies are pushing back by getting big brother involved. Spoiler alert: the centralization of fitness will negatively affect trainers, coaches, and clients.

DISCLAIMER: The following will be very difficult to discern from a politically-charged rant. I’m going to my best to keep political¬†ideologies¬†out of it but with the government getting involved in our industry, I’m going to risk it and just dive right in.

I want to start off by saying that I firmly believe that there should be some barrier to becoming a strength & conditioning coach. Allowing just anyone in the club dilutes the quality of the service and information. Formal education and independent certification have provided stopgaps in the form of time, effort, and to a lesser extent money. Barriers are necessary for filtering the chaffe–separating those who are serious about what they do from those who aren’t. We are playing with people’s safety after all.
Once you’re over the hurdles, the thinning of the herd continues but becomes more about talent and delivery on good intentions. Good coaches become great coaches by seeking out information from those better than themselves and implementing it immediately into their clients’ programs. This agile exchange of innovative ideas creates a community of trainers and coaches who truly want what’s best for you and can do something about it right now because there is no external control or law preventing them from doing so.

Enter the U.S. Government. The same governing bodies that once protected the industry (NSCA, ACSM, etc) are now positioning themselves as it’s sole purveyors of knowledge through crony capitalism by lobbying for fitness-related legislation and licensure… all in the interest of attempting to squeeze out competitors like CrossFit. I’ve been sour on CrossFit’s low coaching barriers and some of their methods in the past. That said, if what CrossFit is doing is truly incorrect, why not let the consumer decide? In athletics, we’re taught to rise above our competition, rather than seek to take them out by their ankles.

History has proved that the U.S. government has never done anything right when it comes to fitness and nutrition. How could it? We’re talking about putting the control of or industry in the hands of people who have little to no idea what it is we actually do and must reach an agreement before enacting policy. People with no knowledge of fitness or nutrition that make consensus decisions based on information delivered from 3rd parties that may or may not have ulterior motives. It’s a formula for slow-paced advancement of science, decreased innovation, and increased incidents of crony capitalism and corruption. Remember the food pyramid? Of course, you do. It’s been around for 30+ years touting grains as the substrate that should be ingested in the largest quantities. Why were carbs so popular with the government? The sugar industry lobbied for it. Despite years of push-back from free-thinking scientists, it only recently got a makeover. As for fitness, the government’s standard of what constitutes healthy physical activity is almost literally at couch potato levels. When control of so much falls into the hands of fewer people, good ideas can get left on the cutting room floor.

Another inevitable outcome is state licensure, which is less about control and more about filling government coffers. However, with licensure, comes control in the form of state-approved education, clinics, and mandated methodology. After all, if you control who does the coaching, you also have control over how they coach. Couple ironclad policy with tortoise-paced innovation and you have a recipe for disaster. Let’s say for kicks and giggles that this policy gets implemented right now. That means that collegiate freshman matriculating in Fall ’18 might be furthering their education with state-approved “knowledge” that has already been debunked. When they graduate in Spring ’22 they’ll be on the training floor instructing you with decades-old protocol… because it’s the law. As someone that graduated in 2010 and received my Masters’s degree in 2014, I can tell you that so much has changed in our field in just a few short years. Good coaches are tailoring exercises to the individual rather than trying to fit the individual to the exercise. There’s more than one way to squat because everyone is unique to some extent. What if there was only one way? Good luck if your physiology doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter techniques I’d be forced to use. The deadlift and all its variants, some of the best exercises for building strength across multiple populations, could become illegal due to all of the misconceptions about pelvolumbar injuries.
From the standpoint of the consumer, you’ll effectively be told what you can or cannot consume by law. From my point of view, if you want to participate in CrossFit, Barre, or any other specific fitness discipline, who am I to stop you? That’s your decision to seek out the most effective modality of fitness to further your personal goals. State or federal legislative control over what kind of fitness you are allowed to participate in can only lower the ceiling of what you can physically achieve by standardizing it to death. Again, good luck if you don’t fit the mold.
The privatized system of control we’ve known for years, while imperfect, has by-and-large raised the floor by producing coaches and trainers that at bare minimum won’t hurt you while simultaneously removing the ceiling for ambitious professionals who seek to further the science Make no mistake about it. While government involvement theoretically raises the floor by implementing national standardization of practices and catering to the least common denominator, it ultimately lowers the ceiling for all those it supposedly seeks to help: trainers and clients.

Coach Runner is the Owner and Director of Sports Performance at Full-Stride Performance. Prior to founding FSP, Runner was formerly the Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Atlanta Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League, a minor league affiliate of the NHL's Boston Bruins. Coach Runner was also the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Husson University Eagles, Graduate Assistant Strength Coach at the University of Maine, and a former collegiate hockey player for Plymouth State University. He earned his Master of Science degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Science from the University of Maine and is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength & Conditioning Association in addition to numerous other certifications.

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