Self improvement is about hard work, not cutting corners – but fitness marketing might have you believe otherwise CREDIT: GETTY

You see this dishy looking guy? His name was George Hackenschmidt and he was an early 20th Century bodybuilder, wrestler, and strongman.

Hackenschmidt is often credited with inventing the modern bench press, the hack squat, and the bear hug. He was unimaginably strong, with several records still standing, and he did all this before steroids were invented; before high-tech exercise machines, expensive diet books, supplements, or spin bikes. Hackenschmidt’s achievements were down to nothing more than classic weightlifting movements, lots of nutritious food and maybe the occasional kiss from a swell dame.

A couple of articles back, I suggested that the entirety of human knowledge on physical training could be summed up as move more, eat less, lift weights, periodically elevate your heart rate, keep supple, sleep and recover.

The problem is, that’s not a snappy tagline. It doesn’t promise any secret tips for quick results and it’s jargon free.

The 'Guinness is good for you' slogan
The ‘Guinness is good for you’ slogan

I don’t know anyone who’s been working in this industry for a reasonable amount of time who isn’t jaded by the miasmic fog of health and fitness marketing gumpf – lies and half truths aimed at complicating the means and methods to a healthy life and body, all to sell you things you don’t need.

Whilst hard science is busy learning ever more fascinating things about the human body; about how digestive health, stress, sleep and different dietary and physical approaches can have subtle effects on your body, our industry works ever harder to obfuscate the basic principles of fitness, ensuring many people still struggle to make noticeable and sustainable progress in the gym.

Pseudo-science and obscure buzz words sound convincing, and they sell. So it’s left to the fitness professionals out there with integrity to gently remove the acai berries from their clients’ hands, to ask them to stop ‘pulsing’ for a moment and to fight back against the bull***t of the health and fitness marketing machine.

With that in mind, here is my contribution to the cause: a health and fitness marketing decoder. It’s a terribly serious guide to what health and fitness companies, gyms and bad trainers say, and what they really mean:

What they say: “Tone up your muscles and achieve that long, defined look you’ve always wanted”

What they should say:“We know the only way to change the look of your muscles is to make them bigger, or to lose body fat, but we don’t want to scare you off with the image of 1980s Bulgarian shot-putters”

“This revolutionary detox will cleanse your body and soul”

“Your liver and kidneys do a fine job of detoxing your body but we know that if you consume our products, which are probably just fibre and laxatives, you’ll be so impressed with all the green slurry coming out of you, you’ll happily let us cleanse your wallet indefinitely.

“Take this one supplement/use this one product and look like this fitness model”

“…if you also lift weights 3-4 times a week and enjoy a side order of human growth hormone with your porridge”

“Eight moves for rock hard abs”

“You won’t be able to see your abs until your body fat is reduced to an unrealistic 10pc but at least they’ll be rock hard”

“Insert name of hottest new workout trend”

“Remember circuit training from school? Yeah, that”

“Functional Training”

“Bicep curls are functional if you want bigger biceps. Walking is functional if you want to get from A to B without a horse. When we say functional though we probably mean impressive balancing tricks which won’t make you any stronger but you’ll feel like you’re doing something because you keep falling on your face”

“Our crisps are full of natural goodness”

“You know what else is natural? Arsenic, scorpions, and death”

“Enjoy our heart-healthy biscuits”

“They ‘may’ have less fat, they ‘may’ help lower cholesterol, they ‘may’ give you the power of puppies … we’ve no idea what this means either but look: there’s a cute picture of a heart playing tennis on the box”

“Interval Training/Metabolic Conditioning/High Intensity Interval Training/Finishers/Burst Training”


“Our bums and tums class targets your problem areas”

“If you still believe you can magic fat away from specific parts of your body with particularly exercises you’d be better off using a guillotine to target your problem area”

“Our cereal is 99% fat free”

“This is a delicious box of sugar”

“Clean Eating”

“Up north we call this the Five Second Rule”

“Fat Burning zone”

“This is a myth. You’re burning less calories overall than if you worked a bit harder but you’ll still be fooled by those funky graphs on the CV machine.”

“Four exercises to hit your core”

“There’s a legitimate point hiding in here about building a strong, stable torso with a balanced strength training programme – but we know you really just want to feel your abs burn”

“Your glutes aren’t activating when you lift”

“Can you stand up from a chair without collapsing into a gelatinous bag of bones? Yeah? Then your glutes are activating just fine. Your failure to properly utilise your glutes when you squat says more about my failure as your coach but I’d much rather blame some vague neuromuscular cliché”

“Get a bikini body”

“…Put a bikini on a body”


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